Americans can experience this incredible Caribbean destination and leave their passports at home

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Have you dreamed of leaving everything behind and flying to the Caribbean, but you keep putting off renewing your passport? Fortunately, Americans can experience the beauty and charm of the Caribbean without a passport!

In reality, Americans can experience the best of the Caribbean without a passportwithout exchanging money, without long-haul flights, and without dealing with the hassle of international cellular service limitations.

Woman walking along the beach in puerto rico, caribbean

Believe me, Puerto Rico is the most accessible Caribbean destination

When the opportunity to travel to Puerto Rico this fall presented itself, I jumped on it immediately. Having lived elsewhere in the Caribbean since July, I was interested to see how different things were in San Juan. As an American, I knew I could travel to Puerto Rico without a passport. However, it didn’t register how easy it really was to visit until I flew to San Juan.

The flight was child’s play! 2.5 hours from Miami with beautiful weather, the view from above turned the world below into a painting.

Having never been to Puerto Rico, I always felt like I was traveling to another country outside of the United States. However, Puerto Rico being a US territory, flying into San Juan was like any other domestic flight. When I landed and took my phone out of airplane mode, I had fantastic cell service. Once disembarked, a small part of me felt the need to go through customs.

In place, I was outside the airport and waiting for my ground transportation in about 5 minutes! The ride to my hotel, the Sheraton, was smooth and short, which was out of the norm for the Caribbean. If you’ve been to much of the Caribbean, you probably know how rough the roads can be!

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Sheraton Exterior Shot, Puerto Rico, Caribbean
Image courtesy of: Sheraton

Not the Puerto Rico I expected

As we all know, the media often tends to exaggerate. As my departure date approached, I saw two hurricanes make landfall in Puerto Rico. First Fiona, then Ian. My friends and family kept asking me if I was planning on canceling my trip. I never intended to do this, but I wondered what things would be like when I arrived.

hurricane storm fiona
Hurricane Fiona approaches Puerto Rico Credit: Zoom.Earth

I in no way overlook the impact that Hurricane Fiona and Hurricane Ian had on the people of Puerto Rico, especially those in the south. Yet, while exploring San Juan, I saw no evidence of storm damage and no areas without power except for the occasional traffic light. Everything seemed to be working as usual.

Speaking with my driver on the way to the hotel, he recounted his experiences through various hurricanes. He told me how his life changed during Hurricane Maria, one of the worst to ever hit the island. Fiona and Ian were not comparable, at least for him.

Hurricane Mario Puerto Rico Flag Painting

Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, later informed us at a press conference that Hurricane Fiona had barely impacted travelers’ plans to come to the island for a vacation. Less than 10% canceled their trip and, in Dean’s words, Hurricane Fiona was “a setback, not a reset”. Indeed, most of Puerto Rico was and still is completely open and safe for travel.

One of the best ways to give back

It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to help Puerto Rico’s local economy, even after a hurricane, is through travel and tourism. Even something as simple as grabbing a quick bite at a local brewery adds up and supports the locals who work there.

During my stay, I had the pleasure of talking with many locals working in the tourism sector. Each of them echoed that sentiment, traveling to Puerto Rico and enjoying local activities is one of the best ways to help out.

A huge cultural experience

Since it was my first time in Puerto Rico, I didn’t know what to expect. My usual destinations are mainly European, and I have a deep-rooted love for the old. Marveling at the beauty of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, walking among ancient Viking burial mounds in Mølen, and exploring Blarney Castle in Ireland are memories seared into my brain. Not because of their visual appeal, but because of the connection I felt to the history and culture of these experiences.

Puerto Rico now has a place among this special set of memories, and I can’t wait to go back. Walking through the historic district of Old San Juan showed me that Americans don’t have to travel far to see a unique blend of history. Old San Juan is the oldest city in the United States and its territories. Visitors can see magnificent buildings featuring Baroque, Neoclassical, Gothic, and Spanish colonial architecture, all within walking distance of each other. On the west side of Old San Juan, some buildings date back to the 1500s — the history buff in me felt right at home.

A unique vision of history

I explored Old San Juan in a unique way that I highly recommend to anyone visiting the area. Rather than just walking around and exploring independently, I went on the Old San Juan Walk & Taste Tour with The Spoon Experience. This tour was not just a guided walk among beautiful buildings and a taste of local food and drink. While that is certainly part of it, what made the tour unforgettable was the sheer amount of history eloquently expressed by our amazing guide.

In just a few hours, I sampled the most authentic local foods available while learning the historical and cultural significance of each meal. Between our food stops, our guide talked about the rich history of Old San Juan. From the obvious details like its strategically defensible position, to the not-so-obvious fact that the endless shadow offered by San Juan’s architecture only exists because of a misreading of the compass when planning the city. . There were so many amazing stories shared, and I can’t wait to go back and do it again for more!

Top 6 Reasons I Will Return to Puerto Rico

  • It’s so easy – Visiting Puerto Rico was like taking all the best in the Caribbean and packing it in with an easy domestic flight. My flight from Miami was only 2.5 hours, and getting through the airport and my hotel was a breeze. If I lived in Miami, I would visit Puerto Rico every available long weekend.
  • For more Old San Juan – I fell in love with Old San Juan as soon as I saw it. The architecture, the charming little shops and the huge cultural experience cemented this beautiful city in my mind.
  • For the adventure – My trip was in San Juan, but next time I’m in Puerto Rico I plan to check out some other off the beaten path sites. Some I have in mind include El Yunque National Forest and Laguna Grande, a bio bay where visitors can experience the beauty of bioluminescence in the water.
Bioluminescent Berry Water
  • For more beach Time – I haven’t spent much time on the beaches, but I will definitely do so in the future! From beautiful El Escambrón in San Juan to beautiful Pelícano Beach in Ponce, I’ll be hitting the beaches of Puerto Rico on my future trips.
  • For the arts – I had the pleasure of participating in an artistic walking tour in Santurce, a municipality in San Juan known for its vibrant art scene and vibrant nightlife. Much like the culinary tour, it was a history lesson in disguise. I learned more about Puerto Rico and its people during the tour than I ever did in school. This was entirely due to our amazing guide at theartwalkpr.
  • For the food – I miss food so much! Besides the Old San Juan Walk & Taste tour, I had the pleasure of taking a cooking class with Mesa Redonda at the charming Cocina Abierta. My group was responsible for making the Sofrito, a staple base for many Puerto Rican dishes. Everything was amazing, and I left convinced that every meal should start with Alcapurrias and end with Tembleque.

Best times to visit Puerto Rico

I am of the opinion that anytime is the best time to visit. However, depending on your preferences, there are months of the year that may better suit your needs.

  • To avoid the crowdsstick to the shoulder seasons of September to mid-December and mid-April to May.
  • To save money, june to september is usually more affordable as it is hurricane season. Just keep an eye on the weather and make sure you have the appropriate travel insurance, and you’ll be set.
  • To avoid rainy daysshoot for Februaryas it is one of the driest months of the year.
Puerto Rico Landscape

How to get there

Although you can stop and see Old San Juan for a day on a cruise, if you want to stay in Puerto Rico for a while, you’ll have to fly. This is where Puerto Rico shines compared to many other Caribbean destinations. San Juan has over 25 direct routes from the continental United States, and flying is incredibly easy.

Americans won’t need a passport and there’s no long customs line waiting for you upon landing. Not only that, it’s usually quite affordable. For example, a direct flight from New York to San Juan can be found for around $300 with JetBlue in November, carry-on included. Puerto Rico is undoubtedly one of the most accessible destinations in the Caribbean.

Puerto Rico San Juan beach vacation destination

The number one reason I’ll be back

I arrived in Puerto Rico not knowing what to expect. I left with a newfound love and respect for the culture and the people who brought this island to life. While the experiences themselves were amazing, the people behind them were the real magic. And they are, more than anything else, the reason I will be returning.

**Travel Off Path was a guest of Discover Puerto Rico who helped create this itinerary by hosting some of our accommodations and attractions. Our opinions, recommendations and suggestions remain ours.**

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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com