Puerto Rico: Why this is a prime spot to visit in the Caribbean in 2022
(CNN) — Perhaps no travel destination in the world has had a rougher go of things these past few years than Puerto Rico.
In addition to the pandemic, the Caribbean archipelago has faced an eye-popping string of disasters in the past half-decade.
They include the Zika epidemic in 2016, Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, and then a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in early 2020, just weeks before Covid-19 started forcing the world into lockdown.
“The resiliency of Puerto Rico and the attitude that everyone has here has always been that we were going to come back stronger,” said Sharilyn Toko, general manager at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan.
Beaches are a big draw in Puerto Rico, but there are also many local experiences on offer from small businesses.
Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images
High vaccination rate + easy travel from the US
While Puerto Rico has had one of the lowest case rates of any US territory or state, it hasn’t escaped Omicron.
For Americans, Puerto Rico will be an especially attractive destination in the coming months. No passport is required, it’s a short trip from the Eastern Seaboard, and testing requirements for vaccinated travelers have just been lifted.
As of February 2, vaccinated domestic travelers don’t need the previously required pre-travel test to enter Puerto Rico. Unvaccinated domestic travelers with a negative test result can bypass quarantine. (For international visitors, the US entry requirements apply: visitors must be vaccinated and have a negative Covid-19 test result.)
Tourists explore Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, in July 2020.
Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images
A revived ‘support local’ movement
Though relaxing at a beach resort is a draw for many visitors to Puerto Rico, local businesses need support now more than ever. As 2022 gets started, there’s a new wave of family and community-run organizations that combine cultural education and tourism.
“Not just doing a weekend at a closed-off resort, but actually engaging the island in a way that’s supporting sustainable work and addressing a lot of the inequities that exist in Puerto Rico,” Miranda-Rodriguez said.
In response to Hurricane Maria, Miranda-Rodriguez started the La Borinqueña Grants Program in 2018 to support nonprofits in Puerto Rico dealing with child development, arts, women’s health, environmental justice and sustainable farming. Many of the organizations supported by the program allow visitors to interact and engage.
The center offers cultural and ecotourism opportunities, including Bomba workshops, musical performances and bike and kayak tours to explore the nearby Piñones State Forest and Nature Reserve.
These experiences will connect you directly with the local people, and all proceeds go to supporting their social improvement and economic development in Loiza.
Fresh, local produce appears on menus at the mom and pop restaurants featured on food tours.
Lester Jimenez/AFP via Getty Images
Otherwise, consider hopping on a food tour to help you target local, in-need restaurants, which are still emerging from the pandemic.
They recently celebrated their grand opening after it was delayed when Hurricane Maria knocked out their power for eight months and destroyed much of their crop.
Now and then: San Juan celebrates 500 years
Old San Juan’s rich and colorful history is part of the archipelago’s allure.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images/File
History doesn’t have to be dry, either.
Bioluminescent bays are brighter than ever
Swimmers in La Parguera bioluminescent bay stimulate the dinoflagellates’ glow. The bays are brighter than they have been in a long time.
Omark Reyes/Courtesy Discover Puerto Rico
Paddling or swimming in Puerto Rico’s three bioluminescent bays has long been one of its most fascinating and exciting outdoor adventures.
Two are on the main island, La Parguera in Lajas and Laguna Grande in Fajardo, and one, Mosquito Bay, is on nearby Vieques Island.
Right now, tour operators say the experience is better than anytime in recent memory.
A bay becomes bioluminescent when large quantities of organisms (dinoflagellates) grow and congregate together in one area. When stimulated by movement, a reaction occurs that causes onlookers to see a bright, blue-green “glow.”
Like many natural areas around the world, these bays saw reduced activity during the pandemic.
Tourism was also shut down in 2017 during the hurricanes, allowing the dinoflagellates to thrive in higher concentrations.
“It looks beautiful right now,” said Captain Kiko Doitteau, president of Paradise Scuba & Snorkeling Center, referring to its vibrancy. “It’s like being in the ‘Avatar’ movie.”
For the best experience, try to visit on a night when the moon is small or blocked by clouds. The darker it is, the more vibrant the glow will appear.