Discover Humacao, Puerto Rico

Humacao, Puerto Rico may be one of the territory’s best kept secrets. Though it’s a bit of a drive from the big attractions of San Juan and famous resort towns like Dorado, Humacao stands on its own as a great option for travelers who want to see a different side of Puerto Rico.

From pristine beaches to surprising hikes, Humacao has plenty to offer nature lovers. From fascinating history to otherworldly science, Humacao also has a plethora of places for curious culture vultures to discover. And from secluded resorts to affordable lodgings, Humacao can fit pretty much any traveler’s budget.

If you’re curious to see how Humacao may fit into your Puerto Rico itinerary, read on to learn more about this hidden pearl of Puerto Rico’s southeastern coast.

Where Is Humacao, Puerto Rico? (And How Far Is Humacao from San Juan?)

How far is Humacao from San Juan? If you want to stay in the center of the action near San Juan, you may want to look elsewhere, as Humacao is 69 kilometers (or about 43 miles) southeast of Puerto Rico’s capital city. It will likely take over an hour to get from San Juan to Humacao, and that includes toll roads.

But for travelers who want to discover more of Puerto Rico beyond the most popular stops, Humacao, Puerto Rico, opens up plenty of new opportunities. This city offers easier access to El Yunque National Forest, a stunningly verdant paradise that’s the only tropical rainforest in the national forest system.

Beyond El Yunque, Humacao also makes a great “base camp” for exploring more of the eastern side of the main island, as well as the nearby smaller islands of Culebra and Vieques. The Ceiba Ferry Terminal is only 43 kilometers (or about 27 miles) away from Humacao. Ceiba regularly has ferries running to Culebra and Vieques, and these boat rides tend to be cheaper and easier to access than flying to either island from San Juan.

What Can You Do in Humacao?

Perhaps the more pertinent question is: What can’t you do in Humacao? No matter what your interests and desires are, you can probably find what you want in and around Humacao, Puerto Rico.

What to Do in Town

Humacao has plenty of hidden gems full of amazing art. At Casa Roig you can admire the handiwork of famed architect Antonin Nechodoma, who designed this house for wealthy sugar baron Antonio Roig and oversaw its construction in 1920. Meanwhile, Centro de Artes Ángel “Lito” Peña Plaza has a fascinating collection of works by contemporary Puerto Rican artists in a beautifully historic setting, and the Centro de Bellas Artes de Humacao is the region’s premier performing arts venue.

If you want to learn more about Humacao’s history, check out one of the city’s historic churches. The Concatedral Dulce Nombre de Jesús was originally built in 1769, then a second church was built in 1826. It made the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1984 thanks to its unique Gothic Revival meets Caribbean tropical design. This church is also living history, as it’s still active, and Pope Benedict XVI officially made it a cathedral in 2008.

Shifting gears, let’s talk about the University of Puerto Rico’s Astronomical Observatory. A group of students rediscovered this observatory on campus in 2019, and it’s once again a working research facility that opens to the public during lunar eclipses and other special night-sky events.

Where to Find Humacao’s Local Great Outdoors

On the coastal side of Humacao, you will find Punta Santiago. The beach itself has a fascinating combination of white coral sand and black volcanic sand, and the water often sports a gorgeous aquamarine hue. Though it’s part of a working fishing village, this beach is nonetheless a welcoming place for visitors. Even better, it’s also right by the Balneario Punta Santiago, where you’ll find a water park and a camping area.

Largely surrounding the Punta Santiago beach is the Punta Santiago Nature Reserve, which is also known as the Humacao Nature Reserve. Though this park is primarily dedicated to preserving much of the region’s natural beauty, you will find some remnants of Humacao’s military history, including the former U.S. Army lookout built on top of El Morrillo. In addition, the Punta Santiago Reserve has the Pterocarpus Forest, wetlands with mangrove forests, the Antón Ruiz River mouths, multiple hike and bike trails, and designated fishing areas.

What to Do at Palmas del Mar

Located on the south end of Humacao, Palmas del Mar is a private gated community with over six miles of Caribbean Sea frontage. Later on, we’ll go into more detail on the lodging options at Palmas del Mar, but for now we’re focusing on the community’s activities and amenities.

Of course, Palmas del Mar has plenty of beaches that are open to residents and guests, but it also has a members-only, full-service Beach Club that has family-friendly pools with water slides, an adults-only pool, a restaurant and bar, and locker rooms with showers. Palmas also has its own Yacht Club marina that’s fully equipped with true 240V electrical systems dockside, courtesy pump-out service, complimentary in-slip diesel fuel service, and free WiFi at the docks.

Moving inland, Palmas del Mar in Humacao, Puerto Rico, also has the largest and best-equipped tennis facility in the entire Caribbean, as well as an on-site equestrian center with trails and a training facility. Palmas del Mar even has a highly acclaimed golf club with two 18-hole championship courses: the Reese Jones designed Flamboyán Course, and the Gary Player-designed Palm Course.

What About Hotels and Vacation Rentals?

No matter your personal preferences and budget, Humacao, Puerto Rico, has a place for you to stay. For more affordable accommodations, check out Barefoot Travelers Rooms, where guests can take advantage of the house’s on-site amenities, including a full kitchen, a lending library, and complimentary WiFi. Plus, you’re within walking distance of the nature reserve.

You can likely find a few more vacation rentals in and around town, but the bulk of available vacation rentals will probably be at Palmas del Mar. More specifically, the Surfside Palmas, Harbour Lakes, and Park Royal Homestay Club Cala complexes regularly have units available. This is a solid option for travelers who want a place that feels more like home with larger space and more in-unit amenities, but also want the resort-style perks that come with a community like Palmas del Mar.

For those who prefer a full-service hotel, Palmas del Mar is still where it’s at, as this is where you’ll also find the Wyndham Palmas resort. Though its mere 107 rooms and suites might officially qualify Wyndham Palmas as a micro-resort, nothing about the Wyndham’s expansive pool areas, lush garden landscaping, easy beach access, or big flavors at its signature Trova restaurant feels “micro” at all. Also, the Wyndham’s rooms themselves also feel pretty large, and the “boho chic” vibes really help break the stereotype some of us may have regarding a Wyndham-branded hotel.

How About the Local Restaurants?

When it comes to restaurants in Humacao, you can expect plenty of variety and some fascinating new flavors here and there. At first glance, Humacao restaurants might not seem as exciting as San Juan’s. But if you know where to go, you can find many tasty surprises in town and at Palmas del Mar.

Humacao Restaurants in Town

Bocata by Campillo is the local Spanish deli where everyone goes for tasty tapas, scrumptious paella, delectable tortillas and sandwiches, and a great selection of wines and liquors. If you’re craving more authentically local Puerto Rican fare, Cafe Teatro Oriente serves up the real deal (including some classically delicious tostones), plus they’re open late on weekends, and they even host local live music acts on weekends.

For something healthier, try Pachamama Magic Bistro. They make plenty of fantastic vegetarian and vegan dishes, plus they also have CBD beverages, teas, and even a “witch store” if you’re interested in picking up any magical souvenirs. For hearty breakfasts and some of the most authentic Puerto Rican coffee this side of El Yunque, it’s hard to beat El Kafe. And for some of the best sushi you’ll find anywhere in Puerto Rico, Rest Tokyo has a menu chock full of great rolls, plus they serve some great Chinese and Asian-Caribbean fare.

Restaurants at Palmas del Mar

If you’re staying somewhere behind the gates at Palmas del Mar, you can eat well without having to stray too far. For a fun night out that probably won’t break the bank, check out Pura Vida in Palmanova Plaza for great pan-Caribbean fare, top-notch service, and all-around good times. If you’re more in the mood for authentically Puerto Rican seafood with beautiful views, La Pescadería is right by the marina, and their mofongo with shrimp and garlic sauce is simply phenomenal.

As hinted a little earlier, Wyndham Palmas is pretty much the culinary epicenter of Palmas del Mar. Puerto Rico native chef Julio Cartagena teamed up with celebrity chefs Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth to open Trova Coastal Kitchen, a sumptuously stylish all-day restaurant that seamlessly blends local Caribbean ingredients and flavors with international flair. (The Persian love rice and sunflower pizza are my personal favorites!) For more casual light bites, Botica is Wyndham Palmas’ cool tapas bar, while Café 1736 is the place to go for authentic Alto Grande coffee and to-go breakfast items.

Humacao, Puerto Rico, Is Truly a Hidden Gem That’s Worth the Journey

Humacao, Puerto Rico, may not be a household name (yet), but it’s certainly a place full of hidden treasures. Humacao’s city center has several fascinating artistic and also cultural assets for urban explorers to discover. Plus, the city has a great variety of restaurants serving up fantastic old-school Puerto Rican dishes and exciting new international flavors. And for everyone who likes spending quality time in the great outdoors, Humacao abounds in spectacular natural beauty.

Whether you want to take the town by storm or enjoy a tranquil escape at Palmas del Mar, Humacao is happy to welcome you in and treat you to a uniquely Puerto Rican experience.

Interested in learning more about planning a visit to Puerto Rico? Check out this guide to planning the perfect road trip.

11 Places to Visit in Puerto Rico

Welcome to the tropical paradise of Puerto Rico. This Caribbean island has sandy beaches and lush rainforests. Vibrant culture also explains why Puerto Rico has long been a favorite destination. Expectant travelers seeking sun, adventure, and relaxation leave satisfied. Stunning natural wonders, historic landmarks, and off-the-beaten-path treasures bring back visitors on repeat. Puerto Rico boasts […]

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Meet the Locals: Chef Juan José Cuevas of Puerto Rico

Juan José Cuevas lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he’s the executive chef at 1919 Restaurant, the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel’s fine-dining destination, known for its beautiful beachfront views.

Chef Cuevas, who was born in San Juan, cites his love of food writing for sparking his interest in cooking professionally. “When I was younger, there was a newspaper that had a section on Sundays and Wednesdays, which wrote about restaurants, food, and wine,” he says. “As a kid I loved the section. It was a way of transporting myself to that subject place.” In high school and college he began working in restaurants, first as a dishwasher before working up to a waiter, cook, and bartender.

As a project for a college marketing class, he was tasked with creating a business plan. “Most people were doing standard jobs,” chef Cuevas says. “I said

, ‘Let’s do a restaurant.’ So I picked up the telephone, called a few restaurants, and asked to interview a chef.” One of those chefs asked him to work a few days. “I did and I never looked back,” he says. “I fell in love with the energy.”

He finished his degree before going on to the Culinary Institute of America in New York, where he lived for 12 years. The city is a quick four-hour flight from the island, but these days he likes to visit New York City for just a few days at a time. For longer trips, chef Cuevas heads to Spain and southern France.

“I worked in New York, San Francisco, Spain twice, Monaco, Copenhagen,” says the chef. Living abroad helped him learn about different ways of eating and enjoying life. “I grew up eating rice, beans, root vegetables, and tropical fruit like bananas, pineapple, mango,” he says. “But I had to learn so many things every time I moved, so every year I continue to exp

and my knowledge.” He’s always learning and likes to visit farmers markets whenever he travels, to learn about food local to that area.

Changes Happening in the Puerto Rican Restaurant Industry

When it comes to Puerto Rico food, things have changed a lot since chef Cuevas first left nearly 30 years ago. “Beside our regular foods—rice, beans, root vegetables—there wasn’t anything else,” he says. Policies enacted on the island by the U.S., such as the 1920 Jones Act and Operation Bootstrap (which began in 1947), severely limited local agriculture. Even high-end restaurants used canned and frozen produce.

“After going to school in New York, seeing what was happening there, I wasn’t ready for that,” the chef says. “When I came back [to Puerto Rico] in 2012, it had changed a little bit.” And from 2012 until now, it’s changed a lot. “There’s more connection between farmers and chefs.” 

Farmers continue to grow culturally important vegetables, but they’ve expanded their variety too. And more chefs are working with them and sourcing local. But what’s missing, says chef Cuevas, are people and a system to support them. “The government has to support more and push supermarkets or chains to source from local farmers, not from outside the island,” he says.

Chef Juan José Cuevas’ Puerto Rico Recommendations

When visiting San Juan, be sure to seek out the chef’s favorite local Puerto Rican food, alcapurria. “It’s a mix of different root vegetables,” he explains. “Make a filling of beef or seafood stew, put it inside [the dough], fold it—it looks sort of like a tamale—fry it. You eat it on the street, or if you’re at the beach, stop at a kiosko for one, and get a beer.”

Speaking of beaches, that’s his favorite way to spend time. Besides studying food and wine, of course. “Old San Juan is amazing,” chef Cuevas adds. “Stay in San Juan, don’t drive.” If you stay longer, go to Aguadilla on the west side, or visit Culebra, a small island off the east side of Puerto Rico. “It’s laid back, you wear swimsuits and flip flops,” he says. “Take a book, get a beer or wine, spend a few days reading.”

Puerto Rico offers plenty of food options, but something that may surprise people, says the chef, are restaurants like his. “I love my island, I love the food shacks by the beach, going to the mountains for their different styles of food,” he explains. “But we can provide a fine-dining experience too. Not everything has to be flip-flops—and I love my flip-flops. When it comes to dinner time, then I like to dress up a little bit and have a nice dinner.”

Be on the lookout for Dreams Abroad’s ongoing Meet the Locals series. Get to know the work and lives of more global professionals who turned a passion for travel into their livelihood.



Is the Food in Puerto Rico the Best in the United States?

Puerto Rico is a mecca for foodies. This is a testament to the island’s diverse history. Its eclectic mix of people and cultures has contributed to unique, tasty, and irresistible cuisine. There’s something for everyone. From casual to elegant dining, Puerto Rican food is front and center on the culinary stage. 

Over the last ten years, Puerto Rico has moved up the gastronomic rankings by leaps and bounds. Some might say the best food in Puerto Rico is in San Juan, and others might say it’s on the west coast in Rincón. As the island evolves, new places are changing the island’s dining vibes. 

While respecting Puerto Rico culinary heritage the island is pursuing a more forward-thinking and sustainable farm-to-table approach. Local ingredients are sourced and used when possible. Why are Puerto Rican dishes so delicious? There is an ongoing commitment to ensure fuller flavors with marinades that add extra depth and substance to traditional recipes.

The Best Food in Puerto Rico

San Juan has arguably some of the best places to tantalize your taste buds. I’ve been going to Puerto Rico for over 15 years, and I’ve seen some of the best places up close. I’ve also seen the best of the best weather the storm. That is, the best restaurants survived Hurricane Maria and the two earthquakes that preceded it. How? Old San Juan is a fortress. It was built to stand the test of time.

Traditional Food in Puerto Rico’s Capital

Spoon food and culture tour will give you a basic understanding of what Puerto Rico has to offer the hungry traveler, and it will introduce you to some local San Juan specialties. You’ll try Caribbean classics such as mofongo, Puerto Rican rice and beans, and the mallorca sandwich with a café con leche. The tours provide history lessons alongside tasting sessions. It’s a great introduction to the island’s traditional cuisine.

Café Manolín offers an authentic taste of cocina criolla as in Creole cooking. This is food with its origins in Europe rather than the crab shacks of Louisiana. Many recipes share a common base of a sofrito, pureed cilantro, garlic, onions, peppers, and tomatoes.

Taste Puerto Rico at El Convento

Santísimo, located in Hotel El Convento, is an authentic feel-at-home kind of experience. The open-air restaurant and bar gives it an intimate and comfortable feeling. The building dates from the age of the conquistadors and is one of the oldest properties in Old San Juan. It was previously a convent which is perhaps why many feel spellbound when passing through the high arched halls. The ocean breeze and delicious aroma from the front-of-house kitchen (open to guests as they walk in) are sure to make anyone feel at peace. The charm and easy-going nature of this hotel will transport you to olde-worlde Europe.

Why Santísimo?

When I arrived at El Convento, I was only there for a night and wanted to experience something unique. The room was not ready (note to anyone who is checking in there, it takes a while, so use this opportunity to spend some time at Santísimo). I was hungry and wanted to eat. Therefore, I opted for the bar and met an unforgettable Rick. 

Rick’s a bartender who was working there for the season. He was headed back to Philly in a few weeks. I knew he was from Philly when he asked, “How can I help ya?” It was not a Puerto Rican accent, and it was in no way a flat Floridian or Southern accent. It was a Philly-Jersey accent. 

We started talking after I ordered my meal. I looked up, and the decorations on display behind the bar caught my eye. There was a stack of records on the top shelf above the liquor bottles. I asked Rick what kind of music was on the records. He said, “Heh, records?” 

“Yes, the records on the top shelf. Are they for sale?” I asked.

“Funny you should ask. You are the second person this week. One of the owners of El Convento produced the record,” Rick explained.

The Unexpected Foodie Find

The food, the drink, and the happenstance made the time fly by as I waited for my room to be ready. It was a great welcome to Old San Juan. Later that evening, I went back for dinner and had the roasted chicken with potatoes and vegetables. Puerto Ricans know how to cook with intensity. It was delicious, and I bought one of the records as a souvenir. The visit was beyond cool.

Tip: When in Puerto Rico, order rum. The island is very much dedicated to its native spirit. Don Q is produced at Serrallés Distillery in Ponce, in the south of the island. It is aged in American white oak barrels for a woodsy finish. Puerto Ricans drink rum with many things, preferably straight up or with Coca-Cola.

Gourmet Food in Puerto Rico 

Señor Paleta is a gourmet popsicle shop in Old San Juan, and there is a second location in Condado. After dinner and a nice walk around blue cobblestone streets, stop in to see how glam you can make your pop. The birthday cake popsicle had chunks of cake with sprinkles inside of it. The chocolate Oreo popsicle looked like a decadent pleasure if you’re into chocolate covered popsicles (yummy). Another Oreo pop was dipped in chocolate and topped with more Oreos upon Oreos. Pick up their famous t-shirt before you leave. Senor Paleta’s merch is hot, hot, hot. Just ask Bad Bunny.

Fine Dining in Puerto Rico’s Capital at 1919

1919 Restaurant in San Juan is elegant dining located in the Vanderbilt Condado Hotel. Fine dining paired with a view and excellent service is an understatement. Michelin-star winning Executive Chef Juan Jose Cuevas is a Puerto Rican native. There’s a KM0 approach to ensure 1919’s ingredients create a minimal impact on their carbon footprint. Chef Cuevas’ sustainable mindset reaches beyond the restaurant’s kitchen. He promotes agritourism on his native island for food and nature lovers alike.  

The restaurant offers a seasonal menu with four courses. The menu is not traditional Puerto Rican cuisine, but it’s inspired by flavor-forward creations. Each dish brings a different mood to the meal as your Captain arrives to explain the course. The wine list is extensive, and the cellar is quite remarkable. Yuyi, my sommelier, suggested a glass of Charles Heidsieck Rosé réserve to start.

My Experience at 1919

The truffle-ricotta gnocchi walks a fine line yet has the right ratio of ingredients. The black truffle does not overpower this dish. An intricate part of the unforgettable meal was the interactions with the staff. Augustin, Yuyi, and Jorge made me want to return. And, so I did. A month later. 

Why is 1919 not yet Michelin starred? It surely is a case of sooner rather than later. The purposeful creativity of Chef Jose Cuevas’ dishes combined with the atmosphere and professionalism of the 1919 staff deserves recognition. 

Tip: This restaurant has a business casual dress code and requires reservations in advance.

Is North America’s Best Restaurant in Puerto Rico? 

My curiosity peaked when I read an article about Juncos, an area of southeast Puerto Rico I had never visited. Acclaimed food writer Richard Morgan did a write-up for BBC about a Puerto Rican cocinao (casual cookout restaurant). What surprised me was that he referenced a chef who took a $100 taxi ride to get there. Was this restaurant really that good?

BACOA is located 40 minutes to an hour (depending on traffic and the driver) from San Juan. It’s situated in an area less populated and visited than other areas on the island. After a fairly long drive on rough roads, there is valet parking. It’s full service and located at the front of the restaurant. BACOA is situated near a body of water that’s prime for photo taking. Pull out your camera and snap away.

What to Order at BACOA

At the front of the restaurant, the host will ask for the reservation. Be sure you have it on hand. On Easter there was no wait, and the table was ready immediately. I got the sense that the restaurant allows guests to bring their own alcohol. The couple next to me had a healthy supply of liquor on their table, and it was not from the bar. However, I didn’t want rum with my meal. My server arrived, and I got the chance to order a beverage. 

“Do you have merlot?” I asked.

“Ah, do you want to come to the wine cellar to look at what we have?” he asked. 

“How about a wine from Spain?” I said. 

We selected wine, and then he took the order. 

The best thing about the meal was a gandule (pigeon pea) dip. Quality went downhill from such a delectable starter with underwhelming chicken, rice, and beans. As the server cleared my unfinished main course, he asked me if I wanted dessert. I wanted flan, but he came back to let me know they had run out. I wondered how you run out at 7:00 p.m. on Easter, but the tembleque was a nice alternative. It’s a coconut-heavy silky textured Puerto Rican dessert my mom makes. However, this tembleque tasted a bit thicker, like it had cream or ricotta cheese in it. It didn’t taste as light as the silky smooth pudding my mom makes. 

Tip: The valet parking is in gravel and dirt. Sandals are okay and probably the safest option.

Sustainable Farm-to-Table Food in Aguadilla at Flora Restaurant

Flora’s menu changes every week based on the ingredients that they have at their disposal. Their vegan and vegetarian options were plentiful, which is not yet typical of the rest of the island’s restaurants. I ordered the roasted eggplant served on top of pureed tofu. The tofu was creamy, and the eggplant’s mesquite flavor paired well with it. 

Aguadilla is a surfers’ paradise in Puerto Rico’s northwest, and Flora has a laid-back vibe to match its location. The table across from me (a group of three out-of-town businessmen from San Juan) kept laughing and apologizing for being loud. I didn’t mind. It turns out that Puerto Ricans enjoy a good meal and socializing just as much as the next person.

Meeting People Makes the Meal Better

They kept laughing and wanted to share their story with me. The funny part about this exchange is that they were worried about my perception of them, and I was just enjoying my eggplant. They didn’t know that I’m used to Puerto Ricans’ loud festivities, and I was not bothered at all. It was actually kind of nice to hear the laughter while sipping on my drink and enjoying really great plant-based cuisine. 

They kept going on, and as I took my last bite of eggplant, I looked up  as the loudest one laughed and said their colleague lost his “soul.” 

“Oh yeah, how?” I asked.

They laughed even harder. Apparently, the “soulless” colleague had bought a pair of shoes earlier that week. They were walking around all day, and right before they arrived at the restaurant, the sole of his shoe fell off. They kept going on about it because their boss was having dinner at a table nearby. The 5’6’’ soleless man needed to use the restroom and was going to hobble by his boss and his boss’ wife.

Foodie Moment

After hearing this story and all of the laughter surrounding it, I was now a part of it. The man without a sole was going to have to spend the rest of his workday (one hobble in front of his boss and a full day of sales) on uneven ground. However, he did eat a memorable meal, which added to the joy of mine, and Flora became an instantaneous unforgettable culinary and social memory. 

Tip: Flora opens at 5 p.m. Make reservations ahead of time.

Puerto Rico has something for everyone. Whether it’s a taste of classic island fare with a Spoon tour or a fine dining experience at 1919. Why try the different varieties of food from north to east to south to west? Puerto Rico’s landscape is different in each location, and so is the food. In order to have the best experience, try the different food in Puerto Rico to determine if it is the best in the US. The experiences will be unforgettable, and you might meet a Rick or find a sole and some laughs along the way.

Interested in food guides for other [delicious] cities? Check out this guide to the best vegan food in the Canary Islands next.

What I Know Now About Living in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is one of the biggest islands in the Caribbean and features a lush landscape with beaches, waterfalls, tropical rainforests, and mountains. PR is well-known for its Spanish heritage, rich history, reggaeton music, and buena gente (“good people”).

Island With an American Twist

Puerto Rico — also known as la Isla de Encanto (“the Island of Charm”) — is a primarily Spanish-speaking island. It’s a U.S. territory, and you can see American influence everywhere on the island.

Puerto Ricans hold U.S. passports, shop at American chains, and pay with American dollars. They don’t have the right to vote in U.S. presidential elections, but they have their own governor and flag, but a large percentage of the population doesn’t speak English. Even though many people on the island identify solely as Puerto Rican,  and some Americans may not know that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, the island and the mainland still benefit from each other. One benefit is the ease of travel between the two destinations; mainlanders make up a large percentage of tourism to the island.

Former Spanish Colony Without Many Europeans

For many Europeans, Puerto Rico remains an undiscovered gem. A lack of direct flights between PR and Europe limits the number of visitors. If it weren’t for cruise ships that call on PR’s ports, European tourism would be rarer. Holiday offers from travel agents in Europe are still largely dominated by hassle-free “all-inclusive” resort holidays to other Caribbean destinations, including the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Jamaica.

Prior to arriving here, I also had very limited knowledge of Puerto Rico and I was surprised to discover that Puerto Rico is very different from the rest of the Caribbean. I quickly realized that the typical European vacation consisting of a week at an all-inclusive resort is just not a thing here. Instead, a vibrant, diverse, and unique culture is waiting to be discovered.

Living the Caribbean Dream

The home of the hit song “Despacito” became my home in late 2019. After living in rainy England for 13 years, I jumped at the opportunity to live on a sun-kissed island. My only exposure to the island before moving there was the song “Puerto Rico” by Vaya Con Dios. But the promise of sunny weather, a Latin atmosphere, and the inviting ocean were enough for me to leave Europe.

I arrived at the San Juan airport with a backpack and a strong desire to live the Caribbean dream.

A Friendly, Lively Local Culture

The people of Puerto Rico are one of its greatest treasures. They’re always smiling, friendly, and helpful. Don’t be surprised if strangers greet you while you’re walking down the street (buena!) or eating at a restaurant (buen provecho!). They make you feel like family, not just a visitor, and I felt very welcomed by the island’s residents from my first day. I found it very easy to integrate socially into PR. I’ve always considered myself an extrovert, but I’ve met my match with many locals here. We Europeans could learn a thing or two about Puerto Ricans! Their positive approach to life is an inspiration, and around every corner, you will find celebrations like family picnics and chinchorreo (“party buses”). It’s what makes this island such a special place!

Puerto Rico has a very rich and unique culture that is illustrated by its cuisine (local favorites include mofongo and pasteles), music (Ricky Martin and Bad Bunny), and street art. Even after two and a half years of living here, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. There is so much more to the island than palm-lined beaches (but if that’s your thing, try Luquillo beach for chilling and Mar Chiquita beach for cool drone shots), including El Morro of Old San Juan (pro tip: park in Doña Fela and walk everywhere in Old San Juan).

A Slower Pace of Life

In Poland and the United Kingdom, I was accustomed to prioritizing speed and efficiency when dealing with daily errands. But here, those things are less important. Locals are much more focused on building relationships and connecting with people. Lines at medical clinics, banks, and government offices can be long and might irritate new arrivals who are used to living their life a bit faster. Even though it can be frustrating, those who are overworked, overscheduled, and overstimulated may find that the laid-back life in Puerto Rico is just what they need. World events over the last couple of years have caused many of us to reexamine our lives and slow down a bit, but Puerto Ricans were already way ahead of the rest of us.

The Caribbean From the Postcards

The Caribbean Sea, palm trees, and pristine beaches are a huge part of Puerto Rico’s landscape. But the natural beauty of the island can also be found inland. PR is packed with majestic waterfalls, beautiful rainforests, scenic mountains, and refreshing rivers. La Isla de Encanto has fascinating flora and fauna, and it’s a true paradise for nature lovers. I have explored some great hiking trails, seen very unique flowers, and tasted exotic fruits I had never heard of. Living here has taught me that there’s so much more to Puerto Rico than what you typically see on postcards. (Though I must admit it took this city girl some time to get used to seeing chickens at gas stations, random pigs sunbathing on the beach, and iguanas casually crossing the road.)

Summer Weather All Year Round

Many dream of living where the weather is always sunny and warm — myself included. I liked experiencing four seasons, but swapping long Polish winters and English rain for year-round sunshine was an easy decision. Puerto Ricans enjoy warm, sunny, and humid days most of the year, with a rainy season between May and October. Rainfall is frequent (especially near El Yunque National Forest) but mercifully short. And as much as I hated rain in the U.K., living in a hot, humid climate has made me appreciate it more.

Perennial sunshine makes all types of outdoor activities more appealing, but the tropical climate also requires some adaptation. For example, I learned to arrive early to yoga class so that I could secure the coolest spot in the room. I never leave the house without sunglasses, a hat, and SPF protection. And I’ve gone from being ambivalent about AC to considering it a necessity.

Celebrating my first warm Christmas felt very strange. Artificial Christmas trees, no town square Christmas markets, and Santa wearing a tank top were all odd but delightful surprises. I loved immersing myself in the local Christmas culture — and enjoying the holidays while wearing flip flops wasn’t too bad either!

Hurricanes, Power Outages, and Earthquakes

My new life in Puerto Rico hasn’t been without unpleasantness. Within two months of living here, a major 6.4 earthquake woke me up in the middle of the night. While the earth was shaking, my husband slept without even stirring. I was petrified and shocked.

PR is also prone to seasonal hurricanes. Most hurricane seasons pass without incident, but Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017. Locals take hurricane preparation very seriously and regularly stock emergency food, water, and medicine whenever a storm is approaching the island. I’ve learned to regularly follow all updates on earthquakes and hurricanes.

The island has also underinvested in its infrastructure. Its potholes are legendary and are just about everywhere, so drive cautiously. Public transportation is limited so prepare to drive or use a rideshare service. PR’s roads are also largely not pedestrian-friendly, and sidewalks are not well maintained if they are there at all. I am frequently the only pedestrian on the road (think suburbs of Los Angeles or Texas).

Lastly, power interruptions happen with some regularity. I didn’t know what generators were until I got to PR. But without one, your groceries may rot in the fridge, and you won’t be able to prepare meals, so it’s a necessity (and the bigger, the better).

“I like creating beauty out of scary things.” – Grimes

Moving to another country is challenging, and moving to another continent can be a shock to your system. Moving from an English-speaking country with a population of 66 million to a Spanish-speaking island with 3 million inhabitants is challenging, culture shocking, and scary. But I can’t wait to see what’s next.

 

The Best Places to Eat in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Founded in 1521 by Spanish colonists, San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico and has the largest population. Since it is an island, you will find numerous beaches. These playas are popular all year long, with the average daily temperature being 81 degrees. So, don’t forget to pack your swimsuit and sunscreen when heading to the island on holiday. Surely, you must be wondering what the best places to eat in San Juan are in such a tropical paradise.

The food in San Juan is special, with dishes that will make you want to stay forever. The national dish of Puerto Rico is arroz con gandules made with a mix of pork, pigeon peas, and rice. And don’t forget to try mofongo, which is a dish made from mashed plantains. Drop off your shopping bags and backpacks at a San Juan luggage storage spot and go eat. 

Fresh Breakfast

As the most important meal of the day, the Puerto Rico capital is on hand to serve a smorgasbord of delights. Some of the best places to eat in San Juan offer freshly baked bread, fresh fruit, and hot-off-the-griddle eggs.

Café Regina

Order the egg sandwich with Italian ham and provolone on sourdough, a ham sandwich with cheddar and tomatoes, or turkey and pepper jack on sourdough. For pastry lovers, try Café Regina’s chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin & pepita bread, or a delicious vegan brownie. They also have toast, granola, and fruit bowls.

Pinky’s

Want a great breakfast by the beach? Head to Pinky’s. They are known for their large variety of breakfast dishes like the Drunken Pilot with four eggs, spinach, goat cheese, and tomatoes and the Morning After Surfer with grilled turkey, mozzarella, and three fried eggs. Don’t miss the banana pancakes!

Waffle-era Tea Room

For waffle lovers, no place is better than Waffle-era Tea Room aka La Waflera. They have two dozen waffle flavors like s’mores, honey almonds, crème brûlée, and Nutella’s Delight. The savory waffle selection includes green eggs and ham, salmon, prosciutto and manchego, roast beef, and gorgonzola basil. You also can create your own combo from 21 toppings.

Lunch Cafés

Ready to take a break from lounging in the sun? Check out some of the best places to eat in San Juan for a quick lunch between exploring the city’s history and getting a tan.

Café Manolín

Café Manolin serves Creole food and you can count on a fantastic meal no matter what you order. Get the 10 oz sirloin, red snapper, skirt steak, pork chops, kingfish, chicken breast, salmon, or mahi mahi. Then choose one or more of their great sides like rice, tostones, mofongo, beans, or salad.

Café Marquesa

Café Marquesa has a variety of lunch and brunch foods from eggs benedict to steak and eggs. Try the Hangover Burger, which has a juicy beef patty with cheddar, bacon, spinach, and tomato with fries. Or try one of the pizza options like pepperoni and cheese or the Nicoletta with goat cheese, mozzarella, and dates. 

Café Berlin

Although it specializes in Puerto Rican cuisine, Café Berlin also serves vegetarian and international food. Eat in the cozy dining area or on the terrace where you can enjoy the sun. Popular dishes include seafood and mofongo or the fish taco platter. Tropical salmon and Caribbean paella are also excellent. 

Dining in Style

San Juan doesn’t disappoint when it comes to dinner. With a small but perfectly formed selection of fine dining establishments, you can turn eating out at night in San Juan into an occasion. Try unforgettable seafood, mouthwatering sides, and stellar traditional dishes.

Vendimia

Be sure you have your phone to take food pics and share on social media because Vendimia designs each dish as a work of art. The restaurant itself is stunning and the food… unforgettable. The ribeye is mouthwatering with wine sauce and raisins, and the beef risotto is adorned with prawns and mushrooms. 

1919

Located in the luxurious Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, 1919 is a sensational restaurant with exquisite food and a gorgeous view. They even have a Michelin star for their exceptional menu items like swordfish with squid, clams, mussels, and the roasted duck breast with eggplant and mushrooms. But don’t miss the walnut streusel for dessert.

Santaella

With an earthy and chic atmosphere, Santaella is a lovely little bistro with warm and friendly staff. And the food is stellar. Traditional dishes like morcilla with hot sauce, goat cheese quesadillas, and pork belly mofongo are popular. The entrees include salmon with Asian noodles, braised pork, and several more.

Inexpensive Bites

What would a trip to the city be without trying some of the local spots for a quick bite? Some of the best places to eat in San Juan are small mom-and-pop restaurants ready to showcase their specialty cuisines.

Vagón

If you want a Tex Mex meal on a budget, Vagón has what you need. Try the Baja fish tacos, surf & turf, or salmon tacos with sides for under $10. They also feature a Puerto Rican favorite, the tripleta, which is a sandwich with beef, chicken, and pork on a sweet roll. Or you can order fajitas, quesadillas, or burritos. 

Lote 23

If you can’t decide what you want, head to Lote 23. This park has 10 different kiosks that offer a variety of choices. Doroteas has pizza, El Jangiri features poke bowls, Berger has burgers, the Hen House serves chicken, and if you want mofongo, go to El Cuchifrito. If you are looking for something light — Tio Dora has snack foods, Budare serves arepas, and Caneca has drinks. 

El Hamburguer

For a mouthwatering burger for an amazingly low price, El Hamburguer is the place to go. They take freshly ground beef and cook it over an open flame before dousing it with whatever toppings you desire. From Swiss cheese to jalapeños, these thick burgers are unreal. They also serve crispy fries, onion rings, and hot dogs. 

Delectable Desserts

Finally, for all those sweet tooths out there, you can miss San Juan’s desserts. Some of the best places to eat in San Juan can be found at the local ice cream parlor just down the street. With chocolates, cookies, and ice cream, you’re sure to find exactly what you’re craving.

Chocobar Cortés

Chocolate lovers must visit the Chocobar Cortés. Chef Ricky is a chocolatier, so he knows how to tempt your tastebuds. Try the vanilla chocolate pancakes with strawberry jam, eight flavors of bonbons, a chocoburger, or chocolate grilled cheese. The chef even dresses the salad in a chocolate vinaigrette. 

David’s Cookies

We all love cookies and David’s Cookies has cookies and much more. From classic chocolate chip to double fudge chocolate, you will find your favorite here. The lava cookie is something special with gooey chocolate sauce in the middle of a chocolate chip cookie. They also have brownies, muffins, and Nutella cookie cups. 

Below Zero

Have your ice cream roll your way at Below Zero. They have parlors in Condado and La Marqueta. Drool over a selection of flavors including brownie, green tea, and peanut butter. Choose one and then top with three ingredients such as almond slice, cinnamon crunch, and granola.

Whether you are in San Juan for one day on business or a week on vacation, take the time to try some of these outstanding eateries. Don’t miss the local cuisine like asopao (gumbo) and pasteles (meat-filled pastries). And be sure to have Puerto Rico’s national drink — the piña colada

Anna Lech Talks Relocation Abroad

Anna Lech profile in Tenerife, Spain.Fresh ocean air, swaying palm trees, June Gloom, people surfing, skateboarding, or playing beach volleyball. I’ve always imagined mornings to be on California beaches as centers of activity. I took a stroll on the boardwalk to see if my image of the Golden State lifestyle, in which everybody is photogenic, athletic, and surrounded by friends on the beach, is real.  More importantly, I wanted to satisfy my curiosity. I needed to find out why millions around the world dream about a relocation to California

I struck up conversations with local surfers and lifeguards so I could learn more about Californian stereotypes. Now, I’ve always thought that there is no better way to get to know a country than to blend in with locals. Usually, I learn much from these conversations. However, this particular one shocked me; one surfer said he’d never been outside his home state. He loved California so much that he couldn’t imagine ever living somewhere else. But how could he possibly know what he’s missing if he had never left home? 

My Relocation Experience

I was born in Poland and for as long as I can remember, I always wanted to visit other countries, learn foreign languages, try new cuisines, and get to know other cultures.  More than that, I always felt fascinated by the idea of living abroad in as many countries as possible. 

When I was a student, international travel and foreign student exchanges weren’t a thing. There weren’t many countries Polish people could freely travel to. 

When I was 22 years old, I was fortunate enough to take part in a three-month work experience program in Germany. Since this was my first relocation, I played it safe by going to a neighboring country whose language I learned in school. 

This wasn’t the case with my next relocation to the UK. On a whim, I decided to move there with just a few words of English, no plan, and barely any air travel experience. This relocation proved to be very difficult and challenging. Nonetheless, my adventurous soul always wanted to experience a vagabond life, even though it meant operating outside my comfort zone.  

I went from feeling scared to be away from home for three months to falling in love with living abroad in just a few short years.  In the UK, I also learned that “home” is where you make it. It’s not a fixed location. 

Globetrotter

A year before I turned 40, I made one of my biggest dreams come true. I went for a 15-week backpacking trip through Southeast Asia. I ended this adventure in the Caribbean. I’m glad to report I’m now a permanent US resident who now calls Puerto Rico home.  

My main relocation tips would be to go for it and don’t look back. Prepare for things to go wrong, or at least not according to a plan. 

Moving abroad is not for everyone but, in my opinion, everyone should give it a try at least once. I’ve met dozens of very unhappy immigrants abroad. They count their days before their return to their home country. However, none of them ever regretted trying it. They all said that they became more independent, responsible, and learned new things about themselves while living abroad. 

I am not the best person to give advice on how to responsibly and carefully move abroad.  All I had before I moved to Germany was a fax printout with a hotel address.  Leaping into the unknown felt both terrifying and thrilling. I took an overnight bus to Germany followed by a train ride and a boat journey. I did it all without much research ahead of time. 

Fueled by Spontaneity

Moving to the UK was also very spontaneous. I traveled to London for a long weekend, which planted an idea for moving there. After graduating from university four months later, I boarded a plane to Manchester. I went with the flow, without expectations or any plan to return home. 

The older I got, the more spontaneous I became. At an age when most of my friends had settled down, I packed 13 years of my life in the UK into a couple of boxes. I pursued my lifelong dream to backpack around the world for a few months. Five months after I started my trip, I ended up inviting my family to my wedding in Puerto Rico. America became my new home. 

As a child, I spent many holidays in Hungary due to my dad’s work. Often, I would pick up a few Hungarian words or phrases and use them to impress the folks back home. I had so much fun learning something new that I could put to use immediately. I couldn’t say the same about chemistry or physics.

Falling in Love with Foreign Languages  

I started learning German in primary school. At first, it seemed like just another subject to learn. But as soon as I had an opportunity to use what I learned to travel to Germany, communicate with native speakers, and place orders in restaurants, my approach to learning foreign languages changed a lot. It took me a long time, but I stopped being embarrassed, overthinking, or analyzing every mistake I made. I learned to keep talking and not worry about all the grammatical and pronunciation mistakes I made. In addition, I started to take unnecessary trips to different stores just to read the signs and price tags, or start a conversation with salespeople about random products. 

I listened to songs in the new language, watched TV with subtitles, and read newspaper headlines or advertisements. Every time I heard a new word, I wrote it down. Every time I saw a new word, I highlighted it. I often associate new foreign words with a place, color, person, or situation to bring the new language to life, making learning much more enjoyable than rote memorizing with a book. 

Picking Up the Second Language

Learning English in preparation for my relocation to the UK was a real challenge. I only had six months to prep, so I tried to find the most dynamic and fun way to become conversational. Since this was my second foreign language, I knew boring textbooks wouldn’t work for me. My priority was to learn useful daily phrases that would allow me to function in society, such as asking for directions, counting numbers, etc.

I settled on what was back then a very new, innovative English course called the Callan Method. The method focuses on improving students’ speaking and listening skills by repeating foreign words and phrases over and over again without thinking. After six months, I was ecstatic to be able to speak and understand basic English. Unfortunately, after moving to the UK, I had a bitter pill to swallow. I quickly realized that the course hadn’t prepared me as much as I expected. 

A Different Ballgame

Learning English turned out to be much tougher than German, mainly because I haven’t had any foundational language knowledge from school. But, more importantly, the UK is a very multicultural place and it took me a very long time to comprehend international accents. None of the English courses back home could possibly prepare me for this. 

Now that I find myself in a Spanish-speaking place, I have no choice but to start all over again. Luckily, these days there are plenty of language-learning apps and websites that are extremely handy. I already know from experience that I am not looking forward to struggling with multiple varieties of Spanish.

Living in a foreign country surrounded by unfamiliar customs can be very challenging, but by leaving your comfort zone behind you may discover a new and happier way of life that suits you better. 

Relocating abroad might not be on your bucket list at the moment, but have you ever wondered why some people move abroad and never return home? Or do you love to listen to stories about their time abroad and wish they were your own? If so, don’t waste any more time and make it happen! Don’t be like the surfer I met years ago in Hermosa Beach. He’s probably still never left California and wouldn’t have anything new to say about himself if I ran into him today.   

by Anna Lech

Things To Do in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Things To Do in San Juan, Puerto Rico

It has been more than a year since COVID-19 shut down the world and left most of us isolated within our homes. At first, the introvert in me took this new lifestyle in my stride. I was finally able to catch up on all the movies and television shows I had been too busy to watch, discover new recipes, and build some cool LEGO sets. That last part, I admit, is a little sad. It didn’t take long, however, for the traveler in me to start getting impatient. So I began looking for ways to safely quench my explorer’s thirst.

Since the United States was handling this pandemic about as well as David Benioff and D. B. Weiss directing the final season of Game of Thrones, Americans were rightfully barred from visiting most countries. In an attempt to leave the country without actually leaving, I chose to visit the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. Little did I know, however, that this would be the safest decision I could have made.

Getting There

Prior to traveling, I was required to fill out a Travel Declaration Form online by the Puerto Rican government and take a COVID test 72 hours before my arrival. Once I arrived in San Juan, authorities looked up my form and asked to see proof of a negative test before allowing me to leave the airport. As inconvenient as it was, I was thoroughly pleased with their response to the virus, and felt 100 times safer. It didn’t stop there, though. Every place I entered, whether it be a shop, restaurant, or a Walgreens, an employee would check my temperature and provide hand sanitizer. Not to mention, everyone wore a mask, inside and outdoors. America, take note.

For those wishing to travel to San Juan, Puerto Rico who want to continue using safe social distancing practices, here is a list of some great things to do:

Hit the Beach

Pre-pandemic, going to the beach would have been a no-brainer. But now, you might be a little weary of safely navigating a crowded shoreline.  But worry not in Puerto Rico. San Juan’s beaches are large and stretch for miles, ensuring sunbathers enjoy a comfortable distance from one another.

During my week in San Juan, I frequently visited Ocean Park Beach. The area was very low-key. Kitesurfers, body surfers, and volleyball players stuck to their spots on the beach, allowing the rest of us to safely spread out. The lack of high-rise condominiums in the area meant more sun too. Regular readers might be asking, “Tyler, did you learn your lesson from the ten previous times you got burnt?” The answer is yes. So I duly lathered myself head to toe in sunblock. I still got fried.

The gorgeous Ocean Park Beach is one of the many great things to do in San Juan.

If you want to hide from the sun’s rays for a little bit but still want to stay on the beach, Numero Uno is a great beach bar. Recline under an umbrella on your own bean bag with a cold drink in hand and watch the kite surfers soar up and down the coast. They offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You will have no reason to leave.

Old San Juan

Remember cruise ships? Well, dozens used to dock at the San Juan Cruise Port. They dumped more than 5,000 tourists into Old San Juan every day. Since COVID has rendered the cruise line industry as nonexistent as my singing career, Old San Juan is virtually empty. You’ll be able to roam the gorgeous streets with little chance of running into another soul.

Be sure to visit the San Felipe del Morro Castle. Although tours inside the castle have been suspended, visitors are still allowed to walk around the enormous grounds to take lovely photos and (try to) catch iguanas. I don’t know if that last part is permitted, but no one attempted to stop me. The views around the castle of the ocean, the bay, and Old San Juan are wonderful. At dusk, the sunset is even more magical.

Although not having thousands of tourists is a blessing in these times, businesses in Old San Juan are struggling. I really recommend stepping into as many stores, restaurants, and galleries as possible and supporting them in any way. Visit La Vergüenza for some great mofongo, a staple Puerto Rican dish made of mashed plantains. If you want to beat the heat, head over to Nono’s for an ice-cold beverage and enjoy the sights and sounds of a typical Puerto Rican tavern.

One of the best things to do in San Juan is to try Mofongo!

Parque de los Gatos

What better way to reduce the spread of COVID than to simply just avoid people? South of San Felipe del Morro Castle sits a hidden park called Parque de los Gatos, or Cat Park. Here, dozens of felines roam the grounds looking for some warm affection from passers by. I didn’t expect much when I arrived. Cats are finicky creatures to begin with. However, moments after sitting on a nearby bench, the friendliest cats I had ever encountered immediately surrounded me. Sure, they were a bit rough around the edges and a tad mangy. But by now you should be keeping hand sanitizer handy anyway. 

El Parque de los Gatos, one of the great things to do in San Juan

Sunset Cruise

Another way to avoid any crowds and still get some picturesque views of Old San Juan and the surrounding areas is to take a romantic sunset cruise on a catamaran. Booked through Sail PR, we boarded Ohana 2 and were introduced to an exceptional crew. Their main goal was to keep us all safe, but still enjoy everything the vessel had to offer, like the open bar.

After temperature checks and hand sanitizing, the captain and his crewmate allowed us to venture to the front of Ohana 2. We sailed through the empty bay that was once lined with cruise ships. As we worked our way around Old San Juan, the captain’s mate brought us an endless supply of drinks. He also acted as a guide, sharing the history of the city and pointing out interesting sights you might miss from the streets. It was incredible seeing Old San Juan from a distance.

Watch the sun set over the water from old San Juan.

As we crept up on San Felipe del Morro Castle, the captain let the catamaran idle in the bay. That meant we could all take in the majestic view. To our right the Spanish castle, to our left the sun slowly setting behind the mountains and clouds.

El Yunque

Lastly, and an even better way to avoid city crowds, is to hike through Puerto Rico’s rainforest, El Yunque. Although we had to share a van with other tourists to reach the national park, our efficient guides took temperature checks, provided hand sanitizer, and preached COVID-safe practices. The excursion itself was so much more exciting than I was anticipating. 

Stepping into El Yunque was like entering another world. The sunlight couldn’t reach the ground due to how thick the canopy was. Hundreds of different types of trees and plants lined the walking paths. Also, Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc back in September 2017,  destroying a lot of the original paths. Our guides had to lead us through some makeshift routes including scaling and descending a mudslide. As you can no doubt imagine, you will get absolutely filthy.

The beautiful El Yunque, a can't-miss activity in San Juan

Cliff Diving Take Two

Throughout the hike, there were tons of activities to do. We waded through rivers and slid down mini-waterfalls, but the most thrilling thing was jumping from a 33-foot cliff into the water. If you read about my excursion to Costa Rica, you’ll know that the last time I attempted a feat of this magnitude, I landed square on my back and rearranged my internal organs. I knew this cliff jump was the only way to redeem myself. 

After hearing the collective gasp of our group as Rachel Albright landed on her behind (there is video evidence), panic started to set in for me. Will I fail again? Will I burst a kidney? Will I die? After standing on the edge of the cliff and contemplating every poor choice I had made up unto this point, I took the plummet. And landed as straight as a pencil. Success! My pride only lasted mere minutes, though, as our guide proceeded to do a double backflip off the cliff and land perfectly in the water. Why wasn’t this dude in the Olympics?

Safety First

If you have been adhering to pandemic protocols and need a little getaway to alleviate the stress that this has all brought upon us, Puerto Rico is a safe destination for you. While your ideal version of a Puerto Rican vacation may be a bit hampered, there are still plenty of responsible, yet fulfilling, activities to take part in. Every traveler has their own unique way of exploring, but in times like these, we have a duty to follow all safety guidelines regardless of any inconvenience they may cause. Without a doubt, we can all do what’s asked of us and still satisfy our wanderlust.

Puerto Rico Trip: 2020 A Memorable Year

Writer and Dreams Abroad founder Leesa Truesdell during her Puerto Rico tripLeesa Truesdell’s beloved grandma, Tata, is a continuing influence on her travels, inspiring her to fall in love with adventures abroad from an early age. While teaching English in Madrid, Tata passed away. Since then, Leesa has developed in ways her grandmother would be proud of. After taking an emotion-packed trip to Puerto Rico in December 2019, Leesa was able to honor her grandmother’s memory. Now, at the close of 2020, she takes time to remember the one and only Tata and all that she learned from her.

2020: A Memorable Year

It’s 2020. When I wrote my last piece about Tata, I did not realize how much would change and how fast it would happen. This year has been tough for all of us. It is times like these when we must remember to tell people what they mean to us often, live with conviction and purpose, and remember that every person you meet has a story, so listen. Listen up and listen hard. 

Last year, I was in Puerto Rico. Letting go has never been easy for me, nor has saying goodbye. When I returned from Spain, I worked and did not stop working. It is almost as if I did not give myself a chance to fully let go of the sadness that would creep up every time I heard a song or was reminded of her. I realized I needed to take a break from overdrive and go back to the place where all of my traveling began. So that is exactly what I did.

Feelings on Arrival

When I landed, I didn’t feel the usual buzz of anticipation when you get off and exit the aircraft. This was probably because I knew this trip had a purpose external to my personal destiny. I was there for Christmas Eve (my grandma’s favorite holiday) but also, to let go. For much of my adult life, “letting go” meant backing away from being right in a conversation. Or, letting family members have the last cookie at a holiday party.

This trip just had that feeling… yeah. It could have been a subconscious all-in-your-head feeling. But, I still did not feel that that let-me-jump-for-the-luggage-carousel-to-find-my-bag-so-I-could-explore vibe. This had a different feeling altogether. However, it was up to me as to how I chose to live in the moment. Since Tata no longer was there for me to tell her how much I loved her, it was time to set her free. After her passing in 2017, it was about time.

As I drove to the other side of the island, memories of her stories and Puerto Rico flashbacks bounced into my mind. Years of listening to her stories filled my heart. They came out right when I needed them most. It was as if those memories armed me with what I was about to encounter next. 

She would talk about Puerto Rico and her sisters over and over again. In the end, I felt like I was the adult and loving grandparent she had been to me for thirty years prior to that moment. These moments made me realize how much people have to tell if you listen.”

— Leesa Truesdell

A photo of Leesa and her grand mother, Tata. Leesa reflected on her grandmother's life and the messages she carries with her today during her Puerto Rico trip

Why Am I Really Here

When Tata passed while I was in Madrid, my father had a small portion of her ashes encased into a ceramic heart. The purpose of this heart was so that I could have her with me at all times. Truth be told, she had been in my heart since the moment she took her last breath. Although we were separated and on two different continents, I knew when she passed. Time stood still. 

So, while the sentiment was thoughtful and sweet, Tata needed to return home. She had been locked in a tiny heart for years. This was not how she would have wanted to have been remembered. I believe with conviction that she needed to be set free. She lived her life traveling the world, yet was not afforded the opportunity to go home one more time before she passed. 

She talked about Mayagüez many times over the years — as long as I knew her, which was my entire life. But, she never returned. Puerto Rico was not calling during her life until the end. That was why it was my responsibility, down to me and nobody else, to release her and to let her go. Over the years, I heard her stories and when dementia set in, she spoke of the island even more. I listened. I listened hard.

Leesa looking at a picture on a camera while at the beach in early 2020 during her Puerto Rico trip

Ashes to Ashes

The location and personal ceremony I had with Tata one last time before she physically left my hands and rejoined the earth was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life… I will never be able to put it into words. I had so many things I wanted to tell her. And, so I did. I let go. We let go together. 

William Parrish : It’s hard to let go, isn’t it?
Joe Black : Yes it is, Bill.
William Parrish : What can I tell you? That’s life.”

Quote: Meet Joe Black

Life and Legacy Beyond 2020

What things are you doing or working towards now that are helping to shape the legacy you want to leave? How are you moving past 2020?

I ask each of you to join us as we begin our life and legacy chapter of Dreams Abroad. We want to make this a space where parents, students, teachers, doctors, executives, healthcare professionals, military service members, police officers, and more can come to speak about their lives. Our goal is to not leave our loved ones behind. We want you to share a note, a phone call, or an online greeting to let them know that you care. Please join our team as we reach out with information about how you can help us stay connected.

Remembering the Woman with a Heart of Gold: Micaela Colon

Micaela Colon

Pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is Leesa Truesdell and I am from Coral Springs, Florida. As I get older, I realize that life means more. What do I mean by “more?” Well, it means three little things which add up to a large sum: tell people what they mean to you often, live with purpose and do what you can often, and finally, remember that every person you meet has a story, so listen carefully as they might only tell you once.

Micaela Colon: The woman with the best laugh, softest smile, and a heart of gold. 

I have made my fair share of mistakes over the course of my life. Nonetheless, it is these mistakes that have made me who I am. It sounds cliché, but let me explain. My grandmother, my beloved Tata, is no longer alive to write about how she would want to be remembered. However, I have a soul full of love and a mind full of memories that still feel so raw and real. Micaela Colon passed on January 11, 2017. Yet, I can still hear her voice and see her smile. Those are the memories that will never fade and are tucked in my heart forever. 

The love my grandmother showed me as a child was the kind of love a child could only dream of. I can still see the red swing that I would run and jump on when she took me to the park by her house. We went to the arcade for hours over the summer. One of my fondest memories is going to the cinema with her and sharing popcorn. We used to go to the cinema a few times a summer. Two movies that remind me of her are Chances Are and Xanadu. Tata enjoyed a movie with a good soundtrack. She played the piano and was passionate about a variety of music.

playing piano with my grandmother

Be Mindful

I am telling you about my memories that live on in my mind because as she got older, I remembered her love and I never forgot her. When I got older and was able to drive, I took her out to lunch. Eventually, when I was in college, I called her on all of her birthdays. When we went to lunch, she usually ordered the soup of the day and a half-sandwich combo at Rob’s Bageland near her house. It was one of her favorite places. After she passed, I remembered the things that I did with her as a child and as an adult when it was my turn to care for her. There was no eradication of the sadness but it helped me through it. 

Let me emphasize this — tell people what they mean to you while they are in your life. They will never forget it and neither will you. When I got home from Madrid and saw my mom for the first time after Tata had passed, she handed me a box with things from my grandma. In the box were cards that I had mailed her over the years. She kept all of them. At the time, I did not realize how much a card meant to her, but clearly, it meant everything and more.

Embrace Being Abroad

My grandparents traveled across the world throughout their lives because my grandfather was an aeronautical engineer. His job meant that he needed to live in different countries for years at a time. My grandparents embraced this part of their lives. They did what they wanted and they lived with purpose. They adapted to environments that did not accept them and taught in places that embraced them with open arms. For example, my grandmother taught English in Kinshasa, Africa in the 1970s while my grandfather made friends at work. He attended Rumble in the Jungle. This is something I was not aware of until my late twenties.

Take Time

What Tata wanted most during the older years of her life after Papa passed was attention. Our roles reversed and towards the last few years of her life, I found myself sitting and listening to her about her childhood in Puerto Rico. When her dementia started to progress, she kept her long-term memory and continued to recall her childhood in Puerto Rico. She just couldn’t remember what she had just eaten. It was important for me to sit and just listen to her during these stages of her life. Unfortunately, with Lewy body dementia, the person knows what is happening to them while it is happening.

Shared Moments

I felt at times helpless that she would fail to remember I was there because her short-term memory would not last. She would talk about Puerto Rico and her sisters over and over again. In the end, I felt like I was the adult and loving grandparent she had been to me for thirty years prior to that moment. These moments made me realize how much people have to tell if you listen. Some might not want to share, but those that do might need a friend or, in my case, their granddaughter, to sit and listen to the same story over and over again. As I look back, it only took a few minutes here and there, but collectively these minutes are some of the best moments I have ever spent.

Remembering Micaela Colon

The legacy Tata left me changed my life. It has made me a more mindful person. I tell people what they mean to me more often, I live with purpose, and listen to others regularly. When I got back from Madrid, I became an international student advisor and my sole role was to listen during this job. I also started Dreams Abroad to help others achieve their goals in life. No matter what I am doing in this life, I am always remembering her and using the love she gave me as a guide in my day-to-day actions. Micaela Colon is sincerely missed and never to be forgotten. 

Her legacy lives on through Dreams Abroad and its impact.

by Leesa Truesdell