Mountains make up most of Puerto Rico’s terrain, and La Cordillera Central run nearly the length of the island from east to west — Photo courtesy of Marriott International
Puerto Rico is a vibrant land of pristine beaches, swaying palms, moody cartoon clouds, flitting butterflies and coquí frogs that create a high-pitched chorus locals claim to be music to their ears.
Within this beautiful Caribbean spot – an unincorporated territory of the U.S. – the beats are loud, the plantain dishes abundant and the hospitality exceptionally warm.
People here want you to know that – despite a long road to post-hurricane and post-earthquake recovery (with major challenges still faced on many fronts) – this place is ready to welcome you with open arms. In fact, they’ve never needed your support more.
Puerto Rico’s winters and summers experience similar temperatures — Photo courtesy of Marriott International
We could think of few better people to speak on behalf of this destination than Isabel Rullán, Executive Director + Cofounder of ConPRmetidos. Rullán’s independent, non-partisan, non-profit organization was founded in 2012; after the devastation of hurricanes Irma and Maria (2017), they raised more than $4 million to support the long-term revitalization of vulnerable communities.
The passionate and fiercely motivated ConPRmetidos team understands that permanent change takes time. During the past two years, they’ve collaborated with grassroots leaders to implement projects that reimagine industries vital to the island’s sustainable future (like fishing and coffee farming, for example).
Among her many accomplishments, Rullán is a member of the inaugural class of #LoveTravels Beyond Barriers, launched by Marriott International “to celebrate and support the next generation of leaders who are actively championing unique strategies to promote inclusions, equality, human rights and peace.”
As the cofounder of ConPRmetidos, Isabel Rullán was selected to be a part of Marriott International’s #LoveTravels Beyond Barriers grant program and accelerator for 2018 and 2019 — Photo courtesy of Marriott International
“Puerto Rico has gone through a lot recently,” says Rullán. “However, the love people have for this island is so strong that instead of giving up, people have risen to the occasion and taken the future of our island in their own hands.
“People are opening new businesses, are more engaged with their communities, giving back and working to be self-sufficient. Your visit will help move the economy. Every dollar you spend here directly impacts a family.”
Start in San Juan
The San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is a beachside destination, just a short drive from Old San Juan — Photo courtesy of Marriott International
Begin your adventures by visiting San Juan, home to the international airport. (Note: U.S. citizens don’t need to pack passports, but bags will get scanned by the United States Department of Agriculture before heading back to the mainland.)
San Juan, Puerto Rico’s colorful capital and most populated city, offers plenty of places to stay near tropical beaches, historic sites, cultural and culinary hubs, plus happening nightlife venues.
To properly explore the capital, settle into the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. The property boasts balconies with water views, plush beds, high-speed Wi-Fi, a pool circled by towering palms and delicious fare served on breezy terraces with easy beach access.
When planning your itinerary, consider following the advice of award-winning actor, composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda, another of Puerto Rico’s staunchest supporters. Although suggestions range from regions like surfing capital Rincón to El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System, Miranda’s San Juan recommendations cover cultural draws from the street murals of Santurce to the Puerto Rico Museum of Art and Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center.
Puerto Rican mofongo (and mofongo balls, pictured here) feature a favorite Puerto Rican food item: plantains — Photo courtesy of Marriott Interntional
Be sure not to miss a stroll among the charming cobblestone streets, fountains, patios and 16th-century fortresses of Old San Juan, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is also listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
For the ultimate culinary adventure, savor a seasonal 15-course tasting menu at Marmalade Restaurant & Wine Bar, where unforgettable highlights may include ahi tuna tartare, hand-rolled black truffle pappardelle pasta and red snapper ceviche.
So how can one travel respectfully through Puerto Rico at this time? Rullán suggests renting a car, moving around the island and always engaging in conversation with locals. She adds, “Look for things that say ‘artisan made’ or ‘hecho en Puerto Rico.’
“Wherever you stay, ask for recommendations on where to eat that is locally sourced. If you have a good experience, write a positive review so that more people know about the place. Take lots of photos! Post on social media. Spread the word!”
Explore the islands
In Puerto Rico, Alto Grande Super Premium Coffee is regarded as the best of the best, because of its unique Arabica beans grown in ideal soil and climate conditions — Photo courtesy of Marriott International
According to Rullán, you should also get to know Puerto Rico’s exquisite mountains. “There are many beautiful places,” she comments, “We are currently supporting several projects in [the Utuado] region that was severely impacted by the hurricane. The strong resiliency of their people has allowed them to begin rebuilding their businesses and communities, but work still needs to be done so that they can regain full stability.”
To experience visiting a coffee farm, travel to Hacienda San Pedro, one of the members of PROCAFE – a non-profit organization of coffee farmers ConPRmetidos helped create to support the rebuilding of farms across 24 municipalities.
For prime pampering, book a night at the luxurious St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, which enjoys an ideal location, situated on two miles of serene and secluded beach on Puerto Rico’s northeast coast — Photo courtesy of Marriott International
And for those who have the time to stay a bit longer, Rullán definitely recommends visiting the island of Vieques, one of her favorite places while growing up.
She comments, “Rent a car, visit a different beach every day, and you must visit the Bioluminescent Bay. After the hurricane, it turned dark, so ConPRmetidos supported the local NGO Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust, who has been protecting the Bio Bay for years. Today it has its glow back, and you can take a tour and visit many of the restaurants in the area.”
Puerto Rico is an archipelago, meaning it has dozens of cays and islets — Photo courtesy of Marriott International
Speaking with Rullán instills great faith in the young leaders who are forging the path ahead with fortitude and grace.
“We get to meet and work with community leaders and entrepreneurs who are driven to create more opportunities for their neighbors, colleagues, employees and families,” concludes Rullán. “We see firsthand the tenacity of the people and we get to celebrate the small wins and results of the projects we have supported because we have worked together as a team.
I’m most proud of working alongside hardworking people who are committed to building a stable, productive and self-sufficient Puerto Rico.” And on that note, we look forward to returning to this special island soon – and witnessing even more exciting, positive changes, already in the works.