Coming off a rocky time is easier with support. In Puerto Rico’s case, that means support from volunteers, construction workers, recovery organizations, and tourists—especially right now. Yes, American’s Caribbean-island territory is still rebuilding after devastation caused by last fall’s hurricanes Maria and Irma, which wrecked the local infrastructure along with so much of the island’s other functionality and beauty. But just as Houston, New Orleans, and other destinations have overcome the havoc of extreme natural disasters, the people and businesses of Puerto Rico are restoring their home state with newfound courage.
That’s where we, the travelers, come in. Over the past months, many of the island’s hotels, retailers, restaurants, and tour operators have regrouped and rebuilt. Their steady progress continues, and in the main tourism hub and capital city of San Juan, companies are open for business and eager to welcome travelers back to their enchanted island.
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Flying into San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport is incredibly affordable. So far in 2018, big carriers including Delta, American, United, and JetBlue are offering fares that could be considered dirt-cheap. Flexible-date searches might reveal round-trip flights from New York City airports for as low as $103 up to the still-affordable $289. And the airport itself, which underwent an extensive renovation a few years back, is in full swing with shops, bars, eateries, and easy-access cab stands at the ready.
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Support Through Spending
Whether you’re natural thrifty or a true shopaholic, Puerto Rico’s boutiques, galleries, and other businesses are prime spots for retail therapy. In Old San Juan especially, travelers will appreciate independent shops where they can invest in locally made arts and souvenirs, beach wear, handicrafts, and other Puerto Rican goods. Some sweet shops to keep in mind are Concalma, a women-owned, locally made handbag shop; Puerto Rican Art & Crafts selling handmade paintings, jewelry, souvenirs, and more from its restored Spanish-Colonial building; and Olé, a family-owned hat store proudly minimizing forehead sunburns since 1977. Consider every dollar spent an investment in an economy that very much needs support now more than ever.
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What are the tropics without trees, plants, and flowers? Lush foliage is part of Puerto Rico’s inherent beauty. Para La Naturaleza is the island’s leading environmental organization that’s protecting nature, and helping to restore what was lost in the hurricanes. It’s also one of the top local volunteer outfits for visitors and locals, with daily opportunities to help in community and ecological gardens, in plant nurseries, contributing to the local bird census, and in other eco-related ways. Para La Naturaleza also organizes lectures, workshops, eco tours, and other events all over the island. (Donations are welcome too, of course.) Visit See Puerto Rico for more volunteering opportunities and events.
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