Puerto Rico: A Natural Paradise
January 1, 1970
by Emily Fisher
If you are looking for a tropical getaway with natural beauty beyond your wildest dreams, fresh food that will send your taste buds soaring, and locals that are so kind that they would give you the shirts off their backs, look no further than Puerto Rico. This small island is bursting with life from nature as well as from the lively community of people who inhabit it. If you are looking to practice your Spanish with people who will welcome you with open arms and actually allow you to practice without judging you, Puerto Rico may be one of your only options. Although this island is technically a United States territory, it has its own unique energy and lifestyle that is very different from what you tend to see in the US. I cannot recommend this island enough or talk highly enough about the lovely people that I met while I went there. If you go to Puerto Rico, these are some the sights that you won’t want to miss.
El Yunque Rainforest and La Mina Falls
El Yunque Rainforest is not a very large feature of Puerto Rico’s natural landscape, but it is breathtakingly beautiful. The main attraction that I recommend checking out is La Mina Falls. You can drive to the first part of the falls and gaze upon their beauty as well as climb if you want a closer look or to cool down from the Puerto Rican heat. The temperatures are cool under the canopy of the forest, but if you decide to hike up further to get the most out of the falls, you will definitely be ready for a swim and cool down. Hiking up to the top of the falls, you can find people swimming in the natural pools created by them. It’s not too difficult of a hike, so it is good for all ages and the reward at the end is well worth it. In El Yunque, you can go chasin’ waterfalls with great success and feast your eyes on a truly beautiful natural sight.
Las Cavernas Del Rio Camuy
The caves of Puerto Rico are one of their most unique features. Check out Las Cavernas Del Rio Camuy to see the third largest underground river in the world which is estimated to be about 45 million years old (https://islandsofpuertorico.com/parques-de-las-cavernas-del-rio-camuy/). Tours are offered through the caves where guides will point out the more notable stalagmites and stalactites, the beautiful window into the world above at Cueva Clara, and even the spaces where you can feel the heat from the activity of the bats that live there. Don’t be scared though, these bats don’t come out during the day. Just watch out for their droppings along the railings if you don’t want to end up with a stinky stain.
Ziplining in Orocovis
One of Puerto Rico’s most famous attractions for adventurers and daredevils alike is the ziplining in Orocovis at Toro Verde Nature Park. Caveat: If you are under 100 pounds, you may not be able to enjoy this attraction. Having a high enough body weight is crucial to being able to make it across the entire line. Additionally, if you are over 300 pounds, you also may not be able to enjoy this attraction because of the danger of this amount of pressure on the line. This park has eight zip lines that you can enjoy as a tour and they span across the entire valley. The zip lines in this course range from 800 feet to 2526 feet long, which is almost a ½ mile long. As you go through the tour, the lines get longer and longer, and they offer you a view of the canopy from 600 feet off the ground. This is a view that you have to see to believe. There are not enough words to describe the beauty. And for the finale, the biggest line of them all, The Beast, you ride not in a seated position, but in a Superman position, as if you actually had wings and could fly through the air. This is an experience that you do not want to miss.
Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees
If you are lucky, one piece of magic that you may see are the rainbow eucalyptus trees. We drove across the island from San Juan in the west to the sights in the east and along the way, we decided to take a back road instead of the main highway. Along these back roads, which are treacherous, so please drive at your own risk, we saw trees with rainbow bark. This is something that you need to see to believe and they are truly a treasure. If you find one, do yourself a favor, and pull over to enjoy their beauty. One of my biggest regrets is not stopping to appreciate these trees for longer.
The Bioluminescent Bays
If you want to experience something out of a fairy tale, you must visit one of Puerto Rico’s 3 bioluminescent bays. There are two on the mainland, one in Fajardo and one in La Parguera, and there is one on one of the small islands off the coast of Puerto Rico, La Vieques. Depending on where you decide to go, I went to La Parguera, you can book a small boat tour or rent a kayak to go out into the bay and witness this magic. On the small boat tours, you have the opportunity to go swimming in the bay and use your arms and legs to ignite the glowing algae. In the kayaks, you can witness the same beauty, but by using your paddles. Either way, this is something that you don’t want to miss. If you do decide to go swimming in the bioluminescent bay at La Parguera, however, beware of jellyfish. They are not extremely poisonous, but they will deliver an uncomfortable sting. Most of the boats have vinegar on-board just in case, so don’t let this deter you.
The Sunflower Fields
To satisfy your inner flower child, make sure that you stop by the sunflower fields or La Finca El Girosol in Guanica. You can purchase freshly cut sunflowers and wander the fields to see the rows and rows of sunflowers of all different varieties. This experience will bring a smile to your face and the Puerto Rican sun into your heart. It’s a bit off the beaten path, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t find it right away. Be persistent and you will not be disappointed.
One of the most devastating natural disasters of 2017 ravaged the island of Puerto Rico and they are still recovering. Because of this, you may not be able to visit all of these attractions. Make sure that you call ahead to see what is available. The damage caused by Hurricane Maria should not deter you from going, however, as the island relies heavily on tourism and your business could greatly assist the people who live there. Just make sure that you are respectful and sensitive to this reality and be sure to do good wherever you go.