A Trip Around Stunning Puerto Rico Through the Eyes of a Local
As a person with Puerto Rican blood coursing through my veins, I am becoming increasingly bothered by the way my country is perceived in the media, and in general stereotype. Despite being brought up in the United States, and also having Salvadorian genes, the Puerto Rican side is most predominant, and possibly the reason why I currently live in the tranquil and much more local Salinas in the tiny nation's south. The marina town is so beautiful in nature and represents real Puerto Rican living; something that lovers of good food, entertainment, and lazy beach vibes must be a part of. So let's put away the travel brochures and pina coladas for a while, and take the time to get away from the beaches of the main city San Juan, and come on down with me, a local, to see what delectable treats my Puerto Rico has to offer:
Okay, I suppose I should talk a little bit about San Juan; the city and its beaches are very beautiful, but therein lies the problem. As San Juan is the main gateway for international visitors, and as it is quite a comfortable and accomodating city for tourists, it is rare that any visitor leaves there to explore the rest of the island. And as we know, many tourists, and who can blame them, pore over sites like Trip Advisor and listen to travel agents and the media who all seem to say that if you leave the tourist areas of San Juan and venture out, that it's unsafe. There's a reason why they all say that; money. But it's just not true.
Of course, many parts outside of the capital are completely different to the resort coast of San Juan, and while I guess like everywhere that there are some unfriendly people, the majority are nice and will always greet you with open arms. But don't get me wrong, I have nothing against coming to the island for a relaxing time in the hotels and beaches of San Juan, it's great fun! But, if one chooses to not explore the rest of the island, then what's being missed out on is a much more authentic, down to earth, and memorable experience. And isn't that what we all want?
Guavate is located in the mountainous regions in the island's south-east, not far from the towns of Cidra and Cayey. Here, apart from the spectacular scenery, forest and crystal clear waters, is best known for its true representation of Puerto Rican cuisine. It's not called the pork highway for nothing! The food here is prepared in the traditional and rustic methods that hark back decades and even centuries, and when you taste it, you will see that it's all made with love, by people who are only too happy to accommodate to travellers. If you know a little bit of Spanish, even just the basics, the locals will be even more appreciative, and trust me, your experience will be out of this world!
Salinas. My home town! I love it here, as it's a very beautiful, quiet and law abiding alcove that sits right on the Caribbean Sea. The town is quite humble and everybody knows each other, which gives it the warm feel of a close-knit community. Unlike back in the United States, this is one place where I feel completely confident in leaving my door open all day long to collect the fresh air from Mother Nature herself. The crime rate is essentially non-existent here, plus it’s on the opposite side of the popular tourist areas of the island. The town will be yours for the taking! Here, people still ride horses in the street without consequence, roosters wake the neighbourhood in the morning instead of irritating alarm tones, and townspeople mingle in the local bakery seemingly all day. I'll admit it, it's not the fanciest or most touristy place on the island, but it's certainly one of the most down to earth places to experience, in which you will have a ball.
Polita’s Beach in Salinas, is in many ways the true taste of Caribbean life, but in many ways, it isn't. Unlike most beaches, this one has a stunning shade tree in the water which will allow you to swim all day without being burnt. Of course this is a beach you’ll have to travel to, but it's well worth the trip. The common belief about Salinas and the southern side of Puerto Rico is that the residents only speak Spanish, which would be fair enough as it is the number one language here. This misnomer is one of the main reasons that many tourists do not leave San Juan, and it's a shame. The truth is, that there are plenty of bilingual people who understand, and are more than happy to practice their English at every opportunity. The amazing hospitality is undeniable as well; when I first moved here, and with Brooklyn still oozing from every pore, I was immediately welcomed by the locals and included in everything from the get go. That's not just because I have Puerto Rican blood, the locals here just love to show off their little slice of paradise. As a result, I would be so proud to raise a child here in the nice, quiet, family-oriented community that Salinas truly is. Heck, even the police are kind and actually do their jobs, which is kind of a strange revelation for this New Yorker!
El Yunque Rainforest
A place that you generally wouldn't see in brochures or on the main tourist trail is the otherworldy El Yunque rainforest in Rio Grande. This area rivals any rainforest on mainland Latin America for exotic wildlife, a pristine and rich untouched environment, and for the daredevil such as myself, a waterfall climb to the top... if you’re daring and cunning enough!
Authentic Puerto Rican Foods & Markets
This is my absolute favourite and is making me hungry right now! Authentic food and bustling street markets are the bread and butter for the surety of Puerto Rican life, and belive me, there are literally hundreds of them to be found outside the capital San Juan. Puerto Rican cuisine is like no other, though I may be biased, and includes such foods as lechon (a wonderful pork dish), pasteles (a dish very similar to tamales that comes wrapped in a banana leaf), arroz con gandules (yellow rice with pigeon peas), fried plantains, and everyone's favourite, pulled pork. And that's just to name a few. Drooling yet? This is real Puerto Rican food, which more than explains our nature to eat huge plates of food and why we carry around pot bellies!
But where the real fun is, is tasting all these foods and more in one of the street markets. Meet the friendly locals, and be surprised at the great conversations you'll find yourself in. And for the effort of simply having a go at the Spanish language, you may very well find yourself with a free sample of a delicious Puerto Rican delicacy.
Music & Fiesta!
Let's not forget about the music! Most everywhere, you will be entertained by the island's authentic music such as salsa and bolero, which lend themselves to fun, and often debauch festivities. A lot better than that bed-wetting music that gets played on the radio!
Overall, Puerto Rican are a very open-minded people when it comes to tourists, and the crime rate is much lower than media interpretation would have you believe. I suggest to all that are seeking a fun, adventurous, and non-expensive vacation to dump the stereotypes and come on over! Our nickname, the all-star island, has never been more apt; it really is the all-star island. And remember, there is much more to explore than fancy San Juan resorts and North Atlantic beaches. There is always a much more authentic experience waiting for you just on the horizon.
See you when you get here!
To learn more about the Caribbean paradise that is Puerto Rico, click here.