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Puerto Rico "Kite Boarding Heaven"

  by Arline Inge


How many of your vacationbound pals have gleefully announced that they were off to the Caribbean—to St. Lucia, St. Bart’s, the Turks and Caicos, even tiny Nevis, a favorite of British royals?

How could they leave out Puerto Rico, the Caribbean’s sun swept something- for-everyone island? It’s where Americans don’t need passports. Where prices are among the lowest in the Caribbean. Where you pay with American dollars and bring home all your purchases duty free. Where practically everyone speaks English, and they drive on the right side of the road.

As it is, Puerto Rico does welcome more than three million visitors a year, not counting the daily shore excursion tourists from the visiting cruise ships. But in recent years, the island has been losing out to its better known upper crust neighbors. That may not be for long. The opening last January of an ultra-luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel on upscale El Dorado beach may change all that. Set on a sweep of palm-fringed beach, with a choice of golf courses, pampering service and room rates to match―this new resort, built on the bones of a long gone grande dame hotel of the 1920s, is fast becoming a magnet for the rich and famous. And the powers-that-be are counting on those international trendsetters ― and the paparazzi― to make Puerto Rico the next go-to playground of the Caribbean.

This 100 x 35 mile rectangular island, surrounded by the Dominican Republic, St. Kitts and Antigua, and bordered by both Caribbean and Atlantic waters, has far more to offer than the perfect suntan. Besides the excitement of its capital city San Juan and endless beaches, Puerto Rico has bioluminescent bays that glow in the dark, the beautiful colonial city of Ponce with its famous black and red fire station, the tropical rainforest El Junque, home to the almost invisible little croquis frog, whose squeal you won’t forget, and two serene outer islands, Vieques and Culebria, where you can get away from it all. And to top it off, Puerto Rico is home to the gigantic Camuy Caves, third biggest in the world, and another wonder, the world famous Arecibo radio telescope. You can visit both.

Kite boarding heaven.

Puerto Rico’s lively waters have long been Mecca for every imaginable water sport, like fishing, sailing, scuba, surfing and lately for the latest rage, kite boarding. (You’ll find expert instructors on most of the popular beaches.) This daring sport is set to replace the windsurfing event at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

The big colorful kites that pull the boards of faltering beginners and sleekest champions over the most capricious waves, brighten the skies almost anywhere you look. But even the most dedicated sportsman must take a day to walk the picturesque streets of Puerto Rico’s historic capital San Juan. Granted that Columbus and his fellow explorer Ponce de Leon did beat us to this part of the New World by more than 500 years, visitors can still make discoveries of their own.

The capital city’s crowning glory is the wonderfully preserved World Heritage Site, the formidable fort known as El Morro. (It’s a must see, and if you have time, take a tour of its sister fort San Cristobal as well.) Erected on a promontory jutting into the sea, the 15-foot and higher walls of the 400-year-old gray stone fort repeatedly warded off invading British and Dutch fleets and persistent pillaging by sea-going pirates who roamed the coast in search of merchant ships in the 17th and 18th centuries. To this day, El Morro’s row of canons on its forbidding walls are pointed out to sea. A guided tour of this famous behemoth, with its iconic domed sentry boxes, is sure to leave haunting memories of long, eerie tunnels, dismal dungeons and pathetic notes and images scratched by generations of prisoners on the dank underground walls. When you finally pop back out into the brilliant Caribbean sunshine, your reward is a stroll along the waterfront, then on to sunny plazas, graceful fountains, imposing monuments―and delightful restaurants.

It wouldn’t hurt to get in shape before climbing the steep narrow streets to the top of San Juan’s charming sevensquare- block Old Town, paved with blue-gray cobblestones, which were ballast from the trading ships of the 1700s. Even at ten in the morning, the lineup of cars crawling to the top of the hill was so dense that our own driver shooed us out of the van at the bottom and drove off to find parking and meet us later.

The beautifully preserved wall-to-wall centuries old pastel townhouses of the gentry, with their graceful wrought iron trimmings, march down the hill, offering such temptations as art galleries, designer boutiques, handmade lace and panama hats. But beware! Lingering can rob you of your precious beach time and your chance to savor a steaming café latte at a fragrant hole-in-the-wall coffee shop along your way. Puerto Rico’s beans, grown in the interior mountains, are among the world’s finest, making its prize winning coffees almost as famous as the island’s renowned Bacardi Rum. You can tour and taste at the Bacardi distillery just across the bay. But just in case someone tells you that Bacardi invented the Pina Colada, it was a bartender at the Caribe Hilton in the 1950s.

 

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