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Despite ongoing progress with vaccinations in the U.S., much of the world is still largely closed to American visitors — and testing requirements upon return may deter travelers from visiting those spots that are open.
However, there are a number of spots in the Caribbean that are welcoming tourists from the U.S., including some that are actually domestic locations and thus don’t require a negative COVID-19 test to fly home (though they may require one to enter).
And on our recent Return of Travel webinar, we heard directly from one island’s head of tourism, as we sat down with Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico. He and TPG’s founder and CEO Brian Kelly covered a wide variety of topics, including the current process for arrivals, what to expect when visiting the island and things to do once you’re there.
Read on for some of Brad’s suggestions — and scroll to the bottom for a full recording of the webinar.
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Outdoor activities (other than the beach)
Puerto Rico is known for having some wonderful beaches, but Brad mentioned many of the other great nature-oriented activities the island has to offer.
“A lot of people want to get out and hike in El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. Forest Service,” he pointed out. You can make reservations do this online at least a month in advance at Recreation.gov — though note that spots tend to fill up at least a couple of weeks beforehand.
Then there’s the bio-luminescent bays on the island, which Brian did a few years ago in a kayak and described the experience as “pure magic.”
Another under-the-radar option? The Río Camuy Cave Park, which Brad described as “the largest underground cave system in the Western Hemisphere” thanks to its 10+ miles of caverns. These recently reopened after an aggressive effort to repair damage from Hurricane Maria.
If you’re looking for more adrenaline-fueled activities, consider including the mountainous central region of the island in your plans — especially if you can take a ride on the second-longest zip-line in the world (aptly named “The Monster”). This area also features what Brad described as “the Napa Valley of coffee, with great coffee haciendas that take you back to the 1800s, when coffee was one of the main exports for Puerto Rico.”
Finally, he pointed out the multitude of things to do on the western side of the island — which includes surfing at Rincón, seeing the pink salt flats in Cabo Rojo and strolling one of the longest boardwalks in America in Aguadilla.
Related: I took a socially distant vacation with my family – here are 6 things we learned
Explore the cities
Of course, there’s a lot to enjoy about the island’s large cities — San Juan and Ponce — and Brad made sure to point out what these areas have to offer.
“Ponce has great gastronomy, extensive culture and history … and you’re walking the streets that Ponce de Leon once walked,” he said. “What’s not to like there?”
And while San Juan is a much larger city by comparison (and the most common entry point to the island for Americans), it too has a lot going on.
“There’s so much to do right here in the metropolitan area — not only the nightlife, which is vibrant, and (of course) the beaches in the tourist areas. [You also have] some great urban art and a lot of great music,” pointing out that Puerto Rico is a well-known hub for both salsa dancing and reggaeton.
Now, he did note that there is currently an island-wide curfew in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. — so bear that in mind if you’re planning a trip in the next few weeks.
When Brian asked about how Puerto Rico is focused on sustainable tourism, Brad jumped on the opportunity to highlight how important the agricultural sector is to this goal — pointing out the huge growth in gastronomy on the island.
There are “a number of operations like Frutos del Guacabo in Manatí, Finca Conciencia, Finca Oro Rojo,” he said. These “farms are producing environmentally-friendly product, and you can go there to see it, learn it, but then — best of all — enjoy the product itself.”
He went even further here, pointing out how the efforts for sustainability isn’t just about the environment.
“Sustainability also extends to the heritage and culture of our communities. If we can maintain the special, unique heritage and culture … and then balance that with environmental sustainability, what we really end up with is a perfect balance that will allow sustainable tourism growth in the long term.”
Current entry process
Of course, if you’re looking to do any of the above items for an upcoming trip, it’s critical to know what it takes to visit Puerto Rico. Right now, all arriving travelers must present a negative result from a PCR molecular COVID-19 test taken no more than 72 hours prior to arrival. They also must complete a Travel Declaration form through the health department’s online portal — where they can upload those negative results.
If this isn’t possible, the San Juan Airport (SJU) does offer on-site testing and the ability to complete the form upon arrival. However, that will delay your entrance onto the island.
A few other important items of note:
- The negative test must be a PCR test — rapid antigen tests are not allowed.
- At this point, proof of vaccination does not serve as a substitute for a COVID-19 test. While this may change in the future, even fully-vaccinated travelers must still take the PCR test and show the negative result.
- In addition to the curfew mentioned above (10 p.m. to 5 a.m.), many businesses are still operating at limited capacity — so Brad strongly suggested advance reservations for dining or other high-demand activities that aren’t fully reopened.
Bear in mind that, since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and not a foreign country, your return back to the states will not require another negative COVID-19 test (which is currently mandated for all international arrivals).
Finally, these restrictions are always subject to change — so be sure to bookmark this page on Discover Puerto Rico’s website for up-to-date information as you plan your trip.
Want to hear more of the conversation with Brad? Check out the full recording right here:
Run of show
- 1:55 — Brian’s introduction
- 8:26 — Digital nomads in Puerto Rico
- 12:06 — What to expect when visiting
- 14:35 — Vaccine passports
- 16:48 — Cruising from/to Puerto Rico
- 19:19 — Meetings and events
- 24:18 — Infrastructure and Hurricane Maria recovery
- 28:45 — Sustainable tourism
- 32:34 — What to do as a visitor
- 35:51 — Family travelers
- 40:05 — Q&A
“The Return of Travel with Brian Kelly” is a series of live events to help consumers prepare for the comeback of travel as the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. Join Brian as he interviews top experts and company executives on a range of topics, including the anticipated boom in leisure travel, what travel looks like for various groups, the return to cruising, destination reopening and much more.
You can view a recap and recording of the first episode at the following link:
For recaps of this series’ predecessor — “The Future of Travel with Brian Kelly” — please visit this page.
Featured photo by Jamie Oppenheim / The Points Guy
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