We all make resolutions in the New Year, right? Quit smoking, start jogging, save more, eat less ... we've all been there. But I've got a very specific list of resolutions for anyone who has visited, or plans to visit, Puerto Rico: 10 Puerto Rican New Year's Resolutions designed to help you discover what makes this island so special.
And after going down this list, you came up with your own Puerto Rican resolution for this year, let me know about it! email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your story!
My number one resolution for those of you who are visiting Puerto Rico in 2012 (first-timers or anyone else) is to stay at one of the many top-class hotels around the island.
Why would I be plugging the ritziest hotels in Puerto Rico? Simply because I've been pleasantly amazed at how many of them have offered outstanding deals for visitors in 2011. Not only have discounts been sizable (we're talking under $200 a night for 4- and 5-star resorts), but the perks have been tempting (free nights, resort credits and more).
I've listed my favorite hotels here, but there are a few newcomers who will challenge for a spot on my Top 10 this year; regardless, hotels all over Puerto Rico have rolled out a discounted red carpet in 2011, and I expect them to continue to offer savings and deals in the new year. Take advantage, and spoil yourself!
During a recent trip to the island, I had the chance to experience Toro Verde, and oh boy was that an experience. We zip-lined our ways across verdant valleys, traversed rope bridges that had at least one of us thinking she was Indiana Jones, and ended the day with a date with La Bestia, or "The Beast."
Also known as the Superman by the guides, this is a zipline in which you're lying flat in a secure harness, arms by your side, facing the gorgeous landscape below you as you fly through the air. It's the second-longest zipline in the world, and it's located at Orocovis. If you've resolved to be a bit more adventurous in the new year, this should help you achieve your goal.
Ok, chances are, anyone who has visited Puerto Rico has sunk their teeth into some of Puerto Rico's fine cooking. Lechón, or roast suckling pig; mofongo, or mashed plantain stuffed with all manner of goodies; asopao, the island's hearty stew; and so much more. If you're never tried comida criolla, or Puerto Rican home cookin', it has to be on your list of Puerto Rican resolutions, and I'd start with these five.
Even if you had, I'm willing to bet there are some island specialties you have yet to try .... like maybe something from this list.
Whenever I can, I try to spend at least one night in El Yunque, Puerto Rico's magical subtropical rainforest. Part of the reason is because of the many lovely inns, rustic bed and breakfast inns, and eco-hotels to be found here.
Another reason is the song of the coqui, Puerto Rico's tiny tree frog, which is heard in full orchestra in the forest (some find it jarring, but I find the melodic whistle of the coqui quite beautiful).
Two more reasons are the chance to enjoy the rainforest in the evening and in the early morning, when you can find trails and hidden pools and special spots to call your own.
And finally, there is an ancient mystique at play in El Yunque, which is best appreciated when you stay here.
I've got my favorite beach in Puerto Rico. I know many locals who have their favorites. And I've heard more than my share of debates about which beach is best.
My advice? Find the one that suits you best. Puerto Rico has all kinds of beaches; beaches with a history of hidden pirate booty; beaches with black sand; beaches that are so picture-perfect they've become movie stars. And since the island has more than 270 miles of beachfront, discovering new ones shouldn't be hard.
And for the record, my current favorite is this one.
Anytime is a good time to be in Puerto Rico, but the island takes on a special fervor when there's a big event in town. When should you come? If I had to pick three occasions to pencil on your calendar, it would be Saborea!, the Ponce Carnival, and Christmas.
But those are just a few of the major happenings throughout the year. Puerto Rico celebrates everything from bananas to hammocks to more than 70 patron saints. Check my monthly calendar before you go to find out what's going on around the island.
For a small island, Puerto Rico has a rich tradition and wonderful variety of arts and crafts, and these make for excellent souvenirs. But for me, nothing evokes the culture of this place quite like the Vejigante mask, or careta. These folkloric demon masks come straight out of Puerto Rican folklore, and also come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Most often found with an assortment of horns, they are usually made out of paper mache, and have a wonderful sense of whimsy and playfulness about them.
Mine is black and pink with a bird's beak and three large horns. But that's me ... I'd bet you can find one that suits you.
8. Visit an Island Away from the Island
Those who come to Puerto Rico may not know that one of the best reasons to visit this island is to visit its islands. A weekend in Vieques and Culebra has been enough to keep people coming back (me included) time and time again. But even beyond Puerto Rico's main islands, there are keys, islets, and tiny sandbars rising out of the Caribbean Sea, idyllic spots that make for a dazzling day out. One example is Palomonitos.
9. Tour Old San Juan at Night
Old San Juan is my favorite destination in Puerto Rico. An ancient capital with over 500 years of history, its a place that captures the old and the new. And it is especially romantic at night. A walk around the old city, when it's lit up and bubbling with Sanjuaneros enjoying their historic jewel, is always a pleasant experience.
But to really enjoy Old San Juan at night, take Leslie's Flavors of San Juan Tour or Debbie's Night Tales of San Juan. Both are excellent, informative, and led by terrific guides who know what they're doing. The former introduces you to Puerto Rican cooking by taking you on a culinary tour of several restaurants in the old city. The latter gives you insider access to buildings you don't get to see at night.
10. Share Puerto Rico With Someone New!
One last resolution, to be completed only after your visit to the island. If you've had as good a time as I always have, and if you fall in love with Puerto Rico the way I did after my first visit, I invite you to share your experience and introduce the island to someone who hasn't been here before.
And let's see if they come away with their own resolutions for Puerto Rico!