Once a part of Spain, and a territory of the United States since 1898, the beautiful island of Puerto Rico has plenty of charm to go around. Full disclosure: I may be a little biased about this since I'm half-Puerto Rican, and have visited a few times before with family, but hear me out.
The beaches are gorgeous and relaxing, and the old capital city is a joy to explore, with its narrow cobblestone streets lined with Spanish architecture. Plus, the whole interior of the island is lush with greenery and spiked with amazing views.
Our two-week visit was sponsored by my mom (who was born in Utuado, PR), and included her 95-year-old parents, my sister and her family and my brother and his family. Accommodations were planned as such: a couple nights with my mom's cousin, a week in Rincón at a beachside six-bedroom house with a pool, and five nights in a high-rise condo in Isla Verde, near San Juan (the capital and largest city).
After a few days of beach, pool, and dominoes, we all headed to the Arecibo Observatory, famously seen in the 90s film Goldeneye. You'll marvel at this thing's size and achievement; it is, after all, the largest radio telescope in the world. The view of the massive science project is only topped by the sharp karsts surrounding it. The museum ain't bad either.
The unofficial mascot of Puerto Rico is the coqui, a tiny tree frog heard everywhere on the island come nightfall. Its name is derived from its signature call, a whistle that sounds like "coqui." We got to see about five of the little guys during our trip, and since frogs are some of my favorite creatures, I was totally stoked.
About an hour's drive southeast of San Juan is an incredible experience: the only tropical rainforest in the United States, El Yunque. We spent the day hiking paths and embracing the dampness, and I enjoyed the best experience of the trip by far - wading in a freezing-cold tall and raging waterfall. As it poured down more cold rain, my heart raced and I couldn't contain the giant smile plastered on my face.
From the surfing town of Rincón on the west coast, to the glitzy beaches of Isla Verde, Puerto Rico is the place for beach lovers. We had a blast snorkeling and swimming, but our favorite beach experience happened to be a short hike along the rocks overlooking Playa Sucia, a popular beach cove with pristine white sands lining turquoise surf in the southwest corner of the island. We spotted at least 15 iguanas crawling around on the cliffs and soaked in the view of the entire beach down below.
Perhaps my favorite part of traveling is eating food you can't find anywhere else. Puerto Rico doesn't disappoint, with its mix of Spanish, Caribbean and American flavors. One of the most iconic of these is lechón, in which a whole pig is roasted on a spit til it has a wonderfully crispy and salty skin. The best place to find it is on a Saturday in the tiny town of Guavate, where a short strip of a local road is dubbed the "ruta de lechón."
Another culinary delight is mofongo, a mashed plantain dish (akin to like America's mashed potatoes) filled with seafood, chicken, pork or veggies. It's hard to come by in the states so we sampled it as much as we could while we were on the island.
I had traveled to Puerto Rico a few times growing up, the last time being as a teenager. Getting to explore Puerto Rico all over again as an adult, and look at my family's heritage first-hand, was a truly meaningful experience.
Want to see PR in action? Watch the video of our trip.