When I travel, I’m not usually one to pick Caribbean island destinations, even ones known for their beauty and culture like Puerto Rico. They remind me of spring break cruise liner vacations my family used to take me on adorned with horrendously opulent buffet lines and tacky décor that seems to escape the air of “relaxation.” Additionally, because my parents immigrated from the Philippines, I have a counter-culture sort of distaste for sun, heat and humidity. Even amid the wonderful things I’d heard of Puerto Rico and Old San Juan, I had set the bar low when I traveled for the first time for a recent FAM trip. Upon reflection, that it was a good thing.
Locally Sourced Vitamin-D
As I hopped off my quick three-hour flight from Atlanta, I felt the warmth of the tropical climate as someone greeted me with an earnest and excited “Hola, bienvenidos a San Juan!” It was a one-two punch of a warm welcome. Only a short while before, I was shoved in the TSA line. Now, I had escaped to a brand-new world but with no passport, shots or trips through customs needed. Prior to my trip, I got to interview the new CEO of Puerto Rico’s DMO, Brad Dean, to describe Puerto Rico in three words. It’s no wonder Dean replied with, “Fun, warmth—weather and people—and unique.”
My gig prior to joining Connect was with a hospitality group. Their slogan was “Passionately pursuing the perfect dining experience one guest at a time.” That’s a tall order for any organization looking to serve at least 1,000 individuals per week. Restaurants constantly compete for the best food and keep service second on their list. To me, it should be the other way around. Why? People are more likely to remember the way you made them feel as opposed to everything they ate. Puerto Rico’s team of planners and managers did this for my group. Their attention to detail and execution of showed us just how much care and genuine intention went into each stage of their planning. With seven press members and close to 40 planners on the trip, Meet Puerto Rico needed to make a good impression—and it did.
Culture and History
My favorite part of the trip was the food and history presented by Spoon Food Tours. The company allows groups to travel around Old San Juan, learn about the different streets, plazas and buildings that make up the ancient “walled city” while making intermittent stops at each different locally-owned restaurants. There’s no better way to experience a city than walk the streets and eat the food that its citizens have been enjoying for years. Beware: The cobblestone streets date back to the 1800s so wear comfortable footwear.
The Puerto Rican Dream
Perhaps the most comforting aspect of visiting Puerto Rico is its people. To see a different culture up close and personal is a privilege. While Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, it’s easy to feel separated from them through language and culture barriers. However, I’ve found that they share a lot of the same values and ideals. You see it in the way they treat one another, their sincere hospitality toward visitors of all backgrounds and genuine pride in the island they call home. During my stay and visit to Puerto Rico, I never felt like an outsider, I always felt welcome wherever I went.