With the lifting of COVID restrictions, we can finally think of the long-awaited vacation that we deserve. Though not the longest one, few American holidays come along with Independence Day’s fanfare.
If you are bored of neighborhood fireworks and having barbecues at home, why don’t you get out of town this Fourth of July and venture somewhere exciting? In case you still haven’t known where to go, I suggest celebrating your Independence Day in Puerto Rico.
The island is known for being the home to magnificent beaches (who doesn’t want a bit of R&R in the form of seaside piña coladas and a good novel?), but it is much more than that. Puerto Rico also offers a rich history, a plethora of natural wonders, and a dynamic cocktail culture (fun fact: That piña colada you are holding was invented right there!). The island is blessed with year-round sunshine, and above all, as a U.S citizen, you can travel without a passport.
Read on for locals’ useful tips to enjoy the most memorable Independence Day in Puerto Rico!
How Is The Independence Day In Puerto Rico?
The fact that Puerto Rico is a sovereign state or unincorporated territory of the United State raises some questions: Do they celebrate the 4th of July? How is Independence Day celebrated in this Caribbean island and, more ironically, do they have their own Independence Day?
There are a few occasions that can be confused with Puerto Rico’s Independence Day. On 25th July, Governor Luis Muñoz Marín signed the first Puerto Rican Constitution into law after it was authorized by the U.S Congress and approved by voters in a local referendum. Specifically, Puerto Rico moved from “colony” status to “commonwealth” status. The date is referred to as Puerto Rico Constitution Day. It is an official holiday on the island, celebrated with parades, speeches, fireworks, and parties.
Supporters of Puerto Rico’s independence also celebrate the 23rd of September, commemorating a short-lived rebellion against Spanish colonial rule in the small mountain town of Lares. Traditionally, the day is known as the birth of the Puerto Rican nation. Although it holds significant meaning in history, it is not a public holiday.
The rebellion is referred to as ‘El Grito de Lares’ (‘The Cry Of Lares’) – Source: El Nuevo Día
Still, the only official Independence Day in Puerto Rico is the 4th of July, just like in the 50 states. Whether or not their commonwealth should pursue its own independence is still controversial among Puerto Ricans, so this occasion might be a bit more low-key here. Nonetheless, families gather together, have special meals, spend the day at the beach, and go to Plaza del Quinto Centenario in San Juan to watch fireworks. If you wish to find somewhere less boisterous yet still enjoy Independence Day’s spirit, the Island of Enchantment will be your ideal destination.
Is It A Good Time To Visit The Island Of Enchantment?
Is it good to spend Independence Day in Puerto Rico? – Source: Unsplash
Puerto Rico has one of the most unvarying climates in the world. If you plan to spend your Independence Day in Puerto Rico, looking at the weather forecast won’t help much. You will most likely see rain every day and start worrying about not having the crystal blue sky, but don’t let that deter you from taking the trip. Regardless of the season, it rains all year long somewhere on the island. Additionally, the temperature always ranges between 80°F to 85°F, which means visitors can enjoy warm weather whenever they come.
March through July are the best time to visit Puerto Rico, right after the bustling winter and just before the sticky summer. There are trade winds in March, April, and May, which ensure comfortable weather days and nights, even without air-conditioning. If you prefer blue skies, you might be glad to know that March has one of the lowest average precipitation, while May is not as dry due to a short rainy season.
Average precipitation in Puerto Rico – Source: National Climatic Data Center
June and July are the hottest months, but they are also the greatest time to chill on Puerto Rico beaches. During these months, the average rainfall is approximately four inches, the island remains breezy and not very humid, even on the hottest days. Of course, immersing yourself in the water is the best way to beat the heat. There are fewer tourists during this season, which means you won’t have to fight for a hotel reservation or a table at a restaurant.
Aside from Independence Day, when you come to Puerto Rico in these two months, you can take part in some major festivals throughout the island. They include the Festival de la Piña Paradisíaca (June 7th to 9th), Puerto Rico Restaurant Week (June), Noche De San Juan (June 23rd), Aibonito Flower Festival (late June – early July), etc.
The Independence Day holiday is the best time to enjoy Puerto Rico beaches – Source: Unsplash
The peak tourist seasons run from December to February. These months witness North Americans flock to the Caribbean island to escape the frigid winter, and San Juan is often overwhelmed by cruise ship passengers. Prices are highest and crowds are heaviest, particularly on the coast. Puerto Rican Christmas trees are set up around Thanksgiving and not taken down until mid-January, making the holiday season on the island especially enchanting. If you want to get lost in a tropical Christmas paradise with festive lights and local designs such as jibaritos, it is worth taking your winter getaway to Puerto Rico. Just be sure to book in advance!
Puerto Rico holidays 2021 – Source: Pinterest
Traveling to Puerto Rico from August to November can be tricky, as they are the peak months for hurricanes. Unlike Florida, storms and hurricanes seldom strike the island, but most visitors prefer to avoid the risk. Because of this, you can get the best deals on the airfare and hotel. At a beach resort, the price can go down to $150 a night. If you wish to avoid the crowd and are willing to take the gamble on a hurricane season visit, you (or rather, your wallet) will be rewarded.
Tips For Your Vacation In Puerto Rico, According To The Locals
By now, you probably think you know everything about Puerto Rico and are ready for the next trip. However, I’ve witnessed many tourists finding themselves in sticky situations just because no one tells them what to prepare. Before you hop on a plane and travel to the Caribbean archipelago, jot down a few tips from the locals.
First Thing First: Some COVID Restrictions Are Still In Place
Earlier this year, the Puerto Rico government lifted the long-standing lockdown regulations. Still, there are some precautions for travelers to take note of.
Public beaches, natural reserves, and marinas are open, following social distancing guidelines – Source: Unsplash
All travelers are required to complete and submit a health declaration before traveling to Puerto Rico and documentation of a negative PCR COVID test that was taken no more than 72 hours prior to arrival. Results from fast tests are not approved. You can also take the test at the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport for $110.
Additionally, everyone is encouraged to maintain a social distance. Wearing masks is mandatory at public beaches and nature reserves. Those who don’t wear masks might receive a fine. Fortunately, the ban on alcohol sales is lifted, so you can enjoy refreshing cocktails while bathing in the warm sunshine.
Americans returning from Puerto Rico are exempt from the COVID testing requirements since Puerto Rico is a US territory. Still, the CDC recommends taking the test during and after travelling.
About The Cost
Because the costs in Puerto Rico are equivalent to those in the United States, the exchange rate plays a big role for non-US citizens: As long as the US dollar stays low, the island will remain more inexpensive than some of the luxurious resort islands in the eastern Caribbean.
It will be challenging to stay comfortably in San Juan on a budget of less than $80 a day. Still, if you self-cater, take public transportation like bus or subway, and pick the cheapest motels, it is possible. Without a car (which would cost you at least $50 a day), though, your options are extremely limited.
With a proper plan, you can travel the island for $100 – $150 per day and more than $200 if you go in style. Depending on the season, the prices of decent lodgings in Puerto Rico might vary from $80 to $250. Nevertheless, you can find convenient two-to-three-star rooms from $75 – $150.
Dinners in restaurants might be pricy, especially if you stay in the cities, but you should be able to find something in the $20 – $30 range. Lunch is less expensive (around $20) and breakfast usually costs less than $10. You can grab some local snacks for a few bucks at any time of the day, which is comparable in price (and fat content) to US fast food. The island does have a sales tax, and tipping is common in restaurants or hotels.
Dining in Puerto Rico, especially in tourist attractions, might be costly – Source: Eater Denver
Most museums and tourist attractions have affordable admission fees: Government-run venues are free while privately operated attractions rarely charge more than $10. Discounts are available for children, seniors, and students. Going diving will add an extra $80 – $100 per day.
Hunt For A Bargain And Explore At The Same Time
Okay, this is the advice from a visitor: As mentioned, when you set foot on the island, you might find food and beverages quite pricey. Upon arriving at the hotel, it surprised me to see how much we had spent on drinks. The same happened when I purchased a burger in a local restaurant. I couldn’t tell if the high costs were caused by the expense of shipping goods into the island or simply because it was a tourist attraction.
What I could tell, however, was that by straying from the beaten path just a bit and talking with the residents, we could find much cheaper restaurants. The same drink I had in the hotel for $6 is available outside for $1.5. That was a huge difference.
Eventually, I realized that convenience comes at a cost. If you have the time, venture around and seek better deals. It can even lead you to some fascinating places that you may not have otherwise experienced.
What To Pack?
There are a few things the locals advise you to pack for the most pleasant trip on this tropical island.
This packing guide will help you enjoy the trip to the fullest – Source: Unsplash
Blogger Gigí Nieves Bosch advises bringing along an insulated beverage cup. According to her, the intense heat can melt the ice in your drink after a few minutes of walking. An insulated beverage cup will come in handy for a trip to the beach. It can help you enjoy cold beers while you are in the water. In addition, bringing a cup with you helps to reduce plastic use and keep beaches cleaner.
The next thing is sunscreen. “People underestimate the strength of the sun here,” said Claudia González, a front desk agent at Palacio Provincial in Old San Juan. Hence, to save your skin from sunburn and protect the island’s surrounding coral reefs, it is best to choose a reef-safe sunscreen.
Aside from sneakers and flip-flops, take a pair of waterproof shoes with you. It is excellent for trekking some of the island’s trails that lead to beaches or caves, as well as leaping in the waterfalls.
While you can explore some signature sightseeings, such as Old San Juan, Santurce, or Condado on foot, other treasures are spread out around the island. Lulu Santaliz suggests carrying your driver’s license, saying that renting a car is a fantastic option to get the most out of Puerto Rico. Remember to book a car ahead of time due to limited availability.
Last but not least, remember to keep a bug-repellent spray on hand. It will be useful for you in the rain forest or even the beach. Don’t let bugs ruin your wonderful trek through the scenic Toro Negro State Forest or El Yunque!
There’s Plenty Hidden Treasures Beyond The Brochures
For a short Independence Day trip, signature places like Old San Juan, El Yunque National Forest, or Viesque bay are still fantastic. However, many residents hope that respectable tourists would go beyond the stereotypical sightseeings. There are 78 municipalities on the island, each has its own history, culture, and stunning scenery waiting for visitors to discover.
For inspiration, you can take a look at Ariagny L. Martínez Vellón’s Instagram. She is a travel podcast host who is training to be a professional tour guide. On her page, Ariagny features beautiful places around Puerto Rico, such as Bayamón, Aguadilla, and Playa El Mojón Tranquilo. She advises travelers to visit Utuado, Ponce, or Cabo Rojo and let the locals introduce them to the island’s rich culture rather than staying in San Juan.
So if you have some spare time, be sure to explore other parts of the island. It doesn’t only contribute to the micro-economy of rural towns but also gives you a sense of the real Puerto Rico.
Discover Puerto Rico like a local
You Only Live Juan-ce!
No place will make you feel alive like Puerto Rico. This magnificent island is brimming with wonders at every edge of its domain. Even if you have been here only once, it will always hold a special place in your heart.
Whether it’s Independence Day or Christmas, every time is perfect for you to see what Puerto Rico has to offer. Pack your bags, get ready for good times and tan lines on the Island of Enchantment!