Caribbean comeback: A revitalized Puerto Rico beckons—and offers ways you can give back

In the months after Hurricanes Irma and Maria swept through Puerto Rico in September 2017, the Caribbean island known for its golden beaches, lush rainforests, and smooth rum, struggled to regain its star status as a vacation destination. Now, just over a year later, much of the island has been returned to its gorgeous tropical glory. Its capital city of San Juan is once again filled with vacationers strolling through its historic streets and indulging in its world-renowned restaurant scene. And small towns and beachside resorts have come back in full force with hotels reopening and beaches once again lined with sunbathers and swimmers. As the island continues its impressive restoration, there’s no better time to buy a ticket for luxuriating on its pristine beaches and embarking on its adventures. Puerto Rico needs your visit. And when you consider the laid-back days of endless sunshine and warm breezes the island offers, you need it, too.

Wyndham Grand Rio Mar, Puerto Rico. USA. Photography by: Victor Elias Photography.

STAY

When the hurricanes hit, Wyndham Grand Rio Mar’s (wyndhamriomar.com) general manager Nils Stolslechner and a few other employees hunkered down inside the hotel. The waters rose and wind slammed into the 500-acre resort, trees and roofs blew away, and its pools filled with sand. As the hotel began its own restoration, it also aided others on the island. It opened its rooms to relief effort workers, assisted a local home for the elderly, and even donated thousands of dollars to restore bridges and trails in El Yunque National Rainforest.

Today, it’s almost impossible to imagine that these kinds of needs existed just last year. The luxurious Wyndham Grand has been totally restored with a multimillion-dollar renovation that includes refreshed restaurants and bars and extensive updates to its guest rooms, turning them into luxe retreats filled with sophisticated décor and plush linens.

Sitting at its new balcony rum bar, Caicu, overlooking its lush gardens and perfectly manicured pool areas, it’s easy to forget that the devastating storms ever happened.

Caicu

The expansive resort, just 25 miles from San Juan, is once again the perfect getaway to enjoy Puerto Rico’s variety of outdoor experiences. On hot days its mile-long private beach is dotted with swimmers and sunbathers, while its three oversized pools offer cool spots for a dip beneath the shade of swaying palms.

Wyndham Grand Rio Mar, Puerto Rico. USA. Photography by: Victor Elias Photography.

 

 

Guest rooms on one side of the resort look toward the emerald green forests of El Yunque, while on the other they face the azure blue of the Atlantic. And while it’s tempting to continue your adventures into the evening, there’s no better place to catch one of the island’s ethereal sunsets than relaxing on your room’s private balcony.

EAT

While San Juan’s bustling restaurant scene is only a short drive away, there are plenty of tasty spots to dine just steps from your door. Start your morning at Marbella, the bright and airy restaurant overlooking the gardens and the sea beyond. Its fountain-side café tables are perfect for sipping coffee and enjoying dishes like creamy coconut oatmeal or a decadent eggs benedict with your view.

After a morning of beach activities, stop by the open-air 5 O’Clock Somewhere. The beachside restaurant is as playful as its name suggests with its tiki vibe and frozen cocktails. Dig into fresh local seafood with options like the seared Mahi Mahi sandwich. Then, snag one of the underwater bar stools at the restaurant’s swim-up bar for the resort’s famed Ziggy Zaggy cocktail, a colorful frozen drink with layers of piña colada, mango, and strawberry puree.

For traditional Puerto Rican fare, return to Marbella for dinner, where you’ll find options like the popular local mofongo dish and plantains served with tamarind honey mayo. Or, for a more elegant evening, make reservations at Roots Coastal Kitchen. The restaurant, which underwent a $1.2 million renovation, features a romantic setting and creative dishes. Indulge in the shrimp and bacon empanadas served with saffron garlic aioli, and try the broiled swordfish that marries local seafood with international flavors like coconut stick rice and yellow curry.

GIVE

There’s no shortage of fun at the Wyndham Grand. In addition to its renowned golf courses, on-site casino, and beach activities like kayaking and standup paddle boarding, there are plenty of excursions from horseback riding and hiking to snorkeling and sailing trips. But one of the best ways to spend your days at the resort is with its Voluntourism Program.

After the hurricanes, many of El Yunque’s trails were washed away. The forest was stripped of its leaves and its roads were covered in mud. And while much of it has been restored, there’s still work to be done. This is where hotel guests can help. Those interested can join a group of volunteers working in the rainforest, clearing trails and removing debris to re-open its paths. The hotel provides a boxed lunch and transportation to the site so that you can spend a half-day deep inside the verdant waterfall-filled forest helping to aid the island. Tip: wear long pants and long sleeves—and bring your bug spray!

 

PACK

There’s nothing more stylish than doing good. And since you’re already in the giving mode, consider packing accordingly. You’ll want a water bottle for your morning in the rainforest, and MiiR (miir.com) makes a sleek, eco-conscious one and donates a portion of its profits to water projects in countries like Laos and Uganda. For your time in the sun, don a pair of eco-friendly Panda (wearpanda.co.uk) sunglasses. For every pair sold, the UK company donates an eye exam and eyeglasses to someone in need. And bring along a pair of colorful Tidal New York (tidalnewyork.com) flip-flops for walking around the pools or in the sand. Most of the company’s employees are military veterans—and they make ultra-comfortable flops.

Getting There
It’s a four-hour direct flight from Charlotte to San Juan, and just a half-hour drive to the hotel. Plus, since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, there are no passports required, which makes it even easier to get from your door to your beach chair.