Now that April 15 has passed and (if you live in the United States) you’re eagerly awaiting your tax refund — should you be so fortunate as to get one — the big question arises: what to spend it on?
Sure, you could pay off some bills, maybe put food on your table, add to your kids’ or grandkids’ college funds — or do what 13 percent of Americans plan to do with their refunds: take a vacation. (This according to a survey by the National Retail Federation.)
It’s been a long, hard winter in much of the country, and tax season is no fun, either. We fall squarely on the “take a vacation side,” especially if you can make your tax refund go farther at your chosen destination.
Puerto Rico — Caribbean America
I’ve been meaning to write about Puerto Rico for some time now, because it has just about everything you’d want in a tropical vacation spot: gorgeous beaches, warm weather, great food, nice places to stay, friendly people — not to mention plenty of history and culture in the beautifully restored old city of San Juan, its capital.
Yet Americans often overlook Puerto Rico despite the fact that it’s a U.S. territory, uses the U.S. dollar, doesn’t require a passport to visit, and English is widely spoken to complement the native Spanish language.
So you can get the Spanish-Caribbean experience — the colonial architecture, the cuisine, the tropical vibe — without actually leaving the country.
Thanks to the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, I can now pass along some money-saving tips that allow you to visit Puerto Rico and, very possibly, still have some tax refund money left over to spend on other things once you’ve recharged and forgotten all about winter and April 15.
- Direct flights are offered daily to Puerto Rico from more than 20 major continental U.S. airports. As noted earlier, since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, no customs inspections or passports are necessary for travel by U.S. citizens. And again, the dollar is the national currency and English is a common second language throughout the island.
Where to Stay:
Posadas — historical buildings that have been reconstructed and restored into themed hotels (from 7-75 rooms) –– offer visitors a new style of low-cost accommodations. Here are some examples:
- Hotel Colonial offers a cultural and historical experience based on notable events and individuals from the town of Mayaguez’ religious traditions. The hotel, built in the 1920’s as a convent, has been restored to reflect this religious history, including one of its cultural treasures – the remodeled portico. (14 South Iglesia St, Mayaguez; tel. 787-833-2150.)
- Da’House Hotel is a hotel-art-gallery that offers guests a chance to immerse themselves in Puerto Rican art and music. Hotel personnel are cultural hosts and art experts. The building itself once served as the National Center for the Arts in the 1970’s. (312 San Francisco St, Old San Juan; tel. 787-977-1180.)
Bed and Breakfast (B&B) Inns are another low-cost option. These are the smallest lodgings available on the island; each house has at least three rooms, but no more than six. The resident of the property is the host of the stay and provides each guest breakfast as part of the rate. Here are some examples:
- Casa Sol (Calle Sol 316, San Juan, Puerto Rico 00901; tel. 787-399-0105)
- Casa Castellana (1218 Calle Luchetti Condado, San Juan, Puerto Rico 00907; tel. 813-220-1813)
- Dos Ángeles del Mar (HC1 Box 4320, Rincon, Puerto Rico 00677; tel. 787-823-1378)
What to Do:
- Relax on the Beach – Puerto Rico might be a small island, but it’s surrounded by more than 270 miles of beautiful coastline. Anywhere travelers choose to visit on the island is certain to have a beach nearby, with plenty of activities available. And since all Puerto Rican beaches are public, visiting is free. Some top beaches include: Playa Flamenco, Playa Isla Verde and Boquerón Beach.
- Sightsee in San Juan – Another free activity is simply to stroll the blue cobblestone streets of Old San Juan. Visitors can walk by pastel-painted colonial buildings dating back to the 16th and 17th century Spanish colonial period and enjoy the city’s European-style charm. El Paseo de la Princesa is San Juan’s most beautiful promenade, lined with antique street lamps, trees, statues, fountains, and street vendors.
- Visit Landmarks – Casa Blanca, or White House, is one of the island’s many historical sites. Built in 1521, the estate is one of the oldest monuments in San Juan and belonged to the Ponce de León family for 250 years. It is open Wednesday through Sunday and offers free admission to all.
- Explore Museums – Museo de la Historia de Ponce has free admission and focuses on all aspects of Puerto Rican culture including its ecology, architecture, government and daily life. By far the most whimsical building in Ponce, Parque de Bombas Museum features a comprehensive history of the city’s firefighters. The building, built in 1882, was once Ponce’s primary fire station. Admission is free and guided trolley tours are only $2.
- Enjoy Nature – Located on the eastern shore of Vieques, the Vieques Wildlife National Refuge is the largest national wildlife refuge in the Caribbean. Visitors can spend time hiking trails and exploring the beaches for free.
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