Island of Enchantment

30 Dec

Enchantment Isle : Isla del Encanto

Enchantment Isle : Puerto Rico

By: Michelle Rae Uy

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San Juan, Puerto Rico from San Cristobal (Photo: Michelle Rae)

It was unfortunate that my very first glimpse of the enchantment isle, Puerto Rico, was on a plane late at night. From my window, all I could see were dull patches of city lights over an endless blanket of black. A more scenic welcome would have been nice – lush and green and surrounded by that heavenly Caribbean blue to which I’ve become quite attached.

It’s hard to imagine that tourism only makes up less than 10% of Puerto Rico’s income, considering that it’s one of the tropical island’s biggest strengths. It is, after all, not called the Isle of Enchantment for nothing.

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El Yunque and beyond (Photo: Michelle Rae)

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Waterfall in El Yunque (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Consider El Yunque, for example. Nestled on the slopes of the Luquillo Mountain Range, it is the only tropical rainforest in the US National Forest System. Here, raging waterfalls, some easily accessible from the main road; a misty dwarf forest; and tall peaks that afford the park’s most scenic views captivate as much as the trails, gloriously muddy from the constant showers; the flora that border them, many of which, our guide gladly shared, carry surprising medicinal properties; and the elusive animals that dart past them.

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Equally enchanting is the Laguna Grande Bioluminescent Bay, one of the few remaining in the world. Some would argue that it’s not worth the trouble – the dwindling population of dinoflagellates, caused by excessive development nearby, fail to impress, the glowing water depicted in photos exaggerated. But kayaking through a mangrove forest in darkness, which is not an easy feat, into a beautiful lagoon bedecked by stars and the occasional sparkle in the water caused by startled planktons can be an unforgettable and rewarding experience.

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Spanish colonial houses in Old San Juan (Photo: Michelle Rae)

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La Fortaleza in Old San Juan (Photo: Michelle Rae)

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San Cristobal (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Back on land, the enchantment isle’s historic and charming capital can’t help but mesmerize. Old San Juan is undeniably pretty, with its winding, blue cobblestone streets lined with adorable pastel buildings that rise up only 3 or 4 stories, vestiges of Puerto Rico’s Spanish colonial past. Yet it was an important stronghold in the Caribbean as well, as evidenced by its towering fortresses, from giants like Castillo San Cristobal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro to the nondescripts like San Gerónimo de Boquerón near Caribe Hilton, birthplace of Pina Colada. As it was my last stop, I took everything in slowly and carefully. I gazed in awe at the world’s narrowest house (La Casa Estrecha), wondered at the prisoners that no doubt baked in the fortress dungeons and the elites that once roamed its streets, and enjoyed the Christmas serenades of local performers at a nearby square.

My first glimpse of Puerto Rico may not have been memorable, but my visit had been nothing but. And as I stood at a portion of the old city wall looking out to the blue waters that seemed to get even bluer and more beautiful in gray weather, I honestly contemplated moving here, at least for a short time. There’s no denying I was spellbound, enchanted. I know that one of these days I will be back. Who knows? Maybe then I’ll finally get that picturesque arrival I was hoping for.

Michelle Rae Uy is a travel writer, editor and amateur photographer based in Los Angeles. Check out her adventures on Another Spur on the Road.