3 Reasons You Should Spend the Holidays in Puerto Rico
Whether you crave an escape from the cold winter weather or just want a change of scenery for the holidays, Puerto Rico is a sure bet. Here are three reasons why you should book your winter vacation to the Island of Enchantment now.
1. It’s easy to get there
There are several daily direct flights from the U.S. to Puerto Rico’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU). New Yorkers can reach the island in just under 4 hrs. and Miami residents can touch down in about 2½ hrs. Direct flights are also available from Newark, Raleigh, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Orlando, Philadelphia and Dallas.
No passport? No problem! Puerto Rico is a U.S. Commonwealth territory. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you don’t need a passport to visit. All you need is your driver’s license or identification card. Additionally, Puerto Rico’s two official languages are Spanish and English and the currency is the U.S. dollar, making it even easier to vacation here.
2. It’s an ideal escape from the cold
What better feeling is there than to shed those extra layers and feel the warm sand between your bare toes? With nearly 300 beaches, Puerto Rico provides plenty of postcard-perfect places to soak up the seemingly endless sunshine. Beyond the beach, there are a variety of ways to enjoy the outdoors thanks to the island’s distinct topography. Hike El Yunque, the only rainforest on U.S. soil; explore a vast system of caves in the island’s Karst Country; and immerse yourself in history as you wander cobblestone streets of the nearly 500-year-old city, Old San Juan.
The island’s climate is tropical marine, so it’s usually sunny and warm almost year round. A winter visit (from December to March) also means you’ll skip the rainy season. Daily high temperatures during the winter average around 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius). Low average temperatures rarely fall below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius). Mountain temperatures can drop as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius).
3. Puerto Ricans do Christmas right
If you feel like the holiday season is too short, you should definitely spend it in Puerto Rico. Locals here celebrate one of the world’s longest holiday seasons. Festivities begin the day after Thanksgiving and generally end three weeks after New Year’s Day. Christmas comes to a close with the San Sebastián Street Festival in Old San Juan. This iconic street party began more than 40 years ago to honor Saint Sebastián, an early Christian saint and martyr. During the day local artisans line up along the streets selling handmade crafts and jewelry. Food vendors serve up traditional Puerto Rican specialties like pinchos (chicken or pork kebabs), bacalaitos (fried codfish fritters) and empanadillas (crescent shaped turnovers filled with meats or seafood). In addition, musicians and dancers perform on various stages throughout Old San Juan.
Another popular Puerto Rican Christmas tradition is parranda, which is similar to Christmas caroling. Friends and family quietly gather at a house—usually after 10pm—to surprise the unsuspecting homeowner. Singers are accompanied by guitars, tambourines, maracas and other musical instruments. The serenade concludes with an invitation to share food, drink and merriment for an hour or two. The party then moves to the next house, bringing along the receiver of the previous parranda. The celebration continues from house to house until around 3-4am.
The Christmas meal in Puerto Rico is typically served on Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) before families attend midnight mass. Traditional Christmas dishes include lechón (roast suckling pig) and pasteles, which are made of plantains or cassava and stuffed with meat, capers and potatoes. They’re wrapped in plantain leaves to resemble a Christmas present. Dinner is concluded with a dessert of tembleque, a coconut-based pudding that’s creamy, jiggly and perfectly sweet. Don’t miss out on the traditional Christmas drink of Puerto Rico, the coquito. It’s the Puerto Rican version of eggnog and is packed with delicious coconut flavor.
During Christmastime it’s popular to eat pork and go to the mountains to chinchorros that make lechón a la vara (whole pork roast/rotisserie spit). The verb used is chinchorrear, which is the action of gathering a group of people and going to the mountains to these chinchorros, eating and drinking all day. You usually stop in multiple places to eat and drink, then continue on. During this time, the most popular chinchorreo route is by Guavate. It’s also known as La Ruta del Lechón (roughly translated as “the pork route”).