The easternmost island in the Greater Antilles, Puerto Rico may be known for its stunning sandy beaches, but it has a lot more besides - especially for eco-conscious travellers. Planning a trip already? You’ll be spoilt for rugged mountains, mangrove reserves, tropical reefs and dense forests.
Puerto Rico is making a big effort to be seen as the next big destination for eco-conscious travellers. Home to hundreds of species - from endemic plants to endangered animals - the island is keen to attract ethical tourists. Meaning: those who want to give something back to the island during their visit.
Whether you're seeking harmony within yourself or searching for synergy with nature, Puerto Rico is the ideal place to tap into your higher, more conscious self.
Regenerative activities for tourists
The island is home to many community-based initiatives which give tourists and locals alike the chance to enhance the beauty of Puerto Rico.
You can team up with conservation-minded organisations like Para La Naturaleza, World Central Kitchen, Madre Tierra, and Frutos del Guacabo to take an active role in protecting the islands’ resources.
Maintaining community gardens, planting and sowing farm-to-table products, helping with coastal cleanup efforts, and protecting endangered turtles are just a few of the activities on offer.
“I think it's important to not only be committed to sustainability, but also to make that an active part of the experience so that we can all become conservationists,” says Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico.
The ideal destination for foodies
A unique fusion of Indian, African and Spanish culture with a US influence, Puerto Rico’s focus on conservation and ecology has flourished in recent years.
Hurricane Maria, regarded as the worst-ever hurricane to hit the island, struck in 2017 causing terrible damage to Puerto Rico’s infrastructure. While the effects of the tropical storm were widespread, the aftermath gave Puerto Ricans the chance to rethink their way of living, particularly when it came to food.
“Most of our food was imported. So when the hurricane hit a lot of the food products, we couldn't receive [any]. And so it reinforced the importance of our agriculture,” says Dean.
“And that's led to a growth in agritourism. We're seeing a lot more farm to table.”
Agri-tourism is a growing industry in Puerto Rico, with tourists able to visit coffee plantations and farm-to-table restaurants to sample local produce.
“You have to try the food. It’s extraordinary Caribbean cuisine with Michelin star chefs, who create these unique Caribbean meals with the local spices, and many of the food products there. The food is extraordinary,” continues Dean.
Many guesthouses also offer local produce and experiences too. Off the east coast of Puerto Rico, lies the small island of Vieques, home to several guesthouses that are embracing a sustainable way of life.
The lofts of Hix Island House are lined with solar panels, to augment the electricity and hot water it uses. While the water from the showers and basins is repurposed to sustain guava, papaya, banana, and lemon trees.
Elsewhere on Vieques, Finca Victoria is a ‘casona’ (house) on a farm, decorated with repurposed furniture and stocked with biodegradable shampoo and conditioner. Your stay on the farm includes a locally-sourced vegetarian breakfast and locally grown coffee and tea. You can also opt to stay in a treehouse with outdoor showers and organic fabric sheets.
Officially green accommodation
To encourage the tourism industry to focus on sustainability, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company has created a certification program. Focusing on a list of key principles, the scheme highlights building sustainably and using resources, such as water and energy, efficiently.
The company also operates a blue flag scheme for clean beaches and offers companies advice on eco and agrotourism.
For green travellers who want to get as close to nature as possible, there are a number of options.
The El Yunque Treehouse is perched in a tree overlooking the only tropical rainforest in the US National Forest Service. The two-storey house has its very own kitchen, living room, and dining room. While you can find the bedroom and en-suite bathroom at the top level, just underneath the stars.
Another option for the green traveller is camping, but that doesn’t mean you have to rough it. You can enjoy a glamorous but zero-waste version of camping in various places in Puerto Rico, such as Pitahaya Glamping Retreat in Cabo Rojo and Finca Viernes in Utuado.
Here you can book tents kitted out with mattresses and private bathrooms, near pristine rivers and nature reserves, to recharge completely while living carbon-free.
“For younger travellers who want to leave a destination better than they found it, this is the perfect time to be able to have these experiences,” says Dean.
“Whether it's visiting the coffee farm and understanding the importance of protecting the water supply, the agritourism, which gives you an appreciation for the food product, or the meeting facility that's run by solar power. These are ways that we connect with the traveller who wants to make sure that we're protecting the world we live in and leaving it better than we found it.”
Visitors to the El Yunque National Forest are also encouraged to ‘adopt a coqui’. A national symbol of Puerto Rico, the coqui is a tiny frog endemic to the national forest.
The song of the male frog can be heard throughout the forest, enchanting tourists and female frogs alike. The loudest amphibian in the world, all proceeds from the coqui adoption scheme go to Conservación ConCiencia, a Puerto Rican non-profit dedicated to environmental research and conservation.
Low impact adventures for adrenaline junkies
For those who want to experience something a bit edgier, there are many ways to enjoy Puerto Rico’s natural beauty while getting involved in high-impact activities.
You can see Puerto Rico from a bird's eye perspective if you choose one of the many adventure parks in the forest. For an adrenaline eco-fun experience, you can visit the famous Toro Verde in Orocovis or go deeper into the mountains to Batey Zipline Adventures in Utuado. There, you can soar along ziplines and even walk across exciting hanging bridges.
And, what is an island getaway without a water adventure?
In Puerto Rico you can choose from an array of low-impact activities such as kayaking in some of the only bioluminescent bays in the world, scuba diving near a reef or paddleboarding in a lagoon.
Companies like Black Beard Sports, Pure Adventure, and Pirate Snorkeling Shack are green certified and promote ocean and river conservation, encouraging tourists to respect this diverse island and invest in its ecology before they leave.