Hurricane Maria did a job at the El San Juan Hotel, the historic property of Puerto Rico where Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli once sang. Water filtered through the lobby and into the guest rooms, and a strong wind tore the curtains and threw a stainless steel sculpture like an inflatable beach ball.
The 60-year-old lady could have reopened quickly, but the staff took the time to meticulously restore the historic features of the hotel. They removed and dried the hand-carved cherry mahogany panels on the walls and columns. They repainted the gold ceiling. And they individually cleaned the 7,000 pieces of crystal on the 4,500-pound chandelier that enchanted the lobby. The repairs cost north of $ 60 million.
"It was a risk that the owners took, but they wanted the hotel and lobby to be here for the next generation," said Martin Smith, managing director of the property. "They said:" Do not be in a hurry ".
On December 14th, more than a year after the hurricane, the hotel El San Juan will open its double doors, inaugurating its guests and the sweet Caribbean breeze. Trumpeter Charlie Sepulveda will perform, and the candelabra will probably play – a paean on the return of Puerto Rico.
"It's not just a return," said Brad Dean, managing director of Discover Puerto Rico, the island's marketing organization, for recovery efforts. "It's a return like better than before."
One of the most devastating storms in US history, Mary inflicted a catastrophic blow to the island with nearly 3,000 deaths, according to an approximation of the Puerto Rico government. The territory of the United States was already shaky by a recession and by hurricane Irma when the category 4 hurricane struck last September near Yabucoa, on the southeastern coast. The winds reached 155 mph. More than 30 inches of rain fell from the sky, turning gurgling streams into wild water courses. The general interruptions of the power and communication services have thrown the island into darkness and silence. In August, the power company announced that it had completely restored electricity on the island. That month, Governor Ricardo Rosselló presented a recovery plan of $ 139 billion to Congress.
A lot of work remains, especially in residential areas, but Puerto Rico has made great strides in all travel categories. For example, daily air service increased from 20 flights two weeks after the hurricane, from 110 to 130 flights on 28 airlines. JetBlue returned to pre-Maria frequency in June, six months ahead of schedule. For cruise ships, the port of San Juan opened less than three weeks after the storm; the southern Ponce terminal started receiving ships last December. This season, two dozen ships will use the island as their home port, four more than last year. All this maritime activity could set a record: tourism officials provide 1.7 million passengers for the 2018-2019 season, which would exceed the previous bar of 1.5 million cruisers in 2015-2016.
On the ground, 135 hotels – about 75 percent of the building stock – accept reservations. By mid-2019, the availability of the rooms will increase from 11,000 to over 15,000. Airbnb short-term rentals have increased from 7,700 to 8,700. Since eating and playing are as essential as sleeping and taking a shower, travelers can choose from 4,000 restaurants (including 1,885 in San Juan), 190 attractions, 16 casinos and 13 golf courses. And finally, the nearly 250 beaches along the 272-mile coastline have returned to the shape of the model, with pearly white sand and baby blue water.
"New Orleans took eight years to recover," Dean said, referring to the period following Hurricane Katrina. "Puerto Rico can not wait eight years."
Of course, you will not have to postpone a vacation to Puerto Rico until 2025, but visitors with specific hotel preferences will have to stay a little longer. Several properties are in the final stages of renovation, including the Candelero Beach Resort, the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, the Melia Coco Beach, the Condado Plaza Hilton, the Caribe Hilton San Juan, the Ritz-Carlton San Juan and El Conquistador, Waldorf Astoria Resort and Spa Some are brand new on the scene, like O: LV Fifty Five Boutique Hotels, Aloft Hotels (in San Juan and Ponce) and Four Seasons Cayo Largo. And two – a JW Marriott at Dorado and Dreams Resort and Spa in Guanica – are undergoing pre-construction. The opening dates range from this month to 2020.
Next year, one of the island's most awaited attractions will shake the Convention district, near Old San Juan. The San Juan district will include a wide range of entertainment options: urban zip lines, entertainment venues, hotels, restaurants, bars and a nightclub in a five-acre space. Dean described the complex as "L.A. Living with a Latin Touch."
"A sort of exciting moment came out of the terrible devastation of Hurricane Mary," he said.
Get the most out of it & # 39;
Those who want to look back can still see the remains of Mary. Bob Gevinski, an islander who worked in the hotel business, said that visitors who fly into the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan can still locate the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which issued blue tarpaulins. on the roofs. In the El Yunque National Forest, park officials experience delays in traffic and temporary closures while crews repair paths. The island of Vieques, off the east coast, operates with four generators and routine maintenance checks can cause disruptions. Its largest property, the 156-room W Hotel, remains closed and cloaked by a mystery: will it reopen or will not reopen? (A theory: the direction is waiting for the utility to repair the submarine cable to the mainland.)
"You'll notice things," he said, "but it will not stop you from doing anything." The hurricane was terrible, but not quite. Some positive developments materialized later. The bioluminescent bay of Vieques, for example.
"The bay has darkened after Mary," said Gevinski, "but it has never been brighter than now." (The Vieques Trust is studying the bay to understand why).
The post-Maria climate has also generated a flurry of new businesses and expansions and has sparked an entrepreneurial spirit. An example: ferry service to Vieques. Previously, the boat from Fajardo, on the mainland, took 90 minutes. In October, a high-speed catamaran began to transport passengers from the new starting point in Ceiba, cutting an hour out of the journey. When the terminal on Mosquito Pier on Vieques opens, the journey will last 15 minutes. At the moment, a one-way ticket costs like the pre-hurricane price of $ 2.
"Communities are taking the hurricane and are making the most of it," said Annie Mayol, president of the Puerto Rico Foundation. "They are taking charge of their destiny."
The non-profit organization of Mayol collaborates with four municipalities on projects with a tourist vein. (It will expand until 10 next year.) One concerns the zip line of the ToroVerde adventure park in Orocovis – which, before Dubai entered, claimed the longest title in the world.
The owner, who reopened the attraction in March, added restaurants and accommodations, offering visitors a place to soothe their hearts after surging through the jungle at 60 mph. On the Sausage Route, culinary highlights have injected Puerto Rican culture on the trail of the pig, introducing live music and artists who show and sell their work. On December 1, a farmer from Orocovis began to invite the diva's campers to glaze over his property, the Finca Oro Rojo. When not hanging out in their chic tents, guests can go for walks in nature, practice yoga and learn about the production of plantains.
The Humacao nature reserve in Punta Santiago has welcomed birdwatchers, walkers, canoeists and other outdoor enthusiasts in March. The foundation is helping to repair common areas, such as gazebos, and plans to build an exhibition hall in Punta Santiago that will focus on the Monkey Island project in Cayo Santiago, half a mile from the coast.
The mini-museum, scheduled to open next year, will explain the history of rhesus macaques that a researcher brought to the island in 1938. Over time, the original population of 400 has more than doubled. The exhibition will offer a look at the structure that is closed to all creatures, but to monkeys and scientists.
The island is ready & # 39;
After the hurricane hit in Puerto Rico, Spanish chef José Andrés came into action, providing meals to tens of thousands of islanders who did not have the power and the water to boil even one egg. Last month he came back to the island – not to feed people but to be fed. The Nobel Peace Prize has joined a circle of celebrities at the reopening of the Dorado Beach, a reserve of the Ritz-Carlton. During the visit, he and Martha Stewart ventured into the town of Morovis for a lunch of roast chicken and ice cold beer. Later they visited the goats and greens at Frutos Del Guacabo in Manati, a partner farm with World Central Kitchen, the non-profit organization founded by Andrés. All in all, they had a ball.
"The island is ready," he said. "The places they opened opened very well."
Andrés proceeded to rattle off a list of his favorite activities in Puerto Rico, sounding more like a carefree traveler than a hot activist. Drink local beer and an acidic rum. Puff on a cigar. Visit the Spanish fortresses in San Juan. Trek around El Yunque, "the most spectacular tropical rainforest on US soil". It digs the Boqueron oysters, which grow in the mangroves and are "one of the cleanest oysters". Scuba diving, surfing, sailing. Eat wild crabs that live in the mountains, empanadas, tostones and spiny lobsters caught a few moments ago by fishermen. Order a roast chicken dish that he shared with Martha Stewart. Play 18 rounds of golf. Book a massage. Find your family at 3:00 to listen to the Coqui concert. More rum, preferably Ron del Barrilito. And most importantly, do not take anything for granted – not the frogs chirping under your window or the rum that shakes your glass or the lights in your hotel room.
"If you want to have the best time in your life, you will have it," Andrés said. "And if you go with the conscience, your holiday will be even better."
More from travel:
In Key Largo, from end to end with the inhabitants of the revitalized coral reef of Florida
The US Virgin Islands clean up the holidays
Sazón and struggle: in Puerto Rico and Cuba, food is an indicator of resilience and creativity