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Caribbean doesn’t always take passport

Beginning on June 1, 2009 all individuals traveling by air, land or sea outside the U.S. are required to present a passport or approved travel document to enter/re-enter the U.S. when returning from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean.

It is my understanding that now only a valid passport or passport card will be accepted. Gone are the good ole days of a driver’s license and birth certificate. In most locales your local post office is the place to start your passport application process. To obtain a passport you’ll need an official birth certificate, government issued photo ID card, the application and appropriate fee. For details visit http://travel.state.gov/passport.

For those of you who enjoy the pleasures of a Caribbean vacation and do not have a passport don’t despair. There still are a couple of wonderful Caribbean options still available, namely Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Both are United States territories and permit US citizens to travel their without a passport. But please if future travel plans calls for foreign travel get started on your passport today.

Puerto Rico is the eastern most islands of the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, approximately a thousand miles (2 1/2 hour flight) southeast of Florida and just east of the island of Hispaniola-home to the Dominican Republic & Haiti and west of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Rich Port in Spanish or PR as the locals refer to it the island is basked in brilliant tropical sunshine with terrain ranging from palm-lined beaches on four coast lines to rugged interior mountain ranges, gently rolling hills, and dry desert-like areas.The island boasts 20 designated forest reserves with El Yunque the most notable one and the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. Forest Service.

Spanish and English are the official languages, but Spanish is without a doubt the dominant language. Knowledge of Spanish is useful, although English is widely spoken. Sometimes you may find yourself surrounded by only by Spanish speakers but an English speaking person is not far away and will come to your rescue.

An agreeable climate is one of Puerto Rico’s most attractive characteristics. Puerto Rico has a tropical marine climate, with an average annual temperature of 80°F (26°C). Puerto Rico enjoys year round summer temperatures. The dry season is December to March. Note that temperatures in the mountains are significantly cooler than the coast, so if you intend to travel inland bring a sweater for the evenings regardless of when you visit.

Puerto Rico is a complex island with Spanish Caribbean culture found in the architecture and attractions of the island. Abundant beaches provide water activities such as diving, sailing and surfing. Hiking opportunities abound particularly in the rainforest of El Yunque; bird watching and whale watching can also bring a thrill for any seasoned traveler.

Personally I enjoy the hustle and bustle of San Juan the capital city. It is both modern and old. The Condado beach area of the city features elegant beachfront hotels, high energy nightlife, casino gaming and wonderful dining. A short drive away is the neighborhood termed “Old San Juan.”

To me it whisks you back to the Spain of Christopher Columbus and the age of Spain’s empire in the New World. Narrow cobblestone streets offer plenty of duty free shopping and fine Spanish-Caribbean dining. The architecture of magnificent palaces and government buildings adorned with iron grill work and the massive fortress El Morro makes this area a great walking tour.

Away from the metropolitan San Juan area you’ll discover many of the other secrets of the island. Whether it is a long weekend getaway or a longer vacation PR makes a great foreign yet familiar tropical getaway.

Air service to the island is excellent with most major U.S. carriers offering daily service with familiar name brand plus local hotels provide a wide range of rates and amenities. Another money saving option is to look into booking a tour package that bundles your air, hotel and other surface features.

When venturing away from San Juan plan on staying at some of PR’s small country inns called paradores (www.gotoparadores.com). These quaint places offer amazing service and accommodations. It is also a great chance to mingle with the locals and learn about island life firsthand.

If you enjoy the travelling the islands of the Spanish Lake (another nickname for the Caribbean Sea) then you should enjoy Puerto Rico. I sure did.

For more information visit www.gotopuertorico.com or contact your favorite travel agent/ travel supplier.

Next week I’ll take a look at another American Caribbean Paradise-the United States Virgin Islands.

Got questions? E-mail them to thetravelprofessor@gmail.com.