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The American Caribbean – No Passport Needed!

Those seeking a warm-weather destination in winter would do well to

consider the American or U.S. Caribbean islands, among top options for water sports, history, culture, and escape from colder temperatures.

 

These islands, which are U.S. territories, include Puerto Rico – the main island and two smaller islands, Vieques and Culebra, and the U.S. Virgin Islands – St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix.

 

Puerto Rico and St. Thomas are easiest to reach by non-stop flights from major U.S. cities; both are popular ports-of-call on many Eastern Caribbean cruise ship itineraries.

 

Before booking any trip, think carefully about the kind of winter (or other) getaway you are seeking. It’s basically summer in these islands year-round, yet temperatures in the U.S. Virgin Islands are typically a bit cooler in December, January, February, and into April and May. During this period, the range is roughly 74 to 84 degrees.

 

For San Juan, Puerto Rico, temperatures are slightly cooler December through February, with a range of 66 to
85 degrees. For both destinations, you may want skip hurricane season, which is June 1 through Nov. 30, to avoid the risk.

 

Puerto Rico
Because of its size – 100 miles long and 35 miles wide, Puerto Rico has a variety of regions and a range of hotels and other accommodations. With Spanish heritage and language (as well as English), Puerto Rico can be an exciting destination. We’ll focus here on San Juan, the largest city, and specifically the historic area, Old San Juan.

 

Whether you are visiting Puerto Rico as part of a cruise itinerary or a land trip, consider spending time in Old San Juan, as it is not only charming and historically significant but walkable.

 

If your cruise ship docks at the San Juan Bay terminal, which can receive as many as seven ships simultaneously, you’ll be closer to Old San Juan. Farther away is the Pan American terminal, which can accommodate two ships at once.
If you are staying in Old San Juan, founded in 1521, there are a number of hotels not far from the terminal.
On a first trip to Puerto Rico, another option is to situate yourself in the Isla Verde or the Condado areas, within easy reach of historic Old San Juan.

 

If you choose Isla Verde, the Fairmont El San Juan Hotel, an historic hotel with a modern flair, exudes everything that is wonderful about a visit to Puerto Rico. It has everything you need or want – a beach club, restaurants, nightlife, a casino, and a large lobby with a hand-blown chandelier that dates to the hotel’s opening in the late 1950s. The hotel underwent a $65 million restoration and renovation in 2018, after damage from Hurricane Maria in September 2017.

 

Wherever you stay, by walking the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan the history and culture of Puerto Rico come alive. It’s possible to explore entirely on foot; otherwise, try the free golf carts called Garita Carts, taxis, or Uber. Another option is to book at tour. Whether you have two hours or two days, below are some highlights.

 

Castillo San Felipe del Morro, known as “El Morro,” is an imposing structure set on a 140-foot-high promontory at the entrance to the Bay of San Juan. The Spanish began construction of this fort in 1539; the simple tower became part of a massive defense system. Look for the sentry boxes along the fortress walls; they served as sheltered lookout posts, and create dramatic silhouettes against blue skies.

 

La Fortaleza, originally built in 1540, was remodeled in 1846, and converted for use as the governor’s house. It still functions as the governor’s mansion, though 30-minute guided walking tours of the gardens and house are available Monday through Friday, 8:15 am to 3:30 pm.

 

To the right side of the mansion, be sure to look for La Rogativa, a life size sculpture of a bishop and three female prayer companions, who, carrying torches and singing, are said to have scared off the British during a 1797 attack.
Both Castillo San Felipe del Morro and La Fortaleza are listed by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and are part of the early fortifications built to protect “rich port,” or Puerto Rico in Spanish.

 

Castillo de San Cristóbal is another fort, larger than El Morro, and located at the inland entrance to Old San Juan. Take in the view of the city and the coast to the mainland from this highest point.

 

Plaza Colon, located in the eastern part of Old San Juan is home to a monument of Christopher Columbus, so either walk to it or get one ride or another! On route, you’ll see centuries-old pastel as well as bright-colored homes as you traverse the cobblestone streets.
www.discoverpuertorico.com

 

U.S. Virgin Islands
Among the jewels of the Caribbean are the U.S. Virgin Islands, purchased from Denmark in 1917 for $25 million in gold coin. There are three islands, each with its own appeal. St. Thomas is best-known as a cruise port destination and duty-free shopping; St. John is a pristine island that is two-thirds covered by a U.S. National Park. St. Croix is the largest but draws fewer travelers, and includes Buck Island, situated just off its coast.

 

Uninhabited Buck Island is home to Buck Island Reef National Monument. It’s known for snorkeling tours from St. Croix.
To reach the U.S. Virgin Islands, travelers can fly nonstop from major U.S. cities to Cyril E. King International Airport on St. Thomas. Otherwise, they are can arrive in St. Thomas by cruise ship as it is often included on Eastern Caribbean cruise itineraries. Ferries connect St. Thomas and St. John. Options are passenger ferry, car barge, water taxi and boat charter, leaving from Red Hook, Charlotte Amalie and Crown Bay Marina in St. Thomas. To reach St. Croix, fly into St. Croix’s Henry E. Rohlsen Airport, typically via Fort Lauderdale or Miami, Puerto Rico or St. Thomas.

 

There is a two-hour ferry from St. Thomas to St. Croix. If you fly, it takes approximately 30 minutes. There is also seaplane service between St. Thomas and St. Croix.
When U.S. citizens travel by air to and from the U.S. Virgin Islands, they have not left U.S. territory and do not need to present a passport.

 

If you are traveling on a cruise ship, carry your passport book in case of emergency, says the U.S. State Department. You might need your passport for a medical evacuation or if the ship stops at an alternate port. The cruise line may require a passport even if not required by U.S. Customs and Border Protection or a foreign port of entry.

 

There is plenty to do in the U.S. Virgin Islands with water sports leading the way. They include sailing, SCUBA diving, snorkeling, Snuba and Sea Trek, kayak/stand up paddle boarding, and big game fishing. Snuba is a hybrid combining SCUBA and snorkeling. Beautiful beaches abound.
www.visitusvi.com

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