by Lisa Vivirito, travel columnist.
Puerto Rico has been known as "The Shining Star of the Caribbean" and for many reasons, it still is. A short flight of about two hours and 45 minutes from
Orlando lands you in this friendly tropical jewel. Even more good news is that since it is a Commonwealth of the United States, not only are passports not required, the rules of the road are the same there as here if you decide to rent a car.
As for where to stay, well, you'll have many choices amongst hotels and resorts. Many of the major resorts have casinos, a choice of restaurants, large pools, beach access, and even teen clubs and youth programs.
The beaches of course are wonderful on both the Caribbean and Atlantic shores. And with water temperatures in the 80's and visibilities of 60 to 100 feet, it is a snorkeling and diving delight.
As tempting as it may be to not leave your resort, there is much of Puerto Rico worth exploring.
For a look into Puerto Rico's history, spend a day in Old San Juan, a walled section of San Juan with cobblestone streets and restored centuries old buildings. You can visit El Morro, an 18th century fortress built by Spanish troops to keep sea borne enemies out of San Juan. While you enjoy exploring its lookout towers and secret passages, you'll be able to feel what it must have been like looking out at a sea full of enemy warships over 200 years ago! When leaving El Morro you'll quickly be brought back to the present day as the sky is usually full of kites flying in the breeze from the San Juan Bay. You can even buy one right there and join in the fun.
If a day of golf is your fancy, the island has 24 golf courses, including a course designed by Chi Chi Rodriguez at the Embassy Suites Hotel Dorado del Mar Beach and Golf Resort. The 18 hole par 72 golf course has both ocean and mountain views.
Puerto Rico is home to the only rainforest in the United States, El Yunque, and the Caribbean National Forest. On a visit to El Yunque, you can see 240 types of trees, waterfalls, and el coqui, Puerto Rico's noisy tree frog.
Guanica's Dry Forest is another national park worth visiting. It has 10,000 acres of wilderness, and 600 unusual types of plants and animals, which include 48, endangered species, 16 of which can only be found in Puerto Rico.
How about exploring a cave? At the Rio Camuy Cave Park, you can take a trolley through caves and cathedral-like caverns. The 268-acre park is the site of subterranean caverns carved out by the Camuy River over one million years ago. The caves are home to a species of fish that is totally blind!
At the bay at La Paragua and Fajardo, you can take an after dark boat ride on a glowing lake. This effect is actually caused by thousands of phosphorescent microscopic organisms swimming in the water, making it look as if the water is lit up. If you wish you can snorkel or scuba dive in the glowing water.
Puerto Rico is a good choice for a beach-type vacation, but it also offers much more if you want some time away from the beach. It is an excellent choice for singles, couples, and families alike.
Lisa Vivirito owns Diamond Travel in Vero Beach. Call her at (772) 567-8481 or (800) 795-1986. E-mail: email@example.com.