One Year After Deadly Hurricane Maria, the Best Way to Help Puerto Rico Is to Vacation There
September 20 marks the one-year anniversary of the day that Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico as a category 5 storm, leading to more than 3,000 deaths and an estimated $90 billion in damage, according to NBC.
While the island is still working to rebuild in many ways, most of its hotels and tourist attractions that had closed after the storm are now back up and running, leading experts to suggest a somewhat surprising way for people to support Puerto Rico now: vacation there.
The tourism industry in Puerto Rico is estimated to employ over 63,500 people and earns 7 percent of the island's gross national product. But following Maria, many would-be travelers assumed that nothing is open, or felt it might be too soon to return to the island for leisure, when the reality is, Puerto Rico is craving tourists, numerous reports confirm.
Old San Juan has almost fully recovered, with the majority of bars and restaurants open and a new resort, the Serafina Beach Hotel, ready for business. According to Travel + Leisure, most hotels across the entire island have reopened their doors, with the remaining few (Dorado Beach, a Ritz Carlton Reserve and the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort) re-opening in October.
The publication also reports that in 2019, at least four new luxury resorts are set to open on Puerto Rico, including a Four Seasons, a JW Marriott and two ALOFT hotels.
In May, Airbnb announced they would donate all of the fees from stays booked in the U.S. territory to recovery organizations such as All Hands and Hearts, which offers flight vouchers in exchange for a two-week commitment to volunteer at one of their cleanup sites, New York magazine reports.
Although most of the island's touristy areas are ready and waiting, many travelers won't see the parts of Puerto Rico that have not recovered from the devastation caused by the storm, like rural villages that still have no power.
For those looking to support the island with more than their tourism dollars, many charitable organizations will arrange volunteering trips that still allow guests to take in Puerto Rico's charm and natural beauty while doing good.
“Taking day or overnight trips and spending money in a community outside of San Juan is important, too,” Manolo Lopez, founder of the Cosa Nuestra Relief Fund told New York. “Go to Arecibo, Ponce, Mayagüez, Isabela — these are towns with a lot to offer, so much charm, and beautiful beaches. They depend on their local economy to get back on their feet.”
Para la Naturaleza offers snorkeling trips to coral reefs, which helps with data collection and research on how marine ecosystems are recuperating, and nighttime kayaking trips in bioluminescent bays help fund initiatives to reduce light pollution. They also offer hands-on volunteer seminars that incorporate tree-planting and beach sweeps to continue cleaning up the coast.
Local Guest offers excursions like spelunking or hiking, while also incorporating clean-up efforts. While organizations like Instituto Nueva Escuela connect volunteers with schools in need of people to help repair playgrounds and teach children. Amigos de los Animales focuses on the stray animals that were abandoned during the storm, and pairs volunteers with shelters who need help cleaning and managing adoptions.
See more Puerto Rico vacation ideas.