Puerto Rico Q & A: Friday October 20, 2017

We have received many questions over the past few weeks and we thought it would be helpful to address those most frequently asked.

Where exactly on the island is the hotel (hotels) where we will be staying?

Fajardo: Fajardo Inn (northeast) – OPEN now!

Ponce: Hotel Melia (south central) – OPEN now!

La Parguera: Parador Villa Parguera. (southwest) – OPEN now!

Where on the island does the group travel when they are there?
Please refer to the itinerary you received from your group leader for specific locations, but most groups will visit San Juan, Ponce, and La Parguera.

How were itinerary attractions affected by the hurricane?
The entire island was affected by the hurricane, but the most impacted area was the center of the island known as the central mountain range. Our staff has been periodically visiting and communicating with partners and vendors in this region in order to assess their damage and future operation.

Old San Juan, the center of Ponce were Hotel Melia is located, and La Parguera didn’t suffer as the rest of the island. Old San Juan was built in 1521. Its buildings and forts didn’t sustain damage. However, areas outside the walls of Old San Juan, such as the historic neighborhood of La Perla where the famous Despacito song video was filmed, were damaged. This community was affected since many of the houses are made out of wood and not according to construction standards. Ponce’s downtown is in a similar condition as Old San Juan – minimal damage; even the main square trees are standing, are green, and free of considerable damage. Only areas outside of downtown and areas in the mountains suffered damage.

La Parguera is a small fishing village and home of most of our staff members. It has a unique ecosystem of mangroves that break strong wind and waves and forms a sort of a coastal shield. Our beloved Parador Villa Parguera is possibly the longest operating hotel in the best shape on the island since the storm. It was already operating three days after Maria. 

What are the likely changes to the itinerary from past trips given the damage to the island? How will the experience be different?
As it stands now, groups will not be going on the ziplining excursion in Utuado (mountain range) and possibly the Yunque Rainforest on their next trip to Puerto Rico before March 2018. Instead, we will offer a nature day in an area that’s open, safe, and close to San Juan. We can also replace the zipline experience with our popular Catamaran day experience

Will this be more of a relief effort trip now?
If your group opted for a service learning project, we may engage in hurricane relief efforts. However, the focus of the trip will not just be service unless the school requests it. The group will experience lots of culture, adventure, and Spanish interaction with locals, not just service!

Are the hospitals there up and running should there be an emergency for anyone in our group?
Safety is our number one priority at all times. Today, most of the main hospitals, medical centers, and pharmacies are operating. We will not stay in a city that doesn’t have powered and fully operational hospitals. Remember that with any of our Puerto Rico tours there is a 24/7 back-up car that follows the coach bus in case of an emergency.

Here’s a list of hospitals that are fully powered and close to our hotels:

– Hospital Auxilio Mutuo (San Juan)
– Hospital Damas (Ponce)
– Hospital San Lucas (Ponce)
– Hospital Dr. Pila (Ponce)
– Centro Medico (Mayaguez, near La Parguera)
– Centro Medico (San Juan)
– Hospital UPR Dr. Federico Trilla (Carolina)

What should we expect to see while there? News media reports much devastation, flooded roads, and significant power distribution difficulties (10-15% of the island having power is being reported).
As of today, 71% of the population has WATER. 21% of people have electricity.; most of Ponce has now power. The Governor stated that by the end of October, 30% would have power. By December 15, 95% of the island will have power. As for the devastation, the north and central mountainous regions will not recover until 2018.

There have been reports that Puerto Rico’s water supply may be contaminated. Will our students have access to clean water while on the trip? Safety is our number one concern. We would never put our students at risk. We will continue to monitor our hotels to ensure they all have clean running water. As for clean drinking water, it has always been our practice to provide clean filtered drinking water daily to all of our travelers during the tour. We buy large 5-10 gallon bottles of water to fill our water coolers that students can then use to fill their water bottles throughout the day. This practice will not change.

Could the tour company please provide photos of their facilities, the accommodations for our group, and a video of the surrounding area so that we can see for ourselves?

Yes! We can send recent pictures or videos from some of our hotels upon request; please also visit our BLOG as there are pictures and articles about La Parguera and Hampton Inn hotels. You can also visit the hotel websites directly for further information.

How do you justify the media reports and devastating images on TV with your positive outlook on 2018? 

The majority of the footage on the media are from areas difficult to reach (north/central mountain region) that we don’t usually visit. The island has a population of 3.4 million and about 1.5 million lives in the metro area of San Juan. Currently we are receiving much help from the US Government, FEMA, and the military. Reconstruction on the most affected areas has already begun. As of today, most of Ponce has electricity. Malls, stores, airports, hospitals, ports are fully open and operating.

Again, keeping our groups safe and maintaining our unique Vamonos cultural immersion experience are our top goals. We are honest and do not cut corners with safety. We have staff members in multiple cities on the island that have first hand experience with hurricane relief and update us weekly on the recovery of their region. We have visited our hotel facilities, vendors, and partners. As far as our itinerary is concerned, we feel capable and ready to open by the end of November.