New Update on Puerto Rico – December 6, 2017

It is December already and our 2018 tour season is right around the corner! Here’s an update on Puerto Rico and all of the progress that has been made since our last email update!

Current Puerto Rico stats:

  • Electricity is now at 68%
  • Water is at 93%
  • Hospitals in the cities we visit on tour have electricity and are fully operational (Ponce, San Juan, Lajas, Fajardo, etc).
  • The San Juan Airport has been open and operating at 100% since late October. There are about 70 flights per day going in and out of SJU.
  • 72% of all hotels on the island are open. ALL of our partner hotels have been up and running since October!
  • Post office and ports are operating at 100%.
  • Telecommunications is at 76%.
  • Transportation on the island – all of the main roads we use while on tour have been open and fully cleared for months. We see more and more traffic lights being installed daily. From experience, wherever a traffic light is missing in San Juan, a police officer is there to control traffic.
  • Tour attractions – ​Almost all of our popular attractions are now open and fully operational, including La Parguera show and biobay, Fajardo’s Catamaran, El Yunque zipline​, ​city visits, markets,​ etc.​​ ​However, ​Utuado ziplines and El Yunque trails​ remain closed​.
  • Our Hurricane-Relief Fund is nearing $18K thanks to so many donors. We continue to help many communities affected by the hurricane.

Vamonos re-opened its Old San Juan day tours and Puerto Rico educational tour operations on November 30, 2017. As you know, we do not cut corners with safety. If we give Puerto Rico tours a “go,” this means our buses, staff, hotels​, and attractions on our daily itinerary are ready to conduct safe, meaningful, and terrific cultural immersion tours of our island.Puerto Rico continues to make progress daily. We are excited about the numerous groups coming to Puerto Rico in 2018 to enjoy and to support Puerto Rico. It’s been great to see so much enthusiasm from groups interested in conducting hurricane-relief service projects while on tour. These trips will make a difference in the lives of students and help the island continue its final journey to full recovery!

For more information about our tours, and the current status of our island, write us at: info@vamonostours.com or call our office: 888.366.6121. Thank you for your support. Please follow us on our BLOG and on our Facebook page for more updates. Gracias!


Status Update on Puerto Rico

Meet Puerto Rico, the island’s convention bureau, issued an update on the status of Puerto Rico yesterday. Click the link right before the video to see the full update. Also enjoy the video below that highlights Puerto Rico’s planned comeback from the hurricane. Since yesterday the http://status.pr/Home website has reported the following improvements:

  • Electricity is now at 37%, not 30. 
  • Water is at 83%
  • Telecommunications is at 70%
  • 72% of all hotels are now open!

In addition to these updates we are happy to report the following:

  • Our top partner hotel, Ponce’s Hotel Melia, NEVER closed and has stayed open for business all throughout. 
  • El Yunque ziplines are now open and operational.
  • Vamonos Tours will resume regular tour operations in Puerto Rico by November 27th!

Meet Puerto Rico update

 


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!
https://www.fajardoinn.com

Ponce: Hotel Melia (south central) – OPEN now!
https://meliacenturyhotel.com

La Parguera: Parador Villa Parguera. (southwest) – OPEN now!
http://www.villaparguerahotel.com/

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.


Update on Puerto Rico and Cuba: October 19, 2017

The last month has been a challenging one. On September 20th, Puerto Rico was hit by a strong category 4 hurricane. Then, on September 29, the US State Department issued a statement warning US citizens not to travel to Cuba.

Below is an update on Vamonos’ response to these challenges and our plans moving forward. Once again, thank you for your care, support, continued partnership during this time.

CUBA

Hours after the State Department issued the travel warning to the island, Vamonos sent a message to our group leaders, social media followers, and destination constituents. Here’s the article.

We are aware that most Cuba tour operators in the US are telling customers they still plan to visit the island which according to them “is safe.” For Vamonos, the safety of our travelers comes first. Until the situation with the confusing sonic attacks on diplomats and at Havana hotels is resolved, and the US lifts the travel warning, we will not take our groups to Cuba.

PUERTO RICO

The island continues to rebuild itself and recover from a powerful hurricane that left much damage all over Puerto Rico. Below is a list of initiatives and facts associated with the recovery, our efforts, and our plan moving forward.

As of October 19, 2017…

    • 71.5% of the island has water (http://status.pr/Home).
    • 21.6% of the island has power (http://status.pr/Home).
    • 45 hospitals have electricity and are fully operational (http://status.pr/Home).
    • ALL ports, main airport (SJU), and bus systems are 100% operating.
    • ALL of our Vamonos-preferred hotels (along with almost 100 more) are open and accepting reservations (http://puertoriconow.seepuertorico.com/hotels/)
    • 87% of supermarkets are fully operating
    • 78% of gas stations are fully operating
    • Our Vamonos Hurricane Relief Fund has raised over $13,000. We continue to reach our underprivileged communities with supplies, food, and personal attention.
    • All of our emergency medical, firefighters, and police personnel are actively operating
    • The two largest malls of San Juan are open for shoppers and powered
    • El Yunque Rainforest and our zipline adventure day in Utuado are the only two attractions that are still closed until further notice.
    • All of our San Juan, Ponce, La Parguera, and Fajardo attractions remain open and operational
    • Visit PR Tourism Industry Update (Oct.16) for more details about our recovery.

     

    Moving forward…

    We will continue to update you on the status and recovery of Puerto Rico. Please know that the safety of our travelers is our number one priority. We will not put students or travelers at risk.

    We have 15+ staff members on the island assessing the situation, visiting hotels, attractions, and bringing supplies and help to people in need. We will reopen our tours by November 27, 2017 because we are convinced our tour route, hotels, attractions, and staff are ready to run safe cultural immersion tours.

    Thank you for supporting our fund and helping those in need on the island. If you haven’t made a donation yet, we urge to visit our Hurricane Relief Fund Page for more details.

    Sincerely,

    Jorge Pardo
    President, Vamonos Tours Inc.


Q & A about Upcoming Trip and Deposits

Our hurricane updates and this Q & A are meant to provide travelers and schools an accurate depiction of the conditions in our Caribbean destinations and Vamonos’ relief efforts. These statements do not come out of a desire for continued business. Vamonos stands with integrity always making sure the safety of our travelers remains our number one priority. Continue reading


New U.S. Travel Warning for Cuba

On September 29 the U.S. Department of State issued a statement warning U.S. citizens not to travel to Cuba until further notice. Even though travel to Cuba is not illegal under the proper authorized categories of travel, the US ordered the withdrawal of most non emergency U.S. government employees and their families for their safety. You can read about the Cuba travel warning on the US Dept. of State’s website. If anything changes we will keep you posted.
Continue reading


La Parguera after hurricane Maria

Local Perspective on Hurricane María and Puerto Rico

Picture of Villa Parguera above taken by Wendi a week after hurricane María on Sept. 26, 2017.

by Bernardo​, our Operations Manager

Hurricane María hit us ​hard last week and damaged much of our vegetation. Outside of palm trees and other lucky trees, many are down or lack leaves. ​Today you see mother nature’s new look on every corner. Trees, some as big as 50-70 feet high, are down or are perfectly trimmed.​ ​​The island actually feels wider ​with so many trees gone.

From a structural perspective, homes and buildings that were illegally built after Hurricane George in the late 90’s were severely affected. These did not follow standard construction. Wood structures suffered under the storm.

​The “Despacito” community of La Perla in Old San Juan, which is where the Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s music video was filmed, suffered hurricane damage. Most people lost their roof and belongings. Vamonos staff assisted residents in securing their homes prior to the storm. This past week, we’ve been helping La Perla in clean-up initiatives.​ Continue reading


Hampton Inn picture taken 9.25.17

Hurricane Update: Cuba, Martinique, Puerto Rico – Sept. 25, 2017

Above picture was taken today 9.25.17 of Hampton Inn in San Juan.

This month three of our main destinations suffered from two of the largest hurricanes ever recorded in the Caribbean. Our top priority in leading tours is the safety and well-being of our travelers. Below is a summary on each island:

Cuba & Irma

Hurricane Irma made landfall in the northern part of the island on September 8 and 9, 2017. Winds of up to 160 miles/hour were felt in the northeastern and central regions. In spite of causing flooding and power outages in Havana, the city was largely spared as the storm veered north before reaching it. Thankfully, members of our staff and Cuban family are well.

The island suffered structural and agricultural damage, temporary flooding, and power outages. The US Dept. of State suggests travelers avoid the north central region until further notice. Fortunately, the Department confirms that main roads are now open; it also states that power and water have been restored to most of Havana. The main airports and ports are now fully functional. Cruise ships have begun their operations.

Moving forward – Vamonos will fully resume our Cuba tours beginning in October 6, 2017. We plan to concentrate on areas fully operational and recovered, such as: Cienfuegos, Havana, Trinidad, Viñales, and central/southern Matanzas. We’d love to devote tour service-learning projects in as much as possible to hurricane relief efforts. Continue reading


Souvenirs from Samuel Lind's workshop

Are Your Souvenirs Authentic?

We all do it. We go on a trip or vacation and we bring back souvenirs. How often have you given thought to how authentic your souvenirs are? Have you ever considered whether your souvenirs are ethically sourced? Could buying that item cause harm to a country, an economy, an ecosystem, or an endangered species? All these questions are important to consider when purchasing mementos of your trip. Continue reading


San Antonio’s Native American, Tejano, Spanish, and Mexican Heritage

San Antonio is an exceptional destination for students and teachers of all ages who want to experience the past and present without leaving the continental US. The city has it all: from speaking Spanish with locals, to trying authentic Native American, Mexican, and Tejano food,​ ​to visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites and learning regional folkloric dance​s.

Spanish Missions

Not everything is big in Texas! The most visited historic destination by far is the historic Alamo. Interestingly, the first comment most people make is, “It is not as big as I thought.”  ​The Spanish built it as one of their missions in the 1700’s in order to establish their presence.

San Antonio’s missions bring you back to a time and place where the Spanish and Native American cultures blended. ​Upon seeing the rich Spanish architecture, visitors often feel as if they’ve been transported to Mexico, Guatemala, or Peru. ​In addition to the Alamo, there are four other mission​s outside the downtown area. The San Juan Mission and the San Jose Mission are part of the U.S. National Park Service and co-managed by the American Indians in Texas Organization. ​Vámonos supports the efforts of the American Indians in Texas. Every tour includes interactions with local Native Americans, food tasting, a retelling of history from their perspective, and traditional handcraft workshops. Continue reading