Laura interviews Bernardo, our Puerto Rico expert.
Here's a rundown of their conversation:
Q: Puerto Rico has so much to see and do. What areas does a Grand Classroom PR trip typically visit?
Every itinerary is customized so they are all different, but pretty much every group visits the bioluminescent bay in La Parguera, historical and cultural sites in Old San Juan, and the rainforest El Yunque. We also like to get our groups off the beaten path to truly experience local culture and people. The people in Puerto Rico are incredibly friendly, and it gives groups an opportunity to practice their Spanish if they want to.
Q: Are there specific activities that are a big highlight for most groups?
The amazing forts like El Morro in Old San Juan are definitely a highlight. San Juan itself is such a unique city; it's a Unesco World Heritage site - it's been really well preserved, has an international feel (even though you are in the US), and gives groups a chance to experience Latin/Spanish architecture, art, history, and food just to name a few. Swimming in the bioluminescent bay is also a big highlight for most groups - there are very few places you can swim in bioluminescence in the world. It's a great place to start discussions about environmental sustainability
Q: As you mentioned, Puerto Rico has a real international feel even though it’s part of the US– do you need a passport to visit? What about safety? Is PR safe in terms of crime? Is the water safe to drink?
Although PR feels like an international destination because of the tropical climate and Spanish culture, you do NOT need a passport to visit. It's part of the US and follows all the same guidelines and laws. There's no passport control or anything to deal with which is great for all groups, and especially for US schools who are traveling with international students/boarders. It's a wonderful first-time destination for groups who are considering traveling internationally in the future. You get the sense of being in another culture, but you don't need to exchange money; you don't need a passport; your cell phone works just like on the mainland; and everyone speaks English (as well as Spanish). Also PR is very safe in terms of crime, and the water is safe to drink
Q: Having travelled on the Grand Classroom PR trip, I was so impressed by the service learning opportunities. What organizations do you partner with? And what can a group expect if they go to PR, in terms of volunteering?
We really believe that service learning is so important - not only do students get to meet real Puerto Ricans while they volunteer, but they also learn about the importance of service learning and can take that back home with them where they will hopefully continue to volunteer. We do a lot of environmental sustainability projects with groups - reforestation projects in the rainforest are a big one. We also partner with a lot of local schools for service learning, and many of our groups work at local food banks and soup kitchens. Finally, we even do a project painting murals to help revitalize neighborhoods.
Q: What’s your favorite memory from a student tour of PR?
Definitely seeing kids' reactions after they first swim in the bio bay. Most of them don't think it could really light up the way it does. Also, after the safety talk, some of them are quite nervous, but once they get in the water, they are totally blown away by the experience!