How a network of family hostels in Puerto Rico preserves the culture of the island | Travel

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Nestled in the southwest corner of Puerto Rico, Guánica is a laid-back coastal town perched on the calm waters of the Caribbean. Visitors flock here for its natural offerings: crystal clear seas ideal for snorkeling; rows of fields of bright sunflowers; and the 9,500 acres Guánica Dry Forest Reserve, a Unesco Biosphere Reserve that is one of the largest remaining tracts of dry tropical coastal forest in the world. But Guánica is also home to a unique slice of the island’s history –Guanica 1929, a family-run lodge that got its start in the early 20th century as one of the first hostels in Puerto Rico established under the US government. This classic two-story colonial structure sits on a former sugar cane plantation and still features its original two-tiered wraparound veranda. Today, the palm-studded property also boasts an outdoor pool, as well as 27 simply styled rooms and a restaurant serving plates of freshly caught mahi-mahi and carucho (conch fish). It also happens to be the oldest parador in Puerto Rico.

The “Paradores” are a brand of hostels marketed by the State Puerto Rico Tourism Company. Each inn is small, independently owned and operated, but must meet a specific set of criteria to earn the “parador” designation. The Puerto Rico Tourism Company created the parador program, Puerto Rico Paradores, in 1973, “with the idea of ​​decentralizing tourism and taking customers outside of San Juan”, explains Xavier Ramirez, president of Paradores de Puerto Rico and co-owner and manager of the Combat Beach Resort. “The government saw that a similar program, called the Paradores de Turismo de Españaalready existed in Spain and was successful. [In their case] it’s a chain of luxury hotels – often former castles or monasteries – that have been converted with the same idea: to get people out of big cities like Barcelona and Madrid and discover the rest of the country.

Combate Beach Resort in Cabo Rojo

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Government sponsorships of this kind are not unusual. In Italy, agritourism, also known as farm stays, began in the 1960s as a way to attract visitors to the Italian countryside, where more and more local residents were moving away. Italian lawmakers began officially regulating these dwellings, which typically accommodate on-site activities like caring for bees and milking cows, in 1985. Similarly, Portugal Pousadas in Portugala chain of luxury, traditional and historic hotels occupying all of a medieval royal palace has a former Franciscan convent which were state-run from the 1940s until 2003, when hotel supplier Pestana Hotel Group took over the scheme.

Puerto Rico’s paradores are small resorts that are part of the local community and are known for both their boric (Puerto Rican) hospitality and affordable rates. For the most part, they’re considered country inns — nothing fancy — and are located in non-metropolitan areas, including the island’s beach towns and mountain villages. A dozen paradores in Puerto Rico are currently in operation, including the concern for sustainable development Turtle Bay Inn in Lajas (which houses La Parguera bioluminescent bay), and Yunque Mar Beach Hotela 15-room parador in Luquillo, in the northeast of the island.

How a network of family hostels in Puerto Rico preserves the culture of the island

Tres Palmas Villas in Rincon

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According to Hilda Blanch-Miranda, a historian at Ana G. Mendez University’s Jesús T. Piñero Social Science Research Center and Library, who specializes in Puerto Rican and Caribbean studies, the parador’s program grew out of a push for island tourism that began in the 1930s. “It was then that the United States saw the opportunity to develop tourism in Puerto Rico as part of the overall economy,” says -she. The dual venture was to develop local infrastructure, including the construction of hotels and roads, and to launch a publicity and publicity campaign for the island. While World War II brought a temporary pause to these efforts, they experienced a great resurgence in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In 1970, then Puerto Rico Governor Luis A. Ferré, created the Puerto Rico Tourism Company to coordinate the marketing and growth of the island’s growing tourism industry. A few years later, Paradores de Puerto Rico was born.

With that came a clear set of rules. In other words, to become a parador in Puerto Rico, a property must meet four main requirements. First, it must exist outside of a metropolitan area. Second, it must be family owned and operated (“Our motto is ‘Families Serving Families,’ Ramirez says). Another condition: the property must not have more than 75 guest rooms. “That means that every time you stay at a parador,” Ramirez says, “there’s an 80% chance that you’ll meet one of the owners during your stay.” Given that an average stay at a parador is two to three nights, “you’ll probably get to know most of the staff by name,” he says, “and you’ll feel like one big family.” . Finally, each property must undergo a semi-annual property inspection and achieve an official score of 85% or higher to continue to be part of the brand.

While more than 50 properties have been part of the paradore program since its inception, some have exceeded the 75-room size limit, and others have been purchased by city governments or non-Puerto Rican families, meaning they can no longer be considered a parador. . Then there are those where the owners retired and had no one to succeed them, and a few who, according to Ramirez, “just stopped updating their properties, so the tourism company pulled them out. from the program”.

Yet each parador that remains in the program is completely unique and has its own distinct draws that keep customers coming back. “Depending on where you go on the island, the feeling of the parador is different,” says Ramirez. While Villas del Mar Hauon the northwest coast of Puerto Rico, offers 46 candy-colored beachfront villas, beach volleyball, and views of waterfront restaurants. Villas SotoMayor sits amid the island’s central mountains and offers horseback riding and tours of the property’s working farm, Hacienda Don Jun, which provides fresh ingredients for the on-site parador restaurant. “Paradores are really more about the local experience than the individual amenities,” says Ramirez, “but each one is enchanting in its own way.”

How a network of family hostels in Puerto Rico preserves the culture of the island

Parador Bajo las Estrellas in Adjuntas

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Blanch-Miranda agrees. “Paradores are also more comfortable than regular accommodation,” she says, “and getting there is part of the experience. The landscape, the mountains. You’ll get a sense of the island’s landscape as you go.

Ramirez’s own parador, Combate Beach Resort, is located in the beach town of Cabo Rojo along the island’s west coast, just a five-minute walk from Playa El Combate, the island’s longest beach. and a great place for sunsets. It is also a short distance from the crescent-shaped Playa Sucia, one of Puerto Rico’s most popular and scenic beaches, as well as Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Reserve1,836 acres of hills, grasslands, mangroves that provide critical habitat for the yellow-shouldered blackbirdhome to nearly 145 species of resident and migratory birds, and home to Las Salinas (“les salines”) and their magnificent pink-hued lagoon. The parador itself has 47 simple and spacious rooms, a kayak and bicycle rental service, a lobby bar and even a wine cellar.

Ultimately, paradores give non-Puerto Ricans a chance to experience true island hospitality. “With paradores,” Ramirez explains, “the staff are mostly locals, our restaurant menus should be made up largely of local dishes, and the decor represents the area where the parador is located.” However, he says, paradores also play a vital role in the local community. “We don’t want our guests to stay locked in our accommodations for their entire stay,” says Ramirez. “Our goal is to promote each region’s attractions and encourage our guests to get out and explore.”

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