Puerto Rico is located in the heart of the Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic and roughly 1,000 miles from Miami, Florida. As a territory of the United States, Puerto Rico rates as a convenient and very attractive retirement destination for many mainland Americans. While the island offers a unique culture and a tropical climate unmatched on the mainland, it also feels like home to most American visitors.
Puerto Rico, You Lovely Island
If you’re looking for a tropical retirement destination without the hassle and expense that come with emigration to a foreign country, Puerto Rico is well worth a close look. Travel between it and the mainland is no different than traveling between any two U.S. states, as no passports or immigration papers are required. While Puerto Rico operates under its own legal system, the U.S. Constitution and most federal laws apply on the island, just like any U.S. state. The island is well known for its natural beauty.
The Effects of Hurricane Maria
Many people consider Puerto Rico a tropical paradise, but big trouble came to paradise when Hurricane Maria arrived on Sept. 20, 2017, the worst hurricane to hit the island in more than 80 years, causing $94.4 billion in damages. Indeed, it took nearly a year to completely restore power (though all-day power outages still occur). Two years on, there remain many homes in need of repair, with tarps for roofs still a common sight.
Generally, the cities have recovered faster than the rural areas, but there is still much progress to be made. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) found that virtually every structure on the island was damaged by Maria and estimated that, as of July 2019, another 75,000 new homes still needed to be built, with half a million people continuing to deal with damaged housing. Indeed, most of the $20 million that Congress appropriated for rebuilding homes and infrastructure has yet to be spent.
That said, the island made a concerted effort to restore its tourism industry, which before Maria accounted for 10% of Puerto Rico’s GDP, declaring itself open to vacationers a mere three months after the hurricane passed through. Within a year 90% of hotel inventory was back in business, as were more than 4,000 restaurants and 186 attractions. Two years on, tourism is back to pre-Maria levels, with Puerto Rico’s government saying that one of the best ways to help is to vacation there.
In addition, National Public Radio reports that the island is much better prepared to withstand another monster storm, with a detailed disaster response plan in place, according to Director of Puerto Rico’s Bureau of Emergency Management Carlos Acevedo. Improvements have been made in the storing of emergency provisions, the wherewithal to restore power quickly, and the ability to communicate via satellite phones and radios. Hurricanes are a fact of life on Puerto Rico, but Acevedo insists that “the government response in Puerto Rico to a hurricane would be very different ... We have much more information, much better logistics.”
Six Cities in Puerto Rico to Consider for Retirement
So where does that leave Puerto Rico as a retirement destination? Obviously, the housing situation could affect the ability to find suitable living quarters. More than ever, before making any decision about retiring to the island, a visit to judge the situation would be advisable. Of course, rebuilding also means that a lot of new housing is going to be available, hopefully in the near future. Here are six cities that continue to stand out as top retirement destinations.
1. San Juan
Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, is the island’s largest city, with nearly 400,000 residents as of 2019. It is located on the northeast coast of the island. While big-city life in San Juan is not for everyone, it should appeal to retirees looking for easy access to entertainment venues, good nightlife options, excellent restaurants, shopping, and all the other things a bustling city has to offer.
While some areas of the city are less safe than others, there are plenty of good living options in the San Juan center and in outlying neighborhoods. As the city was on the far side of the island from where Maria made landfall, it suffered less damage than other areas, and life there is pretty much back to normal, though population loss has been significant (overall Puerto Rico has lost 4% of its population since Maria hit, the greatest drop in its recorded history).
Rincón, on the western coast of Puerto Rico, is widely known as the island’s top surfing destination. You don’t have to surf, however, to enjoy the relaxed beach town atmosphere and the tasteful beach houses at the shore’s edge. The town features excellent restaurants and other conveniences built up to serve the regular stream of tourists looking for the perfect wave.
Rincón bounced back in terms of tourism for the 2018-2019 season, but the town has lost about four miles of its famously wide beaches on an eight-mile coast.
Humacao, on Puerto Rico’s eastern coastline, is home to Palmas del Mar, the largest luxury resort on the island, which is once again up and running at full speed after Maria. While villas at the resort are available to purchase, the greater Humacao area has plenty of other housing options. Palmas del Mar has two world-class golf courses, 20 tennis courts, a spa, a marina, an equestrian center, a casino, and a wide variety of dining options.
Cayey is in the mountains of central Puerto Rico at an elevation of nearly 1,500 feet, making it a great option for retirees seeking cool mountain air. Temperatures typically range between 70 and 88 degrees in the summer and between 57 and 72 degrees in the winter. The 6,000-acre Carite Forest Reserve, known for its dwarf forest and excellent bird watching, is nearby.
Puerto Rico’s forests suffered severe damage due to Maria, but a 2018 National Audubon Society report found that most foliage had rebounded and that “bird populations ... were gradually returning to pre-hurricane levels.” Cayey is also home to a branch of the University of Puerto Rico.
Ponce, Puerto Rico’s second-largest city, is on the island’s central southern coast. The city offers a variety of cultural attractions, including music, art, museums (history and anthropological), historic colonial buildings, and annual festivals throughout the year.
Ponce is a good option for those who need easy access to quality health care options, as there are four hospitals in the city plus a Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic. Like San Juan, Ponce has experienced a significant population drop post-Maria.
Fajardo is on Puerto Rico’s eastern coastline, north of Humacao. The city is renowned as the island’s recreational boating capital, with one of the largest marinas in the Caribbean. If you’re a boat owner or interested in leasing a boat locally, there’s no better city in Puerto Rico to call home.
Fajardo is also home to miles of pristine beaches with some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving on the island. According to DiscoverPuertoRico.com, a tourism site, the boats, marinas, and beaches are all back in business two years after Maria wreaked her devastation.