Why Student Travelers Love This Caribbean Paradise
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Why Student Travelers Love This Caribbean Paradise

Puerto Rico is near the top of the list of favorite places for travel experts Anna Quinn and Cody Miller – and that says a lot. They’ve both journeyed across the United States and to more than 30 countries, so they’ve seen many landscapes and towns. Yet, Puerto Rico is a special place to them for its beauty, language and culture.

Quinn and Miller shared their love of this region with students when they led an inaugural Rustic Pathways program to the U.S Territory in the Summer of 2021. Quinn says Puerto Rico is a perfect place for teen travelers, including U.S. students who are on their first trip.

Photo: Sara K Francis

“It feels like you are traveling abroad, but you’re not so you don’t need a passport,” Quinn said.  “Especially in San Juan you essentially have all the same city structures and lifestyles of a typical U.S. American place, but a lot of the signs are in Spanish. People are speaking Spanish. It’s super tropical. There’s a beautiful ocean. So it gives you this good combination.”

Sydney Layton was one of the students who enjoyed this experience when she traveled with Rustic to Puerto Rico this summer before her first year of college.  She says she was really eager to go on the trip because she had taken Spanish for five years and wanted to use her classroom lessons. That ended up being challenging but worthwhile.

“We all tried to speak in Spanish, and it went pretty well,” Layton said. “This trip encouraged me to  minor in Spanish, and I’m really excited about that and possibly even going back at some point and seeing if I can do a little bit better.”

In addition to Spanish, students learn some indigenous Taino words on the program as well. Miller says the students learn that a number of English words come from the Taino language, including barbecue and iguana.

Aside from language opportunities, the 8-day trip also provides other lessons about culture, along with adventure and newly added service opportunities.

New Service Projects

Quinn and Miller organized an impromptu service project last summer when they were inspired to help students give back to the community they were visiting. The students were encouraged to do some beach cleanup to keep trash out of the ocean – an important step for the welfare of sea life.

After the clean-up, the group spent some time reflecting on the project and how it might affect their consumerism when they go back home.

“Afterwards I asked them some questions to get them thinking about the waste that they saw – What was it made of? What was the most common thing you found?” Miller said. “I think it was really beneficial, and the students got a lot out of that.”

To continue these kinds of learning opportunities, service projects have been officially added to the student travel program. In the summer of 2022, the students will participate in ten hours of service at breadfruit fincas or ranches. There students will get to do some hands-on learning about the sustainable farming of breadfruit, which is a species of flowering tree in the mulberry and jackfruit family.

Layton, who took part in a school group trip that had some planned service, said the work she completed on a farm was one of her favorite parts of the program. She is glad she is getting updates on those projects.

Photo: Sydney Layton

“Seeing that our work is really helping – that is what made the trip for me. I’m happy to see that they are succeeding,” Layton said.

The Glowing Scenery

When students aren’t volunteering, students get to enjoy the scenery during adventure activities on the island. They fly through the mountains on the longest zipline in the Americas. They also kayak one of Puerto Rico’s other-worldly bioluminescent bays. In these waters, microscopic organisms called dinoflagellates produce a glow-in-the-dark effect when stimulated by movement like paddling.

Photo: Kelley Cardiff

Kelley Cardiff says the kayak trip was one of the highlights of the program for her since it was such a unique experience. She says it was tough to paddle through some algae, but then when it began to get dark they were given a tarp to put over their heads to make it completely dark so they could view the bioluminescence.

“I gently shook my hand in the water, and the water would glow. It was so cool because I have never seen anything like that,” Cardiff said. “It was amazing to see the light in the water and learn how animals use this as a defense mechanism against predators.”

Away from the water and in the mountains, students enjoyed different sights. A highlight of their journey there were views of petroglyphs or rock carvings that showcased aspects of the Taino culture. Students hiked to an area in the middle of the island that has an ancient ball court that was surrounded by large petroglyphs, including many that featured the goddess of fertility. This was a sacred spot on the island for indigenous groups.

“People would come from all over to have a spiritual journey because it was well-protected and hidden,” Miller said.

In addition to these nature experiences, students also do a walking tour of historic San Juan. This past summer students there got a real taste of local culture when they ate popsicles called limbers that were made with tropical flavors. Another cultural highlight in San Juan is salsa dancing lessons, which Miller says were really fun.

Regardless of the activities, Miller and Quinn agreed the students had a good time exploring all Puerto Rico had to offer from the fruit at their hotels to the sights on the road.

“It is a cool place, and I think every student enjoyed it,” Miller said.

Quinn agreed as she said twice in the same conversation – “I really love Puerto Rico.”


About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer