Puerto Rico welcomes visitors despite recent earthquakes


The earthquakes in the southwestern part of Puerto Rico have not affected such popular tourist spots as Condado Beach in San Juan. (iStock)
The earthquakes in the southwestern part of Puerto Rico have not affected such popular tourist spots as Condado Beach in San Juan. (iStock)
Jan. 22, 2020 at 2:18 p.m. GMT-4

“There is some really good news: Puerto Rico is open for business,” said Brad Dean, chief executive of Discover Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory’s tourism office. “All three airports are open, and all of the major hotels.”

Since late December, Puerto Rico has been experiencing powerful earthquakes — the most severe was a 6.4-magnitude on Jan. 7 — and smaller temblors. The shaking has damaged several villages, attractions and hotels along the southwest coast, but the devastation is not widespread. Visitors worried that the quakes are a reprise of Hurricane Maria, just in a different natural disaster package, can exhale.

“We didn’t have any cruise ship cancellations due to seismic activity,” Dean said. About 56,000 cruise ship passengers visited during the same week as some of the strongest earthquakes.

Towns along the southwest coast, such as Guayanilla, Guánica and Ponce, sit near the epicenter of the earthquakes and suffered the greatest amount of harm. The quakes caused temporary power outages, but about 99 percent of the power is back on, and businesses without electricity are running on generators. A handful of attractions in the south are closed for repairs. For instance, the Museo de Arte de Ponce, which houses 4,500 artworks (the earthquake injured only three sculptures), hopes to reopen its first floor while it works on other sections that weren’t as lucky. Also shuttered: La Guancha, a waterside boardwalk with food, drinks and live music in Ponce, and Bosque Seco de Guanica, a U.N. International Biosphere Reserve featuring one of the world’s largest tropical dry coastal forests. Among lodgings, Costa Bahia Hotel in Guayanilla and Copamarina Beach Resort in Guánica are not accepting guests at the moment, but Copamarina plans to reopen on Feb. 11. (No one answered the phone at Costa Bahia Hotel.)

“It’s a small percentage of rooms.” Dean said.

Most visitors spend their time in San Juan, less than 100 miles north of Guánica; in the beach towns along the north and east coasts; in El Yunque National Forest; or on the smaller islands of Vieques and Culebra, a short flight or ferry ride away. All of these destinations are intact.

“Stay away from Guánica and that area because people are in recovery mode,” said Bob Gevinski, a real estate broker and former hotel manager in Puerto Rico. “But the rest of the island is good.”

Earthquakes are common in Puerto Rico because of the island’s location on “an active plate boundary zone between the North American plate and the northeast corner of the Caribbean plate,” according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. When the plates shift, the island trembles. The Virgin Islands and Hispaniola, which Haiti and the Dominican Republic share, are at risk for the same reason. On Tuesday, the Puerto Rico Seismic Network, which was founded in 1974, reported four earthquakes ranging from 2.5 to 3.7 magnitude in southern Puerto Rico. The service affiliated with the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez documented 15 earthquakes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, all in the same area.

Discover Puerto Rico posts earthquake-related updates and safety information on its website and social media channels. For example, because of the power outages, it recommends that visitors drink bottled water. Many islanders rely on apps, such as QuakeFeed, to track quake activity. The Friday before the holiday weekend, Gevinski received two alerts, both for Guánica; on Tuesday, his phone was silent.

Dean said Puerto Rico has been making significant strides in tourism since Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017. In 2019, it saw double-digit growth in visitations and a 10 percent spike in airport arrivals. Dean was anticipating another strong showing for 2020 and, despite the earth’s rumblings, remains optimistic.

“We haven’t given up on this becoming another record year,” he said.

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