Are We There Yet? Is It Really There?

My parents went to Puerto Rico for their honeymoon. They spared my godsister and I the gory details, but sufficed to say that they had a great time and would love to go back. With their anniversary coming in October, my godsister and I decided that we should send them back as a treat. Neither of us have been any closer to Puerto Rico than the South Bronx, but we want to do something nice for them and a surprise trip seemed like the best option. Since it’s supposed to be a surprise, however, we can’t really ask them where they’d like to go, so we turned to the first place we always turned for things we don’t know about — the internet.

A quick Google search for “Puerto Rico vacations” brought me to SeePuertoRico, where I could immediately see what I might call the “Caribbean face” that Curwen Best was getting at in his article, “The Caribbean in Big-Budget Film: The Caribbean in Tourism”. Some of his opening words, “[p]otential tourists are offered the dream of a lifetime in the Caribbean” echoed in my mind as I saw the words “PARADISIACAL ESCAPE TO HEAVEN” splashed across the page, large and declarative , followed by a promise to “live your own 5-star vacation story”. The pictures back up the promises of the words, showing men golfing, women standing under waterfalls, masked participants in some form of celebration, pineapples, blue waters, and dazzling beaches.

Of course, this is not all there is to Puerto Rico. Not by a long shot. But on travel site after travel site, hotel website after hotel website, I found myself bombarded by pictures of people who were ostensibly white and foreign, smiling and tanning and playing in pools and shallow shore waves under a never-ending sun. It makes sense, of course. You don’t want to show what’s thought of as the unsavory parts of the island — even Best brought up how Jamaica carefully pulled some tourism ads from American airwaves after an article about the Beltway Sniper pointed back to the Caribbean as the culprit for exporting a killer and reporters traveled in droves to Antigua and Jamaica, not for the beaches and music and promises of relaxation, but for answers to loaded questions. Negative light means hesitant travelers finding “safer” spaces to vacation, and what could blemish a majority-white, majority-foreign dreamland of coconut drinks and sunsets in hammocks more than the idea of a scary native with a sniper rifle? What could scare away the dollars marked for luxury cruises and overpriced meals more than the idea that the pristine beach isn’t all there is to the island?

The SeePuertoRico site is helpful in other ways, however. You can explore various facets of the Puerto Rican “experience”, specifically, Adventure, Beaches, Culture, Gastronomy, Golf, Luxury, Nature, Nightlife, Shopping, Sports, and Weddings. You can plan and even book your trip (to “make it official”, as the subheading entices). Maybe the site feeds into the ever-happy Caribbean monolith of the Western imagination, hiding it’s truer self inside. But perhaps it’s all the better that way, selling a smile with the heart hidden behind it’s back.


  1. I find it interesting how the photos and “paradisiacal” promises used to market destinations have a greater influence over potential tourists than reports in mainstream media about criminal activity and a lack of safety. Take Jamaica for example: the crime rate is high and it’s on a number of travel advisory lists, but tourists still flock to the island in large numbers. The same can be said about Trinidad and Tobago. Millions head to Trinidad for Carnival each year to enjoy the festivities and the island and they are the least concerned about their safety. I struggled with this question in class today: Are these photographs true representation of the island? Mmmm … my answer is this: The photographs may not truly represent the island but they certainly represent the island’s tourism sector. This leads me to another question: Are tourists going to an island to enjoy the island or to enjoy the tourism features of the island?

  2. Naia, this is fantastic post! I can’t even begin to tell you the thoughts it brought to my head considering I am Puerto Rican myself. Firstly, I most definitely agree that when it comes to the Caribbean, the images delivered to potential tourists are very sanitized, safe, and enticing. Secondly, when i visiting PR not too long ago, we decided against a resort or hotel, and decided instead to stay with various friends and family through out the island. It’s a much different view, thats beautiful and real, but not what one sees stuck at a resort. In fact many resorts discourage guests from leaving their doors and are actually located in areas locked off from locals. On the prettiest beaches, these buildings are built up high, in the middle of a gorgeous bay with mostly trees visible in the distance, far off from the reality of the island. Furthermore, even activities away from resorts are sanitized with the tourist in mind, including visiting Old San Juan and El Morro.

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