It’s always good to have a theme or two in mind before you set off on a photography trip. Take my last visit to Puerto Rico.
I had seen a number of articles about the famous lighthouses of Maine and other parts of the East coast in various publications. I was also aware that Puerto Rico happened to have its own string of colonial-era lighthouses along its coastline—but I had never seen anything written about them. Since editors were keen to publish articles and photographs about the Maine lighthouses, I was willing to bet they would go for something similar from Puerto Rico.
So, I decided to head south to shoot them. My wife came along to assist me (she carries my gear when I’m running around photographing), but mostly because she loves Puerto Rico.
Since Puerto Rico is part of the U.S., visiting the island is a snap: the currency is the same, passengers coming from the U.S. mainland don’t have to go through customs or immigration, and most everyone speaks English.
Yet with all its familiarity, the island’s cultural blend of Spanish, African and Taino (Indian) traditions influences everything from food to language to music.
According to my pre-trip research, the Spanish built 16 lighthouses around the island before the U.S. annexation in 1898. So, I chose a handful of lighthouses based on their condition, location, and accessibility.
But before heading into “the island”, the term locals use when referring to everything outside San Juan, we spent our first few of days in historic San Juan. It gave me the chance to take some shots of the city’s Spanish Colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, San Juan Cathedral, a folkloric dance festival in San Cristobal Castle, and the many plazas that dot the historic town.
We rented a car for our trip around the island and once out of the city, we stayed in paradores (literally “stopping places”). These locally-run rustic inns are sponsored by the Puerto Rican government and are scattered throughout the island.
Some feature restaurants, pools and other amenities, while others are more basic. All of them are designed to offer travelers a taste of Puerto Rican hospitality at affordable rates.
Although some lighthouses were located in urban areas and easily accessible, others were a little harder to reach. A lighthouse in Maunabo, for example, required driving on narrow roads and continually stopping to ask for directions. Happily, the locals were always happy to help. The effort was worth it—the lighthouse sat atop spectacular cliffs overlooking the ocean.
Puerto Rico is a great place to take pictures for lots of reasons. Temperatures stay between 75 and 85 degrees year-round and although it can be humid, a continual tropical breeze cools the coast. It made photographing the lighthouses a delight.
To fuel our explorations while on the go we liked to stop at the local deli/bakeries found throughout the island. These delis sell typical Puerto Rican sandwiches made with pork, ham, or other meats in creole bread (similar to a baguette).
When we had time for a more leisurely meal, we stopped at local sit-down restaurants serving seafood, rice and beans, garlic chicken, and other local dishes. One of our favorites was mofongo—a tomato-based stew made with fish, chicken, shrimp served in a bowl of mashed plantains.
It was a fantastic trip that really gave us the chance to enjoy a side of Puerto Rico most visitors don’t get to see. That’s one of the best things about being a photographer—hunting for shots can take you to some incredible, out-of-the-way places.
The other benefit is that after returning from my trip, I wrote an article about photographing the lighthouses of Puerto Rico. Then I sold it to a photography publication along with my pictures, and to a magazine called Lighthouse Digest. Mission accomplished—I got paid for my trip.
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