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Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island that is a self-governing commonwealth of the United States of America. Located in the Caribbean Sea to the east of the Dominican Republic and west of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico lies on a key shipping lane to the Panama Canal, the Mona Passage.
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There is one UNESCO World Heritage Site on Puerto Rico, namely La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site.
Puerto Rico was originally named San Juan Bautista in honor of Saint John the Baptist. The name of the island's present day capital, San Juan, honors the name Christopher Columbus first gave the island. It was then settled by explorer Ponce de Leon and the island was under Spanish possession for over four centuries. The island became United States territory under the Treaty of Paris, which also ended the Spanish-American War. The United States passed Law 600 giving Puerto Rico authorization to create and approve its own constitution, with the United States Congress approval. The relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico is known in English as a "commonwealth". There is no precise Spanish equivalent to this word; thus locally it is translated as "Estado Libre Asociado" (literally, "associated free state"). Most laws passed by Congress apply to Puerto Rico as they do in the fifty states.
Puerto Rico has a tropical marine climate, which is mild and has little seasonal temperature variation. Temperatures range from 70˚F to 90˚F (21˚C to 32˚C), and tend to be lower at night and up in the mountains. Year round trade winds take part in ensuring the sub tropical climate. The average annual temperature is 26°C (80°F). Rainfall is abundant along the north coast and in the highlands, but light along the south coast. Hurricane season spans between June and November, where rain showers occur once a day, almost every day. Periodic droughts sometimes affect the island.
The island of Puerto Rico is a rectangular shape and is the smallest, most eastern island of the Greater Antilles. It measures almost 580km of coast. In addition to the principal island, the commonwealth islands include Vieques, Culebra, Culebrita, Palomino, Mona, Monito and various other isolated islands. Puerto Rico is surrounded by deep ocean waters. To the west Puerto Rico is separated from Hispaniola by the Mona Passage which is about 120 km wide and as much as 3,300m deep. The 8,000m deep Puerto Rico trench is located off the northern coast. Off the south coast is the 5,466m deep Venezuelan Basin of the Caribbean. Because Puerto Rico is relatively short in width it does not have any long rivers or large lakes. Grande de Arecibo is the longest river in Puerto Rico which flows to the northern coast. Puerto Rico does not have any natural lakes but it does however have 15 reservoirs.
Bioluminescent Bays The bioluminescent bays near Fajardo and in Vieques are a soul-healing experience that should not be missed. The microscopic organisms that live in every drop of water in these bays will glow when they dart away from movement. Take a kayak or boat tour during a new moon for the best results; they're hard to see during a full moon and impossible to see in sunlight. The bioluminescent bay in Lajas is by far the most famous one to visit with many kiosks and restaurants there for the traveler to enjoy as well as boat tours.
Blue Flag in Puerto Rico The Blue Flag Program, initiated in Europe since 1987 has been modified for implementation in the Caribbean. It is a voluntary program and it has proven along the years to be a very effective strategy to guarantee the best quality in beach services for bathers in different parts of the world.
Casinos In the metropolitan area in San Juan they have luxurious hotels with casinos similar to Las Vegas...if you like to gamble, San Juan will be a great place to stay while vacationing in the island.
El Yunque El Yunque, Puerto Rico's rain forest is a must see. It spreads out over a mountain, so if you walk uphill from the road you're in an amazing rain forest. At any altitude you'll see numerous varieties of plant and animal life. If you're lucky you can catch a glimpse of the endangered Puerto Rican parrot & hear the song of the local Coqui tree frog. There are many hiking trails and the Yokahu tower is a great spot to see the forest from above. There are also two trails that lead you straight down to La Mina waterfalls. You can swim at the bottom of the falls in the cold refreshing water. There are short hiking trails and long hiking trails and they do overlap. Pay close attention to the signs to ensure that you do not bite off more than you can chew.
Since it is a RAIN forest, expect it to rain daily and frequently. This means you may wish to leave your expensive Louis Vuitton hand-bag at the hotel.
Golf The Trump International Golf Club boasts Puerto Rico’s first course of legendary proportions, designed by PGA Professional Tom Kite. Comprised of two 18-hole championship courses, the Championship and the International.
Horseback Riding Whether you're dreaming about spectacular surfing waves, a challenging golf course, or the perfect sunbathing beach, Puerto Rico offers the active traveler a tremendous array of opportunities. Surfing and golf compete with tennis, fishing, kayaking, scuba diving, and horseback riding, not to mention windsurfing and parasailing, for your active time. The island has over 15 championship golf courses a short drive away from the San Juan metropolitan area.
Learn about the different character of Puerto Rico's favorite beaches, or find out where to participate in your favorite sports. The hardest part will be choosing what to do first.
Outdoor Adventures There is plenty to do outside the metropolitan areas. Many small family owned tour companies provide guided tours of the Central Mountains in Utuado near Río Tanama, Repelling in Arecibo, kayak tours of Lake Guajataka, and horse back riding on the beach in Aguadilla. Some of the tour operators also provide low cost or free lodging. Let's Go Puerto Rico has listed a few of these outfitters or you can simply do an internet search with the name of the area you would like to visit to find things to do. The individual towns also have yearly festivals listed in the tourism guides available at both major airports.
Snorkel and Scuba dive ... Puerto Rico's coastlines and minor islands such as Vieques and Culebra are best. They each contain scenic landscapes and a diverse population of wildlife. But be sure that if you book with a snorkel trip—that they guarantee you will be taken to true snorkeling sites. Dive operators (for instance, the outfit named Sea Ventures) have been known to book snorkelers on day trips along with scuba divers, taking them all to deep water sites suited only to scuba diving!
Visit a Plantation Coffee, sugar cane, and tobacco were the three main agricultural products exported by Puerto Rico in the old days. Sugar cane was produced in the hot low-lands by the sea while tobacco and coffee were grown in the mountainous interior of Puerto Rico. A few coffee plantations are still active or have been turned into museums. Most of them can be found and visited in the mountains region just North of Ponce.
- A Long Weekend in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a drive-through buffet. All you need is a car, an appetite (the bigger the better), time, and the realization that your swimsuit won't fit as well when you get to your destination. The island has the most diverse culinary offerings in the entire Caribbean. There's something for everyone. You can enjoy the finest Puerto Rican food at most traditional town squares and also (for those of you who get homesick) have a steak at a place like Morton's.
Authentic Puerto Rican food (comida criolla) can be summed up in two words: plantains and pork, usually served up with rice and beans (arroz y habichuelas). It is rarely if ever spicy, and to many visitors' surprise has very little in common with Mexican cooking.
Plantains (plátanos) are essentially savory bananas and the primary source of starch back in the bad old days, although you will occasionally also encounter cassava (yuca) and other tropical tubers. Served with nearly every meal, incarnations include:
- mofongo — plantains mashed, fried, and mashed again, when filled up (relleno) with seafood this is probably the best-known Puerto Rican dish of them all
- tostones — twice deep-fried plantain chips, best when freshly made.
- amarillos — sweet fried plantain.
- sopa de plátanos — mashed plantain soup
The main meat eaten on Puerto Rico is pork (cerdo), with chicken a close second and beef and mutton way down the list. Seafood, surprisingly, is only a minor part of the traditional repertoire: the deep waters around Puerto Rico are poorly suited to fishing, and most of the seafood served in restaurants for tourists is in fact imported. Still, fresh local fish can be found in restaurants across the east and west coast of the island, especially in Naguabo or Cabo Rojo respectively.
- chicharrones — crispy dry pork rinds.
- chuletas — huge, juicy pork chops, available grilled or deep fried.
- lechón asado — roast suckling pig, this is the pinnacle of Puerto Rican porkcraft. Served at specialty restaurants, with the town of Guavate off the San Juan-Ponce highway being particularly famous.
- morcilla — blood sausage
- pernil de cerdo — pork shoulder with oregano and garlic
A few other puertorriqueño classics include:
- arroz con gandules — rice with pigeon peas, the unofficial national dish of Puerto Rico
- arroz con jueyes — rice with land crab meat
- asopao — a spicy tomato stew with rice and chicken or seafood
- bacalaitos — salted cod fritters
- chillo — red snapper, the most common fresh fish on the island
- empanadillas — fritters of cheese, meat or lobster
- sofrito — a fragrant sauce of sweet pepper, herbs, garlic and oil, used as base and seasoning for many dishes
- quenepas — a green grape-like fruit common in summer, don't eat the skin or seeds (and watch where you put them, they stain clothes easily)
- sorrullos — corn sticks, which come either sweet or salty
Places to eat
Meals in sit-down restaurants tend to be fairly pricey and most touristy restaurants will happily charge $10–30 for main dishes. Restaurants geared for locals may not appear much cheaper, but the quality (and quantity) of food is usually considerably better. It's not uncommon for restaurants to charge tourists more than locals, so bring along a local friend if you can! Note that many restaurants are closed on Mondays and Tuesday.
If you want to eat like a local, look for places that are out of the way. There is a roadside food stand or 10 at every corner when you get out of the cities. Deep-fried foods are the most common, but they serve everything from octopus salad to rum in a coconut. You might want to think twice and consult your stomach before choosing some items - but do be willing to try new things. Most of the roadside stand food is fantastic, and if you're not hung up with the need for a table, you might have dinner on a beach, chomping on all sorts of seafood fritters at $1 a pop, drinking rum from a coconut. At the end of dinner, you can see all the stars. In the southwest of the island, in Boqueron, you might find fresh oysters and clams for sale at 25 cents a piece.
If you are really lucky, you might get invited to a pork roast. It's not just food - it's a whole day - and it's cultural. Folks singing, drinking, hanging out telling stories, and checking to see if the pig is ready, and staying on topic, you'll find the pig likely paired with arroz con gandules.
Typical fast food restaurants, such as McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Wendy's are numerous in Puerto Rico and are almost identical to their American counterparts with minor exceptions.
Finally, there are some wonderful restaurants, and like everywhere, the best are found mostly near the metropolitan areas. Old San Juan is probably your best bet for a high quality meal in a 5-star restaurant. However if your experimental nature wanes, there are lots of "Americanized" opportunities in and around San Juan. Good luck, keep your eyes open for the next roadside stand, and make sure to take advantage of all the sports to counteract the moving buffet.
Strict vegetarians will have a tough time in Puerto Rico, although the larger towns have restaurants that can cater to their tastes. Traditionally almost all Puerto Rican food is prepared with lard, and while this has been largely supplanted by cheaper corn oil, mofongo is still commonly made using lard, bacon or both.
Unlike most U.S. territories and states, Puerto Rico's drinking age is 18. That, coupled with the fact that the U.S. does not require U.S. residents to have a passport to travel between Puerto Rico and the continental U.S., means Puerto Rico is becoming increasingly popular during spring break. Beer and hard liquor is available at almost every grocery store, convenience store, panadería (bakery), connell cabinet shops, and meat shop. There are many bars just off the sidewalk that cater to those of age, especially in San Juan and Old San Juan.
Puerto Rico is obviously famous for its rum and rum drinks, and is the birthplace of the world renowned Piña Colada. Several rums are made in Puerto Rico, including Bacardì, Captain Morgan and Don Q. Rum is, unfortunately, not a connoisseur's drink in the same way as wine or whiskey, and you may get a few odd looks if you ask for it straight since it is almost always drunk as a mixer. The best rum available in Puerto Rico is known as Ron de Barrilito. It isn't available in the mainland US, and is considered to be the closest to the rums distilled in the Caribbean in the 17th and 18th centuries, both in taste and the way it is distilled. It has an amber-brown color and a delicious, clean, slightly sweet taste. Very refreshing on a hot day with ice and a mint leaf.
The local moonshine is known as pitorro or cañita, distilled (like rum) from fermented sugarcane. It is then poured into a jug with other flavorings such as grapes, prunes, breadfruit seeds, raisins, dates, mango, grapefruit, guava, pineapple, and even cheese or raw meat. Its production, while illegal, is widespread and a sort of national pastime. If you are lucky enough to be invited to a Puerto Rican home around Christmastime, it is likely that someone will eventually bring out a bottle of it. Use caution as it is quite strong, sometimes reaching 80% alcohol by volume (although typical alcohol levels are closer to 40-50%).
During Christmas season, Puertoricans also drink "Coquito," an eggnog-like alcoholic beverage made with rum, egg yolks, coconut milk, coconut cream, sweet condensed milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. It is almost always homemade, and is often given as a gift during the Christmas holidays. It is delicious, but very caloric. It will also make you very sick if you drink too much of it, so be careful if someone offers you some.
Most stores stock a locally-produced beer called Medalla Light that can be purchased for $1–$2 each. Medalla Light is only sold in Puerto Rico, and is first in the Puerto Rican market share. It is comparable in taste to American light beers, i.e. bland and watery. Other beer options for the discriminating drinker include Presidente, a light Pilsner beer from nearby Dominican Republic (note: it's a different brew from the Dominican version), and Beck's. Beck's imported to Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean is a different brew from the one that makes it to the U.S., and is considered by many to be better. Other beers which have popularity on the island are Budweiser (Bud Lite is not available or very difficult to find), Heineken, Corona and Coors Light, which happen to be one of the prime international markets. Many other imported beers are also available, but usually at a higher price.
Most of the beers sold vary from 10 to 12 ounce bottles or cans. The portions are small (compared to the Mainland) in order to be consumed before the beer has time to warm up. Tap water is treated and is officially safe to drink, although somewhat metallic-tasting.
If you are an avid coffee drinker, you may find heaven in Puerto Rico. Nearly every place to eat, from the most expensive restaurants to the lowliest street vendors, serves coffee that is cheap, powerful, and delicious. Puerto Ricans drink their coffee in a way particular to the Caribbean, known as a café cortadito, which is espresso coffee served with sweetened steamed milk. A cup of coffee at a good panadería is rarely more than $1.50. Although coffee was once a formidable component of Puerto Rico's agriculture, its domestic production has declined significantly and most coffee sold in Puerto Rico is actually from Brazil or Colombia. However, indigenous coffee is experiencing a comeback, with a variety of excellent brands such as Alto Grande, Yaucono, Altura, and Café Rico. Puerto Rico's best coffee is now some of the most expensive and exclusive in the world, and a box of estate-grown coffee is an indispensable souvenir for the passionate coffee lover.
As a legacy of Puerto Rico's status as one of centers of world sugercane production, nearly everything is drunk or eaten with sugar added. This includes coffee, teas, and alcoholic drinks, as well as breakfast foods such as avena (hot oatmeal-like cereal) and mallorcas (heavy egg buns with powdered sugar and jam). Be aware of this if you are diabetic.
Plaza las Americas, is currently the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean and one of the largest in Latin America. It offers a wide array of stores, eating facilities, and a multi-screen movie theater. Most major U.S. mainland and European mass retailers are located in the mall.
The Condado section of San Juan is home to fine designer stores such as Cartier, Gucci, Ferragamo, Mont Blanc and Dior.
You might want to check out the Belz Factory Outlets and Puerto Rico Premium Outlets (Barceloneta). They house stores like Polo Ralph Lauren, Hilfiger, Banana Republic, Puma, Gap, PacSun, etc.
Most of the large cities on the island have a large regional mall with very familiar international stores.
There are plenty of ATM around the commonwealth. Most are linked to the Cirrus, Plus, American Express and Discover networks.
If you're looking for local crafts of all sorts, and want to pay less than in Old San Juan while getting to know the island, try going to town festivals. Artisans from around the island come to these festivals to sell their wares: from typical foods, candies, coffee and tobacco to clothing, accessories, paintings and home décor. Some of these festivals are better than others, though: be sure to ask for recommendations. One of the most popular (yet remote) festivals is the "Festival de las Chinas" or Orange Festival in Las Marías.
Don't forget that Puerto Rico is a large rum-producing island. Hand made cigars can still be found in San Juan, Old San Juan, and Puerta de Tierra. Also a wide variety of imported goods from all over the world are available. Local artesanías include wooden carvings, musical instruments, lace, ceramics, hammocks, masks and basket-work. Located in every busy city are gift shops with the typical tee-shirts, shot glasses, and other gifts that say Puerto Rico to bring home to friends and family. Make sure to visit the Distileria Serralles, the home of Don Q, one of the oldest rums made in Puerto Rico. You would not only enjoy tours of the process of making rum, but a little taste of the rum. They also have a museum and it is an enjoyable place for a warm afternoon in the Enchanted Island.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Puerto Rico on Wikivoyage.