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What is most striking about Puerto Rico is the apparent contradiction between its Latino/Caribbean culture and its cosmopolitan city centers, akin to mainland U.S. cities. The influences of U.S., Spanish, African and Taíno cultures have had a perplexing effect on all aspects of Puerto Rican life. Fast food chains and old Spanish colonial buildings stand side-by-side in San Juan; folk music descendant from Spanish folk music contrasts with the bomba, a dance carried over from Africa.
Since it is easy to reach from the United States (no visa is required), Puerto Rico has matured into a tourist hot-spot. But while San Juan continues to be the country's prime attraction, journeys into the countryside reward travellers with a clearer glimpse into the unique Puerto Rican culture.
The first settlers were the Ortoiroid people, an Archaic Period culture of Amerindian hunters and fishermen. An archaeological dig in the island of Vieques in 1990 found the remains of what is believed to be an Arcaico (Archaic) man (named Puerto Ferro man) dated to around 2000 BC. Between the 7th and 11th centuries the Taíno culture developed on the island, and by approximately 1000 AD had become dominant. This lasted until Christopher Columbus arrived in 1493.
Columbus named the island San Juan Bautista, in honor of Saint John the Baptist. Later the island took the name of Puerto Rico while the capital was named San Juan. Puerto Rico soon became an important stronghold and port for the Spanish Empire. Various forts and walls, such as La Fortaleza, El Castillo San Felipe del Morro and El Castillo de San Cristóbal, were built to protect the port of San Juan from European enemies. France, The Netherlands and England made several attempts to capture Puerto Rico but failed to wrest long-term occupancy. During the late 17th and early 18th centuries colonial emphasis was on the more prosperous mainland territories, leaving the island impoverished of settlers.
On July 25, 1898, during the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico was invaded by the United States with a landing at Guánica. As an outcome of the war, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, along with Cuba, the Philippines, and Guam to the U.S. under the Treaty of Paris. Natural disasters, including a major earthquake, a tsunami and several hurricanes, and the Great Depression impoverished the island during the first few decades under U.S. rule.
In 1947, the U.S. granted Puerto Ricans the right to elect democratically their own governor. Luis Muñoz Marín was elected during the 1948 general elections, becoming the first popularly elected governor of Puerto Rico.
During the 1950s Puerto Rico experienced rapid industrialization and presently, Puerto Rico has become a major tourist destination and it is the world's leading pharmaceutical manufacturing center.
Puerto Rico consists of the main island of Puerto Rico and various smaller islands, including Vieques, Culebra, Mona, Desecheo, and Caja de Muertos. There are also many other even smaller islands including Monito and "La Isleta de San Juan" which includes Old San Juan and Puerta de Tierra and is connected to the main island by bridges.
Puerto Rico has an area of 13,790 km2, of which 8,870 km2 is land and 4,921 km2 is water. The maximum length of the main island from east to west is 180 kilometres, and the maximum width from north to south is 65 kilometres. Puerto Rico is the smallest of the Greater Antilles, about 20% smaller than Jamaica and not even 10% of the largest of these Greater Antilles: Cuba. Puerto Rico is mostly mountainous with large coastal areas in the north and south. The main mountain range is called "La Cordillera Central" (The Central Range). The highest elevation in Puerto Rico, Cerro de Punta at 1,339 metres, is located in this range. Another important peak is El Yunque, one of the highest in the Sierra de Luquillo at the El Yunque National Forest, with an elevation of 1,065 metres. Puerto Rico has 17 lakes, all man-made, and more than 50 rivers, most originating in the Cordillera Central. Rivers in the northern region of the island are typically longer and of higher water flow rates than those of the south, since the south receives less rain than the central and northern regions.
Aside from these islands, there are numerous smaller islands (many uninhabited) included in the archipelago.
La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico is the only site on the island that is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Here, a series of defensive structures was built during the period between 1400 and 1900 at a strategic point in the Caribbean Sea to protect the city and the Bay of San Juan. They represent a fine display of European military architecture adapted to harbour sites on the American continent. The site includes Fort San Cristóbal, Fort San Felipe del Morro, Fort San Juan de la Cruz (called El Cañuelo as well), and bastions, powder houses, and three quarters of the city wall surrounding San Juan.
El Yunque National Park is located in the Luquillo mountains and is a park of around 11,000 hectares big. It encompasses a lush rain forest with over 400 species of trees and ferns. Within the park, you have the choice of about 13 hiking trails. Some of them are easy strolls, while others require better physical conditions, like the one to the peak of El Yunque. While walking, keep an eye out for the coquí frog (the national symbol of Puerto Rico), the rare Puerto Rican parrot, beautiful orchids and waterfalls. It's only about one hour from the capital San Juan.
In the northeastern region of Puerto Rico over 200 caves have been discovered. With some experience, you can go climbing, abseiling and swimming through the underground river system of the Camy River. This is one of the biggest underground rivers in the world.
Billions of dollars have been spent to restore the colonial centre of the second biggest city in Puerto Rico, Ponce. The centre dates back to the 7th century AD and is known as a national treasure. You will find churches, squares, decorated colonial houses and other buildings and fountains. Plaza Las Delicias is one of the highlights for sure.
Puerto Rico has a hot and humid climate with temperatures rarely dropping below 18 °C at night, although the mountainous areas can get a bit chilly sometimes. Average daytime temperatures hoover around 30 °C, a bit cooler from December to April and a bit warmer between June and October. This latter period also is the rainy season with a chance of hurricanes from late July onwards. Obviously, this is not the best time to visit.
Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) in San Juan is where all international planes arrive and depart. It serves as the Caribbean hub for American Airlines and American Eagle and there are connections to almost every island nation in the region with these two airlines.
Many other airlines based in the United States serve Puerto Rico from numerous cities. These include Delta Air Lines and US Airways.
Destinations further away include Frankfurt, London and Madrid in Europe and several cities in South America like Bogota.
Dominican Republic - Puerto Rico vv
Ferries del Caribe offers three weekly ferries between Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic and Mayagüez in Puerto Rico. From Santo Domingo they leave on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:00pm arriving in Mayagüez at 8am the following morning. From Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, they leave on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 8:00pm, and arrive in Santo Domingo at 8:00am the next morning. The journey takes about 12 hours in both directions.
Puerto Rico - United States Virgin Islands vv
Every two weeks leaving on a Sunday at 1pm, there is a fast ferry between Fajardo in Puerto Rico and St. John and St. Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands. In the opposite direction, boats leave every two weeks on a Thursday at 5pm from St. John and 6:00pm from St. Thomas. The trip takes about 2 hours and services are wih Transportation Services Virgin Islands.
Renting a car is one of the best ways to explore a lot of Puerto Rico and there are at least a dozen rental companies to choose from. Most are located at the international airport or in San Juan. An (inter)national driver's license is valid in the country. Although there is no reason for panic, just watch the road and stay calm. Most Puerto Ricans are not.
Minivans known as públicos travel around the island and go to almost every corner of the island. They don't travel according to a schedule and they can be flagged down anywhere. If you don't travel between the largest cities, you will need to change once or twice to get to your final destination. It's a safe, cheap and social way of getting around.
There are ferries between the main island of Puerto Rico and some island to the east. Boats leave Fajardo for the islands of Culebra and Vieques at least four times a day to either island. It takes around one hour and services are with the Puerto Rican Port Authority Office.
Since Puerto Rico is a US territory, travelers from outside the United States must meet the same requirements that are needed to enter the United States. For travel within the United States, there are no passport controls between the US mainland and Puerto Rico, or vice versa. There are also no customs inspections for travel to and from the US mainland, but the USDA does perform agricultural inspections of luggage bound from Puerto Rico to the US mainland.
See also Money Matters
The US Dollar, or "greenback", is the currency Puerto Rico. One dollar consists of 100 cents. Frequently used coins are the penny (1¢), nickel (5¢), dime (10¢) and quarter (25¢). 50¢ and $1 coins also exist, but are rarely used. Frequently used banknotes are the $1, $5, $10 and $20 notes. $2, $50 and $100 notes can also be found, but are rarely used.
Related article: Spanish: Grammar, pronunciation and useful phrases
Spanish and English are the official languages of Puerto Rico. English is spoken by about 50% of the population, and is taught as a second language at high school. Puerto Rican Spanish is quite distinct from that of other Spanish-speaking countries, owing to the influence of ancestral languages and English.
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.
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.
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.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Puerto Rico. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Puerto Rico. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B, rabies and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Puerto Rico in general is a safe destination to travel around. Just be careful when walking around parts of San Juan, especially after dark when it's best to take a taxi.
Also note that Puerto Ricans are not the most friendly drivers, so take care when renting a car and be sure not to leave anything in the car which is in sight.
See also International Telephone Calls
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Ask Sonialy a question about Puerto Rico
I'm born and raised in the capital of this beautiful Island in the caribbean. There are many beautiful places to see, outdoor adventures, delicious foods and an extremely rich culture that goes with you wherever you go. For anything related to an upcoming trip to Puerto Rico, let me know!
Ask SophiaS a question about Puerto Rico
I have been to PR every year for the last 10 years of my life. I have visited the entire island and still have family there; as well as a potential place for someone to stay in Ponce.
Languages: German, Spanish and English
Ask Wilo a question about Puerto Rico
I know a lot about Puerto Rico I been all my life around the island and my family owns an Amapola inn. In Vieques P.R.
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