Part of the greater Antilles islands, the archipelago of Puerto Rico is located between the Caribbean Sea and the north Atlantic Ocean.
Measuring 100 miles by 35 miles, its mostly mountainous terrain presents breathtaking views over its coastal areas.
Despite evidence of habitation since around 2000BC, the Taíno Indians were the island’s first civilization. Dying out through disease and slavery to the Spanish conquistadores, they were replaced with slaves from Africa. All three cultural groups have contributed enormously to Puerto Rico’s national character, along with America since the island became part of the United States in 1898 and its inhabitants U.S. citizens in 1917.
In several referendums the people of Puerto Rico have elected to retain their position as a commonwealth of the U.S., rather than gain independence, or become the 51st state of America.
Spanish is the language of government and the native language for all Puerto Ricans, albeit with many colloquialisms.
English is compulsory at school from a very early age, which means many islanders are fluent English speakers.
As an American commonwealth, Puerto Rico uses the U.S. dollar, sometimes referred to as the Peso.
Puerto Rico’s tropical climate experiences little seasonal change, with average daily high temperatures varying from 28ºC in January to 32ºC in August. There is no significant difference between the wet or dry seasons, but August is the wettest month.
The hurricane season spans between June and November; although they are incredibly rare. Information on weather conditions can be obtained from Puerto Rico’s National Weather Service.
Puerto Rico’s hundreds of miles of coastline features some truly magnificent beaches, varying from the white sand-dunes of Isabela, to the black volcanic sands outside Punta Santiago.
On its beaches every imaginable form of water-sport is practicable from jet-skiing to horseback riding and scuba-diving.
For visitors with a more cultural agenda, the Indian ceremonial parks and Spanish churches are popular attractions. Outside the town of Ponce, the Hacienda Buena Vista is a fully-restored 19th century coffee plantation, which provides a valuable insight into the island’s past.
The main cultural tourist attraction on the island is the capital of San Juan, where most of the population resided during the Spanish colonial era. The Old San Juan district sits on the west side of a small island (the Isleta de San Juan), which is connected to the mainland by bridges. The colourful, 16th and 17th century, colonial buildings that characterise its narrow cobblestone streets, host many art galleries and museums.
Because of the threat from European enemies, the Spanish built many protective structures on Puerto Rico and the two finest examples are located in old San Juan.
The El Morro fortress towers 140ft above San Juan’s harbour, protecting the city from naval attacks; while the Fuerte San Cristóbal defends San Juan from approach by land and is the largest Spanish-built fort in the New World. Both are listed UNESCO world heritage sites.
The American influence in Puerto Rico means the presence of many shopping malls. Plaza las Americas in San Juan, is currently the largest shopping complex in the Caribbean, containing many American and European shops and eateries as well as a cinema multiplex. Large shopping centres can be found in each of Puerto Rico’s cities.
A plethora of designer boutiques crowd the Condado district of San Juan, such as: Cartier, Gucci, Luis Vuitton, Mont Blanc and Christian Dior. Labels such as Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger own discount factory outlets on the island.
For locally made souvenirs, the shops and markets of old San Juan contain every conceivable Caribbean product. However brightly coloured clothes and fabric, rum, cigars and tobacco can all be bought cheaper at town festivals, such as the Festival de las Chinas in Las Marías.
Dining is a highlight of any visit to Puerto Rico. All varieties of international cuisine from Chinese to Italian are available on the island, particularly in San Juan. There are also numerous chain restaurants and fast food outlets; although instant cuisine is far better from any of the innumerable roadside and street corner stands. Their lobster fritters, oysters and clams (with accompanying rum and lime served in coconut shells) are best enjoyed on the beach.
Traditional Puerto Rican Criolla (Creole) cuisine is a fusion of Taíno, African and Spanish cooking styles incorporating local produce with rice and meat, poultry or seafood (which is in abundant supply in the island’s waters.)
The Mesones Gastronomicos program (sponsored by the Puerto Rican tourist authority) of 30 traditional restaurants, all serve typical Criolla fare such as Mofongo, a dish of meat or seafood, served with mashed plantain fruit in a garlic and tomato sauce.
Dining in Puerto Rico is very inexpensive with budget restaurant meals costing between $5 and $15. Upscale restaurants rarely charge over $35 for a meal.
San Juan is also considered the nightlife capital of the Caribbean, possessing a multitude of nightspots, discos and casinos. Santurce as well as the Condado district are renowned hotspots.
Resort towns such as Dorado and Ponce feature live music and dancing, while Piñones is a resort in where nightlife is centred on the beach. The bioluminescent bay at Parguera offers romantic, evening boat-rides.
Motorists drive on the right in Puerto Rico and like the UK, the legal blood alcohol limit is 0.08. The speed limit for urban areas is 25mph, while 45mph is allowed in rural areas and between 55mph and 65 mph on the island’s highways.
There is little speeding due to severe penalties of $50 for breaking the limit, plus an additional $5 for each mile above the speed limit.
Luis Muñoz Marin International airport is situated nine miles outside of San Juan. With traffic of over 10 million passengers a year and 700 daily flights, it is the central transport hub of the Caribbean. Its three terminals serve 62 worldwide destinations.
The island has another 10 public airports, with scheduled flights for regional travel over the island and other Caribbean destinations.
- Puerto Rico Tourism Company, Old San Juan Station, Box 4435, San Juan 00905, Puerto Rico
- Telephone: +787 721 2400
- Website: www.gotopuertorico.com
All car hire locations in Puerto Rico
- Antonio Nery Juarbe Pol Airport
- Antonio Rivera Rodriguez Airport
- Benjamin Rivera Noriega Airport
- Diego Jimenez Torres Airport
- Eugenio Maria De Hostos Airport
- Fernando Luis Ribas Dominicci Airport
- Luis Munoz Marin International Airport
- Mercedita Airport
- Parque Isla Verde
- Rafael Hernandez Airport
- Río Grande
- San Juan
- Villas De Puerto Rico