Introduction

Welcome to the historical, interesting, diverse and beautiful island of Puerto Rico. The history of this group of islands is rich, filled with stories of pirates, slaves, local tribes, religion and battles. Today you will find a peaceful place that is proud of its past and hopeful for the future.  The beaches range from calm and family friendly to wild with 20ft waves for surfers. You can have a lazy relaxing holiday or fill every day with adventure. Puerto Rico provides something for everyone.

  1. Puerto Rico includes the main island of Peurto Rico and a number of smaller islands such as Vieques, Culebra, Mona and Desecheo. The majority of the smaller islands do not have year round inhabitants.
  2. The official languages of Puerto Rico are Spanish and English.
  3. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States and as such the official currency is the US Dollar.
  4. The capital city is San Juan.
  5. To say hi in Spanish you say hola.
  6. Puerto Rico is famous for its El Yunque rainforest, Phosphorescent Bay, amazing architecture, turbulent history and friendly people.
  7. Puerto Rico may be American but the legal drinking age is 18 as it is in Spain.
  8. The world’s largest telescope, the Arecibo Observatory, is in Puerto Rico.
  9. Pina Colada, the famous coconut and rum cocktail was invented in San Juan.

 

The Uniqueness of Puerto Rico

The history and culture of Puerto Rico make this group of islands unique.  The four hundred year Spanish has made this island feel like a small part of Spain. The islands are now a true racial and cultural mix with a combination of the descendants of African slaves and the local Taino Indians as well as a large group of Spanish, Chinese, French, German and Italian immigrants.

How is Puerto Rico different from the rest of the Caribbean

Puerto Rico has a history and culture that you will not find anywhere else in the world. The beaches are perfect but when you get tired of sunbathing you can immerse yourself in the local culture by exploring downtown San Juan and the small towns that surround the city. The islands have some truly unique ecological sites such as the only rain forest in the Caribbean and two phosphorescent bays.

The Must See Places of Puerto Rico

  1. Ojo del Buey
  2. Arecibo Observatory
  3. El Morro
  4. Tibes Indian Ceremonial Center
  5. Bioluminescent Bay
  6. La Fortaleza
  7. El Yunque
  8. Hacienda San Pedro
  9. La Monserrate Beach Park
  10. San Jose Church

Ojo del Buey

This area is commonly known as the Ox’s Eye, the name comes from the huge rock formation in the area that looks like the head of an Ox. Legend has it that this is where the infamous local pirate, Robert Cofresi, hid his treasure and it has never been found. Challenge the kids to look for the treasure and turn it into a fun game.

Arecibo Observatory

The observatory has a visitor’s centre that allows visitors to find out about the important work being done by the largest telescope on earth. The centre runs a number of exhibits that teach adults and children about the earth, our solar system, star, galaxies and the tools that science uses to find out more about the universe. There is an observation platform from which you can see the 305 meter wide telescope.

EL Morro

The fort of El Murro rises 140ft above the sea and with its 18ft thick walls it truly is an impressive military stronghold. El Murro was never penetrated despite many attacks from the other colonists and it stands as a reminder of how fiercely the Spaniards protected this port and country. The fort holds a mini museum and explains the history of the building in an interesting way. Adults will love the views and historical aspects while children will love climbing over the walls and pretending to be soldiers.

Tibes Indian Ceremonial Centre

This amazing historical site features a one thousand five hundred year old Taino village and much of it remains intact. A cemetery was found on the site with skeletons dating back to 700AD. You are free to move around the grounds and explore on your own. An informative talk about the history of the village is provided and takes place at the entrance to the village. The site is still an area of very productive archaeological study about the early tribes of the Caribbean.

Bioluminescent Bay

This is the number one tourist attraction in Puerto Rico. The water luminescence is caused by dinoflagellates a type of oceanic plankton that produce emerald green and ultramarine illumination when the water is physically moved or touched.  The bay is best viewed at night by kayak tour. A very dark sky with a thin moon, after a day of bright sunlight will give the best conditions for bright neon illumination.

La Fortaleza

This building is the oldest executive mansion in continues use in the world.  It was built in 1533 for the defence of San Juan and from the 16th century to today it has been the official residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico.  In 1983 it was listed by UNESCO as a historic World Heritage Site.

El Yunque

The El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rain forest in the Caribbean and in the United States National Forestry System.  You can see over four hundred different plant species in this forest that is noted for its biodiversity. There are more than a dozen well maintained hiking trails through the forest as well as picnic areas, rivers, waterfalls, stone towers and a visitor’s centre.

Hacienda San Pedro

This small coffee farm has an attached tasting room and museum. You can take a tour of the coffee making process from the green bean to dark roast espresso. The tasting room and shop has some of the best gourmet blends you will ever taste. You can even buy green coffee beans here to try your hand at roasting.

La Monserrate Beach Park

Commonly known as Luquillo Beach, this stunning beach is one of the most popular in Puerto Rico. The beachfront is huge with fine white sand and swaying palm trees. The rain forest serves as a stunning backdrop to this idyllic scene. The water is warm, calm and crystal clear.

San Jose Church

The church of San Jose was built in 1532 and is one of very few remaining examples of Spanish Gothic architecture from the 16th century.  It stands as an interesting example of Spain’s Catholic missionary past and how it changed the future of the Caribbean. The building was recently added to a list of America’s most endangered historic places and work is being done to salvage this beautiful church.

Must Do Activities in Puerto Rico

Wander around old San Juan and look at the beautiful buildings either on your own or with a guided tour.

Spend time relaxing on the beach with a Pina Colada and a good book.

Explore the smaller islands that are part of Puerto Rico.

Snorkel and dive in the crystal clear waters.

Famous Festivals

January

San Sebastian Street Festival

Held in Old San Juan this street festival comprises of nightly celebrations with music, processions and food stalls as well as a small art and craft section.

February

Coffee Harvest Festival

This festival is held in Maricao and celebrates the coffee harvest with a parade, folk music, food, coffee tastings and demonstrations of coffee preparation.

Carnival

Puerto Rico’s carnival celebrations feature float parades, street parties and all night dancing. One of the most colourful is in Ponce where the revellers all wear brightly painted horned masks.

May

Heineken JazzFest

This annual jazz celebration is held in a scenic open air pavilion on San Juan’s oceanfront. Musicians from all over the world are flown in for this week long celebration of Jazz.

June

San Juan Bautista Day

A weeklong festival held in every village or city in Puerto Rico celebrating the islands patron saint. Traditionally people walk backwards into the sea three times to ensure good luck for the coming year.

November

Jayuya Indian Festival

This fiesta celebrates the culture and heritage of the original inhabitants of the islands the Taino Indians. Traditional food is sold and the air is filled with music from this vibrant culture. Games and competitions are held throughout the day.

December

Hatillo Masks Festival

Held in the town of Hatillo this traditional festival represents the biblical story of King Herod and his ordering of the death of all infant boys. Men with colourful masks and costumes representing the soldiers run through the town from early morning. This is followed by a celebration with music and food.

Local dishes to try

  1. Asopao
  2. Arroz con Gandules
  3. Mofongo
  4. Alcapurrias
  5. Paella
  6. Lechon

Best Time to Travel to Puerto Rico

Peak season runs from mid-December to mid-April as vistors from the North flee the cold climates.  The off season with slightly lower prices runs from May to November. The hurricane season officially lasts from 1 June to the 30 November but the most damaging storms usually hit in August.

Travel Tips for Puerto Rico

  1. If you are a US citizen you don’t need a passport to travel to Puerto Rico but bring some form of ID as it is often required at hotel check-in.
  2. Leave the beaten tourist path to get better deals on food and drink. That beer in your hotel will be a quarter of the price in a local bar.
  3. All Puerto Ricans speak English but Spanish is the language of daily life so brush up on your Spanish or buy a phrase book.
  4. Tipping is the same as in the US and 15 -20% is generally considered standard and a higher tip for exceptional service.
  5. Credit cards are accepted everywhere but bring some dollars for tips, street food and souvenirs.
  6. Prices don’t usually include tax of between 7 .5% and 9% so be sure to factor that into your budget.
  7. If you have a US phone it will work in Puerto Rico and dialling is the same as in the USA.
  8. Visit the Bacardi factory as well as some of the smaller local brands. Rum s the drink of the Caribbean for a reason and Puerto Rico is home to most of the famous brands.
  9. Get away from the main island and enjoy the seclusion of Vieques or Culebra for a day or two.