It’s graced by fabulous beaches, year-round sun and numerous opportunities for deep-sea fishing, diving and surfing, but there’s far more to Puerto Rico than suntans and snorkelling. Beyond the glitzy veneer of San Juan the coast remains incredibly raw and unspoiled, lined with miles of glittering white sands. Dig deeper and you’ll see the influence of the island’s rich stew of cultures – African, European and Taíno – in an exuberant array of festivals, tantalizing criollo food, gracious colonial towns, world-class rum and a dynamic musical tradition that gave birth to salsa. The scenery is similar but this is not the West Indies (think baseball not cricket), and despite its links with the US, Puerto Rican identity – like Cuba – remains proudly Latino.
The island boasts an astounding diversity of landscapes, from the misty rainforests of El Yunque and the crumbling outcrops of karst country, to reef-encrusted desert islands and the withering dry forests of the southwest. And in several places, impenetrable mangrove swamps cradle one of nature’s most mind-boggling spectacles, the glowing waters of bioluminescent bays. Rent a car and it’s easy to escape the tourist areas, and you can zip between cool mountain forests and sun-bleached beaches in minutes. The island is remarkably safe, and though it can be tough for budget travellers, Puerto Rico compares favourably with other islands in the region.
Beaches understandably remain one of the biggest draws here. Thanks in part to a small but vigorous coalition of environmental groups, property development has been confined to small clusters, with low-key resorts such as Rincón successfully holding back the tide of condo and hotel building, at least for now. Occupied by the United States Navy until relatively recently, Vieques and Culebra in particular offer some of the most idyllic coastlines in the Caribbean, the military having ensured that both islands were spared the excesses of tourism.
Traveling to Puerto Rico
Take some time and travel to a tropical island. Hire a cast of thousands to play friendly, welcoming people most of whom speak English (in addition to their native Spanish). When you are looking for exotic locations, miles upon miles of white sand beaches, plus an unbelievable rain forest and mountains, you come to Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico is a modern progressive and civilized vacation spot that maintains the charm and hospitality of days gone by. You will find everything that the Caribbean has to offer in this all around family destination – and with it is a people whose warmth is equaled only by the sunshine that graces its shores. Before you go on your trip to Puerto Rico, find out all the basics and all the facts.
When to Go
Puerto Rico enjoys year round summer temperatures, an average annual temperature of 80°F (26°C). The peak tourist season is between December and April, but this has more to do with the climate in U.S. mainland than anything else. July and August represents another peak tourist seasons. The best time to avoid the crowds is the low season between May and November, which, unfortunately, coincides with hurricane season (officially — from June 1 to November 30). In recent years, Puerto Rico has also become popular Spring Break destination.
Puerto Rico offers a huge variety of lodgings that will appeal to a multiplicity of personalities and pocketbooks. There are 13,000 hotel rooms available in Puerto Rico (2010), 50% are located in the San Juan area. The government sponsors “Paradores Puertorriqueños”, a group of 18 inns located throughout the island. Quality and prices varies among the group. A centralized reservation and information system has been set up. (From the U.S., call 1-800-443-0266. Outside of the San Juan metro area, call 1-800-981-7575. Within the San Juan area, call (787) 721-2884.)
If you are planning on renting, buying or leasing property on the island, Real Estate Agencies offer a variety of services, whether it is a small quiet home or a vacation rental, real estate agents will provide you with the information you need. There is a wide selection of rental properties available in San Juan and throughout the island at beach and resort areas.
Both Spanish and English are the official languages of Puerto Rico, but Spanish is without a doubt the dominant language. Fewer than 20 percent of Puerto Ricans speak English fluently, according to the 1990 U.S. Census. Spanish is the mother tongue of all native Puerto Ricans, and any traffic signs and such are written exclusively in Spanish, with the exception of San Juan and Guaynabo. Even in tourist areas of San Juan, employees at fast-food restaurants generally have very limited comprehension of English. However, people working in tourism-related businesses are usually fluent in English, locals in less touristed areas of the island can usually manage basic English, as it’s taught as a foreign language in school.
Courtesy & Dress
Puerto Ricans are a gentle and friendly people. The island feels more like Latin America than the United States. Swim wear is fine for the beach and leisure wear for the resorts, but elsewhere a little dressing up is in order. Night time in San Juan is somewhat informal.
Light and loose cotton clothing is the best bet year-round for Puerto Rico’s warm tropical climate. Pack a sweater for cool season evenings or if you plan to visit the mountain regions. There are no nudist facilities (camps and/or beaches) in Puerto Rico. Nudism is illegal in Puerto Rico.
You will find a full calendar of events to choose from throughout the year. Every year, each town celebrates a patron saint festival. The festivities include crafts, music, food, parades and religious processions. The activities usually take place at the town plaza. In addition, festivals featuring something special about each town is celebrated, like the San Sebastian Street Festival, the Ponce Carnival, and the Aibonito Flower Festival, among many others.
Politeness and a simple smile will get you far. For either gender, it is very common to customarily kiss on one cheek when greeting a female. This is never done by a male to another male (except between relatives). Puerto Rican society is in general very social, and you will commonly see neighbors out at night chatting with each other. It is wise in some cases to avoid discussing the island’s politics, especially with regards to its political status with the United States. Arguments are often very passionate, and can lead to heated debates. In the same manner it may be wise to neither discuss the political parties, as Puerto Ricans can be very passionate about the party they affiliate with. Puerto Rico has 3 political parties, marked (amongst other things) by different stances towards the relation to the United States: PNP (statehood), PPD (commonwealth) and PIP (independence). PNP and PPD share the majority of the voters, whilst PIP has a relatively small rating. It is common for women to have cat calls, whistles and loud compliments directed at them. These are usually harmless and it is best to just ignore them. If you plan to mingle with locals and/or go off the beaten path where few tourists venture, it helps to dress like the locals. Puerto Rican adults do not wear shorts in public (except at the beach, pool or gym). In Puerto Rico, shorts are for children and tourists. T-shirts with slogans or logos are also not worn by locals. Shorts and T-shirts will give you away as a tourist, if worn at night in the tourist areas. Stick with light khakis or blue jeans, and polo shirts or plain T-shirts with no logos or slogans. Puerto Ricans love board games. Some would even say that the national game of Puerto Rico is dominos. It is a very common pastime, especially among older people. In some rural towns, it is common to see old men playing dominos in parks or the town square. Chess is also popular. Either a chess set or a box of dominos makes a great gift.
Things Not to Miss in Puerto Rico
• Hike in El Yunque Forest
• Seethe Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, the best art collection in the Caribbean
• Ride the free hop-on, hop-off trolley in Old San Juan
• Take a day trip to the island of Culebra
• Explore the caves at Parque de las Cavernas del Rio Camuy
• Enjoy the sand and surf at Playa Flamenco
• Paddle through the Bioluminescent Bay off Vieques