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Holidays in Puerto Rico

Understanding Puerto Rico


Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Puerto Rico in 1493 on his second voyage of discovery, and originally named it San Juan Bautista in honor of Saint John the Baptist The name of the island's present day capital, San Juan, honors the name 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 The relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico is known as a commonwealth


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


Puerto Rico is mostly mountainous, although there is a coastal plain belt in the north The mountains precipitous to the sea on the west coast There are sandy beaches along most of the coast There are many small rivers about the island and the high central mountains ensure the land is well watered, although the south coast is relatively dry The coastal plain belt in the north is fertile Puerto Rico's highest point is at Cerro de Punta, which is 1,338 m above sea level


The island of Puerto Rico is a rectangular shape and is the smallest, most eastern island of the Great Antilles It measures almost 580 km of coast In addition to the principal island, the commonwealth islands include Vieques, Culebra, Culebrita, Palomino, Mona, Monito and various others isolated islands Puerto Rico is surrounded by deep ocean waters To the west Puerto Rico is seperated from Hispaniola by the Mona Passage which is about 75 miles wide and as much as 3,300 meters deep The 28,000 foot deep Puerto Rico trench is located off the northern coast Off the south coast is the 16,400 foot 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

Talking in Puerto Rico

See also: Spanish phrasebook

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 US 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 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 Menus in restaurants, even off the beaten track, are almost invariably bilingual

That said, as anywhere, it's respectful to try make an effort and try to learn at least the basics of Spanish Average Puerto Ricans appreciate efforts to learn the most widely spoken language of their territory, and most are more than happy to help you with your pronunciation If you're already familiar with the language, be aware that Puerto Rican Spanish speakers have a very distinct accent, similar to the Cuban accent, which is full of local jargon and slang unfamiliar to many outside the island Puerto Ricans also have a tendency to "swallow" consonants that occur in the middle of a word Puerto Ricans also speak at a relatively faster speed than Central Americans or Mexicans It is not offensive to ask someone to repeat themselves or speak slower if you have trouble understanding them

Examples of words that are unique to Puerto Rican Spanish include:

  • chína - orange ordinarily naranja
  • zafacón - trash can basura
  • chavo - loose change moneda
  • frachlai - flashlight linterna
  • wikén - weekend fín de semana
  • Guagua - bus autobus

Taino influence When the Spanish settlers colonized Puerto Rico in the early 16th century, many thousands of Taíno people lived on the island Taíno words like hamaca meaning “hammock” and hurakán meaning "hurricane" and tobacco came into general Spanish as the two cultures blended Puerto Ricans still use many Taíno words that are not part of the international Spanish lexicon The Taino influence in Puerto Rican Spanish is most evident in geographical names, such as Mayagüez, Guaynabo, Humacao or Jayuya You will also find Taino words in different parts of the Caribbean

African influence

The first African slaves were brought to the island in the 16th century Although 31 different African tribes have been recorded in Puerto Rico, it is the Kongo from Central Africa that is considered to have had the most impact on Puerto Rican Spanish Many of these words are used today

What to do in Puerto Rico

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

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

Blue Flag in Puerto Rico The Blue Flag Program, initiated in Europe since 1987 has been modified for implementation in the Caribbean It is 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

Snorkel and Scuba dive Puerto Rico's Caribbean coasts Especially out of Fajardo But be sure that if you book with a snorkel trip -- that they guarantee you you'll 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!

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

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

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 biolumicescent 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

Casinos In the metropolitan area in San Juan they have luxurious hotels with casinos similar to Las Vegasif you like to gamble, San Juan will be a great place to stay while vacationing in the island

Buying stuff in Puerto Rico

Plaza las Americas, is currently the largest such shopping mall in the Caribbean and offers a wide array of stores, eating facilities and a multi screen movie theater Most major US 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 Barcelonta They house stores like Polo, 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 Jaun, 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

Food and eating 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
  • 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, Puerto Rico's favorite snack
  • 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

Places to eat

Meals in sit-down restaurants tend to be fairly pricy 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 and Wendy's are numerous in Puerto Rico and identical to their American counterparts Some feel, however, that fried chicken restaurants are somewhat different in PR

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 4-star meal in a 4-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

Dietary restrictions

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

Drinking in Puerto Rico

Unlike most US territories and states Puerto Rico's drinking age is 18 That coupled with the fact that the US does not require US residents to have a passport to travel between Puerto Rico and the continental US 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 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 del 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

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 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 US, and is considered by many to be better Other beers which have popularity on the island are Budweiser, Bud Light, 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

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 deliciious 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 $150

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

Accommodation in Puerto Rico

There are over 12,000 hotel rooms in Puerto Rico and 50% are located in the San Juan area

  • All major international hotel chains have properties in Puerto Rico Guests can expect a high level of service even in lower quality properties The San Juan area is very popular and perennially full of visitors but also suffers from a shortage of hotel rooms which results in high prices during the winter season New developments on the horizon look to alleviate this problem

International chains such as Sheraton, Westin, Marriott, Hilton, Ritz-Carlton, Holiday Inn as well as some luxurious independent resorts offer very reliable accommodations There is a boom underway in boutique hotel construction which promise a higher level of service and Miami-chic appeal Most large cities have at least one international chain hotel

There are properties to rent, buy, or lease available, whether it is a quiet home or a vacation rental There are also many fully furnished apartments you can rent by the day, week and month, especially in Old San Juan These are usually inexpensive, clean and comfortable and owned by trustworthy people They are located mostly in the residential area, which is safe day and night, and within walking distance to everything from museums to nightlife

See the San Juan section for contact numbers for hotels and short-term rental apartments

Working in Puerto Rico

There is a small international workforce on the island In general, it's possible to find a nice job on the island doing various things The island is full of international businesses which look for skilled labor all the time Tourism is obviously a big industry for Puerto Rico Also, the majority of pharmaceutical companies can be found in PR & the island plays a very important part in pharmaceutical manufacturing for the US & other places in the world

Cities in Puerto Rico

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