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Puerto Rico

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North America : Caribbean : Puerto Rico
Flag
Image:rq-flag.png
Quick Facts
CapitalSan Juan
Governmentcommonwealth
CurrencyUS dollar (USD)
Areatotal: 9,104 sq km
water: 145 sq km
land: 8,959 sq km
Population3,957,988 (July 2002 est.)
LanguageSpanish, English
ReligionRoman Catholic 85%, Protestant and other 15%
Calling Code+1 787 and +1 939
Internet TLD.pr
Time ZoneUTC -4

Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island that is a self governing commonwealth of the United States of America. Located in the Caribbean Sea to the east of the Dominican Republic and west of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico lies on a key shipping lane to the Panama Canal - the Mona Passage.

Map of Puerto RicoMap of Puerto Rico
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Map of Puerto Rico

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puerto rico Travel Guide :

Puerto Rico

Regions

  • Culebra
  • Vieques, also known as Isla Nena or Little Girl Island, is a small, rural island approximately 18 miles East of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico

Cities

  • San Juan - Capital - Has one of the biggest and best natural harbors in the Caribbean.
  • Aguadilla
  • AreciboArecibo
  • BayamonBayamon
  • CaguasCaguas
  • Carolina (Puerto Rico)Carolina
  • Fajardo
  • MayaguezMayaguez
  • PoncePonce
Puerto Rico

Other destinations

Rincon Rincon is a town located on the west coast of the island between Aguadilla and Mayaguez, looking out over the Mona Passage towards tiny, uninhabited Isla Desecheo. There is a moderately well established tourist/hospitality business around the edges of the town, along the 413 highway and down along the coast. Downtown Rincon is about 5 minutes away from many beaches which enjoy surfable waves throughout the winter months, on both the north-facing and west-facing coasts. Check the swells at Wet Sand (http://www.wetsand.com) or WannaSurf (http://www.wannasurf.com/spot/Central_America/Puerto_Rico/index.html) before you head out (Rincon isn't clearly marked on that map, but it's southwest of Aguadilla, at the point on the west coast). The community is composed of local Puerto Ricans with a smattering of international surfers, Americans and other nationalities who came to surf the legendary waves after they were popularized when the world surfing championships (http://www.isasurf.org/index.php?page=20&subpage=26) were hosted there in 1968 (http://www.islandmon.com/contest.htm). The hotels generally have less than 20 rooms. Some have pools and restaurants/bars, and none of them are more than 5 minutes away from a beach.

Coming to Rincon is not a Disneyworld experience, and might be difficult or frustrating for people travelling with small children. There isn't a whole lot to do here except surf or hang out on the beach. Locals are friendly to tourists, but it can be very helpful to have a command of conversational Spanish. It will be necessary to rent a car to get to Rincon, and once you are in Rincon, you will need a car to get to restaurants/ bars/ surf shops/ beaches, as there are no sidewalks next to the steep, narrow roads that connect downtown with the surf breaks. It is possible to rent rooms in a hotel or a private house that is right on the beach, but at some point you will probably need to drive somewhere and there don't seem to be any local ground transportation services.

The bars conveniently stagger their happy-hour events, so that you can go to Nativo (http://rincon-nativo.com) at 5 on Monday night, and when their happy hour ends at 7, you can head on down to tamboo (http://www.besidethepointe.com/tavern.htm) and keep drinking until they kick you out.

Puerto Rico

Understand

Puerto Rico

Climate

Tropical marine, mild; little seasonal temperature variation. Temperatures range from 70F to 90F, and tend to be lower at night and up in the mountains

Natural hazards 
periodic droughts; hurricanes;
Puerto Rico

Terrain

Mostly mountains, with coastal plain belt in north; mountains precipitous to sea on west coast; sandy beaches along most coastal areas. Many small rivers and high central mountains ensure land is well watered; south coast relatively dry; fertile coastal plain belt in north.

Highest point 
Cerro de Punta 1,338 m
Puerto Rico

History

Populated for centuries by Taino indians, the island was claimed by the Spanish Crown in 1493 following Columbus' second voyage to the Americas. Like many other spanish colonies in the caribbean region (Cuba ,Venezuela) spanish culture became dominant with a blend of, in Puerto Rico's case, Taino roots and African influence due to the slaves that were introduced in the 18th century. By the end of the 19th century a Puerto Rican national identity was being formed within the sovereignty of Spain. In 1868 the first independence revolt against the spanish regime occured in the mountain region municipality of Lares and was named 'Grito de Lares'.In 1898, after 400 years of spanish colonial rule , Puerto Rico was ceded to the US as a result of the Spanish-American War. Puerto Ricans were granted statutory US citizenship in 1917, and popularly elected governors have served since 1948. In 1952, a constitution was enacted providing for self-government as a commonwealth associated to the US (official name in spanish:Estado Libre Associado). Even though Puerto Rico is not a sovereign state it is considered a country by the United Nations since 1953. Puerto Rico participates as a nation in all international sport events and has it's own national olympic team. In plebiscites held in 1967, 1993, and 1998, voters chose to retain U.S. commonwealth status, rather than become the 51st state of the United States of America or an independent nation.

Puerto Rico

Get in

Puerto Rico

By plane

Getting to Puerto Rico almost always means flying to San Juan's Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU). The gleaming white terminal located just east of San Juan is ranked 34th among passenger airports in the United States and its territories. U.S. Immigration and Customs Laws and Regulations apply. U.S. citizens flying between the U.S. and Puerto Rico do not need to pass through Immigration nor Customs. It is almost exactly the same as flying from N.Y. to Atlanta or Chicago... except you can't shop duty-free in Chicago before flying back to New York.

Most U.S. and many international airlines offer direct flights to Puerto Rico, and making connecting flights is easy. SJU is one of the largest airports in the Caribbean and is a popular place for hopping over to the U.S. Virgin Islands and other Caribbean destinations.

Transferring from the airport to your hotel usually requires taking a taxi, although some hotels provide complimentary transportation to their properties in special buses. Puerto Rico Tourism Company representatives at the airport will assist you in finding the right transportation. Major car rental agencies are located at the airport, and others offer free transportation to their off-airport sites.

Duty Free One of the interesting facts about Puerto Rico that might not be emphasized enough in travel guidebooks is that since Puerto Rico is self governing due to it's Commonwealth status, there are no federal taxes or import duties paid on on commodities like gasoline (about $0.50/liter for 87 octane in San Juan, as of 4/27/05) or rum. This might be an important consideration when planning how much empty luggage to bring, as a 750ml bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label costs only $120 in the duty-free airport shop vs. $200+ on the mainland. Bacardi liquor brands are very inexpensive as well -- paying $8.00 for a 750ml bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin can be something of a shock, after paying $9.00 for a single 4oz martini of the same booze at La Guardia only 4 hours earlier. A 750ml bottle of DonQ Crystal (the local favorite) is only $10.00 -- bring one home with you.


From North America

From Latin America

From Europe

Puerto Rico

By boat

Although there is no regular passenger service to Puerto Rico by sea, more than a million passengers visit the island on cruise ships every year, whether on one of the many cruise lines whose homeport is San Juan, or on one of the visiting lines.

Puerto Rico

Get around

Unless you are staying in one of the hotels in San Juan, or you have friends or family to provide transportation, you will need to rent a car. Make sure to get one with air conditioning. Don't give in to the temptation to rent a large vehicle like a Chrysler 300- small towns have narrow roads, and people tend to park in creative ways. If you leave San Juan, you will park on the shoulder, and you will need to pull on the shoulder to get around people, and you will hit some enormous potholes that you just didn't see in time. Check the car for scratches and dents when you rent it -- and the LDW is probably a good investment as PR drivers are very aggressive. Some rental companies offer Jeep Wranglers or larger SUVs, but the best car for rural areas (and surf trips) is probably the Honda Element. Most rental companies stock Neons and Echos, and there are a lot of PT cruisers -- these cars are all useless for transporting surfboards on the inside. The Element is nice because you can actually remove some of the rear seats so that even 9-foot long surfboards can go inside the car. Road signs are Spanish language versions of their U.S. counterparts, so you shouldn't have trouble figuring them out.

Be advised that many traffic laws and customs considered standard on US may appear to a US driver to be a bit more 'optional' in Puerto Rico. Numerous cars will continue to pass through a intersection once a light has turned red (average is 5-6). Vehicles routinely stop in the middle of the intersection during red lights, blocking the oncoming traffic, and people tend to make their own lanes wherever possible including on the shoulder or even in oncoming traffic lanes if they have a chance. People change lanes quickly, most often with no notice. If they have a fraction of an inch to get in front of you and change lanes they will. Just let them, it is the norm here. No use in getting upset by it. Be aware that if you use lane change signals on your car it will ensure the gap you had intended to move into will instead be quickly closed up. Forget about using your signals, change lanes quick if you have the chance. After dark many people will only pause momentarily at a red light and then proceed through the intersection (due to the danger of being carjacked at night if stopped). Be aware and pay attention at all times.

You'll notice many beat-up cars, some flashy cars, and many loud, flashy, beat-up cars among the car population in Puerto Rico. Police cars and SUVs are noticeable as well, as by local regulation, they must keep their blue light bar continuously illuminated any time they are in motion. Avoid getting a speeding ticket: fines start at $50 + $5 for each mile above the speed limit.

There are three toll roads on Puerto Rico. They are part of the Tourists Roads system, labed by small brown signs. From prboriken.com (http://prboriken.com/rutas.htm):

Puerto Rican Parrot Route( Ruta Cotorra Puertorriqueña)

If you follow the flight of the parrot from San Juan to Mayagüez, you will know the north and west of the island. In Arecibo, you may visit the Cambalache Forest Reserve or discover the largest radio/radar in the world. Enjoy the famous beaches of Rincon, world-renowned by professional and amateur surfers. At the end of the trajectory you will reach Mayagüez, La Sultana del oeste where you may visit its Zoological Gardens. Other points of interest in this route are the Camuy River Caves(PR-129), Dos Bocas Lake(PR-10), Caguana Ceremonial Park (PR-111), and the Guajataca Forest Reserve (PR-119) in Quebradillas.

Paso Fino Horse Route

You may horse-ride from San Juan to Mayagüez, but now via the south of the island.

At Cayey you will find the Monument to the Jíbaro. At Ponce you will admire the Ciudad Señorial, with its impressive architecture, where you will find the Serrallés Castle and the Art Museum. At San Germán, more to the west, see Porta Coeli church, built in the 17th century. Other points of interest in this route include the Fosforescent Bay at Lajas (PR-304), and the Cabo Rojo lighthouse (PR-301), offering an impressive view of the sea and its surroundinngs.

Coquí Route

Follow the Coquí's song towards the east coast of the island...Visit fabulous Luquillo Beach and then discover the glorious flora and fauna of El Yunque Rain Forest(PR-191), the only rain forest in the US National Park System. Continue with a visit to the Cabezas de San Juan Reserve (PR-987), location of the Fajardo lighthouse, and finish your trip at Humacao.

Flamboyán Route

Follow the vibrant color of the Flamboyán trees to Humacao via the interior route through Caguas and then to Humacao, where you will find coastal towns and fishing villages with their enchanting fresh seafood. At Humacao you may also visit the Roig House, an Art-Deco architectonic jewel of the 1920's that is now a museum and cultural center. This route allows you to reach the east via the center of the island.

Panoramic Route

This route covers the region of the Cordillera Central (Central Mountain Range). Among the important points of interest find the Carite Forest Reserve in Cayey (PR-179), the Caguana Ceremonial Park in Utuado (PR-111), the Monte del Estado Reserve in Maricao (PR-105) and the Mirador de la Piedra Degetau in Aibonito (PR-143).

Tolls for a 2-axle car range between $0.35 and $1.25. The lanes on the left are reserved for people with RFID toll passes, which you probably won't have on your rental car. If you need change, head for the lanes marked with a "C," usually the furthest to the right.

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. Our perpetual summer weather begs you to enjoy the sport of your choice!

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.

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.

Scuba dive

... Puerto Rico's Caribbean coasts. Spectacular wall diving offshore Guánica, or the cayos of the Spanish Virgin Islands of Culebra & Vieques. PADI 5 star Instruction.

Puerto Rico

Talk

Languages: Spanish is the native language for all Puerto Ricans. Puerto Rican Spanish speakers have a very distinct accent, and is often spoken at a relatively faster speed than Central American or Mexican Spanish.It is also full of local jargon and slang unfamiliar to many outside the island. English is common in tourist areas and at military/federal government offices and facilities. All major hotels will have bilingual staff, and can arrange English or Spanish guided tours to various island attractions. If you decide to rent a car and explore the less-traveled areas of the island, expect that most will not be "fluent" in English although they may know "basic" English, since English is taught at Puerto Ricans schools as a foreign language in elementary and high school.

Communications: Most visitors from the United States do not think to bring their cell phones with them. This is a mistake, for Puerto Rico uses the same area code system as the rest of North America and parts of the Caribbean, and cell phone coverage is excellent over much of the island. High speed public wireless internet service in public areas (coffe shops, restaurants, hotels and malls) finally is also starting to take root (as of late 2005).

Puerto Rico

Buy

Puerto Rico is full of modern shopping malls and centers. The most notable of which, Plaza las Americas, is currently the largest such shopping mall in the Caribbean and offers a wide array of designer stores, eating facilities and movie theater.

You might want to check out the Belz Factory Outlets and the Prime Outlets of Puerto Rico.

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.

Puerto Rico

Eat

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.

There is a roadside food stand or 10 at every corner (when you get out of the cities). They serve everything from octopus salad, to cod fritters (bacalaitos), plantain turnovers, 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. Mavi, for instance, is a fermented drink that children drink in the area. It is quite good. Quenepas (a green fruit that looks like large grapes) are found everywhere in the summer, and are much better for you than potato chips, and easier to eat in the car. Slit the skin with your teeth (pop them), and eat the pulp. Spit out the seed, but don't put the skins or seeds in your pocket because they stain clothes.

Traditional Puerto Rican food is rice and beans, pork in its multitude of forms, and some incarnation of plantain. Tostones (fried, mashed plantains) are addictive. The seafood stuffed mofongo (don't let the name turn you off), is fantastic. Mofongo is a plantain ball, sometime served in a fish stock.

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 (rice with pigeon peas).

In winter, you haven't been to Puerto Rico until you've eaten a real asopao. Preferably, befriend a native Puerto Rican, get invited to their house, and eat until you can't talk. It'll take a while and it will be worth it. Asopao is a uniquely Puerto Rican stew. Often chicken based, with rice, and various spices, you might find it with seafood.

Speaking of seafood - don't be tempted by the land crabs. They are yummy, but they are endangered. We all need to stop eating our way off this planet. But, you might look at them, as you will find them at - like everything else - roadside stands. Often they are live. If you are feeling particularly altruistic, buy the crabs and set them free far from the stands. Pick a nice swamp near the sea. Call it your own wildlife restoration.

Puerto Rico has perfected the paella; you will find fresh Tuna in the Southwest of the Island. The roots are incredible - the natives call them "viandas" - and are available in a wide variety of types, colors, and flavors. Try them all, and use a lot of olive oil, preferably, "Bettis," a Spanish oil you can find in PR (look for the yellow can). Stay away from putting butter or sour cream on them, no matter how much they may look like potatoes, they're not.

Places to eat: look for places that are out of the way. 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 lobster fritters (the PRs call them "empanadillas"), 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 (again - street vendors). They were small, but they were only 25 cents. Try them with a lime.

On Culebra, there is a neat little house that sells dinner. Ask around to find it. A couple of years ago, it was the only sit down dinner on the island. The fried snapper was fantastic - but as they say in much of PR - Americans pay more. Every way that statement can be considered is likely true. So, if you don't want to pay more (usually double), send in your Puerto Rican friend first. Either way, the food is great.

With all these choices - roadside stands, local hangouts that you just might find - things that you've never seen before - do yourself a flavor and never eat from the commercial fast food restaurant except maybe, the fried chicken restaurants, which just do it differently 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" oportunities 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.

Puerto Rico

Drink

Beer, wine and hard liquor is available at almost every grocery store, convenience store, panaderia (bakery) and meat shop. 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 Bacardi and Don Q. Although not as common in the US, the national rum of choice in Puerto Rico is Don Q.

Most stores stock a locally-produced beer called Medalla Light. 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. The 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 Heineken, Corona and Coors light. Many other beers are also available, but usually at a higher price.

An interesting fact is that most of the beers sold vary from 7 to 10 ounce bottles or cans. Puerto Ricans prefer their beers extremly cold so the portions are small in order to be consumed before the beer has time to warm up.

Puerto Rico

Sleep

  • There are many hotels from national chains located in the country, but you may also try local inns or "paradores" for good deals as well.
Puerto Rico

Learn

Puerto Rico

Work

Puerto Rico is open for business. Companies operating on the Island enjoy the pro-business atmosphere that provides financing for business, state-of-the-art infrastructure and a dedicated and low cost labor force.


The Commonwealth uses its financial independence to provide lucrative tax incentives, has instituted a centralized and simplified permitting process for new construction and has taken concrete steps to assure protection from petroleum price hikes.


Puerto Rico also has a brand new (late 2005) world class, state-of-the-art convention center that includes meeting spaces, gourmet restaurants and 102,000 square feet of public areas and it is located in the heart of San Juan's tourist center.


The Commonwealth's new Port of the Americas will be a trans-shipment center for the Caribbean and South America. And the new Techo-Economic Corridor will integrate the technical resources from the public and private sectors, as well as Academia.

Puerto Rico

Stay safe

Crime is on the increase and is mostly linked to drugs trafficking. Car theft and break-ins are a common occurrence so remember to lock your car and set the alarm. Never leave valuables visible in your car. If you park in a parking garage take your parking ticket with you. Do not leave it in the car or else the vehicle becomes a more tempting target for theft. If you have a rental, and you're in a rural area, it is sometimes more practical to just remove your valuables from the car and leave it unlocked. A safer though tiring option is to use the public transport system, when one exists. If you're not a local, or with one, you should consider not parking near a surfer beach.

San Juan is not a safe area to venture out at night, nor are metropolitan area cities as well as the other big cities such as Ponce and Mayaguez. Women travellers should take extra care and always move around in a group and steer clear of Condado beach at night. A number of thefts take place on beaches, even in daytime. So it?s advisable not to leave your belongings lying around unattended on the beach. Make sure to stay away from public housing complexes known as "caserios", which are numerous and widespread throughout the island, and avoid shanty slums as well. These are frequently the location of drug dealers and other illegal acitivy as well as violent crime. If you must venture into such a location, avoid doing so at night and do not take pictures or film the locals without permission. Avoid drawing alot of attention to yourself and be polite at all times. Carjacking has been a problem, so be aware when at intersections especially at night. Usually you are allowed to cross a red light after midnight provided you stop briefly and can move on through safely.

Puerto Rico

Stay healthy

Sunburn and mosquitoes are the worst threat to your health so carry sunscreen lotion and mosquito repellent. The threat of contracting Hepatitis A is low but it?s better to be careful and it?s recommended to take the necessary shot before leaving home. Fresh water lakes and streams are often polluted so avoid going in for a dip. It?s safe to drink tap water though if you?re venturing into the rural areas, carry bottled water.

Medical facilities are easily available especially in and around San Juan, and there are many trained physicians and specialists in many medical fields. There are a number of government as well as private hospitals. However, health services are fairly expensive. Keep in mind that a visit to the doctor may not be as prompt as one is used to, and it is common to have to wait quite some time to be seen.

Puerto Rico

Respect

Politeness and a simple smile will get you far. Many locals are willing to help tourists provided no arrogance is shown. When greeting a member of the opposite sex, or when greeting female to female, it is very common to customarily kiss on one cheek. This is never done male to male. Puerto Rican society is in general very social, and you will commonly see neighbors out at night chatting or gossiping with each other. It may be wise in some cases to avoid discussing the island's politics, especially in regards to its political status with the United States. Arguments are often very passionate and can lead to heated debates. It is common for attractive women to have cat calls, whistles and loud compliments directed at them. These are usually harmless and it is best to just ignore them.

Puerto Rico

Contact

Puerto Rico

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