Whats Puerto Rico like?
Puerto Rico suffered serious hurricane damage in September 2017. Hurricane Irma hit first which wrecked the islands of Culebra and Vieques and caused flooding and damage along the north coast. Scarcely a week later, Hurricane Maria, became the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 89 years.
Although the damage was been extensive, the clean-up is in progress. Puerto Rico has weathered many storms and will weather this one too.
Puerto Rico is located in the Caribbean Sea, north of the Dominican Republic and west of the US Virgin Islands. It lies on an important shipping route to the Panama Canal, the Mona Passage.
Whats Puerto Rico like – History
Christopher Columbus landed on Puerto Rico on his second voyage of discovery in 1493. He named it San Juan Bautista after St John the Baptist. San Juan remains the name of the capital city. It was then settled by Ponce de Leon and remained under Spanish rule for 4 centuries.
Following the Treaty of Paris in 1784 Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States. Although granted its own right to create its own constitution, it remains with the US commonwealth.
Whats Puerto Rico like – Culture
In spite of the unmissable American influence, scratch beneath the surface and culture in Puerto Rica is strongly Caribbean with a strong links to its Spanish colonial past.
Whats Puerto Rico like – Climate
Puerto Rico enjoys a sub-tropical climate with year round temperatures between 21C – 32C. The temperature falls at night and is generally lower in the mountains.
Rainfall is heavy on the north coast and in the mountains but lower on the south coast.
The hurricane season is from the end of May until November when there are short downpours most days.
Puerto Rico Language
The official languages of Puerto Rico are Spanish and English. You can get by with just English in San Juan and other tourist destinations. Inland and in more remote places you will need your Spanish phrase book.
Holidays in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a World Heritage site and has numerous beautiful palm fringed beaches, perfect for snorkelling kayaking and surfing.
However, Puerto Rico has far more than just golden beaches and tropical waters to recommend it. Here are some of the basics followed by the unmissable highlights.
Whats Puerto Rico like – Accommodation
Puerto Rico’s popularity with American tourists has ensured that there is accommodation to suit every budget from modest guest houses and apartments to the most luxurious hotels.
Whats Puerto Rico like – Food
From street food trucks to local cafes roasting a suckling pig to international haute cuisine, Puerto Rico’s food will awake your senses.
Whats Puerto Rico like – Getting around
At the airport, look for the Taxi Turistico. They have a sentry box as their logo. There are taxi stands around the major towns and cities. A taxi from the airport to San Juan old town costs around $15.
This is a privately operated bus service that goes all over the island. Only use it if you have time on your hands and want to see some of the more local places as it makes frequent stops.
The bus service is known as guaguas. Probably the most useful lines are the A5 from San Juan old town to Isla Verde and the B21 from old town to Condado.
Metrobus network covers San Juan
All the major car hire companies are represented at San Juan. If you are staying in San Juan a car is not necessary and will be more trouble than its worth. But if you are planning to see more of the island it’s a good idea. If you are travelling to Vieques and Culebra consider a jeep.
The roads are good and fairly easy to navigate however there are a couple considerations to bear in mind-
Puerto Rian drivers are in a great rush and road conduct is much less orderly than in the UK. If you don’t like taking on aggressive road users, you may want to give driving a miss.
Both miles and kilometres are used in Puerto Rico. Speed limits are shown in miles but distances are shown in kilometres!
Even if you don’t choose to stay in San Juan, do allow some time to explore the city either at the beginning or end of your trip. While the Americanisation you encounter soon after landing at San Juan isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, a short taxi ride to the old town takes you back to colonial times with its delightful brightly coloured houses, cobbled streets and 17th century architecture.
Try to avoid having your time in San Juan coinciding with the docking of one of the huge cruise ships. Thousands of passengers disembark flooding the shops and surrounding area.
Instead enjoy a wander around the dive bars and antique shops in peace while taking in the view of the fort overlooking the sea. Consider taking a walking tour of the old town with a guide or hop on hop off the city’s trolley buses.
Don’t miss The Castillo de San Felippe del Morro
Whats Puerto Rico like – Beaches and water sports
Puerto Rico has over 270 miles of beautiful tropical beaches. Here are some examples-
Isle Verde and Condado beaches attract the beautiful people who go to see and be seen. Isle Verde is also the place to dive. Ocean Sports can arrange diving trips.
Fajardo in the east of the island is the place to sail and snorkel. A good location to sail round the many islets.
El Escamron is more of a beach the locals would use. It has a ‘Blue Flag’ so you know it will be clean and well maintained.
The fabulous Flamenco Beach is on Culebra, an island of the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. Less well known is Culebrita. You need to take a water taxi to get there but worth it if you prefer an unspoilt beach. It is wonderful for snorkelling with its reef on the south side of the island. Playa Tortuga is also home to nesting turtles.
El Yunque known as ‘The Anvil’ is a 2 hour drive from San Juan. In complete contrast to the San Juan’s busy beaches and waterfront this protected area hasn’t changed for centuries. There is a range of hiking trails from gentle walks to challenging climbs. The diversity of the flora and fauna is fascinating. A walk or swim under a waterfall is a glorious experience.
Vieques Biobay is one of the most bioluminescent bays in the world. For the best experience, try to go on a moonless night. You can hire a kayak or swim under the stars and see the luminous fish darting in all directions. The phenomenon is due to the climate, geography and Puerto Rican conservation work.
Rio Camuy Cave Park
The Camuy caves are the third largest in the world. The tour takes you to underground valleys and caves up to 600 feet deep and an underground river. Full of impressive stalagtites and stalagmites
For the very adventurous, eco-adventures which involve mud sliding, free jumping, body rafting through this underground world.
The Arecibo Telescope
Not far from the cave you can see the world’s second largest single-dish radio telescope. The Observatory is one of the most important centres for radio astronomy, planetary, radio and terrestrial astronomy.
It was also in the dramatic last scene of the Bond film Goldeneye.
Ponce is stylish colonial city in the south of Puerto Rico and is the home of the Ponce Art Museum. (Museo de Art de Ponce). The museum exhibits one of the most important collections of European art in the Americas with an emphasis on Baroque and Victorian works.
Luis A Ferre founded the museum in 1959 displaying 71 works from his own personal collection.
The museum now houses over 4,500 works including paintings, prints, photographs and sculptures.
‘Flaming June’ by Frederick Leighton. Ferre bought the painting in 1963 for only £2000 when Victorian art was unpopular. Rumour has it that Andrew Lloyd Webber has since offered the museum £6 million for the painting.
From February to August, Hawksbill, Leatherback and Green sea turtles can all be seen on Puerto Rico’s beaches and the smaller islands.
The locals are keen to preserve safe nesting places for the turtles as beaches have to be free of human activity for the hatchlings to make it to the sea.
The beaches between Luquillo and Fajardo are the best place to spot them. There are also a few hotels e.g. the Wyndham who have linked up with the Department of Natural Resources to take interested guests to beaches on their property where turtles lay their eggs or to watch the hatchlings emerge from their eggs.
On Puerto Rico’s west coast it is possible to spot humpback whales on their migration route. The best place on land to watch for them is from the Rincoin Lighthouse.
You are most likely to see them in February but may be spotted anytime between December to March.
So you are spoilt for choice exploring Puerto Rico. Add the steamy coffee plantations, the rhythms of Salsa and intoxicating Rum drinks what more could you want for a great holiday destination.