Puerto Rico Overview
Puerto Rico, in all its tropical glory, serves up a sunshine-filled experience complete with white sand beaches, adventures in El Yunque and fascinating historic centers. Take a trip to Old San Juan for a taste of 16th century Spanish architecture, or dig your toes in the sand at the the award-winning Flamenco Beach. Whether you're looking for history or surfing lessons, this picturesque playground hits all the stops.
In Spanish, Puerto Rico means "rich port," as the country is part of an island chain in the Caribbean Ocean. It is helpful to note that Puerto Rico is the name of the country as well as the largest island within it, but it also is comprised of a number of other smaller islands, including Culebra, Vieques and Mona.
Before Christopher Columbus colonized the islands in 1493, they were inhabited by Arawak tribes. Through the rise of the sugar cane, coffee and tobacco industries, this Caribbean port launched its economic success in the mid 1800s. Though Spain held initial claim of the country, it was turned over to the U.S. following the Spanish-American War of 1898. Today, it is an unincorporated territory of the U.S., and the residents are officially U.S. citizens.
Puerto Rico Points of Interest
El Yunque National Forest
Weighing in as one of the top natural treasures in the country, El Yunque National Forest, formerly known as the Caribbean National Forest Town, spans across pristine rainforests, miles of rivers and stunning waterfalls. In fact, this 28,000-acre green space is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Parks system. Located in the northeast corner of Puerto Rico, with the main entrance in Rio Grande, the forest packs more than 240 species of trees, 26 found nowhere else in the U.S. and more than 50 species of birds. Since Yunque takes up 75 percent of Puerto Rico's virgin forest, it's no surprise that it hosts endangered species, such as the Puerto Rican parrot, one of the ten most threatened species in the world.
This wildlife refuge truly blows visitors away. Although there is no distinct wet or dry season, it rains year-round. Brace yourself, because more than 100 billion gallons of water fall on El Yunque per year. Rain or shine, hiking, picnicking and horseback riding are mainstays in El Yunque, which even opened a third new pavilion at El Portal Visitors Center with visitor information. It is located less than an hour's drive from San Juan.
As the capital of Puerto Rico, San Juan offers a historic and contemporary urban blend. To many, the city is known as "La Ciudad Amurallada," or the walled city. This metropolitan area is divided into three areas: Old San Juan, the beach and resort area, and the outlying communities such as Rio Piedras and Hato Rey. Take a stroll down the 465-year-old neighborhood of Old San Juan that was originally built as a military stronghold. Despite being only seven square blocks, Old San Juan includes plenty of attractions that will be sure to catch your eye. For instance, there are more than 400 restored 16th and 1th century Spanish colonial buildings, casinos and fine beaches where visitors flock. Wander around the cobblestone streets in the district, you won't be disappointed.
Flamenco Beach (Playa Flamenco)
Paradise is found at Flamenco Beach. Its white sand beach and azure waters constantly inhabit the American daydream, and for good reason. Ranked as the second-most beautiful beach in the world by the Discovery Channel, this long, narrow stretch of sand backed by greenery and only one or two buildings caters to the adventure-explorer and serenity seeker alike. From the shallow shoreline where fish swim up to your waist, you can spot plenty of African seagulls and if you're lucky, some jumping dolphins. Although fishing is prohibited, you can take pictures and swap the tackle and line for snorkels and fins. Seriously, in these clean waters, snorkeling is a must. With one of the best reef breaks in Puerto Rico, surfers carve for the majority of the year. To get there, take the ferry ride in Fajardo for a price of $2.25.
Don't let the name deceive you. Despite meaning "dirty beach" in English, Playa Sucia is a clean, postcard-worthy beach. Even some Puerto Ricans aren't familiar with it, since it can be tricky to access. It is located at the southwest corner of the island, where watching the turquoise waves crash against the rocks is a spectacle all its own. This hidden gem is not to be missed.
There are a handful of companies that'll be more than happy to take you on a thrilling adventure tour. Go hiking on trails that weave beside rivers, streams and waterfalls in the Carite Rainforest. If you're in the mood for a little workout, the rock climbing tours ascend the Karst limestone formations, a truly astounding geologic phenomenon. Ziplining tours through the rainforest canopy are also popular here. Most companies offer half- or full-day tours that include equipment and transportation.
Restaurants, Nightlife and Shopping
From five-course meals to corner? store bakeries, Puerto Rico cooks up a variety of different cuisines. Once the sun goes down, visitors and locals alike sip on rum drinks and enjoy live music, especially Reggaeton?, at the local clubs.
To no surprise, San Juan offers plenty of knockout restaurants for all budgets and occasions. If you're out with your better half, dine at Rosalia International Cuisine and Tapas, which has delicious trays perfect for sharing. St. Germain Bistro and Cafe makes for a family-friendly hot spot with vegetarian options and sandwiches in Old San Juan.
For breakfast at any time of the day, hit up Pick-Me-Up, a happening coffee house near the eastern end of Old San Juan. Resist the temptation for sandwiches and opt for the range of local favorites, in particular, the banana pancakes with rum.
Similarly, the best shopping in Puerto Rico can be found in San Juan and Rincon. Visitors tend to love The Caribbean Trading Company Store in Rincon, while the Cigar House and the Poet's Passage are popular in San Juan. As you walk along the streets in the city, you'll find a variety of hand-crafted items that make great souvenirs and family presents.