Guide to Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rican flag

Language: Spanish and English (mostly bilingual)

Currency: US dollar

Most visited: San Juan, Rincon, Vieques (Isla), Culebra (Isla), Fajardo, Ponce

Budget: $75-200 a day (depending largely on accommodation and other spending habits)

Visa Required? A valid US visa will be required for non-USA internationals. All US citizens do not need a visa to visit Puerto Rico, traveling with a state-issued id card is generally sufficient.

Random Facts: Puerto Rico is currently in a strange hybrid position between being part of the Commonwealth and being its own country. Puerto Rico acts in some ways as a separate country, for example in ways such as having a team in the Olympics, having their own internet code .pr, and being culturally latino instead of typical North American. However, in other ways, Puerto Rico is very much connected to the United States, such as in politics, laws, and the fact that more Puerto Ricans live in the United States than in Puerto Rico. The island has the only tropical rainforest in the US commonwealth and houses the largest satellite in the world. Its trademark, a small tree frog commonly referred to as the Coquí.

An overview of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is an island with a long-standing history ranging from the early settlers and natives to the island called Taínos. These Taínos roamed the land for many years before the arrival of the Europeans around the 15th-16th centuries. The Taínos were one of the three great Caribbean tribes the other two major ones being the Arawaks and Caribs. To this day the Taíno legacy remains in Puerto Rico although it is a scarce one. It is mainly seen in words that have remained in the Puerto Rican dialect. One major example of this is what the Puerto Ricans typically identify themselves with being: boricua. The term boricua, perhaps you have heard in a few reggaeton songs or from a local Puerto Rican festival, isn’t just a made up word. The term is actually quite significant and regional to the island of Puerto Rico. The Taínos, originally referred to their island Boriken (Boriquen), which meant something to the extent of land of the valiant lord in their language. Even after the Spanish arrival and disappearance of the natives, the name remained somewhat intact. To this day, Puerto Ricans will often refer to themselves as boricuas.

From the arrival of the Spanish til modern day, many things happened. The natives were virtually wiped out. The Spanish created several fortresses and landmarks around the island. Other European powers battled for Puerto Rico’s strategic location such as Great Britain, but in the end the Spanish remained in control for nearly all of its colonial timeline. After a bout in the Spanish-American war, the United States of America gained control of Puerto Rico (and Cuba, briefly). Since this time, Puerto Rico has found itself in a strange gridlock between being a part of the United States and seeking its own sovereignty. It has battled with economic turmoil, corruption, and at times extreme crime. In recent years, tourism has been Puerto Rico’s economic lifeline enjoying the status as an American territory whereby citizens do not need a passport to visit. There is much more to the Puerto Rican story, and it could change quite drastically depending on who you ask. I wrote an article 1 week after I arrived on the island discussing my first impressions. Til the end, most of them remained. You can read that article here.

Navigating Puerto Rico

Getting around the Enchanted Island can be interesting to say the least. I recently wrote and article that will help give you some suggestions to travel around the island, or at least give you a better idea of how it works.  You can find that article here. In short, the best way to get around the island is without a doubt to rent a car. Public transportation is shoddy at best. There are some ways, which public transportation can help you, but don’t count on it to take you from A to B efficiently. One way you may consider using public transportation is to get to the ferry dock in Fajardo in order to travel on to one of the islands: Culebra or Vieques. If you plan to do that, then I recommend you read this article here.

What to see in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is not a very large island, however, as far as terrain goes it can be fairly diverse. It can be wildly tropical in places like El Yunque rain forest, whereas in others like Cabo Rojo it can be somewhat arid and Mediterranean in climate. There are fresh springs coming from the mountains, lush countrysides and beautiful beaches. To recommend things for you to do and see, I would need to know the things that interest you. If you enjoy beaches, then there are a few that you would likely enjoy. If you enjoy getting off the beaten path, then there are some amazing natural sites in the countryside. Some of the most breathtaking things I have seen in my life. There is definitely something for the adventure seeker.

Here are a few articles that may be of interest to you:

25 Things to do in San Juan 

Bacardi Factory Tour

Puerto Rican food

Foodies will enjoy Puerto Rican cuisine, pending unhealthy food is ok for your vacation diet. Most of the food in Puerto Rico is somewhat fried or laced with fat, with the exception of the classic staple arroz con habichuelas (rice and beans) of course. You may enjoy reading my article about Puerto Rican street food here.

Puerto Rican culture and the language

Puerto Rican culture is of the most bizarre I’ve seen. I have concluded that it comes from its status as a hybrid nation for so long. It is like somewhat American in terms of the mentality, but then on the surface level it appears to be Latin American because of the language and connection with colonial Latin America. It is something that you might not see at first or even vacationing for a week, but staying long enough and you will see some of these dynamics. Most visitors to the island never scratch the surface of what the island is really like. They just see the glamour and beaches. Deep into the island, things change quite drastically.

The language of Puerto Rico is fundamentally Spanish. English is commonly a second language spoken, but typically in the touristy areas or by the educated. Spanish is the business and official language of the government. So signs and other things will nearly always be written in Spanish. Speaking Spanish in Puerto Rico will definitely help you. Not only in getting around easier, but also in getting to understand the culture and people better. I always recommend learning the language or at least phrases no matter where you go in the world. It is important for understanding others, and yourself better.

There is an underlying connection with the island’s original inhabitants, the tainos, as well. I recently wrote an article about them that you may enjoy. Please read here for the article about the Puerto Rican natives.

More coming soon…

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