WHY VISIT PUERTO RICO
You will probably start by San Juan, the capital: very active commercially, it also has a historic center, five centuries old, whose colonial architecture makes all the charm. The contrast is great with the skyscrapers that line the sea, and the white beach where to bask before enjoying all the attractions of this dynamic city.
The northeast coast: lined with coconut trees, the playa Luquillo welcomes you with its clear waters and white sand. Higher up, you will discover the rain forest of El Yunque, where you can hike up to the peak located at a little more than 1000 meters, or on one of the 13 paths of the reserve, marveling at hundreds of species of Trees and orchids, but also frogs and parrots.
The city of Ponce, second in the country, is worth a detour for its atmosphere, which you will enjoy on the central square with its colorful constructions of colonial architecture, its cathedral, its lion fountain, and its many museums. Do not miss the reconstituted village dedicated to Taino culture and the contiguous museum.
On the south coast, wild and warm, you will find superb beaches, where locals meet on weekends, but are far less touristy than those in the north. To see also, the reserve of Guanica, and the small town of San German, charming and very colorful. Nearby, the Phosphorescent Bay, where admire an exceptional phenomenon of bioluminescence: magic!
For surfing enthusiasts, it is on the west coast that you must go to Rincon especially, especially in winter when the rollers roll on the beach. In summer, the divers will enjoy themselves, with a simple mask and a snorkel. Astronomy enthusiasts will visit the Arecibo Observatory.
In the center, the mountains of the Central Cordillera will offer the traveler their steep relief, but also the coffee plantations and a piece of tropical forest, exotic fruit orchards, small perched villages, and lost farms, can be Discover an equestrian walk, or hike in the canyon of San Cristobal.
WHAT TO SEE IN PUERTO RICO
- Bioluminescent Bays: there are a few bioluminescent bays in the world and Puerto Rico is home to three of them. Located near Fajardo, Vieques, and Lajas, microscopic organisms called phosphorescent dinoflagellates glow when they move so swimmers appear to be iridescent as the organisms around you duck for cover. The most popular bay by far is in Lajas with many boats taking travelers on tours of the area, as well. During high season visitors are also allowed to kayak, which will also light up.
- Castillo Serralles: located just outside of Ponce, the Castillo Serralles is the former home of its namesake and rum tycoon Juan Eugeno Serralles. Famous for founding Destileria Serralles and the world-renowned rum Don Q, Juan Serralles is somewhat of a Puerto Rican institution. The mansion that he lived in was built in the 1930s and is open to the public for viewing. The building and the three-acre property of perfectly manicured lawns have been turned into a museum where travelers can learn more about the rum and sugar cane industries.
- El Morro: El Morro, officially known as Castillo de San Felipe del Morro is the largest and most significant historical landmark in the capital. Serving as a protective apparatus for over 400 years, the structure played an important role in Puerto Rico’s economic and political history. This dramatic, six-tiered fortress stands at the edge of the island overlooking the rocky peninsula and, if nothing else, offers visitors breathtaking views of the surrounding ocean. Travelers have the opportunity to roam through the levels exploring everything from eerie dungeons and tunnels to the barracks of those who stood guard.
- Museo de Arte de Ponce: the Museo de Arte de Ponce (MAP) is one of the best art museums in the Caribbean and is located in the cultural epicenter of Ponce. Home to a collection that rivals the best in the world, MAP contains 800 sculptures, 850 paintings, and 500 prints spanning five centuries of Western fine design. Visitors will have the opportunity to take in everything from Pre-Raphaelite exhibits to more modern and contemporary pieces in both Spanish and English.
- Parque de las Cavernas del Río Camuy: this incredible system of caves located between the towns of Hatillo, Camuy, and Lares consists of some 200 underground dwellings. Some of the more popular caves include the Cueve Clara de Empalme, a 200-foot sinkhole, and the Cueva Catedral, home to 42 petroglyphs. The Rio Camuy is the world’s third longest underground river and flows through many the tunnels and ceilings like the Clara de Empalme. For an otherworldly experience the Parque de las Cavernas are not to be missed.
- Museo de San Juan: visitors interested in learning about the history of Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, should head to the well-put-together Museo de San Juan. Interestingly the building itself is an exhibit being a remnant of the old Spanish colonial era, which takes a close look at the city’s 500-year life span in the form of pictures, written testimonies, and films. Visitors will learn about everything from the city’s ruins to the latest architectural developments.
WHEN TO GO TO PUERTO RICO
The best period to visit Puerto Rico is from January and March.
The climate is tropical, but the marine influences soften temperatures that remain between 25 ° C and 30 ° C throughout the year. There is a dry season between January and April, and a rainy season from May to December, with hurricanes occurring between August and October, often causing significant damage.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations of Puerto Rico.
- Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian: starting off the year in January is Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian. Held annually in San Juan, this festival offers residents one last holiday party. Lasting three nights, the event is a celebration of the saint Sebastian with a huge street party. Visitors will be treated to vibrant music, colorful dancing, and, invariably, a great deal of drinking.
- Carnival: one of the most anticipated festivals in Puerto Rico, Carnival, is a hallmark of February each year. Taking over the central plaza of all major cities, Carnival is a brilliant display of Puerto Rican culture at its finest. Visitors will see everything from street parades to masked dances. Although not as flamboyant as some other countries, this event is still highly enjoyable and worth engaging in.
- Festival Casals: also in February is Festival Casals which has been taking place in San Juan for over 50 years. This event is entirely dedicated to the life and work of Pablo Casals, the world-famous cellist, and honorary Puerto Rican. The music spans almost an entire month and showcases some of the best classical and jazz performers from around the globe.
- Puerto Rico Open: golf lovers will be happy to know that March marks the start of the Puerto Rico Open in the Rio Grande. Attracting top players from around the world, this annual event is no joke. With a prize purse of US $3.5 million, all golfers pull out their A-game to provide visitors an experience they won’t forget.
- Heineken JazzFest: another beloved music festival, the Heineken JazzFest takes place in March every year in the trendy San Juan metropolitan area. JazzFest showcases both local and international talents and is an institution that has been happening for over 20 years. The main focus, unsurprisingly, is Latin Jazz, which provides a great deal of entertainment for everyone who chooses to go.
- Saborea Culinary Festival: there are many food festivals in Puerto Rico throughout the year, but by far the most popular is the Saborea Culinary Festival in San Juan. Held annually in April the weekend is a feast of flavors, influences, and styles. Top local and international chefs make appearances and there are a plethora of workshops to keep visitors entertained. Anyone planning on attending will definitely not leave hungry.
- International Salsa Congress: an amazing display of one of the finest cultural activities in Puerto Rico, the International Salsa Congress takes place in July. Held annually in San Juan, the congress brings together dancers and salsa lovers from around the world to celebrate this vibrant and exciting form of dance. Lasting for two weeks, there are several live music shows and the main event – a piping hot dance competition.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH PUERTO RICO
Car rental in Puerto Rico is possible with many international and local companies represented including Hertz, Avis, and Budget, but is not always recommended because the quality of the roads is not great. Many are littered with potholes and uneven pavement and in the larger cities, especially in San Juan, having a car can actually be a hassle as finding parking is a nightmare and signs are mainly in Spanish.
Taxis are a more convenient way to get around. There are private cabs operated by the official tourism company of Puerto Rico. These can either be hired in advance or flagged down from the side of the road. They are white cars with an official logo on the front door which says, Taxi Turistico. Most of the rates between the larger attractions have set prices, but if not, you should insist the meter be switched on.
The other option is to take a publico, or a shared taxi. Publicos are significantly cheaper than both metered taxis and rental cars and are a nice way to meet local people. They are identifiable by their yellow license plates with the word “Publico” on them. Travelers can go to the local transportation terminal to wait until one arrives. There are no timetables and they only leave once they are full. Unlike metered taxis, publicos do not operate at night.
The only train service in the country is the Tren Urbano (Urban Train) which operates in San Juan and the surrounding municipalities of Bayamon and Guaynabo. The rail is almost 11 miles in length and consists of 16 stations. The train service in Puerto Rico is quite reliable with cars arriving on time and ticket fares affordable. Students and seniors are eligible for a discount on all journeys while children under the age of six rides for free.
The bus system in Puerto Rico is called the Autoridad Metropolitana de Autobuses (Metropolitan Bus Authority). There is an extensive network consisting of over 30 routes that include the cities of San Juan, Carolina, Guaynabo, Cataño, Bayamón, Trujillo, and Alto. There are also specific tourist routes called the Metrobus I and Metrobus II which operate between Old San Juan and Santurce, and Santurce and Bayamon. The buses are efficient and comfortable and the rates are cost-effective, especially when traveling to more remote regions.
Main airports are:
- San Juan Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport
- Rafael Hernández International Airport
GENERAL INFORMATION ON PUERTO RICO
health tips & vaccination: it is advisable to have up-to-date its classic vaccinations. An imperative: protecting oneself against mosquitoes (there was a dengue epidemic in 2009 and some cases of chikungunya). Attention also to the jellyfish, which are quite numerous, and to manchenilliers, shrines secreting a toxin that burns the skin.
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-4
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN PUERTO RICO
Typical food in Puerto Rico
- Rellenos de papa (or papas rellenas)
- Tostones and Maduros
- Pollo Guisado
- Arroz con habichuelas / Arroz con gandules
- Pina Colada
- Lechon Asado
- Asopao de pollo
- Flan de queso
- Tres Leches
- Mallorca bread
- Bistec encebollado
Souvenirs from Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico delivers when it comes to shopping. Everything from locally made handicrafts and designer labels can be found here at reasonable prices. Travelers looking for crafts should make their way to Old San Juan where all sorts of interesting goods can be picked up. The area is famous for its evening street fairs held on the weekends where you can interact directly with talented artisans.
Some items to look out for in Puerto Rico include wooden sculptures called santos which have a great religious significance, mundillo, a special form of lace, and andvejigantes, traditional masks worn during festivals. Another popular buy are cigars which are hand rolled by local producers and of the highest quality. Travelers should be aware though that any cigars labeled Cubans are either fake or illegal as the United States is still enforcing an embargo on Cuban trade.
Another one of Puerto Rico’s most popular products is the national drink of the islands — rum. The Distileria Serralles is one of the oldest distilleries in the world and home to the famous Don Q which is a good place to sample and pick up souvenirs.