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Puerto Rico, PRI


A diverse tropical landscape awaits you in the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, where more than 300 miles (500 km) of palm-fringed coastline and a lush interior of rain forests offer adventurers plenty of opportunity for exploration.

A U.S. territory rather than a separate country, the island of Puerto Rico is a progressive blend of old and new. Nowhere is this more evident than in the capital city of San Juan, with its mix of centuries-old Spanish fortresses and glamorous resort hotels.

Puerto Rico has made great strides economically and today boasts one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean. The capital city of San Juan is home to the busiest and biggest airport in the Caribbean—Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport—in addition to a major cruise port hub.

About Puerto Rico

Brief History of Puerto Rico

Originally named Borikén (Island of the Brave Lord) by the Taíno Indians, Puerto Rico was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 during his second voyage to the New World. He landed on the northwestern part of the island and named it San Juan Bautista.

The island of Puerto Rico gets its name from the exclamation “¡Qué puerto rico!” (What a rich port!), which is said to have been made by conquistador Juan Ponce de León when he entering the bay. He established the first settlement at Caparra in 1508 and in 1510 he was appointed the island's first governor by Spain's King Ferdinand. The capital was transferred to its present site and named San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico in 1521, the year of de León's death.

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The Spanish used San Juan Bay to protect their ships from pirates and attacks by other countries. This strategic site was attacked unsuccessfully by Sir Francis Drake, occupied by English forces in 1598, burned and plundered by the Dutch in 1625 and subjected to other sieges until a last attempt by the British in 1797.

Puerto Rico remained a loyal Spanish colony until 1897, when Luis Muñoz Rivera obtained the Charter of Autonomy, which gave the island dominion status. However, before the charter could go into effect, Spain became engaged in the Spanish-American War.

In 1898 Puerto Rico became part of the United States with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War and transferred control of Puerto Rico from Spain to the United States.

The Foraker Act of 1900 enabled the island to establish a civil government under the direction of a U.S.-appointed governor. The Jones Act in 1917 made the people of Puerto Rico officially citizens of the United States and provided for the creation of a local senate.

The first native-born governor was Jesús T. Piñero, appointed by President Harry S. Truman in 1946. The following year, Truman signed an act giving Puerto Rico the authority to choose its chief executive by popular vote. Luis Muñoz Marín, the first elected governor, held the office until 1965, when he was succeeded by Roberto Sánchez Vilella.

In 1952 President Truman signed a Congressional resolution elevating Puerto Rico to the status of a commonwealth associated with the United States.

Puerto Rico Shopping

For Puerto Rico souvenirs, you can’t go wrong with traditional island crafts from San Juan. You can find local artisans in Plaza Dársenas near Pier 1 every Saturday and Sunday from noon to late evening.

Some of the most common island crafts include mundillo or bobbin lace; santos, or hand-carved, wooden religious figurines; cuatros, handmade 10-string guitars; festival masks made from coconut husks or papier-mâché; hand-embroidered linens, blouses and dresses; Spanish-style jewelry of copper, gold and silver filigree; hand-painted scarves and clothing; handbags; hammocks; baskets; ceramics; musical instruments; original artwork; mahogany goods.

Cigars and rum made in Puerto Rico also are popular buys.

For local crafts and imports, head to Calle Fortaleza in Old San Juan, a 20-minute bus or 10-minute taxi ride from the resort hotels in the Condado section. There you’ll find a collection of shops selling Thai silks, Spanish furniture and antiques, as well as jewelry and items from the Philippines, India, Mexico and Europe.

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Old San Juan is the best place to shop for art, as it has a reputation as an art center. Many galleries sell paintings and sculptures by Puerto Rican artists. Calle Cristo in Old San Juan is home to many well-known art galleries such as the Botello Gallery; phone (787) 723-9987.

The Plaza Las Américas in San Juan is considered to be the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean, and the Plaza del Caribe Shopping Center in Ponce offers a full range of goods. The Mall of San Juan, at jct. Hwys. 8 and 17, features such upscale boutiques as Louis Vuitton, Tory Burch and Versace, and a terrace provides a panoramic view of San José Lagoon and San Juan.

For last-minute shopping, San Juan's airport has stores which are open daily, with varied hours based on airline schedules.

Though some plants and fruits may be brought to the United States, it’s best to check with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in San Juan before your departure; phone (787) 919-0585 or (787) 931-7900.

Keep in mind that many shops in Puerto Rico are closed on Good Friday, in addition to the usual holidays. While banking hours are usually Monday through Friday 8:30-4, some banks also are open on Saturday.

Puerto Rican Food

You’ll find fruits, vegetables, poultry and fish prepared with a strong Spanish and island flair in Puerto Rico. Roast pork, lobster dishes and seafood platters are specialties in many restaurants. Main dishes often are combined with fruit for a tropical flavor. Several hotels offer buffets featuring American, French, Italian, Chinese and native fare. Upscale eateries around the island offer a wide range of cuisines.

Common Puerto Rican dishes include arroz con pollo, or rice with chicken; pasteles, a variation of the tamale made with ground plantain, meat, olives, raisins and chickpeas; lechón asado, or barbecued pig; pastelillos, thin dough filled with meat or cheese and deep fried; tostones, green plantains fried in deep fat; jueyes, fresh land crabs, shelled and boiled; paella, rice with saffron, chicken and seafood; and asopao, a traditional Puerto Rican soup made with rice and chicken or shrimp, cooked with wine sauce and often topped with peas, pimientos, asparagus and hard-boiled eggs.

Tap water is safe to drink in Puerto Rico, and milk is pasteurized.

It's customary to leave a tip of 15 percent at restaurants, with more for special service.

Sports and Activities

Sports in Puerto Rico cover a wide range of interests and offer a blend of both Spanish and American cultures. One of the local favorites is basketball; Puerto Ricans eagerly await the beginning of basketball season in May. Second only to basketball in popularity is baseball; the season runs from October through February and is played at the Hiram Bithorn Stadium (Estadio Hiram Bithorn) in San Juan.

Curtesy of Wyndham Resort
Golfers will find more than 20 courses to play in Puerto Rico. Most of these are of championship caliber, designed by some of the best-known architects in the golf world and hosting local and international tournaments. Championship golf courses are located at the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort; Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve; Palmas del Mar Golf Club in Humacao; The Links at Royal Isabela in Isabela; and Punta Borinquen Golf Club in Aguadilla.

Other golf courses on the island include Bahía Beach Resort & Golf Club in Río Grande; Club Deportivo del Oeste in Cabo Rojo; Caguas Real Golf & Country Club in Caguas; and Río Bayamón Golf Course in Bayamón.

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With 272 miles (438 km) of coastline, the island of Puerto Rico has no shortage of good beaches. Public beach facilities called balnearios offer lockers, showers and parking for a nominal fee. They are open Tues.-Sun. 9-5 and closed on election days, Good Friday and the Tuesday following Monday holidays. One of the most beautiful and popular beaches is Balneario de Luquillo, or Luquillo Beach, located east of San Juan near El Yunque National Forest. The scenic bay at Balneario Boquerón near Cabo Rojo is another favorite beach among islanders.

Steady trade winds provide excellent opportunities for boating and sailing around Puerto Rico, particularly in San Juan Bay and the waters off Fajardo and La Parguera, which are well protected by coral reefs. You can rent boats and equipment for sailing or deep-sea fishing from charter operators and marinas in San Juan, Mayagüez, Fajardo, Humacao and other Puerto Rican towns.

More than 30 world records for fishing have been set in the waters around Puerto Rico, which are filled with marlin, sailfish, mackerel, dolphin fish and wahoo. Snook, grouper, snapper, tarpon and amberjack are plentiful along the southern coast.

The clear, warm waters of the Caribbean are also ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling. Coral reefs and cays in many areas around Puerto Rico provide natural harbors for an array of beautiful and exotic sea life—coral, sea horses, starfish and tropical fish.

One of the best diving spots is off the northeastern coast around a small chain of islands. Visibility is exceptionally good in these waters, which range in depth from about 15 to 60 feet (5 to 18 m).

The southwestern coast near La Parguera and the waters surrounding the eastern islands of Vieques and Culebra, dotted with many reefs, also are excellent spots for diving. Along the northwestern coast, the towns of Rincón and Aguadilla offer diving excursions to Mona and Desecheo islands.

Diving or snorkeling excursions from either the beach or a charter boat can be arranged for an hour, a day or longer; beginners might want to stay along the beach where there is a sheltered cove. There are courses for both beginning and advanced snorkelers and divers. The longer and more expensive advanced courses usually feature night dives or search and recovery expeditions. Major hotels and resorts have information about lessons and packages.

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Like Costa Rica, Panama and many other Central American countries, Puerto Rico is also widely known as a mecca for surfing. Thousands of pro and amateur surfers come here to ride some of the best beach and reef breaks in the Caribbean. The surfing season begins in September and runs through May. Surfing conditions are excellent along the north and west coast. Rincón, on the west coast of the island facing the Mona Passage, is popular with winter surfers, with typical swells delivering 15-foot waves. Surf shops abound in Rincón, as well as throughout the rest of the island.

Tennis courts are available at San Juan Central Park and at many of the hotels in the Condado and Isla Verde areas of San Juan. Hotels out on the island with more than 7 tennis courts include the Palmas del Mar Resort in Humacao.

Horseback riding is available at Carabali Rainforest Park in Luquillo and Tropical Trail Rides in Isabela.

Government-regulated casinos are found in most of the large hotels.

Road Trips and Sightseeing

With about 3,000 miles (4,800 km) of good roads, Puerto Rico is the perfect place to explore by road trip. Though San Juan receives the majority of attention, it’s a good idea to venture out on the island to get a true picture of Puerto Rico. Many interesting sites are only a short distance from San Juan, including famous resorts, craft villages, forests, beaches and scenic areas.

If you only have a half-day to explore, consider making the drive to the Palo Colorado or La Mina recreational areas in El Yunque National Forest. It’ll take you less than an hour to drive from San Juan to El Yunque National Forest via Rio Grande on PR-66, PR-3 and PR-191. Many facilities and trails within the forest were damaged due to hurricanes in 2017, but you can still drive to popular photo spots like the 69-foot-tall Yokahú Tower and Baño Grande, a former manmade swimming pool.

If you have a full day, drive along the island’s north coast from San Juan to Arecibo, including stops at Vega Baja, Manatí, and the Arecibo Lighthouse and Historical Park .

Longer excursions out on the island are usually worth the extra effort.

A drive through coffee country from Manatí to Ponce on routes 140 and 10, then to San Juan via Route 1, might include stops at rock formations and at the ruins of Central Mercedita, where sugar was once refined.

A longer 3-day tour from San Juan to Ponce could include overnight stops in Mayagüez and La Parguera, before passing through San Germán and Ponce. If you're in La Parguera on a moonless night, you’ll want to book an evening boat trip on the bioluminescent bay, where miniscule marine life known as dinoflagellates produce a chemical light that glows when the water is disturbed.

Another interesting attraction in the southwestern area of Puerto Rico between La Parguera and Ponce is Guánica Dry Forest, a scrub and cactus landscape that was the site of the American landing in 1898.

For an even longer journey, a 4-day tour beginning and ending in San Juan and reaching Ponce via Barranquitas can include extensive sightseeing along the highway winding through the Cordillera Central, Puerto Rico's mountain range.

Boat and airplane charters to Mona Island, about 50 miles (80 km) west of Puerto Rico and inhabited by a variety of wildlife, are available on the west coast; for information phone the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources at (787) 999-2200.

The outer islands of Culebra and Vieques off the east coast are reachable by plane from San Juan (a 30-minute flight) or ferry service from Ceiba (a 30- to 45-minute ferry ride).


Flights from the U.S. mainland into Puerto Rico are considered domestic, as Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, not a separate country. The island is accessible by air from most major cities in the U.S. The largest airport in Puerto Rico is Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, also known as the San Juan Airport. It is located about 15 minutes from the center of San Juan.

Flights are also available between San Juan and Aguadilla, Mayagüez and Ponce. Rafael Hernández Airport in Aguadilla and Eugenio María de Hostos Airport in Mayagüez serve the west coast of the island. Many of the flights continue to other Caribbean islands.

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Puerto Rico is one of the largest home-based cruise ship ports in the world. The cruise terminal is in Old San Juan.

To get around in San Juan, your options include metered taxis at the airport, hotels and other locations throughout the city; you can rent taxis by the hour, if needed. Taxis are the fastest way to get to San Juan from the airport. Taxi flat fare from the airport to Old San Juan is $21; from the airport to Condado is $17; from the airport to Isla Verde is $12. A $1 fee is charged per piece of luggage, and there is a $1 late-night charge for rides between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The bus system also operates throughout the San Juan metropolitan area. Stops are designated by a magenta, orange and white sign with the word Parada. Bus fare is 75c-$2.

Tren Urbano provides fast and reliable mass transit to the municipalities of San Juan, Bayamón and Guyanabo. The “urban train” runs daily from 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., and one-way fare is $1.50; 75c for ages 60-74, students with ID and persons with a disability. For information, phone (787) 765-0927.

Carros Públicos, public cars that follow established routes between most towns on the island, run during daylight hours. Marked by the letters P or PD following the numbers on their license plate, públicos can usually be hailed from the main plaza of a town. Públicos are the most affordable transportation option available, but if you want to ride in one, you’ll have to wait until the car is full.

Free trolley rides are available within the Old San Juan historic district and along the beachfront in Isla Verde.

Rental cars also are available, as are chauffeur-driven cars.

A valid U.S. driver's license is good in Puerto Rico for up to 90 days.

Speed limits are posted in miles per hour and are strictly enforced; metric measurements generally are used on distance signs, and informational signs are in Spanish.

Ferry service provides interesting and inexpensive links between Puerto Rico and its nearby islands. Crossing the bay every 30 minutes, Cataño Ferry (La Lancha de Cataño) connects Old San Juan with the municipality of Cataño; fares are very inexpensive. The Fajardo Ferry carries passengers and cars on a triangular route linking Fajardo on the east end of the island with the islands of Vieques and Culebra.

Transportation to other Caribbean islands is available on America Cruise Ferries, which operates the Caribbean Fantasy between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The eight- to 12-hour overnight crossing operates Monday and Friday from Puerto Rico's Pan American terminal; phone (787) 622-4800.

Fast Facts


Area8,897 sq km (3,435 sq mi.).

CapitalSan Juan.

Highest Point1,338 m (4,390 ft.), Cerro de Punta.

Lowest PointSea level, Caribbean Sea.

Time Zone(s)Atlantic Standard.

LanguageSpanish and English.

GovernmentCommonwealth associated with the United States.

CurrencyU.S. dollar.

Electricity110 volts, 60 cycles AC.

MINIMUM AGE FOR DRIVERS21-25, depending on the rental car agency; daily surcharge for ages 21-24, $10-$25. U.S. license valid for 3 months; drive on right.

Minimum Age For Gambling18.

Seat Belt/Child Restraint LawsSeat belts are required for driver and front-seat passengers. Child restraints are required for children under age 2; seat belts required for ages 2-12.

Helmets for MotorcyclistsRequired.

HolidaysJan. 1; Three Kings Day (Epiphany), Jan. 6; Eugenio María de Hostos' Birthday, Jan. (2nd Mon.); Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. (3rd Mon.); Washington's Birthday/Presidents Day, Feb. (3rd Mon.); Emancipation Day, Mar. 22; Good Friday; Easter; José de Diego's Birthday, Apr. (3rd Mon.); Memorial Day, May (last Mon.); July 4; Luis Muñoz Rivera's Birthday, July (3rd Mon.); Constitution Day, July 25; José Celso Barbosa's Birthday, July 27; Labor Day, Sept. (1st Mon.); Columbus Day, Oct. (2nd Mon.); Veterans Day, Nov. 11; Discovery of Puerto Rico Day, Nov. 19; Thanksgiving, Nov. (4th Thurs.); Christmas, Dec. 25.

TaxesPuerto Rico's sales tax is 10.5 percent. Municipalities may charge an additional 1 percent sales tax. A 7-11 percent room tax (depending on the size of the resort) and 10-12 percent service charge are added to most hotel bills.

ImmigrationThere are no immigration requirements for U.S. citizens, but a passport is required when travel may involve stops on other Caribbean islands.

PHONING THE ISLANDSTo call Puerto Rico from the U.S. or Canada, dial 1 + area code + the 7-digit local number.

Further Information Puerto Rico Tourism Company 135 W. 50th St., 22nd Floor New York, NY 10020. Phone:(212)586-6262 or (800)223-6530

Puerto Rico Tourism Company, Old San Juan La Princesa Bldg. #2 Paseo La Princesa Old San Juan, PUERTO RICO 00902. Phone:(787)721-2400 or (800)866-7827

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Puerto Rico, PRI

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