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Welcome To Puerto Rico


 Puerto Rico Map



Puerto Rico    Geographically, Puerto Rico is a Caribbean hub, presiding squarely over the waters between Hispaniola and the Virgin Islands. As a commonwealth of the US, however, it remains a world apart from its island neighbours, over a distance that can be measured not just in kilometres, but in dollars. It's island life with infrastructure, the likes of which the Tropic of Cancer seldom sees: excellent interstate highways, for example, allow travellers to zip from coral reef to five-star restaurant, and hikers can traipse through the spectacular El Yunque rainforest on well-paved trails maintained by the US National Forest Service. American influence is strongest in San Juan , where even the ramparts of El Morro - which staved off European aggressors for 500 years - haven't managed to prevent the influx of big-name American fast-food and retail chains. But the capital retains a distinctly Latin character at its core, with Old San Juan hosting a treasure-trove of pastel Spanish colonial architecture on exquisitely restored cobblestoned streets.
   Despite the threat of overdevelopment from US dollars, most of the 35-by-100-mile island has managed to elude despoilment. Even in the crowded capital, it's hard to find a sullied beach, and outside the major cities nature is largely untouched - especially in the jungly, mountainous interior; on the relatively hidden beaches along the southwest coast; and on the offshore islands. In fact, the rich natural resources and wide range of hiking, birding, diving and caving opportunities make Puerto Rico as much a magnet for eco-tourists as for sun-worshippers.

Climate

TRAVELER REVIEWS and PHOTOS

    Puerto Rico enjoys a warm, tropical climate with temperatures of around 82?F (27?C) throughout the year. The temperature in the south is usually a few degrees higher than the north and temperatures in the central interior mountains are always cooler than the rest of the island. The dry season is usually from November to May but short showers can be expected throughout the year. The hurricane season is between June and November, but generally there is plenty of warning.

Language

   Spanish and English are the official languages of Puerto Rico.

Money  
   Puerto Rico uses US currency , which generally comes in bills of US$1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100; the dollar (sometimes referred to as a peso) is made up of 100 cents in coins of 1? (penny), 5? (nickel), 10? (dime), 25? (quarter) and 50? (half-dollar). Major credit cards are widPuerto Rico beachely accepted at hotels and restaurants.
  Although Puerto Rico's GNP is lower than that of any of the fifty states, prices are not drastically cheaper than on the mainland. In San Juan, the least you can expect to pay for accommodation, without sharing a bath, is US$65 for a double room; an average lunch at a modest establishment runs US$5 to $12, with comparable dinners from US$10 to $20.

ATMs - called ATHs ("a todas horas", or "at any hour") - are abundant in cities; you'll find them in banks, supermarkets, casinos and most of the larger hotels. In smaller towns and rural areas, you'll have to look a little harder. If you're at a loss, ask for directions to the local Banco Popular. Regular banking hours are Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 2.30pm.

Expect to pay eleven percent tax on rooms with casinos, nine percent on hotels without, and nine percent on country inns. There is no tax on food and merchandise.

Time

Local time is GMT -4.

Communications

  Puerto RicoThe international access code for Puerto Rico is +1 787. The outgoing code is 011 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 01144 for the United Kingdom); the outgoing code is not needed for calling the US, Canada and most of the Caribbean. Mobile phones work throughout the island and local operators use CDMA networks that are not compatible with GSM phones, as used outside North America. Internet cafes are available in most towns and resorts.




Tipping

Some restaurants and hotels automatically add a 10 to 17% service charge to the bill, if not 15 to 20% is expected. Taxi drivers and bar staff also expect tips.

Safety

Visits to Puerto Rico are usually trouble-free but travellers should take sensible precautions to avoid petty theft.

HealthPuerto Rico

   There are no health risks associated with travel to Puerto Rico, and no vaccination certificates are required. It is best to drink bottled water to avoid stomach upsets. Thoroughly wash or peel produce you buy in markets before eating it. Medical services are good but can be expensive; medical insurance is advised.

 

Electricity

Electrical current is 120 volts, 60Hz. Two-pin flat attachment plugs are in use.

Food and Drink

   In recent years, Puerto Rico - and San Juan in particular - has commanded a growing reputation as the culinary hot spot of the Caribbean. World-renowned chefs at vanguard restaurants prepare dynamic Nuevo Latino cuisine - a twist on traditional criollo cooking, with an emphasis on fish, fruits, tubers and dark rum sauces or marinades with tropical ingredients. You'll also find every manner of ethnic food in the capital, including Indian, Thai, French and even Romanian. Puerto Rico beach

   Criollo fare , however, is still the staple of the Puerto Rican diet. Meats are mostly served with rice and red beans (habichuelas) or tostones - medallions of mashed, fried plantains. Sofrito - a sauce made from cilantro, onions, garlic and peppers - is used to season many dishes, as is adobo , a mixture of garlic, oregano, paprika, vinegar and oil. The food is typically tasty but much of it is starchy and fried in animal fat, and pork is far more popular than fish outside of the major cities.

   The system of state-sanctioned restaurants , called mesones gastronomicos , presumably ensures a standard of decency among participating restaurants (most of which serve traditional criollo food), but the quality can vary widely. For a list of these establishments, contact the Country Inns Central Information Office (tel 800/866-7827) or pick up a copy of Que Pasa? .

   Budget travellers can fill up at cheap rice-and-beans joints all over the island or seek out savory criollo staples like asopao de pollo (stewed chicken) and platanos (plantains) or lechon asado (roast pork) and mofongo (a ball of crushed, fried plantains and seasonings), sold from trailers or the backs of pickup trucks. Reposterias are also a good bet. Found in San Juan and in strip malls islandwide, they have some of the island's best coffee, along with breakfast postres - slightly sweet pastries filled with meat or cheese; they also sell soups, tortillas, seafood salads and fresh bread. Note that in all but the best restaurants, fresh vegetables are hard to come by, but supermarkets like Pueblo usually carry a good supply.

   Coffee in Puerto Rico is strong, served black or with heated milk ( cafe con leche ), and very sweet. Look out for signs for refreshing coco frio - chilled coconuts punctured with drinking straws. While not as common, fresh-fruit drinks made from mangos, papayas and oranges (known as jugo de china ) are also available. Not surprisingly, rum ( ron ) is the national drink, as Puerto Rico is the world's largest producer of this sugarcane-based liquor; more than twenty brands are distilled here. The locally brewed beer is Medalla; Presidente, from the Dominican Republic, is also popular.

   For the most part, tap water is safe to drink. However, it's wise to avoid it after storms and instead stick with bottled water, which is widely available. If in doubt, ask the locals.

History
   As far back as 100 AD several indigenous groups occupied Puerto Rico - first the Arcaicos, then the Igneris, and finally the Taino who arrived in 600 AD and dubbed the island "Borinquen". This last group had a long-lasting effect on Puerto Rican culture and bloodlines; many Puerto Rican words come from the Arawak language spoken by the Taino, and it is estimated that sixty percent of Puerto Ricans today have Taino ancestry.

   Full-blooded Taino were driven off the island almost entirely by the mid-sixteenth century, 150 years after Spanish occupation. When Christopher Columbus landed on Puerto Rico, which he called San Juan Bautista, in 1493, it was the Taino who guided his troops there from Hispaniola, where the Spanish had taken the Indians as guides and slaves. And it was the Taino who safeguarded Ponce de Leon's passage through Puerto Rico in search of gold when the Spanish government granted him authority to colonize the island in 1508.

   Upon entering office as Puerto Rico's first governor, Ponce de Leon quickly began converting the Taino to Christianity and subjecting them to forced labour. The church also began sanctioning intermarriage, rendering permissible the longstanding Spanish tradition of keeping Taino mistresses. Their offspring, called mestizos , sustained Taino heritage after the Indians fled the island to escape subjugation, save for the remnant who took refuge in the Central Mountain region.

   Puerto Rico In 1511, the Spanish began migrating to a headland on the northern shore that naturally protected a large bay. Ponce de Leon named the settlement Puerto Rico, or rich port. Through a cartographic error, however, the name of the city and the island were eventually switched, and San Juan became the capital of the island of Puerto Rico. The colonists' second settlement, after Caparra across the bay, San Juan afforded the best natural fortification against invaders.

   The colonists grew sugarcane, plantains and bananas, citrus fruits and ginger. Once the Taino fled, the Spanish saw the need for new slave labourers and began importing West Africans in 1518; by 1530 they constituted half the population.

   With its peerless vantage in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico was soon caught between European rivals grappling to lay claim to its strategic position and rich natural resources. By 1521, sanjuaneros recognized the value and vulnerability of their port, and began building a massive stone wall around the perimeter of the settlement. Less than 20 years later, the Dutch raided San German, a settlement on the western coast, inspiring sanjuaneros to begin constructing the formidable stone fortification called Fuerte San Felipe del Morro, which still stands at the headland of Old San Juan. After a few failed attacks, the British managed to seize and burn San Juan in 1598, but they were done in by dysentery. The Dutch attacked successfully in 1625, again burning the city, but were also overcome by disease soon thereafter.

   Puerto Rico was left vulnerable, and islanders were impoverished and resentful that they were seeing so little return on their labour for the Spanish. They were not allowed to participate in government, trade with other nations, or move around the island. In rebellion, they began trading sugar and rum illegally.

   The Spanish empire, though weakening, sent General Alejandro O'Reilly to establish order in the latter half of the eighteenth century. He built roads and schools and encouraged literate Spaniards to immigrate to the island, while dropping trade restrictions and lowering taxes. From 1765 to 1800, the economy boomed and the population tripled, to 155,000.

   By the turn of the century, Puerto Rico was thriving. In the wake of the French Revolution, slaves began revolting in the French Caribbean colonies, driving white planters to Puerto Rico, and stepping up sugar and rum production on the island. Puerto Rico began a lucrative exchange with the US, exporting sugar, rum and coffee. Slavery wouldn't be abolished in Puerto Rico until 1873.

   From 1810 to 1822 Simon Bolivar, the "Liberator", began freeing Spanish colonies, leaving Spain with nothing but Puerto Rico and Cuba by the mid-1820s. To keep the islanders happy and nurture their loyalty, the Spanish further lowered taxes and opened up more ports for trade. And to guarantee their loyalty, they established a military government that lasted 42 years.

   The first move toward independence came in 1838, in a liberation movement led by Buenaventura Quinones. Spain quashed the effort, and a few subsequent ones, but by 1897 Puerto Rico finally got what it wanted - independence from Spain as an autonomous state. However, in the concluding battle of the Spanish-American War the next year, American forces took Ponce and gained another US territory.

   Islanders became US citizens in 1917, but revolutionary movements continued to brew, and led to several bloody altercations between radicals and police, such as the 1937 Ponce Massacre in which twenty protesters died. Soon, steered by Luis Munos Marin, head of the Popular Democratic Party and the island's first governor under US jurisdiction, Puerto Rico began making strides as an industrially developed entity; the island drafted its first constitution and elected Marin as governor in 1947.

   In 1967, in the first referendum addressing the issue of sovereignty, Puerto Ricans voted to remain a commonwealth, rather than become a full US state or independent nation. Two more referenda followed in 1993 and 1998, and both were voted down in favour of the status quo.

   The move for independence remains strong, fuelled in no small part by opposition to the US Navy's occupation of Vieques since World War II, and its use of this island for bombing practice (which the current administration says will cease in 2003). But thus far the voices of protest haven't been strong enough to outweigh the hefty subsidies that Puerto Rico receives from the US government each year

Best Of

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   Old San Juan
Watch the sea crash around this enclave of colourful Spanish colonial architecture.

   La Ruta Panoramica
Stunning views of the jungle-like Puerto Rican interior greet you at every turn along this winding mountain road.

   The Parrot Club, San Juan
Impeccable Nuevo Latino cuisine, live Latin jazz and a chic crowd define this Old San Juan restaurant.

   Vieques and Culebra
These laid-back yet ravishing islands off Puerto Rico's east coast hold the country's best beaches.

   El Convento, San Juan
Stay a night at this fifteenth-century convent turned five-star hotel if you can afford it, or just pop in to admire its style.

   El Yunque
Hike, bird-watch, or orchid hunt amid 43 square miles of tropical rainforest.

Getting Around  

   If you rent a car , you'll make the most efficient use of your time. While you may get a cheaper deal from a local rental company, national chains such as Avis (tel 800/874-3556), Hertz (tel 800/654-3131) and Budget (tel 800/468-5822) are very likely to be more reliable, and offer 24-hour emergency service. Weekly rates for an economy car in San Juan start at around US$280. AAA (tel 800/222-4357 or 787/764-4913) also operates emergency roadside assistance for members. Driver's licences from the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are valid for up to three months.

   Highways are fast and fairly well maintained. As in the US, motorists drive on the right side and speed limits are posted in miles per hour. Unlike the US, distances are posted in kilometres and road signs are in Spanish. In the cities, be aware that drivers are often reckless and impatient.

   While Puerto Rico is without islandwide bus or rail transportation from city to city, publicos are an inexpensive, if less than efficient, way to traverse the island. Part-bus, part-taxi, these vehicles transport up to ten people over somewhat flexible routes and distances Monday to Saturday. A trip from San Juan to Ponce costs about US$10 one-way, US$20 round-trip. Each city has its own terminal; most don't have phone numbers, however, so you have to go there in person to ask about schedules.

   In San Juan, the terminal is in Rio Piedras. You can also call the publico line and ask them to pick you up at your hotel, but expect to pay an additional US$3 or US$4. Don't be surprised if you have to wait at least an hour, at either the terminal or your hotel. While publicos are inexpensive, they make frequent stops, so travel over great distances can be extremely slow.

Major publico lines
 
The following services all originate in San Juan:

Blue Line tel 787/765-7733 (to Rio Piedras, Aguadilla, Aguada, Moca, Isabele and other destinations)

Choferes Unidos de Ponce tel 787/764-0540 (to Ponce and other destinations)

Linea Boricua tel 787/765-1908 (to Lares, Ponce, Jayuya, Utuado, San Sebastian and other destinations)

Linea Caborrojena tel 787/723-9155 (to Cabo Rojo, San German and other destinations)

Linea Sultana tel 787/765-9377 (to Mayaguez and other destinations)

Terminal de Transportacion Publica tel 787/250-0717 (to Fajardo and other destinations)

Daily domestic flights depart from San Juan's international airport for Aguadilla, Fajardo, Mayaguez and Ponce. Frequent commuter flights for Vieques and Culebra depart from the Fernando L. Rivas Dominici Airport (tel 787/729-8711) in Isla Grande, near the San Juan neighbourhood of Miramar, and from Fajardo. Vieques and Culebra can also be reached by daily ferries from Fajardo.

Exploring Puerto Rico

AROUND SAN JUAN

   It's worth reserving a day for exploring outside the city limits; in fact, a trip to El Yunque national rainforest, 25 miles southeast of the capital, is a must. From there it's easy to get to Playa Luquillo , a palm-lined balneario (public beach) on the northeast shore. Rio Camuy Cave Park , set in an eerie, lunar-like landscape an hour west of San Juan boasts world-class spelunking, and makes for another good escape from the noise and haste of the city. All three places are serviced regularly by hotel shuttles.

Pinones State Forest , just east of Isla Verde, is on the farthest reaches of city bus routes. Here, you can bike, surf, picnic, party and sample food from the kiosks along the wild beaches. As a local gathering spot, it's a world apart culturally - far more Afro-Caribbean than the capital proper.

.

   La Ruta Panoramica
Stunning views of the jungle-like Puerto Rican interior greet you at every turn along this winding mountain road.

   The Parrot Club, San Juan
Impeccable Nuevo Latino cuisine, live Latin jazz and a chic crowd define this Old San Juan restaurant.

   Vieques and Culebra
These laid-back yet ravishing islands off Puerto Rico's east coast hold the country's best beaches.

   El Convento, San Juan
Stay a night at this fifteenth-century convent turned five-star hotel if you can afford it, or just pop in to admire its style.

   El Yunque
Hike, bird-watch, or orchid hunt amid 43 square miles of tropical rainforest.



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