Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Tourist Guide & Info

Introduction

This beautiful US territory offers everything a traveller could desire, from stunning beaches, to a multitude of natural sites, golf courses galore, and to incredible historical buildings and museums. The capital of San Juan is proud to be the oldest US city and will celebrate its 500th anniversary in 2021. And Old San Juan is a jewel to explore and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The vast array of accommodations, delicious Puerto Rican restaurants, and exciting nightlife possibilities complete a surely memorable holiday. 

In case you need any more convincing, here is a very short list of phenomenal attractions to see: come play on the secluded beach hideaways of the Islands of Vieques, admire ancient Indian ceremonial sites, visit old coffee plantations or the Bacardi Rum distillery, tour the Arecibo radio telescope, and explore El Yunque, the only tropical forest in the United States. What more can you ask for!

 

Essential Info

  • Capital :
    San Juan
  • Currency :
    US dollar
  • Driver's License :
    A valid driver's license is accepted for rental periods of less then three months.
  • Electricity :
    110 V, 60 Hz
  • Entry Requirements :
    A valid passport is required. Return or onward ticket required. It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the country’s Embassy for up-to-date information.
  • GMT Time :
    -4hr. Daylight savings time is not applied.
  • Government :
    Commonwealth associated with the US
  • Land size :
    9,104 km2
  • Language :
    Spanish, English
  • National Airlines :
    Serves as the Caribbean hub for American Airlines
  • Population :
    3,920,000 approx
  • Religion :
    Roman Catholic 85%, Protestant 8%, other 7%
  • Required Vaccines :
    none
  • Tourist Season :
    December through April
  • Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada :
    Consult the "Country Travel Advice and Advisories" of Puerto rico

 

Origin & Culture

Cuisine
Puerto Rican cuisine is simply delicious and is based on a mix of Spanish, Creole and Indian flavours. The most traditional dish is asopao, a hearty gumbo made with either chicken or shellfish. Snacks are popular and consist of empanadillas (stuffed fried turnovers), sorullitos (cheese-stuffed corn sticks),alcapurrias (stuffed green-banana croquettes), and bacalaítos (codfish fritters). Seafood lovers will enjoy Caribbean lobster, conch, dorado and red snapper. Other typical recipes are arroz con pollo (chicken with rice), sancocho (beef or chicken and tuber soup) and encebollado (steak smothered in onions). 

The local vegetables usually play a big role in most dishes. Also usually present is the flavourful puree, called Sofrito, made with garlic, onion, sweet pepper, coriander, oregano, and tomato. A garlic and oregano rub, adobo, is common for meats and fish. Plantains, prepared in a multitude of ways, rice and beans accompany almost all dishes. Otherwise baked, fried, stuffed, boiled, or mashed sweet potatoes or yuccas will be served. 

Desserts consist of flan, rice pudding and tembleque (coconut custard). Tropical fruits, like papaya, pineapple, mango and tamarind, are often served with white cheese (queso blanco). Wonderful juices and nectars are pressed from the many exotic fruits, and they are the basis of many cocktail made with Puerto Rican rum. Although the most recognized rum is Bacardi, the locals prefer the finer Don Q Rum. Puerto Rican coffee is among the best in the world and it is served very strong.

 

Culture

Everywhere you go, music fills the air day and night. Whether it comes from a jukebox, a radio or a car, locals are sure to be singing or dancing to the beat. Styles vary from Puerto Rican folk songs, to the Bomba, the Plena, the Salsa and the modern Reggaetón (a mixture of Reggae, Rap and Hip Hop used to express social, even controversial, opinions). Pop icon Ricky Martin is one of the most famous musicians to come from here. 

Wonderful pieces of literature have come from this island as well, by such writers as Lola Rodriguez de Tio, Evaristo Ribera Chevremont and Rene Marques. A few painters and artists have gained international recognitions, most notable are Jose Campeche, Miguel Pou and Ivette Cabrera.

 

Geography
Puerto Rico is situated between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and measures 177 km in length and 56 km in width. San Juan is the capital city of the island. One finds a surprising number of topographic differences and microclimates. The mountainous central highlands absorb most of the rain clouds heading south. Therefore, the northern coastal flatlands enjoy a more luxuriant, tropical vegetation; whereas the southern side presents a desert-like terrain with dry forests.

 

History

In 1898, after 400 years of colonial rule that saw the indigenous population nearly exterminated and African slave labour introduced, Puerto Rico was ceded to the US as a result of the Spanish-American War. This century also received an important wave of immigrants from Europe, South America, and nearby islands. Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship in 1917. In 1952, Puerto Rico gained self government rights within the US commonwealth.

 

Nature

Largely accessible trails or more challenging hikes can be found in the many other reserves. The Toro Negro Forest takes you 1 112m above sea level, to the top of Pico Dona Juana. The highest peak, the Cerro Punta, can also be hiked, taking you 1 345m above sea level. 

If you want a unique experience, head to La Parguera in the south or to Mosquito Bay in Vieques for a swim on a moonless night. These bioluminescent bays are home to millions of micro-organisms which glow when any type of movement occurs. 

Scuba diving and snorkelling are best way to discover the underwater wonders of the sea. The calm waters are teaming withtropical fish, moray eels and octopus. Watch them swim among the mangrove cays and coral reefs. Different islands of Puerto Rico offer more animal encounters, such as sea turtles, dolphins and huge iguanas.

 

Sports

Land sports abound such as hiking, cycling, rock climbing and spelunking. There are plenty of volleyball courts and more than 100 tennis courts to be found. Horseback rides on the beach, in the tropical rain forest, or through a coffee plantation are fun options as well. 

Golf is huge here, with nearly 20 courses on the island, 14 of which are at championship level. Favourite courses include: Hyatt Beach Hotel and Bahia Beach Plantation in San Juan, Club Río Mar in Río Grande, Palmas del Mar in Humacao, Berwind Country Club in Río Grande, Mayagüez Hilton and Cerromar Hotel. 

Local enjoys basketball games, cockfighting and horse racing, but the national obsession is baseball. The island's pro season runs from October to February. Several players have been recruited to major baseball leagues in the US, the most famous being Roberto Clemente.

 

Other Useful Info

Banks & Money
The legal tender is the US dollar and it is often referred to as the 'peso'. Canadian dollars can be exchanged in the many banks and change offices. ATMs (known as ATHs) are common in the more populated areas of the islands. 

All major credit cards and traveller's checks are accepted, but smaller shops don't always accept them, so it is a good idea to always have a certain amount of cash on hand.

 

Climate

For monthly average temperatures please refer to your destination of choice.

 

Communication
The area codes are 787 and 939. Canada is a direct-dial call from Puerto Rico and most telecommunications services, such as the internet and cellular telephone service, have been modernized. Cable TV, including all four major US networks, is available in most hotels. 

There are four daily newspapers available. They are El Nuevo Dia, El Vocero de Puerto Rico, The San Juan Star, and Primera Hora.

 

Health
Although tap water is safe to drink, it is recommended to drink bottled water to avoid stomach upsets. Also, make sure your food is thoroughly cooked, and that fruits and vegetables are peeled. Gastro-intestinal complaints, known as the turista, can occur. 

There are no required vaccines to enter the country, unless you are arriving from a yellow fever affected destination. The following vaccines are recommended for any tropical destination: hepatitis A and B, rabies, typhoid, tetanus and yellow fever. Mosquitoes and flies can be bothersome during the odd rain shower.

 

Official Holidays
January 6 – Three Kings Day
January – Eugenio Maria de Hostos Day
January – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day
February – Presidents' Day
March 22 – Emancipation Day
March/April – Good Friday, Easter Sunday
April – José de Diego's Birthday
May – Memorial Day
July 4 – Independence Day
July 25 – Constitution Day
July 27 – José Celso Barbosa Day
September – Labor Day
October – Columbus Day
November 11 – Veteran's Day
November 19 – Puerto Rico Discovery Day
November – Thanksgiving Day
December 25 – Christmas

 

Safety
San Juan, being a larger city, can have its share of crime. Do watch out particularly for muggers, especially on the beaches. Tourists are always more likely to be targeted. Carry your wallet and camera discreetly. Use good judgement, take advantage of the safety deposit boxes provided by the hotels and ensure that your lock hotel door or your rented car. Walking at night is not advised and women should be accompanied at all time.

 

Shopping
Although this destination does not offer duty-free shopping, great deals on fashion, china, crystal and jewellery can sometimes be found. So keep your eyes open. 

Outdoor markets are a wonderful place to purchase traditional and popular crafts, and in many cases you can watch the artisans at work. Specialties here inlcude the Santos sculptures (small wooden figures, representing saints or religious scenes), the intricate and delicate Mundillo lace, and the colourful festival masks called Vejigantes. Finally, hand-rolled cigars and Bacardi Rum take up any free space left in your luggage.

 

Taxes & Tips
The departure tax, if any, will be included in your airline ticket. Purchased goods are taxed at 7%. The exception is hotels: a regular hotel adds a 9% tax and a hotel with casino adds an 11% tax. Government approved inns, called paradores, charge a 7% tax. 

As a rule, restaurants in tourist areas may include a 15% service charge to the bill. Smaller restaurants usually do not include a service fee. If none is added, a 15% tip is appreciated in both above cases.

 

Transportation

Car rental companies sometimes offer very competitive rates. Local ground transportation is available by taxi, bus. Public buses, called guaguas, are a great and cheap way to get around. From the airport, cruise ship pier or designated tourist zones, tourist taxis charge according to a fare-zone system. Outside these zones, taxis operate on a metered basis.

 

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