Puerto Rico is a popularly loved tourist destination, and is well-known for its vast, majestic beaches. The island is embedded with various interesting features…
Puerto Rico, also known as the ‘Island of Enchantment’ is a Caribbean island, situated east of the Dominican Republic and West of the British Virgin Islands. Puerto is actually an archipelago, within another archipelago called Antilles. This means Puerto Rico is a group of islands, situated within another set of Antilles islands. The Puerto Rican archipelago includes the main Puerto Rico island and smaller islands like Vieques, Culebrita, Culebra, the Spanish Virgin Islands, Desecheo, Mona, etc. The Puerto Rican archipelago is 100 miles long by 35 miles wide, with mostly flat coastal areas and mountainous interiors. Over 3.9 million people inhabit the island of Puerto Rico, making it one of the most densely populated islands in the world. Moreover, the standard of living in Puerto Rico happens to be amongst the highest in the West. Here are a few well-known and mesmerizing Puerto Rico facts.
Some Interesting Facts about Puerto Rico
Christopher Columbus discovered Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico was discovered by Christopher Columbus on November 19th, 1493, during his second voyage to the new world. At the time of his discovery, the archipelago was inhabited by Taíno Indians, who called it ‘Borinquen’. Columbus renamed the archipelago as “San Juan Bautista” for St. John the Baptist; claimed it for Spain and never returned. It was in the early 1500s, when the Spanish (Juan Ponce de León and his men) invaded the archipelago. This invasion brought rich Spanish culture into the land of Puerto Rico. Cuisine, music, language, lifestyle, etc. of the Taíno Indians were influenced in a remarkable manner by the Spanish.
The Spanish invaders were also the ones responsible for introducing trade, legal systems, government systems, etc. into the land. They also brought in the Africans into Puerto Rico, primarily as slaves; to look for gold, plant and harvest crops. This again added to the diversity. Later, the archipelago was named Puerto Rico (meaning ‘rich port’) by the Spanish, due to its worth as an important sea port.
Puerto Rico is US territory
Puerto Rico has never been an independent nation. From 1493, when it was discovered by Christopher Columbus, it was a part of Spain for over 400 years. The arrival of American troops in the year 1898 marked another historic event in the history of Puerto Rico. With the end of the American-Spanish War in 1898, Puerto Rico became a part of the United States. Today, Puerto Rico is a freely associated territory of the United States. Moreover, since 1917, Puerto Ricans were given American citizenship. As US citizens, Puerto Ricans have to abide by most federal laws, as required by all US citizens. The head of State in Puerto Rico is by default the President of the US.
No passports required for US citizens
Since Puerto Rico is the commonwealth of the US, US citizens can travel to Puerto Rico and back without passports. All they require is a photo identification proof! Moreover, after the invasion of the US, the US dollar has become the official currency of Puerto Rico. But even after 100 years of using the American dollar, the locals still refer to their currency as ‘peso’. The American tourists are the ones who are grateful that USD is the currency of the land. This eliminates the unnecessary hassle of converting currency during their visit. Puerto Rico also uses the US postal service.
Puerto Ricans don’t call themselves Americans
Puerto Ricans consider themselves Americans, however, they don’t usually call themselves so. They are proud of their individuality and also like to assert their independence. They call themselves Puertorriqueños or Boricuas, as a cultural affirmation. When they say ‘my country’, they are actually referring to Puerto Rico and not the United States. The Puerto Ricans are a blend of Spanish, Taino Indian and African cultures. They don’t consider themselves of any race, but call themselves Puerto Ricans. However, the numbers calling themselves black or American Indians have risen considerably in the last decade.
Official Language is Spanish and English
Both Spanish and English are the official languages of the island, however, Spanish is undoubtedly predominant. Puerto Ricans have their own version of Spanish, as several Taíno words have been incorporated into the language, with pronunciation being slightly influenced by the African dialects. The US authorities tried enforcing the English language as the medium of instruction in schools, however, the Puerto Ricans were far from relenting. Today, Spanish is the primary language of instruction and English is the second language, taught in all public and private schools. However, in all federal proceedings, English is the official language. Almost 90% of the population converses in Spanish all the time, unless they have no option but to speak in English. This is because the locals are shy of conversing in English, even if they know it.
Puerto Rican Holidays
Puerto Ricans love partying, thus, festivities are carried on frequently across the islands. Their festivals are categorized into three types: national holidays, harvest festivals and patron saint festivals. Since Puerto Rico was discovered on November 19th, Puerto Ricans observe this day as a national holiday. July 4th is also an official holiday, however, it’s a comparatively low-key event. Besides these national holidays, Puerto Rico also observes another 22 official holidays. What’s interesting about Puerto Rican holidays are that quite a few national holidays are held on Mondays, so that the locals get a longer weekend! There are about 25 patron saint festivals, each town celebrating at least one on a grand scale. Mainly based on Catholic saints, these festivals include dance, music, plays, banquets, delectable delicacies and religious processions, which go on for ten days. Harvest festivals are celebrated to mark the end of the harvest season.
San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico
Located in the northern region of the island, San Juan was founded in the year 1521. The city was encircled by various walls and forts, to protect its wealth within. Being the second oldest city in the US, San Juan has also been titled as one of the world’s busiest cruise-ship ports. It is divided into two regions: new and old. The latter is marked off as national historic zone due to its museums and other historic treasures. The former is the business hub of Puerto Rico, with hotels, offices, refineries and neighborhoods. Besides San Juan, the other important cities in Puerto Rico are Caguas, Bayamon, Ponce, Arecibo and Cayey.
Puerto Rico has won the ‘Miss Universe Title’ 5 times
Although Puerto Rico is a US territory and has USD as its currency, it competes as an individual nation globally. Puerto Rico has won the Miss Universe title five times: Marisol Malaret (1970), Deborah Carthy-Deu (1985), Dayanara Torres (1993), Denisse Quiñones (2001), and Zuleyka Rivera (2006). It even hosted the Miss Universe pageant in 1972, and became the first Latin American country to host this contest. Moreover, it has its own Olympic team as well, which has won a total of 6 medals.
Tiny tree frog is the unofficial mascot
The unofficial mascot of the island is a tiny tree frog called ‘Coqui’, that measures only one inch in length. This frog is a cute and popularly loved symbol of the island. Its powerful melodic voice and high-pitched song can be heard for miles on the island. The sound it makes creates romantic evenings across the island. These frogs sing all through the night until dawn. Coqui frogs get their name from the melodious sound ‘ko-kee’ that they make. However, one should note that it’s only the males that sing and not the females. Coqui may be brown, green or yellow in color. They lack webbing between their toes, thus, are incapable of swimming. Although native to Puerto Rico, these frogs have been introduced to places like Hawaii, Florida, Virgin Islands and Dominican Republic.
Puerto Rican Cuisine
Puerto Rican cuisine or cocina criolla (as termed by the locals) is unique, even though it is a blend of Spanish, African, Taíno Indian, American and culinary traditions. This is due to the addition of indigenous ingredients such as papaya, apio, plantains, coriander, cocoa and nispero, that give the cuisine its authentic island flavor. A thick sauce called sofrito, which is a combination of tomatoes, lean cured ham, onions, peppers, cilantro and garlic, is used to season most dishes. Arroz con Gandules is the national dish of Puerto Rico, which is a rice, pigeon pea and pork shoulder dish. It’s seasoned with sofrito and diced ham. No Puerto Rican festival is complete without this dish. Puerto Rican food is very palatable, however, happens to be high in fat and sugar. The locals adopted the frying method of cooking from the Americans. The dessert popular in this region is the famous Spanish flan. Besides this there are several guava dessert variations as well. However, the younger generations are adopting American fast food culture.
Puerto Rican Culture
Puerto Ricans generally greet their family and close friends with a kiss on the cheek. They also consider it respectful to stand very close to someone during a conversation. Moreover, hand gestures are an important component of communication to them. Puerto Ricans do not find it offensive to ask personal questions during conversations. In terms of family bonding, the ties between family members are strong. Puerto Ricans have a lot of respect for their elders and ensure they come together for birthdays, wedding anniversaries, etc. Puerto Ricans are warm, friendly and hospitable. Tourists are welcomed wholeheartedly. Moreover, locals living in tourist areas speak to tourists in English, which solves the problem of communication in the land.
Cockfighthing is legal in Puerto Rico
Just as bullfighting is an integral part of Spanish culture, cockfighting is the most popular pastime on the island of Puerto Rico. In fact, almost every town has its own coliseum built for rooster fights. In Puerto Rico, cockfighting is considered to be a ‘gentleman’s sport’ and is legal, unlike other parts of the United States. In 2007, a new law was signed, which confirmed the sport’s legality across the island.
World’s Largest Telescope in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico houses the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope in the world, measuring 1000 feet in diameter and spanning almost 20 acres. Named Arecibo radio telescope, this astronomical observatory was inaugurated in 1963. It is also the most sensitive radio telescope in the world and has the capability of accurately predicting, when and where an asteroid would hit the Earth! Moreover, this enormous telescope was shown in movies; Golden Eye and Contact.
Arecibo to soon lose its title to FAST
Since 1963, Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory has been enjoying the title of the ‘World’s Largest Radio Telescope’. However, the Chinese have been working diligently towards construction of a larger radio telescope, which is due for completion in 2016. China’s FAST has a diameter of 1650 feet and will be able to survey the skies 10 times faster than Arecibo and see 3 times more into space. It will also be able to change the shape of its reflecting surface, thereby giving it the flexibility to survey the skies better. This behemoth radio telescope is expected to unravel information about various new galaxies, etc. which are as far as 7 billion years away!
The island comprises 270 miles of pristine beachfront, known for its quality and vastness. The variety of beaches is simply overwhelming. There are beaches for all here; right from calm and peaceful beaches to world-class surfing beaches. Playa de Ponce is the best beach for swimming, Playa Higüero is famous for surfing, while Playa Esperanza is great for snorkeling. Depending on how one intends to spend one’s time, one can take a pick. Black, magnetic sand beaches, beaches with rusty military tank color and many more majestic beaches are housed by the island. These glorious beaches make Puerto Rico a favorite tourist destination. Moreover, Puerto Rico participates in the Blue Flag program, wherein, beaches have to maintain a high maintenance standard to be labeled as a blue flag beach.
Beaches of Puerto Rico house endangered turtles
Islands of Vieques and Culebra are nesting grounds for the endangered leatherback sea turtles. These leatherback sea turtles are not only the largest turtle type, but also the largest living reptile in the world. In the month of May, female turtles come onshore and lay their eggs. Baby turtles hatch out and move towards the sea. The government and local authorities have realized how important protecting these nesting grounds are, for the survival of this species. Thus, they ensure the beaches are protected in the best possible manner, so that the baby turtles live to produce the next generation. However, development on the coast of Puerto Rico’s Northeast Ecological Corridor, can prove harmful to the very existence of these endangered species. This is why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may declare the Northeast Ecological Corridor as critical habitat.
Largest Rum Distillery is in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is the rum capital of the world. Producing over 100,000 tons of rum every year, the Bacardi rum factory in San Juan, is the largest rum distillery in the world. The archipelago is known for its fine rums and cocktails, however, it takes a lot of discipline and skill to make the best tasting rum in the world. Each step in the rum production process is governed and monitored by the law. The factory entertains tourists and takes them for a tour (with free drinks) around the factory, showing them rum making and aging process. The visitors are also get a taste of the world-famous rum! Isn’t that cool!
Puerto Rico As a Popular Tourist Destination
Puerto Rico welcomes over ‘One Million Visitors’ every year. Tourists have a lot of places to visit in Puerto Rico. Right from El Yunque (only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System), dry forest of Guanica, island of Vieques, to the El Morro Castle, Raices fountain, etc. in old San Juan, there is just so much to visit once you step into the archipelago. Puerto Rico is a hurricane prone island and should be avoided during the hurricane season, from June to November. Winter is the peak tourist season. However, to avoid the crowds, it is best to visit this island in spring or late fall. The vibrant, bilingual, modern, multicultural society of Puerto Rico continues to lure tourists from across the globe.
The land of Puerto Rico is a truly mesmerizing place! It’s a land rich in culture and diversity! As one unravels various faucets, the islands just enchant you further. Hope these facts about Puerto Rico were interesting and educative!