Puerto Rico may be an economic territory of the United States, but its people are fiercely independent. Rarely will you find an American flag flying high, without a corresponding Puerto Rican flag nearby, sometimes flying even higher. The island’s capitol and largest city San Juan is a maze of old and new, with modern shops and restaurants, shanties, a fortress musuem, sky-scrapers and casinos, and shopping malls all standing in conjunction with each other. Maybe more so than any other place in the Caribbean, old mingles with new in Puerto Rico, and the streets of San Juan are just the beginning.
But the island’s population has much more humble origins. in pre-Columbian times, the Taino people–a mostly peaceful indigenous group–had developed an already complex culture on the island that would become known as Puerto Rico. When the conqistador (and later, governor) Juan Ponce de León arrived in 1508, the Taino were ill-prepared to defend themselves against his advances. They were taken as slaves, and by the seventeenth century, nearly all the Taino had been wiped out.
With the Spanish-American War, the U.S. occupied Puerto Rico and has stood by as the island’s economy has gone up and down over the last century. Compared to many other Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico has a high standard of living, but it still falls far short of average compared to the mainland U.S.
In recent years, tempers have flared as the debate over Puerto Rican idependence heats up and the U.S. military presense on the island of Vieques has gathered critical attention. But the population continues to reap many fiscal benefits from its commonwealth relationship with the United States. And because Puerto Rico cannot vote in U.S. national elections, achieving control over its future will require complete cecession from America.
Traveling in Puerto Rico
While Puerto Rico is comparatively inexpensive, it’s easy to spend a lot if you want to. Budget accommodations will cost you US$40-75, while high-end rooms can be as much as US$150 and up. Just glance out the airplane window as you land at San Juan’s international airport and you’ll see the many skyscrapers bearing the names of worldwide banks: ATMs, traveler’s checks, and of course cash are all readily accessible and accepted.
Renting a car is easily the most convenient way to see the island. There are also busses and a ferry system, which will take you to the eastern islands of Vieques and Culebra. Take a drive through the mountainous center of Puerto Rico to the U.S.’s only tropical rainforest national park, El Yunque. Or head up to the Arecibo Radio Telescope–the largest single-dish radio telescope in the world. Visit the old city of Ponce, or the vast strecthes of beach at Luquillo. No matter where you go in Puerto Rico, you’ll end up just where you want to be.
Weather in Puerto Rico
The tourist high season in Puerto Rico is the Northern Hemisphere wintertime. This is due mainly to the number of North Americans who want to escape the cold of their own hometowns. Weather in Puerto Rico is nice year round, but to get the best deals go during hurricane season. The weather doesn’t often turn bad there this time of year, but be sure to check the forecast before you go.
Puerto Rico Information
Government: Commonwealth of the United States
Square Miles: 3500 sq miles (9100 sq km)
Capitol: San Juan (pop 1.6 million)
Official Languages: Spanish, English
Religion: Roman Catholic (85%), Protestant
Major products/industries: Textiles, pharmaceuticals, electronics, agriculture, rum, tourism