Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island that is a self-governing commonwealth of the United States of America. Located in the Caribbean Sea to the east of the Dominican Republic and west of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico lies on a key shipping lane to the Panama Canal, the Mona Passage.
Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Puerto Rico in 1493 on his second voyage of discovery, and originally named it San Juan Bautista in honor of Saint John the Baptist. The name of the island's present day capital, San Juan, honors the name Columbus first gave the island. It was then settled by explorer Ponce de Leon and the island was under spanish possession for over four centuries. The island became United States territory under the Treaty of Paris, which also ended the Spanish-American War. The United States passed Law 5600 giving Puerto Rico authorization to create and approve its own constitution. The relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico is known as a commonwealth.
Puerto Rico has a tropical marine climate, which is mild and has little seasonal temperature variation. Temperatures range from 70˚F to 90˚F (21˚C to 32˚C), and tend to be lower at night and up in the mountains. Year round trade winds take part in ensuring the sub tropical climate. The average annual temperature is 26°C (80°F). Rainfall is abundant along the north coast and in the highlands, but light along the south coast. Hurricane season spans between June and November, where rain showers occur once a day, almost every day. Periodic droughts sometimes affect the island.
Puerto Rico is mostly mountainous, although there is a coastal plain belt in the north. The mountains precipitous to the sea on the west coast. There are sandy beaches along most of the coast. There are many small rivers about the island and the high central mountains ensure the land is well watered, although the south coast is relatively dry. The coastal plain belt in the north is fertile. Puerto Rico's highest point is at Cerro de Punta, which is 1,338 m above sea level.
The island of Puerto Rico is a rectangular shape and is the smallest, most eastern island of the Greater Antilles. It measures almost 580 km of coast. In addition to the principal island, the commonwealth islands include Vieques, Culebra, Culebrita, Palomino, Mona, Monito and various others isolated islands. Puerto Rico is surrounded by deep ocean waters. To the west Puerto Rico is seperated from Hispaniola by the Mona Passage which is about 75 miles wide and as much as 3,300 meters deep. The 28,000 foot deep Puerto Rico trench is located off the northern coast. Off the south coast is the 16,400 foot deep Venezuelan Basin of the Caribbean. Because Puerto Rico is relatively short in width it does not have any long rivers or large lakes. Grande de Arecibo is the longest river in Puerto Rico which flows to the northern coast. Puerto Rico does not have any natural lakes but it does however have 15 reservoirs.
Since Puerto Rico is a US territory, US citizens do not need a passport to travel to Puerto Rico, from the US or vice versa. Meaning that US citizens can travel freely to and from Puerto Rico without going through immigrations or customs. US citizens only need some form of government issued identification, including a picture to enter Puerto Rico. A driver's license should suffice or a photo-identification card used by non-drivers. However, for temporary residents (H1B, F-1 student, J-1 visas etc..) traveling directly from a state to Puerto Rico would only require a driver's license. Though bringing a valid passport and supporting documents is highly advised. This also means you do not need a valid visa to travel from a state directly to Puerto Rico. Travelers from outside the United States should have the same requirements that are needed to enter the United States.
Puerto Rico's main airport is Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (IATA: SJU) in Carolina, near San Juan. Jet Blue, Continental and Delta Connection also fly to smaller airports in the cities of Aguadilla and Ponce.
As Puerto Rico is part of the US commonwealth, U.S. Immigration and Customs Laws and Regulations apply.Travel between the mainland and San Juan, Ponce and Aguadilla is the same as if it were between two mainland cities.
Most U.S. and many international airlines offer direct flights from many cities to Puerto Rico. Flights are economical and numerous. SJU is the biggest and most modern airport in the Caribbean and offers all the conveniences and services (McDonalds, Dominos, Starbucks, etc.) of a major city airport. American Eagle operates a hub at SJU and airlines like Caribbean Sun, Liat and Cape Air offer cheap and easy connections to most Caribbean islands.
If you have lots of luggage, beware there are no baggage carts in the domestic terminal, although there are plenty of baggage porters available to help you for a tip or fee. Luggage Carts are available in the international terminal of the airport. At the exit, a porter will assist you with your luggage for a fee.
Transferring from the airport to your hotel usually requires taking a taxi, although some hotels provide complimentary transportation to their properties in special buses. Puerto Rico Tourism Company representatives at the airport will assist you in finding the right transportation. All major car rental agencies are located at the airport, and others offer free transportation to their off-airport sites.
Typical flight times (outbound flights are slightly longer due to headwinds):
When departing Puerto Rico to the mainland, your bags will be inspected by the US Dept of Agriculture before departure. Generally the same rules apply as when returning to the United States from a foreign country, although certain local fruits such as avocado, papaya, coconut and plantain may be brought back; mangos, sour sop, passion fruit, and plants potted in soil may not. In any event, all agricultural items will be checked for disease . Items such as Articles from Vietnam, North Korea, Kampuchea or Cuba, illegal publications, lottery tickets, pornography, chocolate liqueurs or pre-Columbian artifacts are not allowed back into the United States. If you are carrying prescription drugs (especially prescription narcotics) with you, you must have the original prescription with you, or a letter from your physician.
Cruise ship passengers with ship luggage tags are exempt from customs screenings.
A commercial ferry service connects the west coast city of Mayaguez and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. This service is very popular and convenient way to travel between both cities. There is also a ferry from the city of Fajardo to St. Thomas, USVI for around $80 round trip. Also, more than a million passengers visit the island on cruise ships every year, whether on one of the many cruise lines whose homeport is San Juan, or on one of the visiting lines. No passport is required for U.S. citizens who use this service.
Public transportation in Puerto Rico is fairly bad: outside the Metro Area (San Juan, Guaynabo, Carolina and Bayamon), there are no scheduled buses or trains. Most travelers choose to rent their own cars, but intrepid budget travelers can also explore the shared cab (público) system.
Official Tourism Company-sponsored taxis on the Island are clean, clearly identifiable and reliable. Look for the white taxis with the official logo and the "Taxi Turístico" on the front doors. Under a recently instituted Tourism Taxi Program, set rates have been established for travel between San Juan's major tourist zones. Rates are as follows:
No Zone Piers (Old San Juan) to Plaza Las Americas - $14 No Zone Piers (Old San Juan) to Plaza Carolina - $24 No Zone Airport LMM to Plaza Las Americas - $18 No Zone Airport LMM to Plaza Carolina - $14 Zone 1 Airport LMM to hotels in Isla Verde - $10 Zone 2 Airport LMM to hotels in Condado/Ocean Park/Miramar - $14 Zone 3 Airport LMM to hotels and piers in Old San Juan - $19 Zone 4 Piers in Old San Juan to hotels in Old San Juan area- $7 Zone 5 Piers in Old San Juan to hotels in Puerta de Tierra - $7 Zone 6 Piers in Old San Juan to hotels in Condado/Ocean Park/Miramar - $12 Zone 7 Piers in Old San Juan to hotels in Isla Verde - $19
Additional metered rates are available which are not to/from the major tourist areas in San Juan: Types of Charges Charges Initial Charge $1.75 Charge per 1/19 of mile $0.10 Charge for waiting every 25 seconds $0.10 Charge per piece of luggage (up to 3) $0.50 Charge per piece of luggage (4 or more) $1 Charge per call $1 Charge for rental per hour $36 Night charge (10:00PM until 6:00AM) $1 Minimal charge per trip $3 Charge for 5 passengers or more (only in vans) $2
Several taxi company numbers: Asociación Dueños de Taxi de Carolina (787) 762-6066
Asociación Dueños de Taxi de Cataño y Levittown (787) 795-5286
Cooperativa de Servicio Capetillo Taxi (787) 758-7000
Cooperativa de Taxis de Bayamón (787) 785-2998
Cooperativa Major Taxi Cabs (787) 723-2460 or 723-1300
Metro-Taxi Cab. Inc. (787) 725-2870
Ocean Crew Transport (787) 645-8294 or 724-4829
Rochdale Radio Taxi (787) 721-1900
Santana Taxi Service, Inc. (787) 547-1926
If you are planning to explore outside of San Juan, renting a car is by far the most convenient way to get around. Rentals are available from the airport as well as larger hotels. Rental cars can be had for as little as $28 a day.
Parking in the Old Town of San Juan is virtually non-existent (there is a public parking lot called "La Puntilla" which on weekends you only pay a fixed rate for the whole day, and it always has available parking spaces) and traffic in all major cities is bad during rush hour (8AM-10AM, 4PM-6PM), so give yourself plenty of time coming and going.
Road signs are Spanish language versions of their U.S. counterparts, so you shouldn't have trouble figuring them out. However, note that distances are in kilometers, while speed limits are in miles. Gas is also sold by the liter, not by the gallon, and it's a little bit cheaper than on the mainland.
In addition to the regular free highway (carretera) network, there are three toll roads (autopista) on Puerto Rico. They're much faster and less congested than the highways, and it's worth using them if in any kind of hurry. Tolls for a 2-axle car range from $0.50 and $1.50. The lanes on the left are reserved for people with RFID (Autoexpreso) toll passes, which you probably won't have on your rental car. Lanes marked with an "A" generally accept only coins. If you need change, head for the lanes marked with a "C", usually the furthest to the right.
Off the main highways, roads in Puerto Rico quickly become narrow, twisty and turny, especially up in the mountains. Roads that are only one-and-a-half lanes wide are common, so do like the locals do and beep before driving into blind curves. Signage is often minimal, although intersections do almost always show the road numbers, so a detailed highway map will come in handy.
Police cars are easy to spot, as by local regulation, they must keep their blue light bar continuously illuminated any time they are in motion. Avoid getting a speeding ticket: fines start at $50 + $5 for each mile above the speed limit.
A público is a shared taxi service and is much cheaper than taking a taxi around the island, and depending on your travel aspirations, might be cheaper than renting a car. Públicos can be identified by their yellow license plates with the word "PUBLICO" written on top of the license plate. The "main" público station is in Río Piedras, a suburb of San Juan. They're also known as colectivos and pisicorres.
There are two ways of getting on a público. The easier way is to call the local público stand the day before and ask them to pick you up at an agreed time. (Your hotel or guesthouse can probably arrange this, and unlike you, they probably know which of the multitude of companies is going your way.) This is convenient, but it'll cost a few bucks extra and you'll be in for a wait as the car collects all the other departing passengers. The cheaper way is to just show up at the público terminal (or, in smaller towns, the town square) as early as you can (6-7 AM is normal) and wait for others to show up; as soon as enough have collected, which may take minutes or hours, you're off. Públicos taper off in the afternoon and stop running entirely before dark.
Públicos can make frequent stops to pick up or drop off passengers and may take a while to get to their destination terminal, but you can also request to be dropped off elsewhere if it's along the way or you pay a little extra. Prices vary depending on the size of the público and the distance being traveled. As an example, a small público that can seat three or four passengers from Ponce to San Juan will cost roughly $15, while a 15 passenger público that is traveling between San Juan and Fajardo will cost about $5 each person.
Ferries depart from San Juan and Fajardo & the most popular arrivals are Cataño, Vieques Island & Culebra Island. Also the Mayaguez ferry travels between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.[Ceased operations as of 15 April 2010]
Tren Urbano — or Urban Train in English — is a 10.7 mile (17.2 km) fully automated rapid transit that serves the metropolitan area of San Juan, which includes the municipalities of San Juan, Bayamón, and Guaynabo. Tren Urbano consists of 16 stations on a single line.
The Tren Urbano complements other forms of public transportation on the island such as the public bus system, taxis, water ferries and shuttles. The entire mass transportation system has been dubbed the “Alternativa de Transporte Integrado” (Integrated Transportation Alternative) or “ATI”.
Its services are very reliable and are almost always on time.
Fares - A single trip costs $1.50 ($0.75 if you transfer from an AMA bus) including a 2 hour bus transfer period. If you exit the station and wish to get back on the train the full fare must be re-paid; there is no train to train transfer period. Students and Seniors (60-74 years old) pay 75 cents per trip. Senior citizens older than 75 and children under 6 ride for free. Several unlimited passes are also available. As of 4/26/2010, all Tren Urbano fares were reduced by 50% in order to increase the usage of the mass transit system. Expect to pay $0.75 for a single trip.
A stored-value multi-use farecard may be used for travel on buses as well as on trains. The value on the card is automatically deducted each time it is used. It is a system similar to the Metrocard system used in New York City.
Autoridad Metropolitana de Autobuses, also known in English as Metropolitan Bus Authority or by its initials in Spanish, AMA, is a public bus transit system based in San Juan, Puerto Rico
The AMA provides daily bus transportation to residents of San Juan, Guaynabo, Bayamón, Trujillo Alto, Cataño, and Carolina through a network of 30 bus routes, including 2 express routes and 3 "Metrobus" routes. Its fleet consists of 277 regular buses and 54 paratransit vans for handicapped persons. Its ridership is estimated at 112,000 on work days.
The daily, weekend and holiday bus service from 4:30 AM to 10PM with the exception of a few routes that are limited to certain hours and the express routes.
There are two routes which are very reliable, M-I & M-II, commonly called Metrobus (metroboos). MetroBus M1 transit between Old San Juan to Santurce downtown, Hato Rey Golden Mile banking zone and Rio Piedras downtown where a nice open walking street mall and great bargains could be found, the Paseo De Diego. The Metrobus II transit from Santurce to Bayamon city, passing Hato Rey, including Plaza Las Americas Mall and to Guaynabo City. Many interesting places could be found on the routes, like the remains of the first european settlement on the island and the oldest under USA government, the Caparra Ruins (Ruinas de Caparra Museum).
Both Spanish and English are the official languages of Puerto Rico, but Spanish is without a doubt the dominant language. Fewer than 20 percent of Puerto Ricans speak English fluently, according to the 1990 U.S. Census. Spanish is the mother tongue of all native Puerto Ricans, and any traffic signs and such are written exclusively in Spanish, with the exception of San Juan and Guaynabo. However, people working in tourism-related businesses are usually fluent in English, locals in less touristed areas of the island can usually manage basic English, as it's taught as a foreign language in school. Menus in restaurants, even off the beaten track, are almost invariably bilingual.
That said, as anywhere, it's respectful to try make an effort and try to learn at least the basics of Spanish. Average Puerto Ricans appreciate efforts to learn the most widely spoken language of their territory, and most are more than happy to help you with your pronunciation. If you're already familiar with the language, be aware that Puerto Rican Spanish speakers have a very distinct accent, similar to the Cuban accent, which is full of local jargon and slang unfamiliar to many outside the island. Puerto Ricans also have a tendency to "swallow" consonants that occur in the middle of a word. Puerto Ricans also speak at a relatively faster speed than Central Americans or Mexicans. It is not offensive to ask someone to repeat themselves or speak slower if you have trouble understanding them.
Examples of words that are unique to Puerto Rican Spanish include:
Taino influence When the Spanish settlers colonized Puerto Rico in the early 16th century, many thousands of Taíno people lived on the island. Taíno words like hamaca (meaning “hammock”) and hurakán (meaning "hurricane") and tobacco came into general Spanish as the two cultures blended. Puerto Ricans still use many Taíno words that are not part of the international Spanish lexicon. The Taino influence in Puerto Rican Spanish is most evident in geographical names, such as Mayagüez, Guaynabo, Humacao or Jayuya. You will also find Taino words in different parts of the Caribbean.
The first African slaves were brought to the island in the 16th century. Although 31 different African tribes have been recorded in Puerto Rico, it is the Kongo from Central Africa that is considered to have had the most impact on Puerto Rican Spanish. Many of these words are used today.
Bioluminescent Bays The bioluminescent bays near Fajardo and in Vieques are a soul-healing experience that should not be missed. The microscopic organisms that live in every drop of water in these bays will glow when they dart away from movement. Take a kayak or boat tour during a new moon for the best results; they're hard to see during a full moon and impossible to see in sunlight. The biolumicescent bay in Lajas is by far the most famous one to visit with many kiosks and restaurants there for the traveler to enjoy as well as boat tours.
Blue Flag in Puerto Rico The Blue Flag Program, initiated in Europe since 1987 has been modified for implementation in the Caribbean. It is a voluntary program and it has proven along the years to be a very effective strategy to guarantee the best quality in beach services for bathers in different parts of the world.
Casinos In the metropolitan area in San Juan they have luxurious hotels with casinos similar to Las Vegas...if you like to gamble, San Juan will be a great place to stay while vacationing in the island.
El Yunque El Yunque, Puerto Rico's rain forest is a must see. It spreads out over a mountain, so if you walk uphill from the road you're in an amazing rain forest. At any altitude you'll see numerous varieties of plant and animal life. If you're lucky you can catch a glimpse of the endangered Puerto Rican parrot & hear the song of the local Coqui tree frog. There are many hiking trails and the Yokahu tower is a great spot to see the forest from above. There are also two trails that lead you straight down to La Mina waterfalls. You can swim at the bottom of the falls in the cold refreshing water. There are short hiking trails and long hiking trails and they do overlap. Pay close attention to the signs to ensure that you do not bite off more than you can chew.
Since it is a RAIN forest, expect it to rain daily and frequently. This means you may wish to leave your expensive Louis Vuitton hand-bag at the hotel.
Golf The Trump International Golf Club boasts Puerto Rico’s first course of legendary proportions, designed by PGA Professional Tom Kite. Comprised of two 18-hole championship courses, the Championship and the International.
Horseback Riding Whether you're dreaming about spectacular surfing waves, a challenging golf course, or the perfect sunbathing beach, Puerto Rico offers the active traveler a tremendous array of opportunities. Surfing and golf compete with tennis, fishing, kayaking, scuba diving, and horseback riding, not to mention windsurfing and parasailing, for your active time. The island has over 15 championship golf courses a short drive away from the San Juan metropolitan area.
Learn about the different character of Puerto Rico's favorite beaches, or find out where to participate in your favorite sports. The hardest part will be choosing what to do first.
Outdoor Adventures There is plenty to do outside the metropolitan areas. Many small family owned tour companies provide guided tours of the Central Mountains in Utuado near Río Tanama, Repelling in Arecibo, kayak tours of Lake Guajataka, and horse back riding on the beach in Aguadilla. Some of the tour operators also provide low cost or free lodging. Let's Go Puerto Rico has listed a few of these outfitters or you can simply do an internet search with the name of the area you would like to visit to find things to do. The individual towns also have yearly festivals listed in the tourism guides available at both major airports.
Snorkel and Scuba dive ... Puerto Rico's Caribbean coasts. Especially out of Fajardo. But be sure that if you book with a snorkel trip -- that they guarantee you you'll be taken to true snorkeling sites. Dive operators (for instance, the outfit named Sea Ventures) have been known to book snorkelers on day trips along with scuba divers, taking them all to deep water sites suited only to scuba diving!
Plaza las Americas, is currently the largest such shopping mall in the Caribbean and offers a wide array of stores, eating facilities and a multi screen movie theater. Most major U.S. mainland and European mass retailers are located in the mall.
The Condado section of San Juan is home to fine designer stores such as Cartier, Gucci, Ferragamo, Mont Blanc and Dior.
You might want to check out the Belz Factory Outlets and Puerto Rico Premium Outlets (Barceloneta). They house stores like Polo, Hilfiger, Banana Republic, Puma, Gap, PacSun, etc.
Most of the large cities on the island have a large regional mall with very familiar international stores.
There are plenty of ATM around the commonwealth. Most are linked to the Cirrus, Plus, American Express and Discover networks.
If you're looking for local crafts of all sorts, and want to pay less than in Old San Juan while getting to know the island, try going to town festivals. Artisans from around the island come to these festivals to sell their wares: from typical foods, candies, coffee and tobacco to clothing, accessories, paintings and home décor. Some of these festivals are better than others, though: be sure to ask for recommendations. One of the most popular (yet remote) festivals is the "Festival de las Chinas" or Orange Festival in Las Marías.
Don't forget that Puerto Rico is a large rum-producing island. Hand made cigars can still be found in San Jaun, Old San Juan, and Puerta de Tierra. Also a wide variety of imported goods from all over the world are available. Local artesanías include wooden carvings, musical instruments, lace, ceramics, hammocks, masks and basket-work. Located in every busy city are gift shops with the typical tee-shirts, shot glasses, and other gifts that say Puerto Rico to bring home to friends and family. Make sure to visit the Distileria Serralles, the home of Don Q, one of the oldest rums made in Puerto Rico. You would not only enjoy tours of the process of making rum, but a little taste of the rum. They also have a museum and it is an enjoyable place for a warm afternoon in the Enchanted Island.
Puerto Rico is a drive-through buffet. All you need is a car, an appetite (the bigger the better), time, and the realization that your swimsuit won't fit as well when you get to your destination. The island has the most diverse culinary offerings in the entire Caribbean. There's something for everyone. You can enjoy the finest Puerto Rican food at most traditional town squares and also (for those of you who get homesick) have a steak at a place like Morton's.
Authentic Puerto Rican food (comida criolla) can be summed up in two words: plantains and pork, usually served up with rice and beans (arroz y habichuelas). It is rarely if ever spicy, and to many visitors' surprise has very little in common with Mexican cooking.
Plantains (plátanos) are essentially savory bananas and the primary source of starch back in the bad old days, although you will occasionally also encounter cassava (yuca) and other tropical tubers. Served with nearly every meal, incarnations include:
The main meat eaten on Puerto Rico is pork (cerdo), with chicken a close second and beef and mutton way down the list. Seafood, surprisingly, is only a minor part of the traditional repertoire: the deep waters around Puerto Rico are poorly suited to fishing, and most of the seafood served in restaurants for tourists is in fact imported. Still, fresh local fish can be found in restaurants across the east and west coast of the island, especially in Naguabo or Cabo Rojo respectively.
A few other puertorriqueño classics include:
Meals in sit-down restaurants tend to be fairly pricy and most touristy restaurants will happily charge $10-30 for main dishes. Restaurants geared for locals may not appear much cheaper, but the quality (and quantity) of food is usually considerably better. It's not uncommon for restaurants to charge tourists more than locals, so bring along a local friend if you can! Note that many restaurants are closed on Mondays and Tuesday.
If you want to eat like a local, look for places that are out of the way. There is a roadside food stand or 10 at every corner when you get out of the cities. Deep-fried foods are the most common, but they serve everything from octopus salad to rum in a coconut. You might want to think twice and consult your stomach before choosing some items - but do be willing to try new things. Most of the roadside stand food is fantastic, and if you're not hung up with the need for a table, you might have dinner on a beach, chomping on all sorts of seafood fritters at $1 a pop, drinking rum from a coconut. At the end of dinner, you can see all the stars. In the southwest of the island, in Boqueron, you might find fresh oysters and clams for sale at 25 cents a piece.
If you are really lucky, you might get invited to a pork roast. It's not just food - it's a whole day - and it's cultural. Folks singing, drinking, hanging out telling stories, and checking to see if the pig is ready, and staying on topic, you'll find the pig likely paired with arroz con gandules.
Typical fast food restaurants, such as McDonald's and Wendy's are numerous in Puerto Rico and identical to their American counterparts. Some feel, however, that fried chicken restaurants are somewhat different in PR.
Finally, there are some wonderful restaurants, and like everywhere, the best are found mostly near the metropolitan areas. Old San Juan is probably your best bet for a 4-star meal in a 4-star restaurant. However if your experimental nature wanes, there are lots of "Americanized" opportunities in and around San Juan. Good luck, keep your eyes open for the next roadside stand, and make sure to take advantage of all the sports to counteract the moving buffet.
Strict vegetarians will have a tough time in Puerto Rico, although the larger towns have restaurants that can cater to their tastes. Traditionally almost all Puerto Rican food is prepared with lard, and while this has been largely supplanted by cheaper corn oil, mofongo is still commonly made using lard, bacon or both.
Unlike most U.S. territories and states Puerto Rico's drinking age is 18. That coupled with the fact that the U.S. does not require U.S. residents to have a passport to travel between Puerto Rico and the continental U.S. means Puerto Rico is becoming increasingly popular during spring break. Beer and hard liquor is available at almost every grocery store, convenience store, panadería (bakery) and meat shop. There are many bars just off the sidewalk that cater to those of age, especially in San Juan and Old San Juan.
Puerto Rico is obviously famous for its rum and rum drinks, and is the birthplace of the world renowned Piña Colada. Several rums are made in Puerto Rico, including Bacardì, Captain Morgan and Don Q. Rum is, unfortunately, not a connoisseur's drink in the same way as wine or whiskey, and you may get a few odd looks if you ask for it straight since it is almost always drunk as a mixer. The best rum available in Puerto Rico is known as Ron del Barrilito. It isn't available in the mainland US, and is considered to be the closest to the rums distilled in the Caribbean in the 17th and 18th centuries, both in taste and the way it is distilled. It has an amber-brown color and a delicious, clean, slightly sweet taste. Very refreshing on a hot day with ice and a mint leaf.
The local moonshine is known as pitorro, distilled (like rum) from fermented sugarcane. It is then poured into a jug with other flavorings such as grapes, prunes, breadfruit seeds, raisins, dates, mango, grapefruit, guava, pineapple, and even cheese or raw meat. Its production, while illegal, is widespread and a sort of national pastime. If you are lucky enough to be invited to a Puerto Rican home around Christmastime, it is likely that someone will eventually bring out a bottle of it. Use caution as it is quite strong, sometimes reaching 80% alcohol by volume (although typical alcohol levels are closer to 40-50%).
During Christmas season, Puertoricans also drink "Coquito," an eggnog-like alcoholic beverage made with rum, egg yolks, coconut milk, coconut cream, sweet condensed milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. It is almost always homemade, and is often given as a gift during the Christmas holidays. It is delicious, but very caloric. It will also make you very sick if you drink too much of it, so be careful if someone offers you some.
Most stores stock a locally-produced beer called Medalla Light that can be purchased for $1-$2 each. Medalla Light is only sold in Puerto Rico, and is first in the Puerto Rican market share. Other beer options for the discriminating drinker include Presidente, a light pilsner beer from nearby Dominican Republic (note: it's a different brew from the Dominican version), and Beck's. Beck's imported to Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean is a different brew from the one that makes it to the U.S., and is considered by many to be better. Other beers which have popularity on the island are Budweiser, Bud Light, Heineken, Corona and Coors Light, which happen to be one of the prime international markets. Many other imported beers are also available, but usually at a higher price.
Most of the beers sold vary from 10 to 12 ounce bottles or cans. The portions are small (compared to the Mainland) in order to be consumed before the beer has time to warm up. Tap water is treated and is officially safe to drink.
If you are an avid coffee drinker, you may find heaven in Puerto Rico. Nearly every place to eat, from the most expensive restaurants to the lowliest street vendors, serves coffee that is cheap, powerful, and delicious. Puerto Ricans drink their coffee in a way particular to the Caribbean, known as a café cortadito, which is espresso coffee served with sweetened steamed milk. A cup of coffee at a good panadería is rarely more than $1.50.
As a legacy of Puerto Rico's status as one of centers of world sugercane production, nearly everything is drunk or eaten with sugar added. This includes coffee, teas, and alcoholic drinks, as well as breakfast foods such as avena (hot oatmeal-like cereal) and mallorcas (heavy egg buns with powdered sugar and jam). Be aware of this if you are diabetic.
There are over 12,000 hotel rooms in Puerto Rico and 50% are located in the San Juan area.
International chains such as Sheraton, Westin, Marriott, Hilton, Ritz-Carlton, Holiday Inn as well as some luxurious independent resorts offer very reliable accommodations. There is a boom underway in boutique hotel construction which promise a higher level of service and Miami-chic appeal. Most large cities have at least one international chain hotel.
There are properties to rent, buy, or lease available, whether it is a quiet home or a vacation rental. There are also many fully furnished apartments you can rent by the day, week and month, especially in Old San Juan. These are usually inexpensive, clean and comfortable and owned by trustworthy people. They are located mostly in the residential area, which is safe (day and night), and within walking distance to everything from museums to nightlife.
See the San Juan section for contact numbers for hotels and short-term rental apartments.
Most universities in Puerto Rico are accredited by US authorities and they offer quality educational programs. Its very easy to find Spanish courses as well as learn to dance salsa. Puerto Rico has 3 ABA-accredited law schools which are very competitive. The University of Puerto Rico Law School is very friendly towards international students and is a great option for foreigners looking for a quality, cheap education (subsidized by the government) that is less than 10 minutes from a beach!
Also the island has major medical teaching centers which are internationally acclaimed such as the University of Puerto Rico Center for Medical Sciences and the Ponce School of Medicine.
There is a small international workforce on the island. In general, it's possible to find a nice job on the island doing various things. The island is full of international businesses which look for skilled labor all the time. Tourism is obviously a big industry for Puerto Rico. Also, the majority of pharmaceutical companies can be found in PR & the island plays a very important part in pharmaceutical manufacturing for the US & other places in the world.
If you look at the statistics, it's clear that Puerto Rico has a crime problem. As of 2002 the island's murder rate was twice that of New York City (but less than Washington DC). The crime rate is lowest in the wealthy suburbs outside major metropolitan areas, such as San Patricio or Guaynabo.
Nearly all crime is concentrated in the big metropolitan cities of San Juan and Ponce, and most of it is connected to the drug trade. However, the tourist areas of both cities are heavily patrolled by police, and violent crime directed against tourists is very rare. The main problem is theft: don't leave your belongings unattended on the beach. Car theft is also an issue, so take care where you leave your car and don't leave valuables inside.
Make sure to stay away from public housing complexes known as caseríos, which are numerous and widespread throughout the island, and avoid shanty slums as well (La Perla in San Juan). These are frequently the location of drug dealers and other illegal activity as well as violent crime. If you must venture into such a location, avoid doing so at night and do not take pictures or film local residents without permission. You should never take pictures of children without permission, as this can be quite rude. Avoid drawing a lot of attention to yourself and be polite at all times.
Fresh water lakes and streams in metropolitan areas are often polluted so avoid going in for a dip. You can, however, find freshwater streams and ponds in the rain forest that are safe to swim in. Generally, if you see Puerto Ricans swimming in it then you are probably okay, especially high in the rain forest. Puerto Rico is a tropical island but is free of most diseases that plague many other tropical countries of the Caribbean and the world. Tap water is safe to drink almost everywhere, and your hosts will let you know if their water is suspect. Bottled water, if necessary, is available, at grocery and drugstores in gallons, and most small stores have bottled water as well.
Medical facilities are easily available all around the Island, and there are many trained physicians and specialists in many medical fields. There are a number of government as well as private hospitals. Health services are fairly expensive. Keep in mind that a visit to the doctor may not be as prompt as one is used to, and it is common to have to wait quite some time to be seen (three to four hours would not be exceptional).
Visitors should expect a high level of quality in their medical service - it is comparable to the U.S. mainland. Drug stores are plentiful and very well stocked. Walgreens and El Amal and CVS/pharmacy are the biggest and most popular chains, although Walmart, K-Mart, and Costco offer medicines, as do numerous smaller local chains.
Politeness and a simple smile will get you far. Many locals are willing to help tourists provided no arrogance is shown. For either gender, it is very common to customarily kiss on one cheek when greeting a female. This is never done by a male to another male (except between relatives). Puerto Rican society is in general very social, and you will commonly see neighbors out at night chatting with each other.
It is wise in some cases to avoid discussing the island's politics, especially with regards to its political status with the United States. Arguments are often very passionate, and can lead to heated debates. In the same manner it may be wise to neither discuss the political parties, as Puerto Ricans can be very passionate about the party they affiliate with. Puerto Rico has 3 political parties, marked (amongst other things) by different stances towards the relation to the United States: PNP (statehood), PPD (commonwealth) and PIP (independence). PNP and PPD share the majority of the voters, whilst PIP has a relatively small rating.
It is common for attractive women to have cat calls, whistles and loud compliments directed at them. These are usually harmless and it is best to just ignore them.
Puerto Ricans love board games. Some would even say that the national game of Puerto Rico is dominos. It is a very common pastime, especially among older people. In some rural towns, it is common to see old men playing dominos in parks or the town square. Chess is also popular. Either a chess set or a box of dominos makes a great gift.
Homosexuality is a taboo subject in Puerto Rico, owing to their Roman Catholic heritage and a culture that places a lot of emphasis on machísmo. Nevertheless, Puerto Rico is more tolerant than many Caribbean nations. Youth are usually more open than the older generation, and there are a few gay-friendly areas in San Juan.
Puerto Rico has a very advanced communications network. Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile have native coverage. Verizon roams on their legacy network on the island, now operated by Claro. Other national CDMA carriers roam on Centennial Puerto Rico. .
The island also has widely available broadband internet access. High speed public wireless internet service in public areas (coffee shops, restaurants, hotels and malls) finally is also growing and free in most places. Look for Blue Zones or for DMAX hotspots. Third Generation (3G) wireless internet access, through Sprint and AT&T is widely available all over the Island.