White powdery sand, coconut palms swaying in the ocean breeze, luxury hotels… Puerto Rico offers everything you might expect (and more) from a Caribbean holiday. Combining influences of Modern and Latin America with a laid-back Caribbean vibe, Puerto Rico has its own unique style. Its landscape is diverse, from the sun soaked beaches, to the depths of the rainforests – home to some of the rarest birds in the world and popular with hikers and thrill seekers alike – and the stunning underwater world with its fabulous coral reefs. There is a real sense of history here too. Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, has some splendid Spanish colonial buildings to discover – and is also great for a spot of shopping and partying!
Things to see and do in Puerto Rico:
Attractions: As you might expect, Puerto Rico’s attractions are as diverse as the country itself. Ranging from adventurous caves and rainforest activities to historic forts and buildings (and everything in between.)
One of the top tourist attractions is the wonderful Bioluminescent Mosquito bay in Vieques (a small island just 8 miles from the mainland). Unusually for a Caribbean beach, the time to visit the bay is at night when the sky and sea emits a blue glow from the millions of micro-organisms (called dinoflagellates) that live there. It is advisable to visit the bay on a guided tour to get the most out of the experience. One of the island’s most impressive historic constructions is the El Morro fort in the capital of San Juan. Built in the 16th century, this six storey construction allows amazing views of the ocean and visitors can walk through the building’s tunnel systems, barracks and prison cells. Fort San Cristobal is also another popular fort inside the San Juan National Historic Site and is one of the largest Spanish fortresses in the Western world. If you’re looking for something a little more relaxing, head to the small island of Culebra, just off the east coast of Puerto Rico, where you will find the simply stunning Flamenco Beach considered to be the country’s most beautiful beach and ideal for snorkellers and families. To explore the more rugged side of the island, spend a few days exploring the El Yunque rainforest. Located just 35 miles east of San Juan. The rainforest is a hiker’s paradise and has 13 well-marked trails including the popular La Mina and Big Tree Trail which pass by the La Mina River and La Mina Falls. To further explore the more rugged side of Puerto Rico, take a visit to Parque de las Cavernas del Río Camuy to discover the 268-acre park of underground caves.
Events/festivals: In January, the Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian takes place over three nights in the capital San Juan, with lots of music, dancing, drinking and a huge street party. The main event of the year is the Puerto Rico carnival ‘Carniva’ in February and which takes place in the main square of all the island’s major cities. This popular event involves street parades, masked dances, crazy costumes and a lot of partying – Puerto Rican style of course. In March, San Juan hosts the Heineken JazzFest which showcases local and international jazz talent – mainly of the Latin Jazz variety. The Noche de San Juan in June is another popular party event that brings everyone to the beach for an all night party. Salsa is hugely popular in Puerto Rico, none more so than in the month of July when a two week long salsa congress takes place. This event sees salsa dancers from all over the world celebrate and compete in an exciting dance competition.
Sports: Puerto Rico is in many ways considered the 51st American state and the most popular sports on the island are all-American imports: baseball, basketball and boxing. When visiting the island, holidaymakers can make the most of the fantastic watersports available with some of the best diving and snorkelling in the Caribbean. Meanwhile, the trade winds that hit the north and east coast make windsurfing here fantastic too. Hiking enthusiasts will love the range of hiking trails on offer within the island’s rugged interior and mountain biking is also beginning to become very popular. Golf lovers will enjoy the island’s acclaimed courses and if you happen to visit in March, you may like to get tickets for Puerto Rico Open in Rio Grande.
Nightlife: The Puerto Ricans are good at partying. Whether you are looking to hang out with sophisticated set in the top hotel bars in San Juan or prefer to go for the salsa vibe in Old San Juan, the capital has a lot to offer. The nightlife is not just constrained to the capital though. Piñones and Luquillo also offer a lively atmosphere after dark and the La Guancha Boardwalk in Ponce is also a popular destination for those looking for a good range of al fresco bars and restaurants in the evening.
Eating/Drinking: The Puerto Rican cuisine is known as ‘cocina criolla’ and is an interesting and mix of Spanish, African, American and the native Taino Indian cuisines, using local ingredients including coriander, papaya, plantains and yampee. Like much of the Caribbean, rum is a popular beverage and San Juan is indeed the home to Bacardi and Don Q rums. The premium rum however, is ‘Trigo Reserva Añeja’ which is popped open with a champagne-style cork.
Shopping: The shopping malls and centres in Modern San Juan house many of the brands you would expect from an American mall – the biggest mall is the Plaza Las Américas which has over 200 shops. For more traditional Puerto Rican wares, head to the narrow streets of Old San Juan. Popular items with tourists tend to include the papier-mâché masks (called caretas) worn during Carniva, the high quality handmade lace (known as mundillo) and hand-rolled cigars.
When to go
Puerto Rico enjoys a very steady all-year round climate with temperatures generally staying between 24-29 degrees. August is usually the wettest and hottest month with an average of 7 inches of rain. The hurricane season officially runs between June and November, but that is not to say that the island is besieged with bad weather throughout these months, and you can often benefit from reduced costs during these times.
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