Part of the territorial United States since 1898, Puerto Rico
is perhaps the most exotic place in the nation--a miniature
Latin America set in the Caribbean. One of the oldest locations
in the territorial U.S., San Juan was a thriving town while
Jamestown remained an undeveloped plot of land
A very attractive island, Puerto Rico contains numerous forest
reserves, white-sand beaches, ancient indigenous sites, an
abundance of historical atmosphere, and the only tropical
National Forest in the U.S.
As a self-governing commonwealth of the U.S., Puerto Rico
is both distinct from and similar to the U.S. The majority
of Puerto Ricans either have relatives on the North American
continent or have lived in the U.S. However, Puerto Ricans
are struggling to preserve their culture, with numerous traditional
festivals and performances. Many of the towns still preserve
old architectural styles.
The island's colonial history commenced with the arrival
of Christopher Columbus in 1493. Ponce de Leon claimed Puerto
Rico for Spain in 1507. The U.S. invaded and claimed possession
after the Spanish-American War in 1898. Puerto Ricans remain
divided as to whether to continue as a Commonwealth or switch
to some other status such as statehood or independence. Numerous
plebiscites have been held on the issue, but there is still
no consensus. The island gains a number of financial advantages
(tax and other incentives) with the present status, and any
status change would have an impact on the economy.
Despite its seemingly ubiquitous fast food outlets and commercial
shopping centers, Puerto Rico offers a wide variety of parks,
historical and archaeological sites, and scenic spots. You
may stick around San Juan or explore the island's outback
roads. The islands of Vieques and Culebra, to the east, sometimes
called the "Spanish Virgins," remain undeveloped
compared to the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.
Thanks to a favorable tax status that has attracted many
large corporations and other employers, the island has a high
standard of living compared with many of its neighbors. Exports
include chemicals, pharmaceuticals and healthcare products,
apparel and footwear, rubber and plastic goods, rum, and coffee.
When to Go
The best time to visit is between December and April. The
temperatures are in the 70s and 80s during the day, and in
the 70s at night. (It can get cooler in the mountains.) Hurricane
season runs from June to November, a period during which it
may be cloudy and rainy and more humid. The major hotels offer
off-season discounts, so this is one advantage if you plan
to visit during this time of the year.
Most of Puerto Rico's celebrations are in a religious vein.
Every town on the island has its fiestas patronales or patron
saint festival. They always begin on a Friday, approximately
10 days before the date prescribed. Although services are
held twice a day, the atmosphere is anything but religious.
Music, gambling, and dancing take place on the town plaza,
and food stalls sell local specialties. A generally somber
atmosphere prevails during Holy Week (Semana Santa), the week
surrounding Easter, when processions and pageants are held
islandwide. Las Navidades or the Christmas season, which stretches
from December 15 to January 6, is the liveliest time of the
year. Marked by parties and prayers, it's a time to get together
with friends. On January 6, the Epiphany or Three Kings' Day
is celebrated. The night before, children traditionally place
boxes of grass under their beds to await the arrival of the
Three Kings, Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. After the camels
have eaten all the grass, the kings leave presents in the
now empty boxes.