The lively capital of the charming island has lots going for it. There are plenty of art galleries, upmarket boutiques and trendy bars and cafes to dip in and out of. As the second oldest European-founded settlement in the Americas, there is an abundance of historical artefacts to check out, along with wonderfully colourful original colonial architecture. The winning combination of modernising, plush neighbourhoods and the old, Caribbean island feel make this an unmissable spot. The Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico is the home to the best art collection in the Caribbean and gives beautiful insight into island life. The old town area is home to some incredible historic sites, all very stunning and all rich with the authentic culture as it is one of the oldest and best preserved historic sites in the Americas. You are able to hop on and off the free bus service which is an iconic souvenir of San Juan's local community. The iglesia de San José is the second eldest church in the Western hemisphere, constructed by Spanish monks in 1532 and a gem of the gothic style that was extremely popular in the European continent at the time. El Morro is the awe-inspiring fortress that was built by the first Spanish settlers to honour King Phillip II. It was also a classic form of protection, built on the far end of the island with a view for miles out to sea. Along with all the wonderful cultural elements that make up this fabulous capital city, there are plenty of sweeping beaches, with clear blue seas and white sands that stretch out for miles.Bosque Estatal de Guánica
This incredible natural reserve which makes up 10,000 acres of Puerto Rico is the one of the national treasures and a great place to work up a sweat. For an outdoor enthusiast or someone who bores easily on a beach with no activities planned, this spread of land in the highest parts of the island provides the perfect day out. Whether you decide to head up one of the hiking trails of various lengths and varied difficulties, or try your hand at mountain biking on the exciting tracks, there are the most spectacular views of the Caribbean and the vast, impressive ocean.Ponce
Puerto Rico's second city is a vibrant, chilled out spot to visit, with a booming port area and plenty of trendy cafes and bars you will never be bored. The colourful and original architecture is one of a kind, from the shimmering fountains in the main squares to narrow, winding streets in the old historic city centre you will get lost in the rough and ready atmosphere. The Museo de Arte de Ponce has an interesting British influence in its artworks and also holds one of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein's totems. It houses some 850 paintings, 800 sculptures and 500 prints that are all ordered in a controversial thematic and historical juxtaposition to get a handle on the true essence of Puerto Rican influences and interests. It is a newly renovated, wonderful site to visit to soak up some of the clear inspiration one can take from the island, instead of lazing on the beach all of the time.Vieques
The isolated island is just off the coast of Puerto Rico and is every bit the Caribbean wilderness that anyone could hope to get lost in. The vast white beaches that the aqua coloured crystallised sea washes in and out of could not be a more perfect location for lounging upon. The tropical paradise is home to wonderful hotels and resorts which are perfect for truly feeling like you have reached heaven. The lush green tropical forestry adds to the isolated, secluded utopic island's atmosphere of relaxation and ability to let you forget about the stresses at home. Beautifully untouched by tourists, the spot is a one of a kind location where snorkelling and diving are key activities, and definitely worth dipping into in such glassy waters.
Surface area : 8959.0 km2
Population : 3887652 inhabitants
There is a multitude of shops in Old San Juan (Plaza Las Americas), in Condado and Isla Verde but also in the island's great number of large shopping centres. Other than jewels, antiques and paintings, you will also be able to purchase many more typical souvenirs: hammocks, musical instruments and all sorts of handicraft objects, the most famous and representative ones being, without a doubt, the santos. Traditional masks, the santos appear for the numerous celebrations punctuating Puerto Rico's festival calendar. Since the XVIIc, these masks have been Puerto Rico's major folk's traditions' emblem and they are divided into 4 distinctive categories: the viejos (the old), the locas (the crazy women), the caballeros (the knights) and the vijigantes (the bladders). Finally, do not forget that Puerto Rico is one of the Caribbeans' major rum producing islands and that you can also find excellent hand-made cigars in San Juan and Puerta de Tierra. As a general rule, shops are open from Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm (or 9 pm on Fridays) and on Sundays from 11 am to 5 pm.
Meat and carbohydrates run the show in Puerto Rico, while vegetables are rarely cooked with or seen on a usual dish. On a typical Puerto Rican table you will find red beans or rice as a staple, combined with either delicious seafood or fried meat. The most famous dish for Puerto Ricans is the 'lechón' which is the hog roast equivalent, creating a delicious pulled pork platter. The plentiful selection of fish is something tourists and locals relish alike.
Lunch and dinner both usually commence with sizzling appetisers, which consist of battered fish in a crunchy, spicy layer, sweet plump cornmeal fingers and empanadillas, which are small pastry parcels filled with tasty goodness of either meat bits and tomato sauce or some sort of fish, which are fried and make a perfect amuse-bouche. Soup is also extremely commonplace to start off a meal, consisting of chicken and rice, black bean or fish.
Dessert is very similar to Spanish traditional sweet dishes, with plenty of flans, coconut and fruits, sweet thick cakes and balls of sweet potatoes sprinkled with cinnamon and other delicious flavours.
Puerto Rico is a rich melting pot of cultures, with influences from the Taino Indians, Spain and Africa there are many different elements that make up the traditional aspects of Puerto Rican culture. Many artefacts have been excavated by archaeologists all over the island and now belong to museums and galleries for visitors and locals alike to learn all about the history of the ancestors of people who live in the country.
There is a lot of folk lore and legends that relate to nature and human's relationship to the land which derive from Afro-Caribbean influences and Spanish America. The stories have been passed down through generations which people still regard as an important part of their heritage. Many poems, pieces of literature and art have been based on these kinds of stories, and also the Puerto Rican obsession with 'el jibaro', a character who is a hillbilly country legend.
There are plenty of traditional celebrations in the Puerto Rican yearly calendar, while also getting excited about the newer, more modern festivities. Their Christmas celebrations seem to go on forever, which is perfect considering it is the most magical time of the year! Starting at the end of November and continuing until after Christmas day itself, the festive atmosphere is one of the longest in the world calendar. The final celebration is a huge festival called la Fiesta de la calle de San Sebastian which marks the end of Christmas and winter. Another huge celebration is the Jazz Festival held throughout the springtime, hosted in Puerto Rico but attended by international Latin jazz artists and fans from all over the world.
Although you may think Puerto Rico is just a beach holiday, during which you will laze with your feet dipped in the sea and sand for the majority of the time, which does sound like the perfect time, do not neglect the superb collection of cultural displays too.
There are two very different times of year in Puerto Rico's calendar. From mid-December to mid-April it is an exciting time of full-on festivals and non-stop partying. Due to the carnival and festival season, there are plenty of tourists flooding the city centres and the beach, so if you want to experience that for just a few days then escape it is best to look at the other end of the island or different, more secluded areas in order to be able to enjoy the peace and quiet. However, if you are keen to avoid this altogether it is best to plan a trip for the other half of the year.
The weather is very consistent in Puerto Rico; in fact it is one of the most unvarying climates in the world. It is a consistently very warm and sunny, temperatures ranging from 24-29 degrees. However, August is by far the hottest month and with the most rainfall so it is best not to plan a trip around this time if you do not want to be worrying about turbulent weather situations.
Be cautious of your understanding of the word 'playa' which usually and in the correct translation means beach. However, in Puerto Rico their understanding and use of the word means area near the sea, including a quay, or a promenade on the sea, not just the plain old beach.