Difference between revisions of "Puerto Rico"
Revision as of 03:26, 10 August 2006
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.
Puerto Rico has a tropical marine climate, which is mild and has little seasonal temperature variation. Temperatures range from 70F to 90F, and tend to be lower at night and up in the mountains.
Periodic droughts and hurricanes 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. There is a fertile coastal plain belt in north.
Puerto Rico's highest point is at Cerro de Punta, which is 1,338 m above sea level.
Populated for centuries by Taino indians, the island was claimed by the Spanish Crown in 1493 following Columbus' second voyage to the Americas. Like many other spanish colonies in the caribbean region (Cuba ,Venezuela) spanish culture became dominant with a blend of, in Puerto Rico's case, Taino roots and African influence due to the slaves that were introduced in the 18th century. By the end of the 19th century a Puerto Rican national identity was being formed within the sovereignty of Spain. In 1868 the first independence revolt against the spanish regime occurred in the mountain region municipality of Lares and was named 'Grito de Lares'.In 1898, after 400 years of spanish colonial rule , Puerto Rico was ceded to the U.S. as a result of the Spanish-American War. Puerto Ricans were granted statutory U.S. citizenship in 1917, and popularly elected governors have served since 1948. In 1952, a constitution was enacted providing for self-government as a commonwealth associated to the U.S. (official name in spanish: Estado Libre Associado). Even though Puerto Rico is not a sovereign state it is considered a country by the United Nations since 1953. Puerto Rico participates as a nation in all international sport events and has its own national olympic team. In plebiscites held in 1967, 1993, and 1998, voters chose to retain U.S. commonwealth status, rather than become the 51st state of the United States of America or an independent nation.
Puerto Rico's main airport is Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) in 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, however, U.S. citizens flying back to the U.S. mainland from Puerto Rico will not have to pass through Customs before boarding their flight. 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:
A commercial ferry service connects the west coast city of Mayaguez and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. This service is very popular an dconvenient way to travel between both cities. 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.
Unless you are staying in one of the hotels in San Juan, or you have friends or family to provide transportation, you will need to rent a car. Make sure to get one with air conditioning. Don't give in to the temptation to rent a large vehicle, as small towns have narrow roads, and people tend to park in creative ways. If you leave San Juan, you will park on the shoulder, and you will need to pull onto the shoulder to get around people, and you will hit some enormous potholes that you just didn't see in time. Check the car for scratches and dents when you rent it . Some rental companies offer Jeep Wranglers or larger SUVs, but the best car for rural areas (and surf trips) is probably the Honda Element. Most rental companies stock Neons and Echos, and there are a lot of PT cruisers -- these cars are all useless for transporting surfboards on the inside. The Element is nice because you can actually remove some of the rear seats so that even 9-foot long surfboards can go inside the car. Road signs are Spanish language versions of their U.S. counterparts, so you shouldn't have trouble figuring them out.
You'll notice many beat-up cars, some flashy cars, and many loud, flashy, beat-up cars among the car population in Puerto Rico. Police cars and SUVs are noticeable as well, 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.
There are three toll roads on Puerto Rico. They are part of the Tourists Roads system, labeled by small brown signs.
Tolls for a 2-axle car range between $0.35 and $1.25. The lanes on the left are reserved for people with RFID toll passes, which you probably won't have on your rental car. If you need change, head for the lanes marked with a "C", usually the furthest to the right.
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.
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.
Blue Flag in Puerto Rico
The Blue Flag Program, initiated in Europe since 1987 has been modified for implementation in the Caribbean. It is 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.
... Puerto Rico's Caribbean coasts. Spectacular wall diving offshore Guánica, or the cayos of the Spanish Virgin Islands of Culebra & Vieques. PADI 5 star Instruction.
Languages: Spanish is the native language for all Puerto Ricans. Puerto Rican Spanish speakers have a very distinct accent, and is often spoken at a relatively faster speed than Central American or Mexican Spanish. It is also full of local jargon and slang unfamiliar to many outside the island. English is common in tourist areas and at military/federal government offices and facilities. All major hotels will have bilingual staff, and can arrange English or Spanish guided tours to various island attractions. If you decide to rent a car and explore the less-traveled areas of the island, expect that most will not be "fluent" in English although they may know "basic" English, since English is taught at Puerto Ricans schools as a foreign language in elementary and high school.
Communications: Puerto Rico has a very advanced, 1st world communication network. Major American carries Cingular, Sprint, Verizon, Sun Com and Centennial have networks on the island. European carrier Movi Star is also involved in a locar wireless joint venture.Cell-phone coverage is very good. The island also has widely available broadban 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 (unlike the mainland). Look for Blue Zones or for DMAX hotspots.
Puerto Rico is full of modern shopping malls and outlet centers. The most notable of which, Plaza las Americas, is currently the largest such shopping mall in the Caribbean and offers a wide array of stores, eating facilities and a large movie theater. Most major mainland and european 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 the Prime Outlets of Puerto Rico. They house stores like Polo, Hilfiger, Banana Republic and Brooks Brothers.
All big cities also have a large regional mall with very familiar international stores.
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.
One of the interesting facts about Puerto Rico that might not be emphasized enough in travel guidebooks is that since Puerto Rico is self governing due to its Commonwealth status, there are no federal taxes or import duties paid on on commodities like gasoline (about $0.50/liter for 87 octane in San Juan, as of 4/27/05) or rum. This might be an important consideration when planning how much empty luggage to bring, as a 750 ml bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label costs only $120 in the duty-free airport shop vs. $200+ on the mainland. Bacardi liquor brands are very inexpensive as well -- paying $8.00 for a 750 ml bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin can be something of a shock, after paying $9.00 for a single 4 oz martini of the same booze at La Guardia only 4 hours earlier. A 750 ml bottle of DonQ Crystal (the local favorite) is only $10.00 -- bring one home with you.
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.
There is a roadside food stand or 10 at every corner (when you get out of the cities). They serve everything from octopus salad, to cod fritters (bacalaitos), plantain turnovers, 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. Mavi, for instance, is a fermented drink that children drink in the area. It is quite good. Quenepas (a green fruit that looks like large grapes) are found everywhere in the summer, and are much better for you than potato chips, and easier to eat in the car. Slit the skin with your teeth (pop them), and eat the pulp. Spit out the seed, but don't put the skins or seeds in your pocket because they stain clothes.
Traditional Puerto Rican food is rice and beans, pork in its multitude of forms, and some incarnation of plantain. Tostones (fried, mashed plantains) are addictive. The seafood stuffed mofongo (don't let the name turn you off), is fantastic. Mofongo is a plantain ball, sometime served in a fish stock.
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 (rice with pigeon peas).
In winter, you haven't been to Puerto Rico until you've eaten a real asopao. Preferably, befriend a native Puerto Rican, get invited to their house, and eat until you can't talk. It'll take a while and it will be worth it. Asopao is a uniquely Puerto Rican stew. Often chicken based, with rice, and various spices, you might find it with seafood.
Speaking of seafood - don't be tempted by the land crabs. They are yummy, but they are endangered. We all need to stop eating our way off this planet. But, you might look at them, as you will find them at - like everything else - roadside stands. Often they are live. If you are feeling particularly altruistic, buy the crabs and set them free far from the stands. Pick a nice swamp near the sea. Call it your own wildlife restoration.
Puerto Rico has perfected the paella; you will find fresh Tuna in the Southwest of the Island. The roots are incredible - the natives call them "viandas" - and are available in a wide variety of types, colors, and flavors. Try them all, and use a lot of olive oil, preferably, "Bettis," a Spanish oil you can find in PR (look for the yellow can). Stay away from putting butter or sour cream on them, no matter how much they may look like potatoes, they're not.
Places to eat: look for places that are out of the way. 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 lobster fritters (the PRs call them "empanadillas"), 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 (again - street vendors). They were small, but they were only 25 cents. Try them with a lime.
On Culebra, there is a neat little house that sells dinner. Ask around to find it. A couple of years ago, it was the only sit down dinner on the island. The fried snapper was fantastic - but as they say in much of PR - Americans pay more. Every way that statement can be considered is likely true. So, if you don't want to pay more (usually double), send in your Puerto Rican friend first. Either way, the food is great.
With all these choices - roadside stands, local hangouts that you just might find - things that you've never seen before - do yourself a flavor and never eat from the commercial fast food restaurant except maybe, the fried chicken restaurants, which just do it differently 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.
Beer, wine and hard liquor is available at almost every grocery store, convenience store, panaderia (bakery) and meat shop. 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 Bacardi and Don Q. Although not as common in the U.S., the national rum of choice in Puerto Rico is Don Q.
Most stores stock a locally-produced beer called Medalla Light. 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. The 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 Heineken, Corona and Coors light. Many other beers are also available, but usually at a higher price.
An interesting fact is that most of the beers sold vary from 7 to 10 ounce bottles or cans. Puerto Ricans prefer their beers extremely cold so the portions are small in order to be consumed before the beer has time to warm up.
Crime is on the increase and is mostly linked to drugs trafficking. Car theft and break-ins are a common occurrence so remember to lock your car and set the alarm. Never leave valuables visible in your car. If you park in a parking garage take your parking ticket with you. Do not leave it in the car or else the vehicle becomes a more tempting target for theft. If you have a rental, and you're in a rural area, it is sometimes more practical to just remove your valuables from the car and leave it unlocked. A safer though tiring option is to use the public transport system, when one exists. If you're not a local, or with one, you should consider not parking near a surfer beach.
San Juan has many of the same problems of all major metropolitan areas. Some areas are not safe to venture out at night, nor are metropolitan area cities as well as the other big cities such as Ponce and Mayaguez. In general all tourist areas are very safe and have lots to offer. Crime against tourists is almost non-existent. Women travellers should take the same level of care they would use in a big city. A small number of thefts take place on beaches, even in daytime. So it’s advisable not to leave your belongings lying around unattended on the beach. Make sure to stay away from public housing complexes known as "caserios", 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 the locals without permission. Avoid drawing a lot of attention to yourself and be polite at all times. Carjacking has been a problem, so be aware when at intersections especially at night. Usually you are allowed to cross a red light after midnight provided you stop briefly and can move on through safely.
Sunburn and mosquitoes are the worst threat to your health so carry sunscreen lotion and mosquito repellent. The threat of contracting Hepatitis A is low but it’s better to be careful and it’s recommended to take the necessary shot before leaving home. Fresh water lakes and streams are often polluted so avoid going in for a dip. It’s safe to drink tap water though if you’re venturing into the rural areas, carry bottled water.
Medical facilities are easily available especially in and around San Juan, and there are many trained physicians and specialists in many medical fields. There are a number of government as well as private hospitals. However, 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. Visitors should expect a high level of quality in their medical service. Drug stores are plentiful and very well stocked. Walgreens and El Amal are the bbiggest and most popular chains, although Wal Mart, K Mart and Costco offer medicines as well as 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. When greeting a member of the opposite sex, or when greeting female to female, it is very common to customarily kiss on one cheek. This is never done male to male. Puerto Rican society is in general very social, and you will commonly see neighbors out at night chatting or gossiping with each other. It may be wise in some cases to avoid discussing the island's politics, especially in regards to its political status with the United States. Arguments are often very passionate and can lead to heated debates. 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.