Introducing Puerto Rico
Welcome to Puerto Rico: endless sand, swashbuckling history lessons and wildly diverse tropical terrain. The sun-washed backyard of the USA is a place locals fittingly call the 'Island of enchantment'
Puerto Rico is the fodder of many a Caribbean daydream for good reason: this natural jewel box can satisfy the lethargic beach bum, the sunrise rainforest explorer and the budding big-wave surfer – all in a long weekend. Its coral reefs host a riot of tropical fish, its limestone caves in the misty central mountains resound with the chirp of coquí frogs, and its unique collection of forests – some of the wettest and driest in the Caribbean – harbor some of the rarest birds in the world. It's hardly undiscovered – you'll have plenty of company navigating the dripping trails of El Yunque, the perfect waves in Rincón and sunning yourself on some of the best beaches in the world – but with creativity and plucky DIY spirit, you'll find a little piece of this tropical heaven all for yourself.
Those curious enough to look beyond the borders of San Juan's condo developments and congested highways reap big rewards from the vibrant culture of this island. You'll get a whiff of it in the tempting smoke from a roasting pig that rises from a roadside lechonera (eatery specializing in suckling pig). You'll hear it in the distorted thump of a rowdy, beer-soaked weekend in Boquerón or the polyrhythmic patter of a salsa beat. You'll see it down the quiet hallways of museums celebrating everything from failed revolution to classical European painting. Don't be put off by the fast-food chains or unsightly trappings of modern mainland America – Puerto Rican traditions have been shaped by generations of cultural synthesis, celebration and setback, and it emerges today as distinct, spirited and indomitable…if you're willing to look for it.
Puerto Rico's history lessons – told through cannon fire and colonization, repression and revolt – offer a palpable sense of the island's dynamic past. There's a bit of legend in every direction: from the fortress walls pocked by cannon fire to the crumbling towers of the sugar refineries that once fired the island's economy. Free-trading colonialists built sparkling European plazas along streets of the harbor cities, while political revolutionaries plotted revolt in misty villages along the twisting spine of the central mountains. Those with a passion for history can wander precolonial Taíno ball courts or steamy coffee plantations, but even if your interest is scant, it's hard not to get caught up in Puerto Rico's fascinating story. While hasty development and cycles of boom and bust leave this island a checkerboard of preservation, the most amazing thing about this island's past is the beguiling weave it creates with the present.