Take note New York! Modern America started here. Well, almost. Established in 1521, San Juan is the second-oldest European-founded settlement in the Americas (after Santo Domingo) and the oldest under US jurisdiction.
Culebra & Vieques
Ponce & South Coast
Measuring 21 miles long by 5 miles wide, Vieques is substantially bigger than Culebra and distinctly different in ambience. Though still a million metaphorical miles from the bright lights of the Puerto Rican mainland, the larger population here has meant more luxurious accommodations, hipper restaurants and – unfortunately – more petty thievery (particularly on the beaches).
El Yunque & East Coast
An elusive lizard (not seen since 1974) hides in a unique mountain ‘boulder’ forest, a couple of abandoned US tanks lie rusting on a paradisial beach, a sign on a shop door in the ‘capital’ Dewey reads ‘Open some days, closed others.
Ponce native son and author Abelardo Díaz Alfaro famously called Ponce a baluarte irreductible de puertorriqueñidad – a bastion of the irreducible essence of Puerto Rico. Strolling around the sparkling fountains in the central square and narrow streets of the city’s historic center evokes the stately spirit of Puerto Rico’s past.
You’ll know you’ve arrived in Rincón – ‘the corner’ – when you pass the group of sun-grizzled gringos cruising west in their rusty 1972 Volkswagen Beetle with surfboards piled on the roof.
Fajardo & Around
For the uninitiated observer, Fajardo is no oil painting. A spread-out municipality of just under 40,000 inhabitants, it sprawls like an untidy suburb between the El Yunque foothills and the sea.
West of Ponce
Like many of Puerto Rico’s midsized cities, it takes some digging to discover the charm of Mayagüez. The ‘Sultan of the West’ is largely a transportation point for visitors to the west or those making the weekend junket to the Dominican Republic.
East of Ponce
Luquillo & Around
In many ways Luquillo is a typical Puerto Rican town; a physically beautiful coastal strip of magnificent beaches backed by a dull, uninspiring mishmash of condo towers, strip malls and unsightly urban sprawl. But here, in the island’s congested northeastern corner, beauty easily outweighs the beast.