Scented by slow-roasted pork and sea breezes, and colored by swashbuckling history, this sun-washed medley of Spanish and American influences is a fusion of Caribbean delights and experiences.
Puerto Rico inspires Caribbean daydreams for good reason: it can satisfy both the lethargic beach bum and the budding big-wave surfer – all in a long weekend. Its coral reefs host a riot of fantastical fish and the shores shimmer like crushed pearls. On some beaches you'll have plenty of company. In other places like Vieques or Cabo Rojo you might have some of the world's best stretches of sand entirely to yourself. If the sands that rim the island tempt you to stay, you can opt for sizeable resorts or independent guesthouses for watching those seaside sunsets from your room.
The island's culture is of the visceral kind. You'll need to search for it beyond the condo towers and congested roads, and sometimes it seems Puerto Rico does not wish to show outsiders its cultural magnitude. Then, suddenly, you'll smell it in the smoke arising from lechoneras (eateries specializing in suckling pig), or hear it in the intoxicating patters of salsa beats. You'll glimpse it as sunlight sparkles across coffee plantations, or in museums celebrating everything from failed revolution to classical European painting. Puerto Rican traditions have been shaped by generations of cultural synthesis, celebration and setback, and it emerges today as vivid and indomitable.
Puerto Rico's present appears laid-back but its past brims with cannon fire and colonization, repression and revolt. From San Juan's fortresses, scoured by siege, to the crumbling South Coast sugar refineries once powering the island's economy, San Juan's tumult of history is present everywhere. European colonizers built ornate plazas in harbor cities while political revolutionaries schemed rebellion in mountain villages. History enthusiasts can wander precolonial Taíno ruins or coffee haciendas. Even if your interest is scant, it's hard not to get immersed in Puerto Rico's tempestuous story in Old San Juan, where enticing echoes of bygone times – of colonists and revolutionaries, smugglers and swashbucklers – reverberate still.
Even those who stick to the coast cannot escape the alluring shadow of Puerto Rico's thick forests, as knotted labyrinths of mangroves create crucial shoreside wildlife reserves and the green glint of the inland forested hills is rarely out of sight.
The island's dense foliage invites a perpetual mystery to blanket it, as coqui frogs chant among giant tree ferns and roots reduce so-called roads to rubble. The forests here are internationally important, such as El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the US. A journey into them guarantees to awaken the adventurer within.