Exotic Highlights of Puerto Rico

Caribbean — By on June 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm

By Edd Morris

For an island that’s just 180 miles long and 40 miles wide, you’ll be surprised at the diversity of things to do in Puerto Rico. This little Caribbean paradise is just 1,000 miles southeast of Miami, and, with an average beach-side temperature of 80°F (26°C), it’s not hard to imagine why so many tourists flock to the island every year.

However, it’s not fair to think of Puerto Rico as just another beach destination. This diminutive spot has seen more than its fair share of historical turmoil over the years, imbuing the biggest cities with a wealth Spanish forts and historical sites, like stepping into living sets from The Pirates of the Caribbean. And, as well as these man-made attractions, you’ll discover rich green rain forest at the heart of the island, ripe for exploration.

However you choose to spend your vacation, there’s no chance that you’ll be short of things to do. Here are five highlights that you definitely shouldn’t miss.

Explore ancient forts and battlements
Way back in the 16th century, Puerto Rico was conquered by the Spanish. The Spaniards saw the strategic importance of Puerto Rican harbors, and set out to build huge fortifications to ward off rival colonial powers – as well as pirates. The most impressive of these is El Morro, the largest fortress in the Caribbean and a UNESCO World Heritage site. You should definitely spend a pleasant afternoon on its windswept ramparts, squinting out to sea to spot any modern buccaneers.

Wander through Old San Juan
As well as building fortresses to keep out marauders, the Spanish enclosed capital San Juan behind thick city walls. Of course, as Puerto Rico became more prosperous, the city grew and grew – and the area wrapped by the city walls just wasn’t big enough. That meant that a ‘new’ San Juan was built outside – leaving ‘old’ San Juan unspoiled by modern architecture. Today, you can wander its historic cobbled streets, marvel at brightly painted old Spanish colonial buildings, and sip iced drinks underneath balconies filled with rustling bougainvillea bushes.

Listen out for a Coqui
On your vacation, you’ll undoubtedly hear Puerto Ricans boast “soy de aqui como el coqui”, which, in English, means “I’m as Puerto Rican as a coqui”. So, er, what’s this coqui they’re so obsessed with? It’s a tiny tree-frog, the size of your thumbnail and the unofficial mascot of Puerto Rico. If you spend any time in the jungle, you’ll probably spot a coqui, but, wherever you are, listen out as the dusk draws in and you can hear their distinctive ‘koh-keeee’ frog-chorus.

Hike through virgin rainforest in El Yunque
At the heart of Puerto Rico is El Yunque National Park – 28,000 acres of beautiful tropical rainforest. It’s a habitat for many rare species of animals and plants, including the highly-endangered Puerto Rican parrot. The park is meticulously cared for, and, as well as extensive hiking trails and picnic sites, there’s a huge and informative visitor centre boasting a 60ft high treetop walkway, which offers beautiful views of the forest canopy.

Experience authentic flavors of Puerto Rico
Puerto Ricans are extremely proud of their cuisine, which has been uniquely been influenced by Spanish, American and Caribbean cooking. One famous dish which you’ll find in many restaurants in Puerto Rico is Mofongo – towers of fried, mashed green plantain, stuffed with vegetables and served with chicken stewed in a spicy sauce. Afterwards, if you’ve room for dessert, arroz con dulce is an unmissable taste of the Caribbean – it’s a supersweet rice pudding, made with coconut milk and Puerto Rican rum.

Edd Morris has been a Londoner since 2005. That hasn’t cured his itchy feet – he still loves traveling the world in search of spicy food and someone to practice Spanish with.

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    3 Comments

  • She Traces says:

    Nice, succinct overview of the highlights of PR. I might consider visiting sometime in the future.

  • Chandra Brocksmith says:

    Went to PR this summer!! Loved it! As he said, there is so much to do! He left out some of my favorites such as Kite surfing, either lessons or simply watching, and there are 3 amazing Bio Bays there! I will say we hiked El Yunque for 2 whole days and could not find the coqui tree frog anywhere. We asked some locals for advice and were told they have lived there for years and never seen one!

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