The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is a United States territory comprising an archipelago located between the Dominican Republic and the Virgin Islands, on the eastern section of the Caribbean Sea. Puerto Rico is the smallest among the Greater Antilles, covering a territory only 10% the size of Cuba. Approximately 3.7 million people live in Puerto Rico, more than half of them concentrated around its capital, San Juan, and mostly able to communicate on both the official languages of the territory: English and Spanish.
Puerto Rico’s main gateway is the Luis Muñoz Marin international airport, located 13km (8mi) away from the capital’s historic center. Besides, San Juan is also a busy port in the route of many large cruise ships, several of which either start or finish their circuits in the city, allowing the place to be easily explored as part of an itinerary including several Caribbean islands.
Puerto Rico is, in fact, one of the touristic highlights of the Caribbean. Besides sun, beaches and party, its islands offer the chance to learn a lot about the history of the European colonization in the Americas, thanks to its forts and colonial towns, while also witnessing some natural wonders, like the glowing waters of its bioluminescent bays. Although the vast majority of visitors restrict themselves to the attractions found in the main island, which spans 180km (110mi) from east to west, it is worth it to venture through some of the smaller islands, namely Vieques (a visit to the Mosquito bioluminescent bay on a New Moon night might well be worth the trip) and Culebra (where Playa Flamenco is located –considered to be the best beach in Puerto Rico, and even one of the best of the world according to some sources). Both islands are accessible by plane from San Juan or through a ferry ride from the city of Fajardo, located in the main island’s east end. The surroundings of Fajardo also offer the possibility to visit bioluminescent bays, like Laguna Grande, and to dive or to practice snorkeling.
The main attraction of Puerto Rico, however, is its capital: San Juan. Founded by the Spaniards in 1521 (then called Puerto Rico City), it is the cultural, economic and touristic center of the territory. Its historic district is located on a small island by the north shore of the main island and is probably the most interesting in the whole Caribbean region thanks to the preservation of its historical heritage. It is partially surrounded by walls built from the 18th century on and features more than 400 restored buildings that currently house museums, stores and coffee shops. Walking through this part of San Juan means to dive into the history of the Spanish colonization of the Americas, while living the thrilling atmosphere of this capital and enjoying one of the best culinary scenes of the region.
The Castle of San Felipe del Morro, whose construction started in 1539 in the western access to the San Juan Bay, is one of the two fortresses built with the objective of defending the city. The main structure currently rises 44m (144ft), in six plants, from the sea level. The San Cristobal Castle, located on San Juan island’s east end is the largest fortress ever built by the Spaniards in the New World; when it was finished, in 1783, it covered an area close to 110,000m² (27 acres). Nowadays, both castles are part of the United States National Park Service, are World Heritage sites as declared by UNESCO, and are among the main attractions of Puerto Rico.
Less than 50km (30mi) from the capital, El Yunque is considered to be the main natural attraction of the whole island. This is the only tropical forest in the US National Park system and occupies an area above 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres). The park hosts 240 species of plants (26 of them endemic to this place) and about 50 species of birds. It also features several trails, like the El Yunque Trail, which besides the flora and fauna, also reveals magnificent 360 degrees views.
Puerto Rico also offers several other attractions to its visitors, like the colonial cities of Ponce and San Germán, in the southeast of the main island, and the Camuy River caves and the Arecibo Observatory, in the northeast. The touristic infrastructure is well prepared to serve visitors, making it relatively easy to move around the island either on your own or as part of a larger group.