With tropical rainforest, warm turquoise waters and soft yellow sand, Puerto Rico (Rich Port) is certainly abundant in natural riches. Most visitors are attracted to the island's beaches, and understandably so. From San Juan's calmer Atlantic waters to Rincón's ripping surf breaks, and from Culebra's picture-perfect Flamenco Beach (rated one of the top 10 beaches in the world by the Discovery Channel) to Vieques' nearly deserted beaches where wild horses roam, there really is sand and surf for every type of beach bum in Puerto Rico.
There are many other attractions besides the beach, however, which is perhaps surprising given that this island is relatively small in size (approximately 161km/100 miles by 63km/39 miles). The island has three of the world's bioluminescent bays, glow-in-the-dark bodies of water that you can kayak or motorboat into for a nighttime lightshow (the dinoflagellates in the water make it sparkle like glitter).
The interior of the island has a mountain range with impressive views, a massive system of limestone formations and caves, and the only tropical rainforest in the US National Forest System. The southeastern interior has a desert, complete with cacti! The island's interior also has interesting opportunities to learn more about Puerto Rico's history and culture through the Fideicomiso's (Nature Conservancy's) network of sites, including Hacienda Buena Vista (an old coffee plantation) and Hacienda Esperanza (an old sugar plantation). Venture off the beaten path and you'll likely find yourself the sole adventurer in the island's beautiful interior region.
In addition to the mainland of Puerto Rico, there are several smaller ‘sister’ islands that belong to Puerto Rico which are popular among visitors. Culebra and Vieques, off the mainland's eastern coast, are favourites of tourists and locals alike. And the mysteriously named Caja de Muertos (literally, Coffin Island) is a favourite of people who love wildlife watching.
Culturally, the island of Puerto Rico is a vibrant and multicultural destination, integrating and remixing what it calls its three ‘roots’: Taino (an indigenous group), Spanish and African. The country is in the Caribbean but not wholly of it, influenced both by Latin America and the USA, with which it has a colonial relationship. This blend of cultures makes for interesting music, food, and celebrations, as well as some curious aspects of daily life, including language (rather than use the Spanish word for ‘parking’, for example, you're likely to see ‘Parking’ or ‘Parkin'’).
Islanders embrace all that is modern (you'll see police riding motorcycles with their cell phones tucked under their helmets, talking while driving), while cherishing and preserving their past. Many buildings in historic Old San Juan, home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites, proudly preserve their original Spanish style. Visitors are typically enchanted by blue cobblestone streets and pastel-painted colonial buildings. Here, it feels as if you can reach out and touch history.
Visitors to the island rarely come just once. The warm weather is rivalled by Puerto Ricans' friendliness. Travellers here often make lifelong friends out of acquaintances they've met while sharing lechon asado and tostones (roast pork and plantain chips), or while dancing salsa at a popular club like the Nuyorican.