Quick, think about America’s greatest sites for tourists. You probably think about Disneyworld in Florida or the Grand Canyon. But Puerto Rico attracted four million tourists in 2020, generating nearly three billion dollars in revenue.
These facts about Puerto Rico may surprise you. Yet these two statistics are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot you should learn about Puerto Rico before you plan a trip to the island territory of the United States.
Fun Facts About Puerto Rico
Is Puerto Rico a state, and where did it come from? What are some of Puerto Rico’s best attractions, including food-related ones? What are some tips you should use to get around the island? Answer these questions and you can have a great Caribbean vacation in no time. Here are 21 facts you should know about Puerto Rico.
1. Puerto Rico Is Not a State
Puerto Rico’s politics are awkward, to say the least. Puerto Rico is not a state, but a commonwealth within the United States. This means that American citizens can travel to the islands without a passport.
This also means that the federal government has jurisdiction over Puerto Rico. But Puerto Ricans do not have representatives in the Senate. They have a resident commissioner who represents them in the House of Representatives, but the commissioner cannot vote on bills.
Yet many international institutions treat Puerto Rico as its own country. Puerto Rico has a separate Olympic team from the American one, and they send their own contestants to the Miss Universe pageant.
Read more fun facts about the United States
2. Yet Puerto Ricans Are Americans
However, all Puerto Rican residents receive birthright citizenship. They have American passports, and they can travel to the American mainland as they please.
Unfortunately, Puerto Ricans do not have the same rights as other Americans. They cannot vote in presidential elections, though they can vote for party nominees.
Oddly enough, you can receive a Certificate of Puerto Rican Citizenship and become a dual national of Puerto Rico and your home country. You must be born in Puerto Rico, have a Puerto Rican parent, or be an American who has lived in the commonwealth for a year.
3. Don’t Confuse the Island With the Archipelago
When people read the term, “Puerto Rico,” they usually think about one island. In reality, Puerto Rico is an archipelago of many islands.
The main island is called Puerto Rico, and it contains the capital of San Juan. Vieques is seven miles off the main island’s east coast. More than 8,000 people live on the island, and it contains dozens of beaches you can visit.
Culebra is nine miles north of Vieques and roughly 16 miles away from the main island. Roughly 1,800 people live in Culebra, but most of the island is undeveloped.
The remaining islands are all uninhabited. Some of them are nature preserves you may be able to visit on a boat.
4. Puerto Rico Is the World’s Oldest Colony
Puerto Rico facts go way back in history. The Taino people inhabited the main island for thousands of years before Christopher Columbus arrived in 1493. He stayed on the island for just two days, yet he claimed it as a Spanish colony.
Spain then controlled Puerto Rico for just over 400 years. In 1898, Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States after the Spanish-American War. It has been under American control ever since, and some Puerto Ricans call the island a “colony” due to it not being a state.
5. World War II Is Everywhere
World War II may have been fought in Europe and Asia, but it left its mark on Puerto Rico. The American military was worried that the island would be invaded, so the government spent millions of dollars fortifying it.
It added modifications to historic forts so they were usable again. It also built bases and bunkers throughout the archipelago, including on Culebra.
When the war was over, the military left its equipment behind. You can find military tanks on Flamenco Beach on Culebra, and you can explore abandoned bunkers on Vieques.
6. El Yunque Is the Forest Service’s Only Tropical Rainforest
Read any list of interesting facts about Puerto Rico, and you’ll read about El Yunque. It is the only tropical rainforest in America’s natural forest system. It’s 29,000 acres, making it one of the smallest forests in the United States.
Yet it is brimming with natural wonders and exotic wildlife. You can climb up mountains that are more than 3,000 feet tall, and you can watch parrots and frogs frolic.
7. You Can Walk Along 300 Miles of Beaches
Like any Caribbean paradise, Puerto Rico is most popular for its beaches. On the main island, Luquillo Beach is extremely popular. You can walk along white sand for miles and lounge underneath coconut palms.
If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, you should get away from the main island. Flamenco Beach on Culebra Island contains coral reefs that are perfect spots for snorkeling and diving. Vieques offers Sun Bay Beach, which has crystal blue water that is nice for swimming.
8. You Can Also Visit Bioluminescent Bays
Sun Bay Beach has another surprise for you. It contains Mosquito Bay, which is home to plankton that produce bioluminescent light at night. If you visit under the right conditions, you can see the water glowing blue after sundown.
You can also visit Fajardo Bioluminescent Bay on the mainland and La Parguera on Lajas, one of the outlying islands. You can swim and go boating in the water, but you should not pollute the water with chemicals or trash.
9. Puerto Rico Has America’s Largest Cave Network
The Cavernas del Río Camuy contains more than 200 caves that stretch over 250 miles. Only a small portion of the caves have mapped trails, but you can visit whenever you want. You can also go off the beaten path and go exploring, though you should go in a group so you avoid accidents.
10. The Birth of the New World Is America’s Tallest Statue
The Birth of the New World is a depiction of Christopher Columbus at the helm of his ship. The statue is made of bronze and it is 360 feet tall, making it more than 200 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty.
You can visit the statue in Arecibo. You can’t approach the statue, but the government of Arecibo is planning to open a park around it soon.
Plaza Las Américas stretches across 1.9 million square feet of space, and it contains more than 300 stores. You can find nearly all major retailers, including JCPenney, Macy’s, and Best Buy. If you want authentic Puerto Rican souvenirs, you can buy antiques, artworks, and license plates from stores throughout the mall.
12. La Fortaleza Is America’s Oldest Executive Mansion
In 1529, Governor of Puerto Rico Antonio de la Gama started writing letters to the Spanish emperor. The citizens of San Juan were feeling unsafe, and they needed fortifications to live in.
The emperor responded by financing the construction of a mansion in San Juan called La Fortaleza. Construction ended in 1540, yet the emperor had forgotten to give the soldiers at the mansion guns. Rather than let the building go to waste, the governor moved into the fortress in 1544 and made it his own residence.
La Fortaleza has been in continuous use as the governor’s residence ever since. It is open to the public, and you can take a 30-minute tour of the grounds and gardens.
13. Old San Juan Is Different Than San Juan
Articles with fun facts about Puerto Rico like to discuss San Juan. They usually mention that San Juan was established in the 1520s, and that’s true.
However, not all of modern-day San Juan was inhabited. Old San Juan is a district of the city that contains the oldest buildings, including La Fortaleza. You can spend a day touring the district, visiting different shops and walking through castles.
14. San Juan Isn’t the Only Cultural Hub in Puerto Rico
San Juan is the capital, but it is far from the only urban center in Puerto Rico. Ponce is home to roughly 140,000 people. Many festivals take place in the city throughout the year, including the National Genip Festival in August.
More than 120,000 people live in Caguas. The city contains numerous parks and natural areas you can visit, including the Bairoa River Natural Protected Area, which has a riparian forest.
15. Puerto Rican Food Is a Melting Pot
Ask a Puerto Rican resident what the national dish is, and they’ll tell you about arroz con gandules. The dish combines slow-cooked tomatoes, garlic, and onion with rice and pork. You can find numerous variations of the dish, with some chefs adding olives and plantain leaves to it.
Indeed, you can find variations for nearly all Puerto Rican dishes. You can eat pasteles with shellfish, raisins, or garbanzo beans. At kiosks, you can try codfish fritters, mozzarella sticks, and octopus salad.
16. You Can Enjoy Delicious Rum
The rum industry in Puerto Rico is valued at roughly $51 million. You can find microdistilleries in any major city, and many restaurants have a list of rums you can sample from.
You can also take tours through distilleries, including Bacardi’s distillery in Cataño. Some of the distilleries let you take mixology classes and tastings, though you may need to pay fees.
17. But Don’t Miss Out on the Coffee
Puerto Rican coffee may be the most underrated part of Puerto Rican cuisine. Coffee plantations are located throughout the main island, and you can visit cafes for breakfast or an afternoon coffee break.
Many residents like to drink espresso, which can be a little bitter and overpowering. If you want to cut down on the bitter flavor, you can order a cortadito, which combines espresso with steamed milk.
18. The Climate Is Incredible Year-Round
The weather in Puerto Rico is nice throughout the year. Average temperatures remain in the 80s for all 12 months, though temperatures can dip during the fall and winter.
Puerto Rico does have a wet season between May and November, with August seeing an average of 7.7 inches of rain. This season corresponds with the hurricane season, and you may encounter tropical storms if you visit the island during the summer.
19. Christmas Isn’t Just for December 25
Another reason to visit in the fall and winter is Christmas. Cities start to hang up their Christmas decorations in late October, and the festivities officially begin after Thanksgiving. You can go to church ceremonies, watch parades, and cook elaborate meals with your loved ones.
The festivities don’t end on Christmas Day. They continue until the San Sebastián Street Festival in late January. The occasion is an elaborate street festival in San Juan, and you can enjoy live music and watch dancers perform.
20. Islanders Use the Imperial and Metric Systems
One of the most common mistakes amongst first-time travelers is mixing up the imperial and metric systems. Road signs describe distances using kilometers, and gas is sold in liters. However, speed is measured with miles per hour, and drawings will list measurements with feet and inches.
Make sure you know the basics of the metric system before you head out. You may want to download a conversion app on your phone so you can do quick calculations. Hey, that’s pretty similar to Canada, check out these 72 Funny And Interesting Facts About Canada
21. Islanders Speak Spanish and English
Puerto Rico has two official languages, Spanish and English. Puerto Ricans often greet each other in Spanish, and they may have quick conversations in the language. If they go more in-depth, they may transition to English.
You should be familiar with basic Spanish phrases so you can greet natives and follow travel safety tips. But feel free to use English if you find pronunciation rules in Spanish difficult.
Interesting facts about Puerto Rico
These Facts about Puerto Rico might have surprised you. It has a long history of colonization, and it remains an American commonwealth, not a state. But Puerto Rican culture is extremely vibrant. The islands have numerous natural wonders, including pristine beaches and bioluminescent bays. You can also sample a rich cuisine and drink delicious rums and coffees.
Try visiting the islands during the Christmas season. Make sure you know the metric system and Spanish before your trip. Okay, maybe you don’t need to know the metric system, but it’s fun to try! Join the rest of the world and use km instead of miles.
Anyone can enjoy Puerto Rico, once they have the facts. The Planet D provides informative travel guides. Read our guide to Puerto Rico.
Read more fun travels from around the Caribbean and Puerto Rico