Glorious beaches with warm sands and azure water, endless sun and the mildest of breezes – but there is more to it than that. And the type of travellers who book flights to Puerto Rico ranges from families and couples to eco-tourists or partygoers.
Its society is a blend of Spanish, African, Indian and US influences that has more in common with other Caribbean countries than the US. Its people are warm, friendly and fiercely proud of their country. The island is rich in natural resources, rain forests, and ancient volcanic mountains. Among its many ancient buildings and monuments are some that date back 500 years to the Conquistadors.
Sports enthusiasts visiting Puerto Rico will relish the outdoor activities including hiking, diving and caving. The golf and tennis courts are among the best in the West Indies and there is also horseback riding, superlative scuba diving, and deep-sea fishing. When the sun goes down, there are many ways to party - gambling, extravagant shows, all-night salsa dancing, or dinner in a quiet local restaurant.
Puerto Rico climate
Puerto Rico has a tropical climate with sunny days almost year-round and average temperatures of 26 degrees. It's humid too, with levels hovering between 74 and 81 per cent. Temperatures along the coast are moderated by the cooling sea breezes; inland, temperatures are in the 22 to 26-degree range. May to October are the rainiest months. The north coast gets double the amount of rain as the south coast, about 61 inches (1,550mm) compared to 36 inches (910mm). January to April are the driest months. Hurricane season runs from June to November and the island is at greatest risk between August and October.
When to fly to Puerto Rico
The busiest season is mid-December to mid-April. Rates are at their highest, and flights to Puerto Rico need to be booked well in advance.
The low season is late between mid-April and November, and hotel rates can drop by 20 to 60 per cent. Keep in mind that during the low season some resorts offer fewer services and hotels do their construction and repair projects in the summer. Throughout the year Puerto Rico has week-long patron saints’ festivals, during which you may need to make reservations. Hurricane season runs between June and November. There is greatest risk of hurricane between August and October.
Getting around Puerto Rico
Travellers to San Juan can get taxis and buses at the airport into town, and some hotels run courtesy vans. Puerto Rico is 100 miles (161km) long by 37 miles (56km) wide with some of the best scenery in the Caribbean. Although best seen by car, be aware that the locals drive erratically and that speeds are posted in miles and distances in kilometres. To see the island’s interior, and get a few thrills, take La Ruta Panoramica along the mountains. The panorama is dazzling but be prepared for passages with precipitous drops on both sides of the road and sections without dividers.
In a major city or resort you may not need a car. Sightseeing on foot is often fun and you can take a publico. Publicos are minivans that service most towns on the island. They don’t have set schedules, but you can flag one down. Publicos are identified by “P” or “PD” on the licence plate.
Taxis are available in San Juan and major tourist areas. Tour buses and ferries are another option for getting around, as is chartering a boat or plane. There are also several airlines that fly to small airports in Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands.
Puerto Rico insider information
- An urban city on the north coast, San Juan is the arrival point for most visitors. The main attraction is Old San Juan. Once enclosed by walls to ward off invaders, it is a trove of Spanish architecture and steep, cobblestone streets.
- East and west of San Juan are beautiful beaches, some with every amenity imaginable and others that seem to go on forever. Nearby El Yunque is a 28,000-acre rainforest with coqui frogs, miniature orchids, endangered Puerto Rican green parrots, and hiking trails.
- For something completely different, Rio Camuy Cave Park is a karst region with one of the world’s largest subterranean rivers. There are more than 200 caves and tours for tourists and advanced spelunkers.
- The centre of Ponce dates from the late 17th century and has plazas, churches, colonial homes, fountains, an ancient cathedral, and charming town square. On the south coast, Ponce shows a less urban side of Puerto Rico and the beaches are less crowded.
- Western Puerto Rico, particularly the southwest, is where Puerto Ricans go for holidays. The terrain is varied, some places are desert-like and others lush forest. Many of the best beaches are in the southwest, include those on Gilligan’s Island and the Cabo Rojo peninsula.
- San German, Puerto Rico’s second-oldest city, is in the National Register of Historic Places for its architecture. The main attraction is the oldest church in the New World, built in 1606. The city is also known for its santeros who carve wooden figures of saints.
- The Guánica Dry Forest Reserve is a subtropical dry forest with unusual plants and animals and endangered species. The bird watching here is excellent.
- La Parguera has swamps, channels, canals, and a bioluminescent bay (la Bahía Fosforescente) and some of the best diving on the island.