In recent referendums, the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico – about 1,000 miles southeast of Miami – voted to become the 51st state of the United States. And it could have become a reality if reluctant US senators had not blocked it.
With more than 300 miles of coastline and 300 days of sunshine a year, Puerto Rico is the American equivalent of our own Costa del Sol, with no less than 120 weekly flights on 20 airlines to its capital, San Juan.
It is the third largest island in the Caribbean, behind Cuba and Jamaica. The country, about half the size of Wales, comprises the main island of Puerto Rico along with a group of smaller islets that offer some of the best beaches in the world. Dollars are also the local currency, while Americans do not have to show passports, further increasing their appeal in the United States.
With so many connections, it’s easier than ever to visit – JetBlue sells return flights from Heathrow via New York from £550, for example.
A HISTORY IN A POT
In recent referendums, the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, about 1,000 miles southeast of Miami, voted to become the 51st state of the United States.
Puerto Rico (meaning “rich port”), originally home to the indigenous Taíno people, was ruled by the Spanish for 400 years after the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1493. The country was acquired by the Americans after the Spanish-American War of 1898. , and Puerto Ricans have been classified as US citizens for about 100 years.
Each set of rulers has left their mark on Puerto Rico. Ancient Taíno rock carvings can be found in La Cueva del Indio in Arecibo. Then you have the UNESCO-listed fortifications of the 16th-century Castillo San Cristóbal in Old San Juan. The legacy of American culture is the usual fast food chains and hotels/motels everywhere.
PINA COLADA, PLEASE
The piña colada is the official drink of Puerto Rico
Although disputed, this classic cocktail was supposedly invented by bartender Ramón Marrero at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan in 1954.
Whatever its history, in 1978 the piña colada was declared the official drink of Puerto Rico and is available almost everywhere.
Often ranked among the best beaches in the world, Playa Flamenco on Culebra Island is best enjoyed on a day trip by boat (browseescapada.com).
Along with its pristine white sand and calm, shallow waters, it is notable for two rusting tanks that date back to when the US Navy used the island for target practice between 1936 and 1975.
LESS TRAVELED SANDS
La Playuela is a quiet crescent-shaped beach in the southwest.
It’s wild, untouched, and requires a dirt road or hike to get to.
Upon arrival you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the limestone cliffs, with the 19th century Cabo Rojo Lighthouse standing sentinel on one of them.
Often ranked among the best beaches in the world, Playa Flamenco (pictured) on Culebra Island is best enjoyed on a day trip by boat, writes James
STREET ART AND SALSA
With a heritage that encompasses Taíno, Spanish, African and American traditions, Puerto Ricans call themselves Boricua, the word that encompasses the art, music, dance and culture of the island.
Art can be seen everywhere, from the Puerto Rico Museum of Art (mapr.org) to graffiti murals in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan. As for music, the islanders are responsible for salsa and, like it or loathe it, reggaetón, a lively mix of reggae, Latin American tunes and hip-hop.
Puerto Ricans call themselves Boricua, the word that encompasses the art, music, dance and culture of the island.
LIGHT UP THE NIGHT
Three of the five bioluminescent bays in the world are located in Puerto Rico. In the phenomenon, millions of microscopic marine organisms emit a fascinating blue-green light. Join one of the night kayak tours to see them in Laguna Grande, Mosquito Bay or La Parguera.
THE PARADISE OF THE THRILL SEEKERS
The Toro Verde Adventure Park, in the Central Mountain Range, is home to an adrenaline-filled zip line known as El Monstruo. Fly for a mile and a half over the peaks of Orocovis while reaching speeds of 150 km/h (toroverdepr.com).
ADVENTURES IN THE TROPICAL JUNGLE
El Yunque has excellent hiking trails where, along the way, you’ll spot giant tree snails, Puerto Rican parrots, and small coquí frogs (which make a sound similar to a bird’s song). Stop for a refreshing dip in natural pools and showers under waterfalls (fs.usda.gov/elyunque).
WHERE TO STAY
Enjoy a stay at St Regis Bahia Resort (pictured), where top-of-the-range double rooms cost from £750
Top-of-the-range double rooms cost from £750 at St Regis Bahia Beach Resort and Golf Club, set on 483 acres on a former coconut farm with two miles of pristine beach (marriott.com). Or try the Hotel Condado Vanderbilt in San Juan, which has rooms from £390 and is located by the sea (countyvanderbilt.com).
And Villa Montana Beach Resort, tucked away on 35 lush acres next to three miles of beach in the northwest, has double rooms from £196 (villamontana.com).