Known for its beautiful beaches and year-round sunshine, Puerto Rico is unquestionably a sun-seekers’ paradise. In addition to lush landscapes, rich history, and diverse culture, this island also has many hidden treasures. Here are ten intriguing facts about Puerto Rico, making the island all the more tempting to visit.
1. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old San Juan is celebrating 500 years
Puerto Rico's colourful capital, San Juan is the second oldest European-founded city in the Americas, with 2021 marking 500 years since Old San Juan was founded by Spanish settlers. Today, San Juan seamlessly marries the old with the new. The commanding colonial fortresses of El Morro and San Cristóbal (part of the San Juan National Historic Site) are two of the largest fortifications built by the Spaniards during the 16th century and sit harmoniously alongside vibrant cafes, contemporary galleries and boutiques. This year, the city also welcomed Distrito T-Mobile. This state-of-the-art entertainment space offers everything from a 24-hour nightclub, urban zip-line and Coca-Cola Music Hall, to a micro-distillery and multiple dining and drinking options.
2. The brightest bioluminescent bay in the world
Puerto Rico is home to three of the world's five bioluminescent bays: Fajardo Bioluminescent Bay, La Parguera, and Mosquito Bay. These rare ecosystems occur when the concentration of thousands of plankton is high enough to produce a "glow in the dark" phenomenon. For a simply glowing experience, head to the world's brightest bay, Mosquito Bay in Vieques, where you can enjoy this surreal experience at night in a clear bottomed kayak!
3. Home to the only Tropical Rainforest in the US Forest System, El Yunque National Forest
Located on the east side of Puerto Rico, El Yunque National Rainforest is the only tropical rainforest in the US forest system, spanning 28,000 acres. It boasts a diverse ecosystem, packed with 240 species of lush foliage, bountiful valleys, rivers, and waterfalls. There are various hiking trails to explore the rainforest, and if you’re lucky, encounter an iconic island animal such as the endangered Puerto Rican parrot or the Coquí frog. Visitors can also experience the rainforest from the treetops, soaring high amongst the green canopies on the forest’s zipline.
4. A Caribbean Coastline of 270 miles with 300 beaches
With a Caribbean coastline of 270 miles, Puerto Rico has a selection of nearly 300 beaches. Highlights include the palm-fringed shores of Flamenco Beach (heralded as The Discovery Channel’s second most beautiful beach in the world), the dramatic and rare, black magnetic sands of Black Sand Beach in Vieques, the year-round surfers’ paradise of Domes Beach, and the picture-perfect natural cove of Mar Chiquita, a favourite amongst Instagrammers!
5. The largest cave network in the Western Hemisphere
Puerto Rico is home to the largest cave network in the western hemisphere - the vast network of 220 underground caves stretches over 268 acres, with a further 800 caves yet to be explored. Spelunkers (the official name for cave lovers) can enjoy over 10 miles of mapped trails across the island, discovering treasures along the way, including pre-Columbian petroglyphs and stone engravings at Cueva Ventana.
6. Home to one of the world’s most extensive Tropical Dry Coastal Forest
The Bosque Seco de Guánica, a United Nations International Biosphere Reserve, is one of the most extensive tropical dry coastal forests in the world and is a naturalist’s paradise. It is home to hundreds of endangered animals, plants and marine life, including over 600 species of flora and fauna, 48 endangered animal species and an impressive 130 types of birds such as the Guabairo, Palometa and the Brown Pelican. Barely touched by rainfall all year, the 9,000 acres feature 12 trails for explorers to discover.
7. Uninhabited islands and its own “Galapagos Island”
While often referred to as a single island, Puerto Rico is an archipelago. Its main three islands are Puerto Rico, Culebra and Vieques, which are the only inhabited islands. In addition, there are dozens of beautiful uninhabited islands and cays that are perfect for a relaxing day trip. Unspoilt by humans, they make what is considered to be Puerto Rico’s own Galapagos Islands.
8. The world’s largest rum producers and birthplace of the Piña Colada
The cocktail capital of the Caribbean and rum capital of the world, Puerto Rico is the birthplace of the Piña Colada and is the largest producer of rum globally. Home to Casa Bacardi’s largest rum distillery, Puerto Rico produces more than 100,000 litres of rum every 24 hours, contributing nearly 85% of Bacardi’s total rum production. Impressively, 86% of all rum sold in the USA also comes from the island. With this history, it’s no surprise that the rum-based cocktail, the Piña Colada, originates here, although the identity of its inventor is uncertain with contesting stories dating back to the 1960s.
9. One of the most diverse cultures in the Caribbean
Puerto Rico offers a vibrant blend of cultural diversity, evidenced in much of the island’s art, music and gastronomy. This is fuelled by an exciting fusion of African, Spanish and Taino Indian cultures. Traditional skills have been perfected over generations for travellers to see, taste and learn. For example, the bomba is an Afro-Puerto Rican style of traditional music and dance with the musicians taking cues from the dancers rather than the other way around.
10. The longest holiday season in the world
Puerto Rico takes pride in having the longest holiday season in the world with multifarious festivals and traditions during the winter months. For the ultimate winter festivities, travellers can take advantage of la Navidad, which lasts 45 days, starting in November and extending through mid-January, as well as Three Kings Day in early January and finally Octavitas, where the festivities culminate in Puerto Rico’s most vibrant and colourful festival, Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian in Old San Juan.