Puerto Rico is a tropical island full of many pleasures. Its varied landscape encompasses miles of Caribbean coastline, rugged mountains, dense vegetation, rain forests, underground caves, and coral reefs, as well as charming cities and towns. A merging of Spanish, African, and North American cultures over the past five hundred years has influenced the island's diverse mix of art, architecture, cuisine, and enterprise.
The island is about one hundred miles long and thirty-five miles wide. If you're looking for a slice of city life, head to San Juan where you'll find modern high-rise buildings, a major commercial center, fine restaurants, and vibrant nightlife. And don't miss San Juan's beautiful Old City for a glimpse of the past. It is flanked by two historic forts -- El Morro, built to protect the city from an ocean attack, and Fort San Cristobal, which protected it from land invasion. Stroll the cobblestone streets to see marvelous sixteenth- and seventeenth-century buildings. At night take in the sights and sounds of Old San Juan. You can choose from a variety of eateries -- small kioskos (food stands) and upscale cafes serving local fare, as well as familiar chain restaurants. Later duck into one of the lively pubs and bars along popular San Sebastian Street.
Whether you're searching for a serene sandy beach or a place to surf, you'll find it here. Discover the white dunes of Isabela along the northwest coast, the black volcanic sands near Punta Santiago in Maunabo on the southern coast, the calm waters at Luquillo on the northeastern coast, or the surfing waves of Rincon on the westernmost tip of the island. Puerto Rico also has many secluded beaches; check with your travel agent or hotel for recommendations and directions.
After you've had your fill of sun and surf, you can hike the trails of El Yunque tropical forest in eastern Puerto Rico. Each year more than 100 billion gallons of rain falls on the forest, feeding rocky rivers that flow into waterfalls and pools. Take a dip in these waters. If you're lucky, you might encounter some of the forest's many unique plant and animal species, such as the endangered Puerto Rican parrot and the tiny coqui (indigenous tree frog) known for its distinctive song. Named after the Indian sprit Yuquiyu, El Yunque is the only rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System.
Spend a day or stay overnight in Ponce. Located about an hour and a half from San Juan, this port area has nearly 190,000 inhabitants and is Puerto Rico’s second-largest city. Called la perla del su -- the pearl of the south -- Ponce was founded in 1692 by Juan Ponce de Leon's great-grandson, Loiza Ponce de Leon. The town's international flavor is reflected in its architecture. In the main plaza you will find churches, colonial homes, and fountains, as well as the renowned Ponce Museum of Art. In addition to paintings, the museum houses collections of papier-mache masks and carved-wood saints, which reflect Puerto Rico's folk-art traditions.
Coffee has played a major role throughout Puerto Rico's history. Nestled in a sub-tropical rain forest, high up in the mountains above Ponce, is Hacienda Buena Vista, a nineteenth century coffee mill and one of the island's most beautiful old estates. Visit the farm, still a working coffee plantation, for a taste of Puerto Rican rural life in the nineteenth century; visit during harvest season (October and November), and you'll be able to sample some of its delicious coffee.
For more information, contact the Puerto Rico Tourism Company at 800-866-7827 or log on to www.gotopuertorico.com.