Basic Facts and Falsehoods About the Resilient Islands of Puerto Rico
It seems that Puerto Rico is often in the news after experiencing natural disasters and other events, giving people the (false) impression that the islands are unsafe and always suffering. Others hear rumors and wonder about where Puerto Rico fits in the global picture. Is it an independent country or a part of the United States? What is it really like?
We've reviewed these questions (and others) to get to the bottom of the confusion. Come along and take a deeper look at the beautiful, resilient Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico Is Part of America — Sort Of
One of the first questions people have about Puerto Rico is whether or not the islands are a part of America or not. Politically speaking, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (its official name) is an unincorporated territory of the United States.
Puerto Rico Is Not a Country
If you’re counting up the countries you’ve visited, Puerto Rico may be on the list. But in actuality, the islands aren’t a separate country. They’re a territory of the United States and don’t have the same sovereignty that a separate nation has.
Puerto Rico Isn’t Just One Single Island
A lot of folks think that Puerto Rico is a single island somewhere vaguely off the coast of mainland America. But, Puerto Rico is a chain of islands with a single main island — the one most of us are familiar with. This main island is 110 miles long and 35 miles wide.
Its Geography Makes It Susceptible to Storms
Puerto Rico is an archipelago, meaning it’s a group of islands. They’re in the Caribbean Sea and a part of the Greater Antilles, which is another group of larger islands in the Caribbean. The location has made this smaller chain of islands important for centuries.
San Juan Is the Capital City
Another common question that folks have regarding this beautiful group of islands has to do with the capital. Originally, the capital city San Juan was actually called the City of Puerto Rico and is the oldest city under United States jurisdiction. This city was founded in 1521.
Americans Can Enter Easily
Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, American citizens don’t need visas to visit the islands from the mainland. Your American passport is sufficient for entry. But if you’re not an American citizen, you’ll have to go through the same process to enter the islands as you would mainland America.
The Predominant Language Is Spanish
Because Puerto Rico is a part of America, the official language is English, but in reality, this is only on paper. The indomitable spirit of Puerto Ricans has kept the American government from establishing English as the primary language on the islands, despite various attempts.
Puerto Rico Is Also Part of the Caribbean Islands
All those islands down south of mainland U.S. can be a little confusing. Is Cuba part of the Caribbean? How about the Dominican Republic? What about Puerto Rico? The answer is yes, Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island. This tropical island chain is one of the beautifully temperate islands that stays around 79 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.
Puerto Rico Was Originally Named San Juan Bautista
This chain of islands was "discovered" by Christopher Columbus in his second infamous journey in 1493. When he first came upon the islands, he named them for the Biblical character John the Baptist, calling the main island San Juan Bautista.
It’s One of the Most Densely Populated Islands
The main island of Puerto Rico is one of the most densely populated islands in the world. That means there are more people per square mile on the main island than there are in most other islands in the world. The island's about the size of Connecticut, though, which is the third-smallest U.S. state.
There Are More Than 270 Miles of Beaches
The incredible islands that make up Puerto Rico have a huge number of beaches skirting the coasts. In fact, at last count, there are at least 270 miles of beach around the islands. Visitors and locals alike flock to these white sand beaches to sunbathe, snorkel, swim and enjoy a wide range of other water sports.
The Main Island Was Once an American Naval Base
In former days, about two-thirds of the main island of Puerto Rico was a United States naval base. This lasted for nearly 60 years, with much of the land being used as a testing ground for the military. Many training events took place on the land, as did bomb testing.
Spanish Explorer Ponce de Leon Was Puerto Rico’s First Governor
One of the most famous — or is that infamous? — conquistadors from Spain, Ponce de Leon, was the first appointed governor of Puerto Rico. This is the same explorer and conqueror who named the U.S. state of Florida "la florida" for the beautiful flowers found there (translation: flowery land).
It Has an Extremely Rainy Climate
Puerto Rico has a very rainy climate. There’s a rainy season during which it rains more heavily, but even in the dry season, rain still falls from the sky. That means that, yes, it rains pretty much every day on these islands.
The Area Is Quite Seismically Active
Puerto Rico not only has to deal with tons of hurricanes on a consistent basis, but the whole region is also extremely seismically active. There’s an average of five earthquakes with a magnitude of more than 1.5 every single day.
The Wildlife Is Quite Diverse
The wildlife reserves and parks offer an unusual landscape for a diverse group of animals and plants. In the Guanica Reserve, there are over 700 species of plants alone, with 48 endangered plants that are native to the area. There are over 185 species of birds on the island as well, 16 of which are native to Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico Isn’t Just Rainforests and Beaches
When you scan photos on Instagram and Facebook, you’ll mostly see images of the amazing beaches and rainforests of the islands. But Puerto Rico has a wider range of terrain than that. In fact, one portion of the main island is almost desert-like.
El Yunque National Forest Is the Only U.S. Protected Rainforest
Because Puerto Rico is a part of the United States, El Yunque National Rainforest falls under the jurisdiction of the Forest Systems of the U.S. This is the only national rainforest that’s protected by the U.S. And, though this rainforest is one of the smallest protected regions, it’s one of the most diverse.
The First Known People of Puerto Rico Were the Taino Tribe
Because many of the residents currently living in Puerto Rico are of Latin descent, many think these folks are the indigenous people of the land. The people of Puerto Rico were actually originally the Taino tribe, who named the island Boriken, which means "land of the brave lord."
The Taino Tribe Was Massacred by Colonizers
The population of the Taino in Puerto Rico is estimated to have been around 40,000 when Columbus first landed on the island in 1493. Within 20 years, the population dropped to 4,000 and to about a quarter of that within another 15 years.
Today’s Puerto Rican Culture Is Blended
Many people think of Puerto Rico as grounded only in its Spanish roots. But the reality is that many cultures have come together to create the wonder that is Puerto Rico, with the original indigenous people — the Taino — contributing much to the history of the land and immigrants adding to that culture.
Puerto Rican Food Is Also a Blend
Puerto Rican cuisine is referred to as "cocina criolla" locally. This food is a blend of many cultures that have filled the islands with people from the world over. Many dishes have prominent Taino influences, along with Spanish and African cooking styles.
Many Musical Instruments Date Back to the Taino People
When you think of the music of these Caribbean islands, you probably think of salsa and the merengue. And while these forms of music are popular in these beautiful islands, the roots of the musical instruments played here trace back to the Taino.
The Art Scene Is Varied and Blended, Too
One of the most rewarding experiences any visitor can have in a new region of the world is visiting art galleries and public art sites. In Puerto Rico, this experience again reveals heavy influence from Taino art, which includes jewelry made from seashells, gold and stones. Taino people also made pottery and baskets.
Puerto Rico Has Some Interesting National Symbols
Even though Puerto Rico isn’t technically a country, Puerto Ricans still have plenty of national pride. Reflecting this pride is a series of national symbols that Puerto Rico has claimed as its own. Those symbols include the national bird, "reina mora," which is also known as the stripe-headed tanager.
The Pharmaceutical Industry Is Prominent in Puerto Rico
It might surprise you to learn that Puerto Rico is 久游棋牌 to one of the largest pharmaceutical complexes in the entire world. The Barceloneta municipality supports 14 different industries this way, but the reason why it’s located here might be even more surprising.
The Main Crops Are Cassava, Coffee, Sugarcane and Tropical Fruits
If you wander the street markets and vendors of Puerto Rico, you’ll find some of the most amazing fresh produce in the world. This, of course, only makes the local cuisine all the more delicious. You’ll also encounter many crops that you’d find in your own grocery stores back in the mainland U.S., too.
Puerto Rico Is 久游棋牌 to a Massive Telescope
Another intriguing thing about Puerto Rico is that a massive single-aperture telescope is located there. The Arecibo Observatory houses the telescope, which has 40,000 aluminum panels. Each panel measures a whopping 3 feet by 6 feet. The radio telescope is operated by the University of Central Florida.
The Islands Are Full of Caves
The rivers that flow through Puerto Rico give way to the amazing cave system on the islands: the Camuy system. The cave system is famous the world over, at least with folks who are into caving and spelunking. The system has more than 10 miles of caverns, 220 caves and 17 entrances.
Puerto Rican Citizenship Is a Fairly Recent Thing
Although Puerto Ricans gained American citizenship in the early part of the 20th century, there was no such thing as Puerto Rican citizenship until recently. The first official citizen of Puerto Rico was Juan Mari Bras, who received the certificate from the Puerto Rico Department of State in 2006.