Puerto Rico conjures up images of bioluminescent bays, coral reefs, history and adventure, and these are 4 of the most common reasons for visiting the island. With beaches that beg you to chill out, a well-established tourism sector and a history that includes the peaceful Taino people and the likes of Christopher Columbus, it's no surprise that those reasons top the list. But those things only scratch the surface of this fascinating island with a cultural and linguistic heritage quite different from that of any other U.S. territory.
Here we list 10 of Puerto Rico's lesser-known allures:
Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory for over a century. It's our most densely populated territory, and those born there are U.S. citizens. You won't need a passport coming or going!
The Isle of Enchantment is the smallest and easternmost island in the Greater Antilles, which also includes Jamaica, Hispaniola and Cuba. That means summery, balmy 70s and 80s year-round.
Formerly a Spanish colony and devoutly Catholic, Puerto Rico has beautiful historic cathedrals and churches well worth touring. Don't miss the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista or San José Church, the oldest architectural wonder on the island.
Focusing on high-quality specialty coffees, hillside farmers preserve the island's coffee culture, outproducing even Hawaii. If you'd like to tour a plantation, Hacienda Buena Vista in Barrio Magüeyes is a restored 19th century version now serving as a living museum.
Güicharos, requintos, bordonuas, cuatros, triples, tambours and maracas make Puerto Rico's music distinctive. Live classical, folk, bomba, plena and salsa music venues are everywhere. Museo de la Música Puertorriqueña in Ponce pays formal homage to the Taino, African and Spanish influences that started it all.
ArtsImage courtesy of Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña
Native santeros have been carving santos (religious figures) since the 16th century. Equally traditional, mundillos are fabrics of hand-tatted lace unique to Puerto Rico and Spain. Vejigante caretas, the distinctive papier-maché festival masks, are popular souvenirs. For museums, the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture in the Dominican Convent in Old San Juan is a place to start.
Old San Juan
The old historic district's blue cobblestone-ballast pavers will lead you from the Muralla de la Ciudad – the city walls – to treasures like La Fortaleza, also known as Palacio de Santa Catalina; Castillo San Felipe del Morro; Casa Blanca, Juan Ponce de León's family residence; and many more.
Puerto Rico is the Rum Capital of the World. Among natives, the rum of choice is Destilería Serrallés' Don Q. Puerto Rican premiums include Bacardi Añejo and Superior, Captain Morgan Private Stock, Don Q Añejo and Gold, Ron Bocoy Oro, Reserva Añeja, Ron del Barrilito Tres Estrellas and Ron Llave Blanco Supremo, but you'll find plenty more.
Taino, Spanish and African traditions flavor Puerto Rican cuisine. Lechóneras are the undisputed masters of the pig roast, and while pork is a staple here, so are chicken and seafood. "Casseroles" like mofongo, stews like asopao and treats like pasteles (sweet or savory turnovers) bring the best of everything together.
Puerto Rico has more than a dozen waterfalls. The El Yunque National Forest, home to many of them, is also the "only tropical rain forest in the United States National Forest System." Camuy River Cave Park and Arecibo provide access to hundreds of underground caverns. With 272 miles of coastline and at least 300 beaches, this paradise is indeed the Isle of Enchantment.