I’m so excited to share a piece of me with you by way of this fun, knowledgable travel guide to my home land! In this guide, you’ll learn about the history and culture of Puerto Rico, get a taste of the best places to eat, and get my personal recommendations on the sights to see and things to do. You may even even pick up a few helpful Spanish phrases to use during your visit! Let’s Go!
Note: I am not affiliated with or receiving any form of compensation from any of the businesses mentioned. I just want you all to go have a great time exploring where I’m from♥️
Puerto Rico is a small island in the Caribbean, just over 1,000 miles southeast of Miami, FL. At only 35 miles x 100 miles in dimension, this island is small but bursting with flavor, culture and a great time! But how did it come to be?
Puerto Rico was once inhabited by the indigenous Taino tribe. The Tainos are native to the Caribbean and flourished in nearby islands like Haiti and the Dominican Republic. An organized people, the Taino were skilled in agriculture, fishing and hunting. They had an organized, hierarchical, paternal society comprised of chiefs and sub-chiefs. Tainos practiced a polytheistic religion, worshipping various gods and goddesses called Zemi. The Zemi controlled functions of the universe, similar to the roles of gods and goddesses in Greek mythology or Haitian Voodoo Iwa.
In November 1493, Christopher Columbus “discovered” (read: got lucky and stumbled upon) the island of Boriken – modern day Puerto Rico – just over one year after invading America. Columbus recounted a very welcoming, happy people on the island; sharing what they had and taking good care of the foreigners. He re-named the island San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist), which is where it’s capitol city gets its name. As time went on, the Tainos lost territory and power to the Spanish.
In the early 1500s, the Spanish Crown authorized importing of African slaves to the island. As a result of sexual abuse suffered by African slaves and Native Taino women, the island’s population shifted; modern-day Puerto Rican’s are a rich blend of three vibrant cultures: Native Taino, African and Spanish. This is where our language, music, food, traditions, dancing and lively culture come from! There’s a lot to guide you through, so let’s get started!
Traveling to Puerto Rico is fairly simple; there are direct flights from dozens of U.S. cities, you don’t need a passport, and flights are fairly inexpensive when timed right!
So, you’re flights are booked and you wanna know where to stay. The most convenient of stays will be located in San Juan/Carolina, in close proximity to the airport and the touristy downtown area. I can personally recommend the San Juan Hotel – it has a private beach, multiple pools/hot tubs, great restaurants and fun activities/events. It even has its own night club! On the east coast not far from my hometown you’ll find the El Conquistador hotel and it is magnificent! Fun fact: my mom worked at the casino there in college as a Blackjack dealer. Any hotels in the San Juan resort area are worth exploring, but my preferred way to stay (besides with family) are AirBnB’s with scenic views.
There are a few of these small oasis stays around the island with gorgeous mountain views. Here are a few I’ve come across on Instagram that are on my list to check out:
Rancho Esto es Vida – Villalba, PR / @RanchoEstoEsVida
Rancho La Terapia – Villalba, PR / @RanchoLaTerapia
Rancho del Gigante – Adjuntas, PR / @RanchoDelGigante
Rancho Esto es Vida El Lago – Villalba, PR / @RanchoEstoEsVidaElLago
Caonillas Luxury Villas – Utuado,PR / @CaonillasLuxuryVillas
Bohemian Boutique Suites – Rincon, PR / @BohemianSuitesPR
Chalet Del Campo – Las Marias, PR / @ChaletDelCampo
Olive Boutique Hotel – San Juan, PR / @TheOliveExperience
IG Page dedicated to unique, beautiful vacay rentals in PR: @JoinAJoin
There is sooooo much to see and do in Puerto Rico! I highly suggest renting a vehicle during your stay; it’s safer and more reliable than using Uber/Lyft. Once you’ve got your transportation down, you’re ready to head off on all your adventures!
Did you know that Puerto Rico is actually made up of several islands? 143 to be exact! The main island is accompanied by two smaller ones, Culebra and Vieques, off the east coast. These are the only three inhabited islands. They are beautiful and worth the couple-hours trip via ferry out of Fajardo. That being said, there’s so much to see and do!
Survival Beach – Aguadilla, PR (West Coast)
Crashboat Beach – Aguadilla, PR (West Coast)
Flamenco Beach – Culebra, PR (East Coast by Ferry from Fajardo)
Isla Verde Beach – Carolina, PR (East, near San Juan)
Gilligan’s Island – Guanica, PR (Southwest part of the island)
Noteworthy Towns to Explore
Old San Juan, of course! (North)
Guavate – The town I said knows a thing about pork roasts! (Southeast)
Ponce – Art museum, beautiful plaza, historic firehouse. (South)
Luquillo – Surfers at “La Pared”, gorgeous beaches, Los Kioskos restaurant/bar strip for hopping (pictured). Also… my hometown! (East coast)
Isabela – Beach town with an eventful plaza and stunning beaches. Also, The Wine Boutique (this one’s a shameless plug, it’s a wine bar that belongs to my aunt and her wife😇).
El Yunque – The only rainforest on the U.S. Rio Grande, PR. (East)
Cueva Ventana – translates to “window cave” in Arecibo, PR. (Northwest)
Cavernas del Rio Camuy – one of the largest underground cave systems in the world! Camuy, PR. (Northwest)
Bioluminescent bays – kayak through glowing water! Fajardo, PR (East)
Las Salinas – ‘Grammable pink salt flats in Cabo Rojo, PR. (Southwest)
Zip line at Toro Verde – they have a mile long track! Orocovis, PR. (Central)
ATV, Zip line & Horseback tours at Campo Rico. Carolina, PR. (North)
Jet-skiing or boat rentals – All around the island!
Scuba diving and snorkeling – All around the island!
The Bacardi Factory – Take a tour, have a taste, make some rum! Catano, PR (North)
Bomba y plena – catch a performance or take a lesson of this traditional music and dance stemming from our African ancestry. Loiza or San Juan, PR.
Salsa lessons in San Juan – Maybe you’ll come across a free lesson in the park! If not, there are plenty of options to choose from if you do a quick search!
El Morro & Castillo de San Cristobal – castle-forts from the Spanish settlement. San Juan, PR.
Museo de las Americas – museum dedicated to the indigenous tribes of the Americas as a whole and Puerto Rico. San Juan, PR.
La Factoria – A popular bar in San Juan with creative cocktails and a DJ.
El Batey – If divebar is your style, this is for you! Graffiti smattered walls and laid back vibes. San Juan, PR.
La Placita de Santurce – This daytime market turns into an outdoor dance party at night! Santurce, PR.
Nuyorican Cafe – Live music to dance to all night long! San Juan, PR.
Traditional Puerto Rican foods are inspired by the flavors of the Caribbean, fertility of the lands, and cooking methods of the indigenous Taino people. Ever had knock-your-socks-off Barbecue? You can thank the Tainos for that! They originated the barbacoa meat preparation method that is modern-day barbecue! So, what can you expect to see on the menu at every restaurant?
Plantain…. and lots of it! Platano is prepared a variety of ways on the island. Some of the most popular preparations are tostones – left green, sliced and twice-fried; mofongo – fried and mashed, accompanied by a garlic sauce and meat or seafood; arañitas – shredded and fried in small clumps that resemble spiders; maduros – ripened and fried (Maduros are soft and sweet – much different than savory, crispy tostones!)
Arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) is a savory rice dish cooked with spices and seasonings that make the rice yellow. Pigeon peas are also mixed in. We eat some form of rice at almost every meal – even with spaghetti! This particular rice dish is usually brought out for holidays and special occasions, but if you get lucky you’ll find a spot serving it up on a plain ole Tuesday!
Pernil, or slow roasted pork. Pernil is deliciously tender, flavorful and as traditional as it gets. Another holiday favorite, this dish usually comes about from a whole-pig roast. This dish is so engrained in Puerto Rican culture, there’s a whole town known for and dedicated to doing it the right way! (More on that later).
Pasteles! These area made of a seasoned plantain and taro root “dough “, filled with… you guessed it… meat! They are wrapped in plantain leaves and boiled. I didn’t like these growing up, but now I can’t get enough! I’m going to attempt to make them over the holidays this year. Don’t worry, I’ll share the recipe AND results!
These are just some of the staples you’re sure to find around the island, but there are so many other foods you’ll come across to try! We have lots of stands serving snacks and apps (mostly frituras aka fried foods) like Pastelillos (some people…who are incorrect😜 call them empanadas!), sorullitos, bacalaito, rellenos de papa, arepas, alcapurrias, tostones and more served up with a side of mayoketchup sauce – (it’s just ketchup, mayo and a little garlic mixed together).
And we can’t forget the desserts! Some of the popular island sweets include flan – of course – tembleque, biscocho mojadito, arroz con dulce, tres leches, limber, piragua, mantecaditos cookies, budin de pan, and although not technically traditional, one of my favs is Gaby Mini Donuts. You get them at the food stand outside almost any Walmart on the island!
- The national drink of Puerto Rico is the Pina Colada… it was invented here in 1954! (My fav cocktail).
- The national flower is the Flor de Maga, which resembles a hibiscus.
- The national animal is the Coqui, a tiny tree frog known for its two-toned whistle. You’ll hear them every night!
- Those born in Puerto Rico are United States citizens, as it is a U.S. territory – that’s why you don’t need a passport to visit!
- Residents of Puerto Rico, though it is a territory, cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections.
- The legal drinking age is 18.
- Carnaval has been celebrated in Ponce each Spring for over 250 years!
- The Taino language can be heard in modern-day English; guava, iguana and potato, for example.
This post encompasses just a little chunk of what Puerto Rico has to offer. There is soooo much more to see, learn, do and explore but I hope this serves as a framework and a good starting point for you! If you made it here, thank you so much for taking interest in my home and coming along to learn a little bit through this post! I hope to continue sharing more about my culture and who I am here in the future. Please let me know if there is anything in particular you want to see! In the meantime, please take a minute to look at some aid resources below; Puerto Rico is miles ahead from where we were a few years ago facing back-to-back hurricanes and earthquakes… but there is still a ways to go and people who need help! Thank you♥️