Colourful balconied cafe in La Parguera, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico - Island of Enchantment in a Nutshell

Author: Sue
Date: 10th August 2023

A Brief History of Puerto Rica

  • Puerto Rico (Spanish for 'Rich Port') is not just one island, but a Caribbean archipelago, officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
  • The islands, strategically situated on the trade winds route, were colonised by Spain as early as 1493, on Columbus’ second voyage. They were used as a vital harbour facility, to establish their New World Empire.
  • Columbus named the island San Juan Bautista after St. John the Baptist. Because of the amount of gold and other riches being exported, the Spanish named the first city on the island (later abandoned), Ciudad de Puerto Rico, (Rich Port City). Eventually, the shortened name was applied to the whole island. (It seems that gold was everywhere.)
  • Puerto Rico was the general headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition in the Americas
  •  Spanish rule led to the displacement and assimilation of the native population, the forced migration of African slaves, and settlement, primarily from the Canary Islands and Andalusia. The result is a very distinct Puerto Rican identity, a fusion of indigenous, African, and European elements lurking underneath American infrastructure.
  • Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, designated a commonwealth, 'acquired' in 1898, following the Spanish-American War. Before the war, the US offered to purchase Puerto Rico and Cuba for a sum of $160 million, but were turned down.
  • Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917, and can move freely between the island and the mainland. However, they don't get a federal vote,or pay federal taxes. There is ongoing debate about this situation.

The Language Barrier

Spanish and English are the official languages in Puerto Rico. Wikipedia says that Spanish still predominates. A slight understatement. Many folk don’t speak English at all. I can get by with my rusty Spanish in the supermarket ‘donde este…’ but trying to track down a covid test is much trickier. Everything on the internet is in Spanish. Thank God for Google Translate

Facts and Factoids

  • Just 111 miles long and 36 miles wide, Puerto Rico has a population of 3.9 million people, making it one of the most densely populated places in the world.
  • The Puerto Ricans are called “Boricuas”, after the original settlers, which is sometimes rendered as “Borincanos” or “Borinqueños” and by extension into English as “Borinqueneers
  • The US dollar is the currency used in Puerto Rico, but locals call it a “peso” or “dolar.”
  • Puerto Rico competes as an “independent nation” in the Olympics and Miss Universe, as well as in many other international events.(Puerto Rico has won the Miss Universe title five times!)
  • The island has the largest cave network in the Western Hemisphere

Food in Puerto Rico

Food in Puerto Rico has its own identity too. Mofongo, fried pickled plantain is the unofficial national dish, and the official one is arroz con gandules (rice and pigeon peas). Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of seafood. Snapper. Delicious prawns in coconut sauce or garlic sauce and a marinaded pork chop called a Kan Kan, which is a huge semi circular slice - a meat mohawk. Most of it is served in the open air, because of Covid and the weather. Which means I have to battle the flies and the beady eyed great tailed grackles (great name for these very common birds) looking for their share. And of course - empanadas - the Spanish version of the Cornish pasty.

What to See in Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico's (self imposed) nickname is Island of Enchantment, in deference to the gorgeous scenery. There's plenty to entertain and fabulous mountains, forests and 270 miles of beaches to enjoy. Puerto Rico has three bioluminescent bays - Mosquito is recognised as the brightest in the world. I went to:

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