With more than 500 annual festivals on the calender, Puerto Rico and its residents know how to have a good time. By day, visitors explore the Spanish settlement of San Juan or hike El Yunque, the only tropical forest in the US, and by night, the beats of bomba y plana spill out into the streets. If that’s not enough, Puerto Rico’s sun-kissed beaches and stunning offshore islands practically sit on the doorstep of the US.
As Spain’s New World trading outpost from the early 16th century, San Juan was attacked continually by the English and Dutch until 1898, when the Spanish ceded the island to the USA after the Spanish-American War. Tourism here got popular sometime after 1950, when mavericks like Laurance S. Rockefeller developed resorts that attracted the “who’s who” of the age.
[quote_right author=””]When it comes to tourism, San Juan is truly Puerto Rico. From the historic quarter, the resort region is strung out along the Atlantic beaches (Condado to Isla Verde) all the way to the east coast.[/quote_right]
To do some encouraged exploring, rent a car or hire a guide (taxi drivers often welcome commissions as guides). Travelers can stay in the metro area and make day trips to the island’s most important sites, including El Yunque National Forest, the dive sites off Fajardo on the east coast, and west to cave country. A modern, busy and recently expanded highway links nearly the entire northern Atlantic coast.
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There are a few compelling reasons to book resorts further away from the city. If you’re a surfer, stay in Rincón; if diving is your only interest, look to Fajardo; and if you just want to get away from it all, consider the hideaway resorts in the San Juan area. But to miss the city is to miss the most compelling feature of Puerto Rico. All that history and all that heat seem to mash up in a classics-gone-tropical setting that seems to elicit a fiesta nightly. Puerto Ricans love to party, and in San Juan that means dressing for dinner, lingering over meals, then hitting one of the many casinos or clubs into the wee hours. On the flip side, a sense of family is central to the culture, guaranteeing a warm welcome to the littlest travelers.
On most weekends and all holidays, Puerto Ricans themselves join the tourist traffic at the beaches, in the restaurants and on the streets, where visitors can easily mingle with islanders and get a sense for themselves of true Puertorriqueño pride.