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What to Know Before You Go to Puerto Rico

Other than a few mentions in history class, I'd never given Puerto Rico much thought before I headed that way with my family. It was an island that the U.S. sort-of-kind-of-not-really owns, and it was in the Caribbean.

Thus ends my pre-trip knowledge of Puerto Rico. (I promise that I do a much better job of researching travel locales these days.)


When I got there, I was amazed to find that the island was not really like any of the other Caribbean islands I'd visited: it had this unusual flavor that made it hard to place as American or Hispanic. It's just it's own carefree, history-packed, insanely gorgeous self. 

If you're headed to PR for the first time, here are a few things that you should know to make your taste of island life easy and fun:

Pretty much everyone in the tourism industry is bilingual (English and Spanish), so if you're staying in San Juan, Condado Beach, or Fajardo, you'll find it easy communicate. Even though most natives' first language is Spanish, the majority of Puerto Ricans know enough English to help you with whatever you need. Most television programing is also in English, though you will run into commercials in Spanish and English.

Viejo San Juan (the historic district) is compact enough that you can walk to all of the major sites including the Catedral de San Juan Bautista and Castillo San Felipe del Morro. If you're not up to walking, there is a free trolley that will take you around the area. If you're going to San Juan, a leisurely jaunt through the streets of the historic area is a must.
What to Know before You Go To Puerto Rico | CosmosMariners.com
From L to R: My mom and dad near the waterfront; a pedestrians only area downtown; and me pretending to be a monkey (note: hanging from a tree is ill-advised, as I fell out of said tree two seconds after the photo was taken.)

Condado Beach is a popular spot for accommodations and entertainment. Only a short taxi drive (less than ten minutes) away from the heart of historic San Juan, Condado Beach has multiple high rise hotels like the Caribe Hilton where I stayed [read my review here], casinos, and spas. If you're interested in seeing more of Puerto Rico than just San Juan, Condado Beach is a great base for exploring the northeastern side of the island.

What to Know before You Go To Puerto Rico | CosmosMariners.com
Condado Beach area as seen from the Caribe Hilton

Make sure to try the local food. The fried plantains (including the delicious fried plantain dish mofongos) and asopao are delicious and can be found all over the island!

What to Know before You Go To Puerto Rico | CosmosMariners.com
Ensalada y pollo con arroz at a local cafe. Yum.

Puerto Rico isn't very big. Don't feel like you need to stay confined to the area just around San Juan--if you head straight south across the island from San Juan, you'll hit Ponce in just about 2 hours. And if you head west from San Juan to Mayaguez, you'll reach the western most tip of the island also in about two hours. So, rent a car and take a leisurely road trip around PR!

What to Know before You Go To Puerto Rico | CosmosMariners.com
Get away from San Juan, and you can see one of the two rainforests in the U.S.!

The residents have strong opinions on their relationship with the continental U.S. If you want to hear some interesting perspectives on American policy and government, ask a Puerto Rican what he or she thinks about becoming the 51st state. Some are strongly opposed, while some would invite the move, but the reasoning behind both sides can jump start a heated discussion across the island.

There aren't any all-inclusive properties on the island. Unlike most of the other Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico currently does not have an all-inclusive property (like a Sandals or a Beaches). There are certainly large facilities (like El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo), but they're just big hotels with on-site spas, restaurants, and activities. You'll pay a la carte for the parts you use.


If you're interested in laying by the beach during your Puerto Rican vacation, make sure to do your research before you book a hotel. Because of the currents near San Juan, many of the hotels only have pools--and no ocean access. Even the famed El Conquistador Resort has to boat their guests over to a private island and beach. There are many unspoiled beaches over on the island of Vieques, and there are some beautiful beaches on the southern and western parts of Puerto Rico. Or, you could do as the locals do, and rent a boat to explore the hundreds of tiny uninhabited islands that ring Puerto Rico.

What to Know before You Go To Puerto Rico | CosmosMariners.com
My sister and I enjoying the beautiful Caribbean water on our boat outing.
Have you ever visited Puerto Rico? What was your favorite part?


What to Know before You Go To Puerto Rico | CosmosMariners.com

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