The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico made headlines recently when one lucky resident won the Powerball lottery, earning one third of a $564 million jackpot. Perhaps more surprising than this once-in-a-lifetime draw, however, is the fact that some people are unaware of Puerto Rico’s affiliation to the United States.
Brief history: Puerto Rico was discovered in 1493 by Christopher Columbus, who claimed the island on behalf of Spain. He found the island breathtaking, and noted the same in his diaries. In 1898, Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the U.S. following the Spanish-American War.
The result? An island that’s the best of both worlds. Like Hawaii, Puerto Rico is a tropical gem that is easily accessible to Americans. The Spanish influence provides a rich culture, language and history with all the modern conveniences many travelers desire.
Need to hear more? Here are seven reasons why Puerto Rico should be your next vacation spot.
No passport? No problem. You only need a valid government-issued ID to travel to Puerto Rico from the U.S. And since you’re skipping the international flight, you’ll be saving both time and money. The island is less than a three-hour flight from most locations on the Eastern Seaboard.
If you’re weary of getting lost in translation, then Puerto Rico is the place for you. While the primary language spoken is Spanish, most children are taught English from an early age in grade school. Also, since Puerto Rico relies heavily on its tourism industry, many residents retain their language skills for work.
Additionally, there is no need to worry about converting currency or learning to drive on the other side of the road. In Puerto Rico, you can purchase and commute like you would at home, no adjustments necessary.
Monthly temperatures average between 70 and 80 degrees; there’s never a bad time to visit. Like other tropical climates, there is a rainy season from April to November, but as long as there are no storms on the horizon, the most you’ll have to worry about is a daily shower sometime in the afternoon. Islanders know to expect the drizzle and simply wait it out, a small price to pay being able to completely escape the winter.
Did you know that El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest located on a U.S. territory? With over 28,000 acres and a maximum elevation of 3,494 feet, it’s the great destination for adventurers who want to explore waterfalls or take scenic hiking trails.
If you want a more magical experience, check out one Puerto Rico’s three bioluminescent bays. Filled with micro-organisms that give off a blue-green light, the water illuminates when touched and provides visitors a unique experience. Mosquito Bay in Vieques is known to be the brightest. Explore Taino Indian culture in Las Piedras, where you’ll find caves and petroglyphs. La Cueva de Indio is one especially popular stop.
If you have never tasted mofongo, you are, simply, missing out. Made from plantains, this savory dish is typically topped shrimp or chicken. For dessert, if you’re wandering around Old San Juan, make sure to try helado de parcha, passion fruit flavored ice cream. Refreshing and light, it is a favorite of locals. You’ll find the juice sold at almost any breakfast spot.
Other popular dishes include_ arroz con gandules_ (rice, pork and pigeo peas), asopao (a gumbo of chicken and rice) and alcapurrias (stuffed fritters). You will definitely want to add each of the aforementioned to your “must-try” list.
Whether you’re single in your 20s and 30s, married with a family in your 40s or 50s or retired and relaxing in your 60s and 70s, there is something for everyone on the island. You can take a tour of the Bacardi distillery with friends, go dancing in Old San Juan with your significant other, or spend a day with the family on one of Puerto Rico’s gorgeous beaches.
Puerto Rico has a rich culture and history. Having been under Spain’s rule for centuries, there is Spanish architecture throughout the island. Puerto Rico boasts four castles, the most famous of which is El Morro in San Juan. Visitors walking the streets of the capital city will find themselves on cobblestone, surrounded by bright colors and European elements. At any moment, you might find that a parranda breaks out, a party in the streets where musicians play live music and tourists follow their beats like they would the Pied Piper.
With so much to see and do, right in America’s backyard, there’s no reason not to book a ticket to Puerto Rico.
Jen Ruiz is a Fort Lauderdale-based lawyer and blogger.