About The islands of PUERTO RICO
There is so much more to Puerto Rico than
just the main island with which we are familiar.
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is a United
States territory, roughly the size of Connecticut,
that lies just east of the island of Hispaniola
(comprising Haiti and the Dominican Republic)
and west of the United States Virgin Islands
(St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas), bordered
by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the
Caribbean Sea to the south.
Puerto Rico is an archipelago made up of
about 143 islands and smaller 'islets' called cays
(pronounced KEYS). Only 100 miles long by
35 miles wide, this Caribbean destination
includes the main island of Puerto Rico and
several smaller islands: Culebra, Mona,
Vieques plus a handful of tiny cays of which only
the main island of Puerto Rico, Vieques, and Culebra
Puerto Rico boasts a fairly mild climate year round, with
average temperatures resting around 80 F. The lush, verdant
landscape on the main island includes an alluring rainforest
called El Yunque, waterfalls and cool mountain streams that
offer a respite from the warm sandy beaches that ring the
island. Want to catch a wave? The beaches of Rincón,
Shacks and Montones should be on your "to do" list. After
the sun goes down, the bioluminescent bays in Fajardo and
on Vieques are a natural attraction, best enjoyed by kayak,
not to be missed.
San Juan is the main island's bustling capital and its
largest city. A plethora of restaurants and lively nightlife awaits
you here. The Isla Verde area is known for its hotel
strip, beach bars, restaurants, and casinos. Old San Juan,
with its colorful Spanish colonial architecture and quaint cafés,
is where you will find El Morro and La Fortaleza - imposing,
centuries-old fortresses with a compelling history that are
well worth exploring with or without a city guide.
ATMs for major U.S. and International banks are found all
over the island.
And now a little history ...
The Taíno Indians, who originated from the South American
Arawak Indians (who were tropical forest dwellers) in the Orinoco-
Amazon region, and were also known as Antillean Arawaks,
are thought to have traveled from Venezuela to the Caribbean
islands of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic),
Jamaica, Cuba, and north to The Bahamas where they were
called 'Lucayans'. There's even evidence of their habitation
even further north to Florida.
The Taínos were inhabiting the major part of Puerto Rico when
the Spaniards arrived in 1493. Many archaeologists now believe
that the name 'Taíno' (given to the Native Indians) was actually
the word they used when greeting the Conquistadors, meaning
'peace', to differentiate them from the war-like Caribe Indians
who also lived in the region and were their fierce enemies. The
Taínos had a very developed culture, with a complex system of
government arranged by social ranks that deferred to sectarian
chiefs ... until the invasion of the Spaniards.
The Taínos, who named the island Borikén, lived in small
villages, organized in clans and were led by a Cacique, or chief.
They were a peaceful people who, with a limited knowledge of
agriculture, lived on domesticated tropical crops such as
pineapples, cassava, and sweet potatoes supplemented by seafood.
The Taíno culture held a great respect for all living things and
honored them in the form of carvings cut into rocks, known as
petroglyphs. Petroglyphs can be found all over Puerto Rico.
These carvings represent their beliefs, religious rituals, natural
surroundings, and culture. Evidence points to the fact that, with
their skills at canoeing, these indigenous, American Indians
had contact with other aboriginal Indian populations of the
Americas, including the Mayas of Mexico and Guatemala.
(Note: Be sure to visit the Museo del Indio located on the first
floor of the Cuartel de Ballaja in Old San Juan. This museum
showcases artifacts from several of the island's native cultures.
Stone tools, pottery, and instructive dioramas teach visitors about
island life before the arrival of Columbus. Wonderful!)
On November 19, 1493, Christopher Columbus landed on the
island and claimed Puerto Rico for Spain during his second voyage
to the New World, where he brought European livestock (horses,
sheep, and cattle) to America for the first time. He found the island populated by as many as 50,000 Taíno Indians. The Taínos who greeted Columbus showed him gold nuggets in the river and
told him to take all he wanted. Originally, the newcomers called the island San Juan Bautista, for St. John the Baptist, and the town Puerto Rico ("rich port") because of its obvious excellent potentialities.
It was not until later that the two names were switched. Thanks in part to the enthusiasm of ambitious Juan Ponce de León, a lieutenant to Columbus who established the Spanish settlement of Caparra Village near the bay on the north coast, the city of Puerto Rico - later San Juan - quickly became Spain's key military outpost in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, the arrival of the Spanish also brought disease, slavery, and rebellion by the Taínos that led to almost total extinction in less than 40 years.
In 1898, under the Treaty of Paris, Puerto Rico was ceded by the Spanish to the United States at the end of the Spanish-American War.
Luis Muniz Marin International Airport (SJU) in San Juan is a major Caribbean hub for many airlines from North America and abroad. Passport and Visa requirements are the same as going to the U.S.A.. Flight times to San Juan are as follows:
3.25 hours from Atlanta
4.5 hours from Chicago or Dallas
8 hours from London
2.5 hours from Miami
3.5 hours from New York
10 hours from Paris
11 hours from Sao Paolo
4.25 hours from Toronto
3.5 hours from Washington, DC
What To Expect
Modern day Puerto Rico presents a fascinating blend of Taíno Indian, Spanish and African cultures, each contributing their traditions, cuisine, music, and dance. Being a part of the United States, there are many American similarities (restaurants and shopping, for example) in the city. The major cities (in alphabetical order) are Aguadilla, Arecibo, Bayamón, Caguas, Carolina, Cayey, Fajardo, Guaynabo, Mayagüez, and Ponce.
This easily-accessible Caribbean destination provides beautiful beaches for the sun worshipper, exciting trails/birds/wildlife in El Yunque tropical rainforest for the naturalist, all manner of watersports, a wide variety of restaurants (from local cuisine to international fine dining), golf and duty-free shopping. While Puerto Rico's beaches are a huge draw, San Juan's lively restaurants, and nightlife offers an exciting finish to a picture-perfect day. European-style cafés, ethnic culinary specialties, It's recognition as an airline and shopping hub (people from other Caribbean islands come here for all manner of purchases) makes it the perfect combination with another island in the chain, or a stopover
for a few days.
What You Won't Find
As a popular vacation and meetings destination that incorporates both American and Caribbean culture, cuisine, shopping, and businesses, there is very little that you won't find here. Puerto Rico is a dynamic and cosmopolitan island haven that blends the charm and hospitality of days gone by with modern conveniences. You will find everything that the Caribbean has to offer along with many of the amenities of the United States. It is said of the local residents that they are "a people whose warmth is equaled only by the sunshine that graces its shores". We couldn't agree more.
What To Do - a Quick Overview of Some of the Highlights
Arecibo (ah-re-SEE-boh) is home to the Arecibo Observatory made famous in the movie Contact (Jodie Foster). The observatory's 1,000-foot (305-metre) radio telescope is one of the largest single-aperture telescopes in the world. The Camuy River Cave Park (Parque de las Cavernas del Río Camuy), a million-year-old cavern is part of a large network of natural limestone caves and subterranean waterways carved out by the third-largest underground river in the world. The 268-acre park built around the cave system features tours of some of the caves and sinkholes, and is one of the most popular natural attractions in Puerto Rico. Day trips that include the Camuy River Cave Park and Areceibo Observatory (9 hours) leave from San Juan - a long day but a fabulous way for adults and children alike to experience two of Puerto Rico's most exciting sites - can be booked by our Villa Specialists as part of your villa or condominium rental.
Culebra (coo-LEE-bra - "Snake Island") is an island municipality of Puerto Rico located approximately 17 miles (27 km) east of the Puerto Rican mainland, 12 miles (19 km) west of St. Thomas and nine (9) miles (14 km) north of Vieques. Culebra, which spans about seven (7) by five (5) miles and whose striking shoreline is fringed with cliffs, sandy coral beaches and mangroves, is an archipelago consisting of the main island and 23 smaller islands that lie off its coast. The largest of these cays are: Culebrita to the east, Cayo Norte to the northeast, and Cayo Luis Peña (best reached by kayak) and Cayo Lobo to the west. The smaller islands include Cayo Ballena, Cayos Geniqui, Arrecife Culebrita, Las Hermanas, El Mono, Cayo Lobito, Cayo Botijuela, Alcarraza, Los Gemelos, and Piedra Steven. The islands comprising this archipelago are arid, meaning they have no rivers or streams. All of the fresh water is brought from Puerto Rico via Vieques. Originally called Isla Pasaje and Isla de San Ildefonso, Culebra is also known as Isla Chiquita (“Little Island”) and Última Virgen (“Last Virgin”) due to its position at the end of the Virgin Islands archipelago. Residents (about 1,800) of the island are known as Culebrenses.
These small islands are all classified as nature reserves. One of the oldest bird sanctuaries in the United States territory was established in Culebra in 1909 by President Teddy Roosevelt. Leatherback and Hawksbill sea turtles use the beaches as nesting sites. Visitors to Culebra will find any number of the estimated 50,000 seabirds that make these islands their migratory home. The only other animals of note on Culebra are White-tailed Deer which were brought to the island in 1966.
Fajardo's most notable attraction is the bioluminescent lagoon where, in the evening, guided kayak tours take you through the waters of Laguna Grande to experience this amazing sight. Located at the far eastern point of the main island, Fajardo's Puerto del Rey Marina is the largest boating center in the Caribbean.
Isabela is located in the northwestern part of the Puerto Rico mainland, north of San Sebastián, west of Quebradillas, and east of Aguadilla and Moca. The three best beaches here are Jobos Beach, Shack's Beach and Montone's Beach. Keep in mind that the northern coast of Puerto Rico fronts the Atlantic Ocean, and the sea can be rough with undertows. Jobos Beach has dual personalities. Part of it is a sandy and calm shoreline and the other two - Shacks and Montones - boast some of the best surfing in the area. There’s also fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, along with kite boarding and windsurfing. A variety of restaurants and beach bars beckon visitors on the beach. Montones Beach is ideal for families with small children. There’s a natural pool on the east end (you’ll see it when you arrive at the beach) that is formed by a sand dune on one side that offers calm shallow water - a great spot for children and nonswimmers to enjoy the warm sea.
Luquillo is home to one of the best beaches on the main island of Puerto Rico. Located in the northeast corner of the island, offshore reefs provide calm waters that lap this long, sandy beach - excellent for children and nonswimmers. Make a day of it by visiting the El Yunque rainforest in the morning, have lunch at one of the famous Luquillo Roadside Kiosks and then relax on the beach for the afternoon. There are restrooms, showers, and parking (nominal charge).
Ponce (PON-say) and San Germain are the charming colonial towns situated on the southern coast. Check out the Ponce History Museum which features exhibits detailing Puerto Rico, Ponce, and all aspects of daily Puerto Rican life (ecology, politics, and urban development). Displays include a collection of more than 3,000 documents, photographs, and local artifacts. Permanent exhibits include health and medicine, which covers important events in health like the first kidney transplant, and the panorama hall, which shows the evolution of Ponce's people.
Rincón is a haven for surfers with its 20-foot high waves. Home to world-class board-riders, beginners can sign up for group and private lessons.
San Juan is a busy, busy port city. The traffic during rush hour rivals that of
New York City. The island's cruise ship pier is located here. Many of our in-town properties located on Playa Isla Verde (made up of two wide, curved sandy beaches, each a 1-1/2 miles long, with gentle waves making this section of San Juan popular with families and nonswimmers) and in Condado (Condado Beach and Playita del Condado), and are within walking distance to beach bars, grocery stores, posh boutique shopping, pharmacies, restaurants and other conveniences. Public transportation (taxis, buses) is typical for a city. Taxi prices from the airport are regulated and the process of grabbing a cab from there is well organized as you depart the airport.
A tour of Old San Juan - which is actually an islet connected to the main city by a bridge - to experience the colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, quaint cafés, and the imposing UNESCO World Heritage fortifications of Castillo San Cristobal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro on the Atlantic Ocean with Juan is a must. Exploring the extensive labyrinth of soldiers' diminutive barracks, foreboding dungeons and tunnels requires a good set of legs but is well worth the walk up and down the many sets of stairs. Ride the free hop-on, hop-off trolly in Old San Juan. Other points of interest include the Cemeterio San Maria Magdalena de Pazzis, Plaza de Armas, Casa Blanca Museum, and Museo Las Americas. Take time to visit the 1,000-piece art collection at the 130,000 square-foot Museo de Arts de Puerto Rico, said to be the most extensive Caribbean art museum. Oh, and don't forget to catch a salsa performance at Old San Juan's Nuyorican Café.
Vieques (Vee-EK-es) sits offshore a few miles southeast of Fajardo (mainland) on the eastern-most tip of the island - a worthwhile day trip. Getting to the island of Vieques is either by local airline (from San Juan) or ferry (Fajardo dock, about 1-1/2 hour drive from San Juan along the east coast of Puerto Rico). From the far eastern coast, you can see St. Thomas and St. Croix (U.S. Virgin Islands). Pata Prieta (Secret Beach) is a sublime cove offering calm water and is secluded for those seeking privacy. Other popular beaches include La Chiva (Red Beach), Playa Caracas (Blue Beach) and Playa Esperanza at the Esperanza Malecón (boardwalk). There's no better way to end the day than to meander along Esperanza's Malecón during sunset. Visitors who reside on Vieques can experience one of Puerto Rico's most amazing natural attractions: when there is little moonlight (dark is best), kayaking on the bioluminescent bay of Vieques (Mosquito Bay), one of the brightest displays of these phosphorescent microorganisms (Pyrodinium bahamense, Dinoflagellates) or 'dinos' for short.
Why People Come Here
There are many reasons why people are drawn to Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra and their outlying cays. For Americans, the connection between the U.S. and Puerto Rico offers a sense of comfort. Many of the local residents speak English in addition to their mother tongue, Spanish. The currency is the U.S. dollar. There are familiarities in dining and shopping brands. For most travelers, regardless of where they originate, the standards are high here. And it's convenient to get to Luis Muniz Marin International Airport (SJU) in San Juan, with many direct, nonstop flights from major cities across the globe.
There are many activities to enjoy, both indoors and out. This is not strictly a 'beach' destination. While the islands do boast some incredible beautiful long, sandy shoreline and a multitude of watersports options, there are a rainforest with hiking trails featuring wildlife that is indigenous only to Puerto Rico (parrots, coquis), golf courses, fortresses, museums, colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, posh boutiques, restaurants offering a wide array of cuisines, galleries, local crafts and outlet malls. In short, there's something on the menu for everyone.
VHR, WORLDWIDE has been offering a wide variety of private homes and condominiums in the city of San Juan as well as other areas, and also on the neighboring islands of Vieques and Culebra, for more than three decades. Being that San Juan is a hub for many passenger carriers that serve the
Caribbean, we visit Puerto Rico regularly.
VHR, WORLDWIDE offers properties in Puerto Rico that are staffed or self-catering. Where maid service is not included, we can often arrange for daily or periodic cleaning at extra cost. While a few villas have a cook, with ample advance notice we can arrange the services of a chef or cook for you.
However, this island - and especially the San Juan area - is known for having a wide variety of dining options, from simple beach bars or taverns to some of the most extraordinary high-end cuisine you will experience in the Caribbean. There are both large supermarkets as well as small local grocery stores and bakeries. Arrangements for services not provided can be made upon request, with advance notice, at extra cost, including a car rental which is a must to take in all that the island has to offer if you plan to venture outside of San Juan.
"We loved the condo in Isabella! Thank you for suggesting that area,
which was unknown to us. We plan to return with another family."
- Angie and Hank