The Caribbean island of Puerto Rico is an unincorporated U.S. territory with mountains, waterfalls, and the El Yunque tropical rainforest. Isla Verde is a resort area with hotels, beach bars, and casinos in San Juan, the country’s capital and largest city. El Morro and La Fortaleza, massive, centuries-old fortresses, are among the city’s Old San Juan neighborhoods.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT PUERTO RICO
- Capital City: San Juan
- Largest City: San Juan
- Nickname: La Isla del Encanto (Island of Enchantment)
- Territory As of 1898: Organized, an unincorporated territory of the United States
- Population (as of 2020): 3,285,874
- Abbreviation: PR
- Official bird: The Puerto Rico Spindalis
- Official flower: Puerto Rican hibiscus
- Total Size Of The State: 9,104 km2 (3,515 sq mi)
- Official languages: Spanish and English
Approximately 1200 years ago, the Taíno people settled in Puerto Rico and still reside there. Some historians believe Borikén means “island of crabs” or maybe “island of the brave.”
In 1493, Christopher Columbus made the island a colony of Spain by royal decree, and he called it San Juan Bautista after the Christian prophet John the Baptist. After that, in 1508, the island’s first governor, Juan Ponce de León, changed its name to Puerto Rico, which means “rich port” in Spanish.
Since gold and treasures from the Americas were sailed to Europe via Puerto Rico, during that time, slave traders brought Africans to the island to work on farms and build forts.
The Spanish-American War ended with Spain losing Puerto Rico to the United States in 1898. When President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act in 1917, Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens, and the island became a U.S. territory.
Despite Puerto Rico not being a state, residents use the U.S. dollar and services such as the U.S. Postal Service. In addition, citizens of the United States, including Puerto Ricans, do not need passports to travel between Puerto Rico and the mainland.
Nature & Name Origin
Puerto Rico is sometimes referred to as an island, but it is an archipelago, which is a chain of islands. There are only three inhabited islands: Puerto Rico’s main island, Vieques (pronounced vee-EH-kez), and Culebra (koo-LAY-bra).
A now-extinct volcano erupted about 190 million years ago, creating the island. The main island has a mountain range running east to the west called La Cordillera Central (koor-day-YEH-RAH). Cerro de Punta in the central town of Jayuya (Ha-yuh-yah) is the highest point on the island, with a height of 4,389 feet (four times the height of the Eiffel Tower).
El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical forest in the U.S. national forest system, is located in Puerto Rico, a tropical environment with warm temperatures year-round.
The forest is one of the smallest in the country, but it is also one of the most diverse, with 183 species of animals and 225 types of trees (23 unique to this area). Despite being just about 110 miles long and 35 miles wide, the main island is surrounded by rainforest, a dry forest in Guánica, and hundreds of rivers and waterfalls.
A dime-sized frog that has a name derived from the sound it makes, the coqu* (koh-KEE) is one of the island’s most famous wildlife residents. Puerto Rico is also home to 320 species of birds, including the emerald hummingbird (unique to the island) and the Puerto Rican parrot.
The Culture and Locals
Puerto Ricans’ heritage is a mix of Taíno Indians, Africans, and Europeans (mainly Spanish)-and their cuisine reflects this. For example, plantains (similar to bananas) were brought by Africans, while the Spanish brought rice from the Spanish.
Among the most popular dishes are lechón (roasted pork, pronounced lay-CHON), rice and beans, mofongo (mashed, fried plantains) and fried fritters such as empanadas and alcapurrias. In addition, there are many tropical fruits used in sweet and savory dishes, such as pineapple, guava, mangoes, passion fruit, and tamarind.
San Juan and its surrounding towns are the most populated areas of Puerto Rico, located on the northern coast. In 2020, Puerto Rico would have more residents than 20 other U.S. states.
As a territory of the United States of America, Puerto Rico is neither a state nor a country. As a result, Puerto Rico has its own government, so its governor, senators, and representatives are elected directly by the people.
Nevertheless, not all provisions of the U.S. Constitution apply automatically to Puerto Ricans. (Before 1950, Puerto Rico was a commonwealth, meaning it had its own constitution.) For example, Puerto Ricans cannot vote for the president of the United States, but they can elect a representative called the Resident Commissioner. This individual cannot vote on U.S. laws but speaks on behalf of Puerto Rican interests, sponsors bills, and participates in congressional committees.
Puerto Rico is known as Estado Libre y Asociado (hes-TA-do LEE-bray ee ah-so-see-ah-do), which translates to “free and associated state”, referring to its relationship with the United States.
Between 1967 and 2020, Puerto Ricans voted six times on whether Puerto Rico should be a U.S. state, an independent nation, or a territory. The majority of voters in 2020 chose to become a state-but, the final decision rests with the United States Congress.
Some Fun Facts About Puerto Rico
- Ricky Martin, Roberto Clemente, and Benicio del Toro (the DJ from Star Wars: The Last Jedi) are some Puerto Rican celebrities who are well known. In addition, Jennifer Lopez and Lin-Manuel Miranda, creators of the musical Hamilton, are both of Puerto Rican descent.
- The Fortaleza was built in the 1500s to fend off foreign invaders like English and Dutch explorers in Old San Juan (the historical part of the capital). It is now a tourist attraction, with the governor’s mansion on the grounds.
- The oldest continuously inhabited city on American territory is San Juan.
- The island has three bioluminescent bays: Cabezas (kah-BEE-zahs) de San Juan, La Parguera (par-GHEE-rah), and Mosquito Bay in Vieques. The tiny organisms in these rare places glow when they move.
- More Puerto Ricans live on the mainland than in Puerto Rico (an estimated 5.6 million).