San Juan, Puerto Rico Caribbean coast along Paseo de la Princesa.

In years past, travelers wrote of Puerto Rico as a paradise of deserted white sand beaches where the only sounds were the wind rustling through the palm fronds and the waves lapping gently at the shore.

Today, many tourists complain of the lost paradise on many Caribbean islands whose shores are overcrowded with loads of cruise ship passengers. The islands of Vieques and Culebra off the east coast of Puerto Rico maintain the atmosphere of that bygone era. With large open areas where packs of wild horses roam, miles of deserted beaches and small guesthouses and inns at reasonable prices.

The islands are home to some of Puerto Rico’s best snorkeling and scuba diving as well as unique tour opportunites like Moquito Bay, a small bay that glows at night with one the world’s highest concentration of bioluminescent creatures.

It’s A Jungle Out There!

El Yunque, also known as the Caribbean National Forest, is the only tropical rainforest in the US National Forest System. Visitors to Puerto Rico have the opportunity to hike through the forest on the park’s many trails which weave through towering trees and waterfalls and witness firsthand the beauty of the rainforest that has enchanted the island people for centuries.

For a peek at life below the jungle, Rio Camuy Cave Park is one the most extensive cave systems in the world. Its trolleys, trails, and bridges provide easy spelunking opportunities for all types of tourists. Take a trolley to Cueva Clara and stroll the pathways through the 170-foot high chamber viewing giant stalactites and stalagmites and even take a drink from Ponce de Leon’s alleged Fountain of Youth.

Puerto Rico Hotels

Puerto Rico offers a wide range of accommodation choices to suit all types of visitors. In Old San Juan, restored mansions offer a unique glimpse into Puerto Rico’s architectural history. Set in a restored 18th-century home, The Gallery Inn is a haven of art and history with comfortable accommodations and sweeping ocean views.

On Puerto Rico’s west coast, Rincon Beach Resort takes advantage of the laid back beach town atmosohere of Rincon and its nearby attractions. The Mediterranean style complex offers a beachfront pool area and loads of activities.

On the island of Vieques, first-class accommodations at the Wyndham Martineau Bay Resort & Spa provide the perfect beachside retreat. With a rambling plantation style, relaxing oceanfront pool with a swim-up bar, water activities, and modern spa facilities, the resort is an ideal Caribbean getaway.

Originally called Borinquen by its early Arawak Indian inhabitants, Puerto Rico was first inhabited by Indians from South America. Eventually, the two Indian tribes, the fearsome Carib and the friendlier Taino gave way to Spanish colonization. In 1493, Christopher Colombus visited the island and named it San Juan Bautista. A few years later Ponce de Leon began a settlement at a place he named Puerto Rico, the modern-day San Juan. At some point, a map transcriber mixed the two names up and the current names are used as such today. In the early 1500s, sugar plantations sprouted on the island, and the importation of African slaves began.

San Juan: The building of a monument

In 1540, 250 years of construction was begun on what would become one of the greatest fortified forts in the Caribbean; a fort so formidable that few would ever penetrate its defenses. With 140 feet walls, 10 feet thick in some places, towering over open ocean, the fort’s mere position made it a challenge. Add the gun power and layers of inner walls and defenses and one could easily see why the fort was never taken by an enemy with the exception of a five-month period when disease weakened the Spanish defenders.

Puerto Rico: A Nation is formed

The 1800s were rife with rebellion against Spanish rule throughout its colonies. In 1873, slavery was abolished on the island. And in 1876 Puerto Rico was granted representation in Spain’s parliament. In the 1880s a strong movement for self-government grew and in 1897, due in large part to the work of Luis Monoz Rivera, Puerto Rico was granted the right to rule as an autonomous region of Spain. The independence was short-lived however due to the start of the Spanish-American War. In 1898, US troops took the island and in the Treaty of Paris that same year, Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States. In 1900, the US Congress passed a bill giving Puerto Rico the right to elect a House of Delegates with a governor and upper legislature being appointed by the US President. Due to pressure from Puerto Rico nationalists, in 1917, another act was passed by Congress giving Puerto Rico status as a US Territory with both houses elected offices and Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship.

Puerto Ricans began to take sides on the main issue US Statehood versus independence. In 1946, the US granted Puerto Rico more autonomy and in 1948 the governor became an elected office with the first Puerto Rican elected governor, Luis Munoz Marin. In 1952, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was proclaimed, giving the region even more autonomy. Munoz Marin was elected governor for another three terms serving through 1964. In 1967, Governor Roberto Sanchez arranged a vote for statehood, continued Commonwealth status or independence. An overwhelming majority voted to continue as a Commonwealth with many favoring statehood and a small percentage leaning towards independence. In 1993 and 1998 voters would be asked to vote on the issue again and once again Puerto Rico decided to continue its course as a Commonwealth although with narrower margins. In 2000, Puerto Rico elected its first woman governor Sila Maria Calderon, who has promised to put an end to the military use of the island of Vieques.

Whether young in years or young at heart, Puerto Rico has a wide array of things to do to suit any type of tourist. For the adventurous, there is caving in Rio Camuy Caves on the eastern part of the island, kayaking on Bioluminescent Bay on the island of Vieques and scuba diving in the warm waters of the Caribbean sea. For the active, there is golf and tennis, horseback riding, snorkeling and sailing. For those who wish to soak in Puerto Rico’s more cosmopolitan side, there are museums galore, casinos and excellent dining and shopping opportunities. Whatever your passion, you’re sure to find it in Puerto Rico.

On Land :

One of the most popular land bound activities in Puerto Rico is hiking in The Caribbean National Forest (El Yunque) with its acres of virgin rain forest. Miles of well-maintained trails ranging in difficulty snake through tall trees, verdant tropical plants and waterfalls. Trails are marked with informative signs about the area’s flora and fauna or you can take a guided tour with a park ranger. Another option for exploring the land is caving on the Rio Camuy Cave System. Tours range from easily accessible paved pathways through large chambers to rapelling and spelunking through dark narrow caves. Other landlubber activities include golf, tennis and horseback riding.

In the Water :

Just off the beach, Puerto Rico offers many water sports. The beaches on the east coast of Puerto Rico near Rincon are world renonwn for their surfing with waves often reaching over 20 feet high. Other popular off shore sports include wind surfing, sailing, snorkeling and scuba diving. The islands surrounding Puerto Rico, Vieques and Culebra to the east and Mona Island to the west, offer untouched reefs teaming with large schools of colorful fish, coral and other sea creatures. Kayak tours are another popular way to tour the reef systems, mangrove swamps and bays surrounding the islands. One of the most popular trips is a night kayak tour of Bio Bay where miniscule sea creatures cause the waters to light up when disturbed.

Arts & Entertainment:

San Juan is a haven for museums, cultural activities and nightlife. The old town is brimming with museums of all kinds from an interactive children’s museum to modern art. At night Old San Juan is alive and vibrant. The cobblestone streets are lined with outdoor cafes and nightclubs begin to jump. Nearby, in Isla Verde, the casinos offer a taste of Vegas with a Caribbean flair.

On the south side of the island, Ponce offers a wide array of museums and art galleries.