A Little History
The Taino Indians are the first known inhabitants of the island. On November 19, 1493, the island was discovered by Christopher Columbus. He named the island San Juan Bautista or St. John the Baptist. A Spanish settlement was established on the northern coast in 1508. The inhabitants at this settlement in Caparra called the island San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico means “rich port”. This is without a doubt a reference to the large harbor at the site of what is today known as the city of San Juan. Over time, the entire island was referred to as simply ‘Puerto Rico’.
The Lay of the Land
Puerto Rico is located between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. The island lies east of the Dominican Republic and approximately 1,000 miles southeast of Miami, Florida. The island itself is 100 miles long and 35 miles wide. As part of the Greater Antilles, which is composed of Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico is the smallest of the island group. There are several keys, or smaller islands, that lies off the coast of the main island. These include Vieques, Culebra, Culebrita, Palomino, Mona and Monito. As the third largest island in the United States, Puerto Rico has a land area of 3,425 square miles, or three times the size of Rhode Island. It ranks as the 82nd largest island in the world.
In the Atlantic Ocean, the deepest point is the Milwaukee Depth which lies in the Puerto Rico Trench. Its lowest depth is 27,493 feet and is located about 100 miles northwest of the shores of Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rico Trench runs parallel to the northern end of the island about 75 miles away. In comparison, the Cayman Trench is the deepest known area in the Caribbean Sea. It runs between Cuba and Jamaica at a depth of 25,215 feet.
While extremely diversity, Puerto Rico has three main areas: the mountains, the coastal lowlands and the karst area. The mountain chain that runs down the interior of the island is commonly known as the Cordillera Central. The coastal lowlands are formed with a series of small valleys along the east and west coasts that were formed as the interior mountains eroded. The third main area is the karst region in the north. Formed from volcanic rock that has, over time, been eroded by water, this area features haystack hills or mogotes. Other features of this area include sinkholes, caves and limestone cliffs.
El Yunque Peak, a rain forest, is the Caribbean National Forest. Composed of 28,000 acres, it is the all that remains of the rain forest that once covered most of Puerto Rico.
In the forest, visitors can see a wide variety of plants, including 20 varieties of wild orchids, 50 varieties of ferns and over 240 different trees. The small coqui frog, which some consider to be Puerto Rico’s mascot, can also be found here. In fact, when Puerto Ricans want to celebrate their island, they often say ‘soy de aqui como el coqui’ which translates as ‘I’m as Puerto Rican as a coqui!’.
Warm and sunny Puerto Rico has an average temperature of 80 degrees F. Light weight clothing is appropriate any time of year that you plan to visit. The interior mountain areas tend to be cooler so a light jacket may be required. The rainy season runs from May to October. It should also be noted that hurricane season roughly runs along the same time period (June through October). The period between January and April receives the least amount of rainfall making it a prime travel time for tourists.
As the capital of Puerto Rico, San Juan has a population of two million residents. The city was founded by Juan Ponce de Leon in 1508. The city boasts a large harbor that serves as the island’s main port of entry. There are 78 towns and cities throughout the islands. The small keys, Mona and Monito, are so biologically diverse that they have been designated as natural reserve areas. These reserves are home to many endangered species including marine turtles, sea birds and migratory marine mammals. Other major cities include Ponce, Caguas, Mayaguez, Bayamon, Carolina, Arecibo, Guaynabo, Cayey, Aguadilla and Fajardo.