20 Fun Facts About Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico, a tiny Caribbean island with stunning beaches and all-year sunshine, is very popular with tourists worldwide.

Once you get beyond the idyllic tropical setting, you’ll discover all sorts of fascinating and surprising facts. These include historical moments as well as quirky details and natural wonders.

These are 34 interesting and fun facts about Puerto Rico you may not have known.

But first…

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Facts About Puerto Rico

Where’s Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico is found in the northeastern Caribbean Sea. It lies approximately 70 miles (12) east of the Dominican Republic and 40 miles (6 km) west from the British Virgin Islands.

Puerto Rico is only 5,515 sq miles (9,104 km) in area, but it is home to 3.2 million people. San Juan, its capital, is home to nearly 400,000.

Puerto Rico is approximately the same size as Connecticut. It still has the third-highest density of people in the US, after New Jersey and Washington DC.

However, Puerto Rico’s year-round temperature ranges between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which is quite different from other states. Tropical weather

Let’s now take a look at some fun and interesting facts about Puerto Rico.

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Puerto Rico isn’t a country but behaves like one. Puerto Rico has a strong culture identity. This is why people worldwide, even in the US, believe that Puerto Rico is a country. It isn’t. Puerto Rico is not a sovereign nation but a commonwealth that the United States governs.

The US dollar, for example, is the currency in Puerto Rico. However, locals refer to it as a “peso”, or “dollar”

Puerto Rico is still an independent nation in the Olympics, Miss Universe and many other international events.

Puerto Rico is Miss Universe five times!

There’s also the amazing food, which is quite different from anything else in the US. Mofongo is the most popular American cuisine. Arroz con Gandules is the national dish.

Enjoy the Flavors Of Old San Juan with this highly recommended tour

Puerto Ricans can become US Citizens

During the Spanish-American War of 1898, Puerto Rico was occupied by the United States.

The Treaty of Paris (1898) gave Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to Spain. However, Puerto Rico was not made a US territory until 1917’s Jones-Shafroth Act. This gave Puerto Ricans US citizenship.

Still…

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Puerto Ricans are not allowed to vote in the U.S. Presidential Elections.

Puerto Rico is an American territory. However, Puerto Ricans cannot vote for the President and Vice President of the United States. The 50 states are the only ones that can vote for the president.

Additionally, Puerto Rico doesn’t have a vote at the U.S. Congress.

Puerto Rican Citizenship is also available

Yes, Puerto Ricans are allowed to have more than one citizenship, even though they are citizens in the same country. This is because Puerto Rico is a commonwealth state, which is not a country but a state. It is currently in an unusual political and territorial limbo.

The status of Puerto Rican citizenship was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico in Miriam J. Ramirez de Ferrer (v. Juan Mari Bras) in 1997.

Juan Mari Bras was the first person to be granted Puerto Rican citizenship on October 25, 2006.

Since then, Puerto Rican citizenship has been granted to all people born in Puerto Rico or to those whose parents were born in Puerto Rico. Those who have lived in Puerto Rico for at least one year and are citizens of the United States are also eligible.

US Citizens don’t need a passport to visit the United States.

It is not required to have a passport in order to visit Puerto Rico, as it is an American territory. All citizens must apply for a visa/ESTA as if they were visiting any other US state.

It’s one less thing Americans need to consider when planning to visit Puerto Rico .

Puerto Rico is considered the oldest colony in the world.

Since Christopher Colombus’ second voyage to New World in 1493, Puerto Rico has been a colony. (Using quotations to indicate that the tribe of Taino Indians discovered the island. )

It’s interesting to see that Colombus was not enamored of the island. Colombus spent two days on the island, claimed it as a colony under Spain, and never returned.

Spain lost Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War of 1898. The U.S. made it a territory and kept its colonial status .

Currently, Puerto Rico remains the world’s oldest colony, while San Juan is the oldest European capital under the American flag.

The Name of the Island has been Changed Several Times

Christopher Colombus was not the first person to visit the island. The Taino Indians who lived there called it Boriken. This means “Land of the Valiant, Noble Lord” in Taino. It also refers to the Great Spirit or Creator.

Colombus named San Juan Bautista in 1493 after St. John of the Baptist.

The value of the gold and all its riches were taken from the island and exported to Spain during the early 1500s. In response, the Spanish named the first place on the island Ciudad de Puerto Rico, which means “Rich Port City”, since the main port was there.

Over the next few years, traders and maritime visitors started to refer to the whole island like Puerto Rico. The gold was found in many of the islands’ rivers and streams.

In 1521, Puerto Rico was given its new name. The capital and major shipping/trading port were named San Juan.

After the United States purchased the island in 1898 under the Treaty of Paris, the island’s name was changed to Porto Rico.

In 1931, the name was changed to Puerto Rico through a joint resolution in Congress that Felix Cordova Davila introduced.

Last but not least, its official name was changed in 1952 to Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico (“free associad state of Puerto Rico”) while its official English name remains Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Although it is not an official title, Puerto Ricans refer to Puerto Rico as Borinquen. This is a derivative of Boriken. Boricuas is the Puerto Rican name.

Old San Juan is home to two of the oldest churches in America.

Old San Juan is located alongside the second-oldest church in America, Iglesia San Jose (Church of San Jose), which was built in 1922.

San Jose, the second-oldest church structure in America, is still used. It is also the most beautiful example of Spanish Gothic architecture.

Just steps from San Jose, you will find its most well-known counterpart, the Catedral de San Juan (San Juan Cathedral), Puerto Rico’s most significant religious landmark.

The original structure was constructed of wood in 1521, just one year before San Jose. Two hurricanes, lootings, and attacks destroyed it. This led to the construction of the current structure, which was rebuilt in 1540.

The cathedral structure was subject to several renovations, the most recent being in 1917.

San Juan Cathedral has some surprising secrets that not many people know…

Juan Ponce de Leon’s Tomb can be found in San Juan.

A fascinating tour of the Catedral de San Juan includes the remains Ponce de Leon. These remains were initially located at the Iglesia San Jose but were moved to the cathedral in 1908. You’ll find a wax-covered and glass-encased mummy from a saint there.

Juan Ponce de Leon is known for being one the first explorers to the New World. While searching for the Fountain of Youth, which is believed to bring back youth and vitality to its users, he discovered Florida.

In 1508, he led an expedition to Puerto Rico, where he found gold. Thanks to his discovery, he became one of the most wealthy men in the New World. The King of Spain appointed him as the first Governor of Puerto Rico.

San Juan wasn’t the First Capital City.

Juan Ponce de Leon founded the first European settlement in 1508, the island known as Caparra. It is located approximately 4 miles (6.4km) south of Old San Juan.

Spanish settlers named Caparra (the island’s first capital), La Ciudad de Puerto Rico (the town of Puerto Rico) back then. Ponce de Leon’s ambitious plans for the settlement fell apart due to the capital’s vulnerability against attacks by Taino Indians.

Caparra was abandoned in 1519-1521. The capital was then moved to Old San Juan.

You can still see the ruins of Ponce de Leon’s house in Caparra (located within Guaynabo County) and the Museum of the Conquest and Colonization of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico was the headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition

Since the 1500s, the Catholic Church has influenced Puerto Rico’s history and development.

In 1519 Pope Leo X made Puerto Rico the first ecclesiastical headquarters in the New World. This transformed Puerto Rico into the headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition –, one of the most notorious and brutal acts of the Catholic Church .

The Americas’ Oldest Executive Mansion, in Continuous Use

San Juan is America’s second-oldest European-established capital. Like all capital cities, it has its executive mansion that houses the governor of the island, La Fortaleza. It is still the oldest continuously used executive mansion in America.

Castillo Santa Catalina is also known as La Fortaleza, a small mansion located at the end Of Fortaleza Street in Old San Juan. It is known for its beautiful mix of Classical Revival architecture with Spanish Colonial castle.

La Fortaleza can be toured for free if you have a reservation.

Blue Cobblestones were used to pave the streets of Old San Juan.

San Juan, Puerto Rico’s main port, was the gateway to Spain. Although ships sailed from Puerto Rico to Spain loaded with wealth and heavy, they returned to Puerto Rico often empty. This made them very unstable in high winds.

However, this changed in the 1700s, when Spain began using cobblestones to ballast their ships from Europe. These cobblestones were used in the paving of Old San Juan’s streets, which began in 1784.

These cobblestones are not your typical ones. They are greyish-blue. Iron slag is the result of smelting iron waste. These cobblestones are made from iron slag.

While most of the blue cobblestone streets are gone, you can still find originals on Calle Del Cristo.

The United States almost bought Puerto Rico

The US was planning to buy Puerto Rico and Cuba in 1890. After William H. Seward (the former Secretary of State under Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson) suggested it, it cost $160 million. Spain declined the offer.

Spain didn’t know it would lose Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines to America during the Spanish-American War eight years later. It would also receive only $20 million according to the Treaty of Paris.

Puerto Rico is home to the second-largest single-dish radio telescope globally.

UPDATE: Had… The observatory eventually fell into disrepair, and the main telescope exploded on December 1, 2020.

From 1963, when it was completed, to July 2016, Arecibo Observatory’s radio telescope measuring 1,000 feet (305 metres) in length was the largest single-aperture telescope globally. It also had the highest sensitivity.

When China’s 1,640-foot (500 meter) Aperture Spherical Telescope was built in 2016, it was moved to the second position. The Arecibo Observatory’s size is still so great that a single dish was created between the mountains of Arecibo.

This technological marvel and scientific hub is used in three main areas of research: radar astronomy, radio astronomy, and atmospheric science. It monitors asteroids in space and determines if they are too close to Earth.

Although it is not the largest building globally (and it is still being debated if it will be repaired/demolished), it does have a place in popular culture. It was featured in films such as Contact and Goldeneye.

Although the radiotelescope visitor center is closed at this time, you can still learn more and take a virtual trip to learn more about the dish.

The First Nuclear Submarine Voyage arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The USS Nautilus was the first nuclear submarine in the world. The United States Navy launched it into the nuclear age on January 21, 1954.

After one year of testing, the Nautilus set sail in May 1955 for its maiden nuclear-powered Naval voyage. It traveled from New London (Connecticut) to San Juan (Puerto Rico).

It was completely submerged throughout the journey and set the records for the longest underwater trip, longest single submarine trip, and highest sustained speed. Since then, these records have been broken.

The Nautilus has been designated a National Historic Landmark in Groton and is now a museum.

Speaking of nuclear energy…

Puerto Rico is home to the first nuclear power plant in the Caribbean.

The Boiling Nuclear Superheater Reactor Facility (BONUS), also known as “Domes”, is located in Rincon and is the first Nuclear Power Plant to be built in the Caribbean.

From 1960, when it was constructed, it served as a nuclear test facility until 1968, when it was retired. BONUS is considered the precursor of modern nuclear facilities that we still use today.

It is now the BONUS Technological Museum, which is managed by the local power authority. It is safe to see! The reactor has been sealed in concrete, and radiation is gone. However, it’s still safe to visit.

Puerto Rico is home to several uninhabited islands and its own “Galapagos Island”.

Puerto Rico, although often called a single island, is actually an archipelago. Its three main islands are Puerto Rico and Culebra. Vieques is the only one that is inhabited.

Some many beautiful uninhabited cays and islands can be used for day trips. Cayo Icacos and Caja de Muertos are just a few of the many.

The National Wildlife Refuges of Monito, Desecheo, and Mona Island are also the National Wildlife Refuges. Mona Island is sometimes called the “Galapagos of the Caribbean” due to its natural beauty and a large colony of iguanas that practically rule the island and its incredible wildlife.

Mona’s iguanas, also known as the Mona Iguana, are a subspecies of a species that is not found anywhere else on Earth. This adds to the uniqueness and beauty of the island’s ecosystem.

Mona Island is a difficult day trip for those who want to visit it. You will need to camp on the island as it takes about two to three days to reach. You must apply for a permit from the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources to be able to visit Mona Island.

A now-extinct Mute Dog lived on the Island.

This is A Natural History of Dogs (1840), by Charles Hamilton-Smith, William Jardine. It depicts the Alco dog (left), which was a small, barkless breed of dog that lived on the island before Columbus’ arrival.

With the assistance of the Alcos, the Tainos hunted conies (guinea pigs), and they were believed to have been their only domesticated animal. They were considered excellent companions and could also be kept by ladies as lap dogs because of their small size.

Although the Alco is no longer in existence, some believe it to be the ancestor for the Chihuahua. Only that Chihuahuas are NOT mute. )

El Yunque is the US Forest Service’s Only Tropical Rainforest

One of Puerto Rico’s most popular sights is El Yunque Rainforest. El Yunque is a 28,000-acre landscape of dense foliage and tropical palms that feels almost primitive.

There are many ways to explore the island:

  • Hike its trails.
  • Take a dip in its waterfalls.
  • Admire its birds and fauna.
  • Simply enjoy stunning views from one of its many viewpoints.

It will be a relief to learn that El Yunque is free of dangerous animals. There are no large animals or poisonous snakes in El Yunque.

Rainfall averages more than 120 inches per year in the rainforest. It can also rain up to 365 consecutive days. Yes, every day!

About Daniel Christopher

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