In recent referendums the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico – about 1,000 miles south-east of Miami – has voted in favour of becoming America’s 51st state. And it might have become a reality if reluctant US senators had not blocked it.
With more than 300 miles of coastline and 300 days of annual sunshine, Puerto Rico is America’s equivalent to our Costa Del Sol, with no fewer than 120 flights a week on 20 airlines to its capital, San Juan.
It’s the third biggest Caribbean island, behind Cuba and Jamaica. The country, about half the size of Wales, comprises the main island of Puerto Rico along with a cluster of smaller islets offering some of the world’s best beaches. Dollars are the local currency, too, while Americans don’t have to show passports, further boosting its US appeal.
With so many connections, it’s easier than ever to visit – JetBlue sells return flights from Heathrow via New York from £550, for instance.
A POTTED HISTORY
In recent referendums the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico – about 1,000 miles south-east of Miami – has voted in favour of becoming America’s 51st state
Originally home to the indigenous Taino people, Puerto Rico (meaning ‘Rich Port’) was ruled by the Spanish for 400 years after the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1493. The country was acquired by the Americans after the 1898 Spanish-American War, and Puerto Ricans have been classed as US citizens for some 100 years.
Each set of rulers has left its imprint on Puerto Rico. Ancient Taino rock carvings are to be found at La Cueva del Indio in Arecibo. Then you have the 16th Century Unesco-listed fortifications of Castillo San Cristobal in Old San Juan. The legacy of American culture is the usual fast-food chains and hotels/motels everywhere.
PINA COLADA, PLEASE
Pina colada is the official drink of Puerto Rico
Although disputed, this classic cocktail was reportedly invented by bartender Ramon Marrero in San Juan’s Caribe Hilton in 1954.
Whatever its history, in 1978 the pina colada was declared the official drink of Puerto Rico – and it’s available just about everywhere.
Often ranked among the world’s top beaches, Playa Flamenco on Culebra Island is best enjoyed on a day trip by boat (sailgetaway.com).
Along with pristine white sand and calm, shallow waters, it is notable for two rusty tanks dating from when the US Navy used the island for target practice between 1936 and 1975.
SANDS LESS TRAVELLED
La Playuela is a quiet, crescent-shaped beach in the south-west.
It’s wild, untouched and requires a dirt-track drive or a hike to reach.
Upon arrival you’ll be rewarded with dramatic views of limestone cliffs, with the 19th Century Cabo Rojo Lighthouse standing sentinel on one.
Often ranked among the world’s top beaches, Playa Flamenco (pictured) on Culebra Island is best enjoyed on a day trip by boat, writes James
STREET ART AND SALSA
With a heritage encompassing Taino, Spanish, African and American traditions, Puerto Ricans call themselves Boricua – the word embracing the island’s art, music, dances and culture.
Art can be spotted everywhere, from the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (mapr.org) to graffiti murals in San Juan’s Santurce neighbourhood. As for music, the islanders are responsible for salsa and, like it or loathe it, reggaeton – a lively blend of reggae, Latin American tunes and hip-hop.
Puerto Ricans call themselves Boricua – the word embracing the island’s art, music, dances and culture
LIGHT UP THE NIGHT
Three of the world’s five bioluminescent bays are in Puerto Rico. The phenomenon sees millions of microscopic sea organisms emitting a mesmerising blue-green light. Join one of the evening kayak tours to see them at Laguna Grande, Mosquito Bay or La Parguera.
Toro Verde Adventure Park, in the Central Mountain Range, is home to an adrenaline-pumping zipline known as The Monster. Soar for a mile and a half over the hilltops of Orocovis while reaching speeds of 95mph (toroverdepr.com).
El Yunque has some superb hiking trails where, along the way, you may spot giant tree snails, Puerto Rican parrots and tiny coquis frogs (which make a sound like birdsong). Stop off for a refreshing dip in natural pools and shower under waterfalls (fs.usda.gov/elyunque).
WHERE TO STAY
Treat yourself to a stay at St Regis Bahia Resort (pictured) where high-end doubles are from £750
High-end doubles are from £750 at St Regis Bahia Beach Resort and Golf Club, set in 483 acres on an old coconut farm with two miles of pristine beach (marriott.com). Or try the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan, which has rooms from £390 and sits by the sea (condadovanderbilt.com).
And Villa Montana Beach Resort, tucked away on 35 lush acres by three miles of beach in the northwest, has doubles from £196 (villamontana.com).
Seven nights at the St Regis Bahia Beach Resort in Rio Grande and seven nights at Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan costs from £5,309pp, flights included (americaasyoulikeit.com). Or seven nights at the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan from £1,859pp flights included (travelbag.co.uk).