It's only the size of Connecticut, but Puerto Rico pulsates with more life than any other island in the Caribbean. Whether it's the beat of bomba y plena, salsa, or reggaeton, there's a party going on here 24/7.
The four million people who live here have perfected the art of having fun on their dazzling island, and visitors are free to join right in. Puerto Ricans love their island and take pride in showing off its charms, which makes them among the world's great hosts. Especially on weekends, there seems to be something going on just about everywhere -- whether it's an art fair in Old San Juan, a pig roast in the rural mountain area outside town, or a volleyball competition or free concert on the beach in Isla Verde. More so than on any other island, visitors are more likely to rub elbows with locals in Puerto Rico because so many of them are out enjoying themselves. For island hotels and restaurants, local residents are an important and loyal part of their clientele.
Puerto Rico is blessed with towering mountains, rainforests, white sandy beaches along Caribbean shores, and a vibrant culture forged from a mix of Caribbean, Hispanic, African, and U.S. influences. Culture vultures will find a wealth of historic buildings and monuments, many of them dating back some 500 years to the Spanish conquistadors. There are three world-class museums and a thriving gallery scene in San Juan. The city is more intimate but just as exciting as Miami or Las Vegas, and the sophisticated fashion sense of the city and its inhabitants will genuinely impress visitors. San Juan's nightlife, dining scene, casinos and live performance calendar are just as noteworthy. Add some of the best golf and tennis in the West Indies, posh beach resorts, tranquil and offbeat inns and guesthouses, and you've got a formidable attraction.
Good service, once notoriously lacking in Puerto Rico, has been improving for several years now. You'll still find both not so benign neglect and outright gruff service, but the majority of hotel and restaurant employees are absolutely delightful these days.
Puerto Rico is a crowded island, which makes for some traffic congestion, especially during the morning and afternoon rush hours, but visitors won't really notice except during holiday weekends. There are country and coastal retreats where visitors can escape the masses, but you are never too far away from anybody in Puerto Rico.
Tourists are generally safe, and a crime in a tourist district is rare. But homeless drug addicts and mentally ill beggars are a common sight in San Juan. There are also unfortunate problems with littering and treatment of animals -- but great strides in these areas are being made. Most of Puerto Rico's crime and social problems remain largely invisible to tourists.
A clue to the Puerto Rican soul is reflected in the national anthem, "La Borinqueña," which describes the island as a "flowering garden of exquisite magic . . . the daughter of the sea and the sun." Get to know this garden and the people who call it home.