Old San Juan nightlife
The archipelago enjoys a year-round tropical climate
It's not just Johnny Depp who has found Puerto Rico the perfect location: from the classic 1963 Lord of the Flies, to the up-coming Treasure Island starring Eddie Izzard as Long John Silver, the cluster of islands that comprise Puerto Rico, with the main island of Puerto Rico itself, has featured in movies of all types and styles.
Straddling the cultures of the USA and the Caribbean, the archipelago boasts palm-fringed sandy beaches, a wealth of wildlife and ecological marvels of rainforest and mountains, fine gastronomy – including coffee and rum, of course – luxury spas and romantic hotels, family-friendly accommodation and a picturesque Spanish colonial heritage. With its year-round tropical climate, it offers something for everyone and is a perfect place for a holiday.
Claimed for Spain in 1493 by Columbus, Puerto Rico was ceded to the USA in 1898 in the Spanish- American War and is now a commonwealth of America. San Juan, the capital, is a unique blend of old and new with modern business structures and services alongside traditional Puerto Rican and colonial Spanish flavours. The city is the setting for Depp's latest movie, based on The Rum Diary, a Hunter S Thompson novel from the Fifties, a fast-paced tale of love, jealousy and treachery, all mixed well with a more-than-generous splash of rum.
The 500-year-old city of San Juan is renowned for its rich culture and historic appeal – including narrow cobbled streets, colonial architecture and two Spanish-era forts – but in recent years it has undergone a transformation into one of North America's hottest destinations. The buzzing blend of American and Latin style is clearly revealed in the chic bars and tasteful restaurants serving both Criolla and Puerto Rican fusion and international cuisine, and in the contagious rhythm of the clubs and lounges. Salsa is the favourite music and dance beat, but there's plenty on offer for jazz and techno fans, too.
For the ecologically inclined, less than an hour's drive from the city is El Yunque, the only rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System, a UN World Biosphere Reserve and a finalist in New 7 Natural Wonders contest. Filled with cascading waterfalls and home to 26 varieties of animal species found nowhere else in the world, it's a definite must-see.
There are all sorts of adventure tourism opportunities above and underground, as well as on the sea and underwater. Rio Camuy Cave Park, one of the biggest and most dramatic cave systems in the world, comes complete with underground river thundering through. Visitors can ride trams into the 170-foot high Cueva Clara, lined with dense tropical vegetation or up to a platform overlooking the 400-foot deep Tres Pueblos Sinkhole. For the most experienced spelunkers, special tours and rappelling trips can be arranged through sections of the caves which are off-limits to the general public.
You can go hiking, rappelling, rock climbing, and mountain biking or take a zip-line through the rainforest canopy in the recently opened ToroVerde eco-tourism park. Then there's snorkelling or scuba diving off Cayo Diablo with tropical fish, moray eels and octopus. Or you could take a night-time dip in the phosphorescent waters of Mosquito Bay at Vieques Island – also known as 'Isla Nena' or 'Little Girl' island – Puerto Rico's little sister some eight miles east of the mainland.
Accommodation ranges from the luxurious – St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, or the W Retreat & Spa - to the practical, and budget conscious visitors should check out the Paradores programme. These are privately-owned independent hotels and small inns located throughout the island, especially on the western side. They include beachfront and mountain properties and, while some are modern, others are restored haciendas on sugar or coffee plantations giving them a marvellous authentic feel.
Puerto Rico Tourism Company