Puerto Rico is where the Caribbean begins. As a major hub for small planes to the rest of the islands, many travelers know more about the San Juan airport than the adventures awaiting on this beautiful island a thousand miles southeast of Miami, FL. Puerto Rico is almost the 51st state, as it is under the U.S. customs jurisdiction but retains local government and populace proud of its autonomy.
Many think of Puerto Rico as a large island, but it is actually composed of an archipelago that includes a number of quiet, secluded islands, such as Vieques, Culebra, and Mona. Though large in comparison to most Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico is the smallest of the four islands of the Greater Antilles. The other three are Cuba, Hispaniola (comprised of Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and Jamaica.
However, thanks to a great tourist economy, the popularity of casinos and some of the world's best deep sea fishing, Puerto Rico ranks third in terms of population.
For nature enthusiasts, Puerto Rico presents many mountains ideal for hikes and camping alongside large coastal areas in the north and south. The main mountain range is called "La Cordillera Central" (The Central Range). The highest peak in Puerto Rico is Cerro de Punta, which reaches over 4,000 feet (1,339 meters). Another important peak is El Yunque, with an elevation of 3.5 thousand feet (1,065 m). This is the highest point in the Sierra de Luquillo and sits inside the tropical rainforest of El Yunque National Forest.
For history hunters, the island opens a window into the past. The mighty fortress of El Morro is the oldest surviving European structure in the Americas. The massive structure shows off its ramparts and secret passageways that are still in fighting shape while it dominates the northernmost promontory on the edge of Old San Juan. The blue stone streets of this UNESCO World Heritage sites harbors cafes, museums, shops and the final resting place of the world's foremost expert on the Fountain of Youth-- Juan Ponce de Leon.
So before hopping that next flight, stay for the nightlife of San Juan, the luxurious sand of Playa de Ponce, or the living coral and manatees beyond Playa Esperanza. A new world is waiting.