San Juan, Puerto Rico

The island of Puerto Rico is 3,515 sq. mi. and 1000 mi. south of Florida. It's capital is San Juan. Puerto Rico became a province of the USA on July 25, 1952 so there is no need for foreign currency or passport for US citizens. Although Spanish is the official language, English is widely spoken. Puerto Rico has 272 miles of beaches and has an average annual temperature of 82 degrees, making it a beachgoers paradise.

Puerto Rico is one of the oldest settled parts of the Americas, existing for about 500 years. It was first inhabited by the Cajun Indians and later settled by the Spanish. In the 1600s, Africans were brought to Puerto Rico as slave labor to work the sugar cane fields. Little of the indigenous population influence is still present but you can still see some of the Cajun Indian farming techniques, Shamanistic medicine, Bohio huts, hammocks and stone tools. Variations of African food, for instance Casabe "wooden bread", many dances and music and burial customs are still evident. The biggest influence of Spanish heritage left there was Catholicism. It brought about the only link between all the classes from rich to poor and black to white. Religion is still a major part of Puerto Rico's heritage.

Now down to the recreation and sights. If you take route 187, called Pinones Road, starting from the air port you will follow the coast line you will first pass the old Copra plantation, and after that you will see on you left long stretches of deserted beaches. You will also pass three golf courses that offer great views of the ocean which are open to the public. Then the road will head inland toward the Luquillo mountain range. Route 187 will connect with Route 3, a highway. Continue east on Route 3, then take a right onto Route 191. It will take you through the only US tropical rain forest. Drive or hike up the mountains to take in the view. Then come back down and head to the beautiful beaches that are maintained by the government. Find a restaurant and try the local fish and have either a Coco Frio, a chilled coconut that has the top chopped off and you drink the milk; or have some of the local rum, which can easily beat vodka in a competition.

If you are one for water sports, try checking out Fajardo and the surrounding area. They offer sailing, fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, motor boating and Island exploring. Near Fajardo there is an old lighthouse; on the clearest of days, from the top of the lighthouse, it is said that the Virgin Islands can be seen. There are many restaurants in this area that serve local sea food, Italian, Mexican and French cuisine.

In old San Juan there is an abundance of historic structures; for example, El Morro's wall-- a large Spanish fort that defends the Bay of San Juan. Or check out the San Juan gates, which are part of a large wall that defended the old city of San Juan. If all else fails try strolling Apse de la Princess street in old San Juan.

Chris Penney