Size and Location:
Puerto Rico is the easternmost island of the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean. It is located almost 1,300 miles off the coast of Florida. The island is 110 miles long and 35 miles wide, with hundreds of beaches dotted along its 272 miles of coastline.
With almost four million residents, Puerto Rico is considered one of the most densely populated islands in the world. Puerto Ricans are a blend of Spanish, African, native Taíno, and American cultures. The island is also a global melting pot and home to Lebanese, Italian, French, German, Chinese, and Caribbean immigrants.
There are two common terms you'll hear in Puerto Rico that are used to define a collective identity. Boricua, a term derived from the Taíno, is a symbolic reference to native Puerto Rican, and criollo, or "creole," is used especially when describing local music, food and arts.
Spanish and English are the official languages of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth of the United States. As such, Puerto Ricans are U.S citizens but do not have the right to vote, and most do not have to pay Federal income taxes.
The ultimate decisions over its governance lie with the U.S. Congress. Most Federal laws apply to Puerto Rico, however, the island has a local government in place to oversee its domestic affairs. Puerto Ricans elect a governor every four years, who serves as the chief executive officer of the island.
Year-round, average temperatures range from 70°F to 80°F. Puerto Rico has a hurricane season, which officially runs from June 1 to November 30.
The U.S. Dollar is the local currency.
The island uses a 787 area code. You do not need to dial an international area code when calling within the island or making calls to the U.S.
Religion and Beliefs:
While other religions are flourishing, Puerto Rico is still considered 85% Catholic. The Protestant Church makes up the next largest religious community. Evangelical churches have a popular following, and Santeria is also practiced on the island. (Contrary to its portrayal in Hollywood, Santeria is a highly spiritual union of African and Catholic beliefs.)
Espiritismo is another alternative belief system found in Puerto Rico. A custom with ties to African and Taíno culture, Espiritismo acknowledges a spirit world that exists along with the material world. It is particularly popular for its healing attributes.
Crime and Safety:
While San Juan suffers from the crime rates that many large urban cities experience, the rest of Puerto Rico is a relatively safe destination. The drug trade is one of the island's biggest problems, as Puerto Rico's location between North and South America places it squarely in the path of charter planes and ships carrying drugs to the U.S.
Tourists should exercize caution and common sense when they're on the island, and especially in San Juan, which has its share of homeless people. Tourist areas are well monitored by the police. Petty theft is prevalent in San Juan as well as on Vieques and Culebra Islands. (On Vieques, in particular, you're advised never to leave your valuables in the car when you head out to the beach.)
Keep the following numbers on hand in case of an emergency:
- Any emergency: 911
- Department of Health: (787) 766-1616
- Medical emergency: (787) 754-2550
- Dental emergency: (787) 795-0320
- Fire department: (787) 725-3444
- Police: (787) 343-2020
- Tourist Zone Police in Conado: (787) 726-7020
- Tourist Zone Police in Isla Verde: (787) 728-4770