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Get to Know Puerto Rico's Regions

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I've said it many times before: Puerto Rico is far more than a beach-and-sun destination. Its history is divided in chapters, with the earliest dating back many thousand years. Its geography is a tapestry of ecosystems and landscapes that range from subterranean river to rainforest peak. And its many attractions and sites offer something for virtually every kind of tourist.

So it makes sense that Puerto Rico itself is comprised of six different tourist regions. The amazing thing is that each of these offers natural wonders, historic destinations, and cultural highlights and a cornucopia of services and experiences for visitors.

In short, each deserves to be explored and enjoyed. Take a closer look.

1. Metropolitan San Juan

This one's a no-brainer. The historic, cultural, social and commercial heartbeat of Puerto Rico is San Juan, and by itself it offers more to visitors that most islands in the Caribbean. From the quaint elegance and charm of Old San Juan to the beaches of Condado and Isla Verde, this is where the vast majority of Puerto Rico's tourists come to play. I've never been to the island without spending at least a few days in its capital ... and I keep discovering new places, restaurants, and attractions that keep me coming back for more.

2. Porta Atlántico

Photo © Ritz-Carlton

A land of caves, rivers and ocean coastline, Porta Atlántico is the new name for the northern region of the island. This destination is home to two of the island's most visually stunning attractions: the Camuy Caves and the Arecibo Telescope.

This is actually Puerto Rico's first true tourist getaway. Dorado gained international fame in the 1950s as a resort destination, thanks to its world-class golf. Golf has remained a mainstay in Porta Atlántico, and the region is about to welcome a cluster of new hotels that is sure to catapult it to a new golden age of tourism.

3. Porta Del Sol

Photo © Zain Deane

Porta Del Sol, or "Gateway to the Sun," could easily go by a few other names as well. "Gateway to the best surfing this side of Hawaii" is a bit of a mouthful. So is "Gateway to idyllic beaches and the pristine west coast of Puerto Rico."

Good thing I wasn't in charge of coming up with names. What I can do is tell you that Porta Del Sol, which stretches from Aguadilla in the northwest to Cabo Rojo in the southwest, marches to its own beat. The bohemian surfer crowds in Rincón, Aguadilla and Isabela; indolent sunbathers from Playa Sucia to Playa Crash Boat, and the stark natural beauty of places like the Cabo Rojo Salt Flats and the Guajataca State Forest, make this a destination rich in offerings for anyone who loves the outdoors.

4. Porta Caribe

Photo © Zain Deane

The quaint and elegant South. This is as true of many towns in Puerto Rico's southern coast as it is of Savannah and Charleston. Like those historic cities in the U.S., places like Ponce and Guayama in Puerto Rico have an aristocratic, dignified charm to them. The pace of life is slower, more measured than it is "up north." The people are proud of their many historic monuments, many of which are meticulously preserved. And there is even a healthy social rivalry between Ponce, Puerto Rico's "Second City," and the capital.

Porta Caribe also has its share of natural beauty, with the can't-miss Guánica Dry Forest highlighting the region's many offerings.

5. East Region

Photo © Zain Deane

With all due respect to the other regions, it would not surprise me at all if you found the East to be your favorite destination in Puerto Rico. After all, its' got three of Puerto Rico's most coveted natural treasures: El Yunque, the only subtropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest Service, and the lovely, rustic islands of Vieques and Culebra.

Of course, those are just the tip of the tourist iceberg. You'll also find terrific resorts, outstanding golf, the boating, sailing and fishing capital of the island, adventure tourism that will make your heart race, protected nature reserves, some of the island's best beaches, and two incredible glow-in-the-dark natural wonders that are so rare that only six exist in the world: the Fajardo and Vieques biobays.

6. Central Region

Photo © Zain Deane

Puerto Rico's Central Region often gets overlooked. Even on my humble list, it comes in last place. But that doesn't mean it's not worth the time to explore. This area is home to Puerto Rico's largest mountain chain, which cuts through the central region, practically dividing mainland Puerto Rico in two.

Those who seek the roads less traveled will love what this region has to offer. Those who love scenic drives along winding roads and dramatic vistas of peaks and valleys will appreciate its beauty. Those who are into zip-lining will thank me for telling them about it. And those who love roast pork ... well, let's just say you'll have a gigantic smile on your face after you visit a road that is sacred in Puerto Rico for its lechón.

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