Determining Puerto Rico's charm is a no-brainer. Less than a three-hour flight from Miami, this island is a U.S. territory (in case you didn't recall from high school history class). So when you're shopping in San Juan, you can pay for your souvenirs with American bills. But don't be mistaken: This isn't quite a home away from home. Puerto Rico has both 20-foot waves for surfers and calm, clear waters for families. It's a stroll back through time (El Morro) and an up-close look at the contemporary (Calle del Cristo). It's an exhilarating mix of landscapes, from the serpentine jungle of El Yunque to the corkscrew caves of Parque de las Cavernas del Río Camuy. And if you want to get away from civilization entirely, you can ferry over to the secluded — not to mention jaw-droppingly gorgeous — islands of Vieques and Culebra. Convinced?
If not, we can drive a few further points home. When other Caribbean isles put a premium on wintertime at the beach, Puerto Rico offers year-round affordable packages so travelers can relax along its blanched sands. And while other regional spots like to advertise exciting nightlife, the capital city of San Juan actually delivers. Follow a pulsating beat to the dance clubs in the Santurce neighborhood, catch some live music in a Ponce lounge or grab a casual drink at a San Sebastián bar.
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Much of Puerto Rican culture, from the food to the music, represents the island's combined North American, Caribbean and indigenous Taíno ancestry. In Old San Juan, for example, you can grab comida criolla (traditional Puerto Rican meals of pork, rice and beans) just a stone's throw from Calle del Cristo's Coach and Polo Ralph Lauren factory outlets.
Speaking of clothes, you're on vacation in the tropics and you're going to want to dress informally. But it's a good idea to cover up your swimsuits with clothing unless you're at the pool or the beach. Also pay special attention to your attire before enjoying Puerto Rico's nightlife — only tourists go out dressing like they're at a barbecue. If you want to blend in at the bar, turn up your fashion a notch and leave the culottes in the suitcase.
Many Puerto Ricans speak English, but Spanish is the language of daily life. Packing a Spanish phrasebook is handy, and Puerto Ricans welcome your efforts to converse with them in Spanish.
Since Puerto Rico is part of the United States, the island's currency is the U.S. dollar and credit cards are widely accepted. Tipping etiquette is the same here as in other parts of the United States; 15 to 20 percent is considered the standard, but more is appreciated for exceptional service.
Dining in Puerto Rico reflects the island's mixture of Caribbean, Latin, North American and indigenous Taíno influences. If you want to try something new, head to a fonda, or storefront eatery, along San Juan's Plaza del Mercado. South Fortaleza Street, or Calle Fortaleza — or even SoFo for short — is another dining hub with some of the newest bars and restaurants. The food on San Juan's SoFo is good at any time, but it's a special treat to try some during SoFo Culinary Week in June. That's when Calle Fortaleza is barricaded to car traffic and transformed into an outdoor tasting plaza that's popular with tourists and residents alike. If you're staying in the northeast, you can expect a quieter dining experience along Luquillo or Fajardo beaches. The atmosphere and clientele is more subdued, and the affordable food exceeds expectations.
No matter where you dine, make sure you get a taste of some of Puerto Rico's most authentic eats: asopao is a traditional stew often made with chicken or beef; mofongo consists of seafood, meat or vegetables atop mashed plantains; and lechón is smokey, roasted suckling pig.
The best way to get around Puerto Rico largely depends on where you're staying. In San Juan, you can try the combination of walking and taking the bus; on other parts of the island, a car will be your best bet. Unfortunately, driving is a courageous pursuit carried out on snaking roads, and you'll need to carry spare change for the occasional toll. To rent a vehicle, first check the rates at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU). You also have the option of a taxi, but keep in mind that only the white "turístico" taxis will definitely charge fixed rates.
Puerto Rico has smaller airports: Mercedita Airport (PSE) on the southern coast and Rafael Hernández Airport (BQN) on the western coast. Check the flight schedule for airlines like JetBlue and Delta to fly into either of those hubs.See details for Getting Around
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You don't need a passport to enter Puerto Rico. However, if you are traveling onward to another Caribbean destination (other than the U.S. Virgin Islands ) from Puerto Rico, you will need to present your passport. Visit the U.S. State Department's website for more information on entry and exit requirements.