Puerto Rico

November 25, 2012 9:45 pm

Puerto Rico means “rich port” in Spanish. Spanish colonists named this small Caribbean island in the early 1500s. The name originally referred to the large, protected harbor on the island’s northeastern coast. That’s where the capital city of San Juan was built.
For a long time, San Juan’s full name was San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico. Gradually, the capital came to be called San Juan, and the island was called Puerto Rico.
WHERE IS PUERTO RICO?
Puerto Rico is part of the Greater Antilles, an island group in the Caribbean Sea. The other islands of this group are Cuba, Jamaica, and Hispaniola.
Puerto Rico is the smallest and most easterly of the Greater Antilles. It’s about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) southeast of Florida. The territory of Puerto Rico also includes several small, offshore islands. The largest of these is Vieques Island, which lies to the east.
The island of Puerto Rico is shaped like a rectangle. Puerto Rico’s total land area, including its offshore islands, is about half the size of the state of New Jersey.
PART OF THE UNITED STATES
Puerto Rico is part of the United States, but it’s not a state. It’s called a commonwealth. That means that Puerto Rico governs itself in local affairs. But the United States controls certain things, such as Puerto Rico’s defense and its relations with other countries.
The 4 million people of Puerto Rico are full citizens of the United States. About 3 million Puerto Ricans make their homes in the United States, especially in New York and New Jersey.
Spanish is the main language of Puerto Rico. The island was a colony of Spain for nearly 400 years. The United States gained control in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. Today, English is Puerto Rico’s other official language.
MOUNTAINS AND SUNNY WEATHER
The weather in Puerto Rico is warm and sunny nearly all year round. Mountains and rugged hills cover most of Puerto Rico’s interior. A narrow coastal plain rings the island. In the mountains, some rain falls nearly every day of the year. Destructive tropical storms called hurricanes can hit Puerto Rico in the summer and early fall.
Puerto Rico is famous for beautiful beaches, such as Luquillo Beach in the northeast. Because of its great scenery and sunny days, tourism is big business in Puerto Rico. In fact, about 3 million tourists visit Puerto Rico every year. Many come on cruise ships traveling through the Caribbean Sea.
EL YUNQUE
A favorite spot for visitors to Puerto Rico is El Yunque in the northeast. El Yunque is a mountain surrounded by a lush, tropical rain forest. The forest is home to giant ferns and beautiful flowers, especially orchids. Thousands of species of tropical trees and shrubs grow in the forest.
ANIMAL LIFE
Puerto Rico has only a few native animals. One is the Puerto Rican parrot. It’s a large, bright-green parrot with a red forehead. Another is the coquí tree frog. The tiny coquí is famous for singing at night. Visitors often mistake the coquí’s song for the song of a bird!
The waters around Puerto Rico are home to many species of game fish. They include tuna, marlin, bonefish, and amberjack.
OLD SAN JUAN
San Juan is Puerto Rico’s capital and biggest city. It’s one of the oldest cities in the Americas. Spain founded San Juan in the early 1500s as a military base. The old part of the city, called Old San Juan, is actually an island connected to the newer part of the city by bridges.
Old San Juan is a colorful place of historic buildings and narrow, crooked streets. The Cathedral of San Juan Bautista dates from the 1520s. It holds the tomb of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León. Ponce de León set out from Puerto Rico in 1512 in search of the legendary fountain of youth. He never found it, but he did find Florida, which he explored.
A famous old fortress called El Morro rises on a bluff along Old San Juan’s coast. It has high, thick walls that look over the ocean. Another old fortress, called La Fortaleza, is now a palace where the governor of Puerto Rico lives. Much of the old city is still surrounded by walls.
THE STATE DEBATE
For years Puerto Ricans have debated their relationship with the United States. Some people want Puerto Rico to be a full state in the United States. A few want Puerto Rico to be an independent country. But most prefer to maintain Puerto Rico’s status as a commonwealth of the United States.
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