August 31, 2012

Puerto Rico: An American Territory


The Basics 

Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States.  It is technically called the “Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.”  The name is Spanish for “rich port.”  Now, many locals call the island “Isla del Encanto,” which means “Island of Enchantment.”

Puerto Rico is made up of a number of islands, the largest being the island of Puerto Rico.  But, there are also some smaller islands just off its shores.  Puerto Rico is in the Caribbean Sea, in between the Dominican Republic and the US Virgin Islands.   It is part of a group of islands called the “Greater Antilles,” which includes other nearby islands like Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica.

Puerto Rico was owned by Spain for many years.  In fact, Christopher Columbus claimed the island for Spain. He named it “San Juan Bautista” in honor of John the Baptist.  Eventually, the island became known as Puerto Rico and its largest city retained the name “San Juan.”  Spain controlled Puerto Rico for about 400 years!  Puerto Rico was transferred to America as part of the treaty that ended the Spanish-American War (remember, Spain lost Guam to America in that war as well?).


Its Claim to Fame

San Juan was an important port for hundreds of years – a place for ships to get much needed supplies and make repairs to equipment.  Most ships that explored the New World stopped at least once in San Juan.

Music!  Puerto Rican music is a combination of local culture and other influences, such as Spanish and African traditions.  Quite a few American pop starts are Puerto Rican (RIcky Martin, Gloria Estevez, and Marc Antony).

The main island of Puerto Rico is mostly made up of beaches along the coast and mountains in the middle. The islands are home to a number of natural wonders, including underwater rivers, caves, rainforest, waterfalls, and the Puerto Rico Trench.  The Puerto Rico Trench is where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean.  It is the deepest point in the Atlantic.  This Trench is where two plates of the earth meet, and as a result the area has seen a number of earthquakes over its history.  The rainforest in Puerto Rico is home to many plants and animals that are not found anywhere else in the world – including quite a few endangered species.  El Yunque is the only rainforest in our national park system.


What Makes it Tick

Puerto Ricans are considered to be American citizens.  As a result, they can travel freely throughout America.  But, they do not have all the rights of a full citizen.  For example, they are not allowed to vote in our Presidential elections.

Puerto Rico has its own Constitution and governs itself – Puerto Rico has a Governor and a Congress.  Over the years, many people have talked about the possibility of Puerto Rico becoming an independent country or a state.  In fact, the Puerto Ricans will vote on what kind of relationship they want to have with America during the upcoming elections this fall.

Many parts of Puerto Rican life come from a mix of Spanish, Caribbean, African and American cultures.  For example, Puerto Rico has its own unique version of Spanish, which has been influenced by the native population, other Caribbean Islands and the Canary Islands.


If You Visited

If you visited Puerto Rico, you would probably play on one of its many beaches – 300 beaches, in fact!  Or, you might explore some caves, go on a zip-line, or explore the rainforest.  You can even take a ferry to one of the smaller surrounding islands like Culebra.

You would probably hear the sing-song call of Puerto Rico’s tiny tree frog, called the coqui.  The coqui only lives in Puerto Rico and could be called its “mascot.”  Its song is similar to its name – “ko-kee.”


Want to Know More? 

Check our Puerto Rico scrapbook for information we received from the Governor and Board of Tourism.

Have you ever visited Puerto Rico? If so, we want to hear from you!!  Post a comment at the end of this page.  Do you have any photos of Puerto Rico to share? Email them to: Or, post them to our Facebook page:

Our tour includes just a few things that are interesting and special about Puerto Rico.  Visit these websites to learn more: