Puerto Rico is one of the richer islands in the Caribbean. With an average year income of more than 2200 euro (almost equivalent to the same amount of US Dollars at the moment) and an average life expectancy of seventy years, Puerto Rican life is of relative good quality. The welfare partly comes from the deep-rooted American influence.
Columbus discovered Puerto Rico in 1493 on his second voyage to the New World. When the discoverer arrived on the western shore of the island with his companion Juan Ponce de Léon on that November 19, it was already inhabited by indians. The so-called Taino tribe consisted of 30,000 people. The Tainos called the island Borinquén, but the Columbus crew named it San Juan Bautista, after the baptist St. John.
The Tainos were turned into slaves by the conquistadors when Ponce de Léon returned to the island in 1508. The invaders erected their first town on the south shore of what now is the San Juan Bay, and named it Caparra. Six years and a Taino rebellion later, there were only 4,000 natives left. The colonizers consequently introduced African slaves to take part in sugar cane agriculture.
All kinds of new treasures sailed the oceans heading for the home ports in Spain. To protect the rich island (hence the name) from French, English and Dutch pirates, the Spanish fortified the town of San Juan (now the capital). The fort called El Morro showed its muscles fruitfully against attacks by the fleets of the British (Sir Francis Drake, 1595) and the Dutch (Boudewijn Hendricksz, 1622). San Juan was taken and burnt down by the Dutch but they left when El Morro could not be conquered. The only non-Spanish influence in the next century came from contraband with surrounding Dutch, French and British islands.
As the 18th century progressed, the American influence in the Caribbean grew steadily. When the English ports of Jamaica and Barbados were closed to Americans, they shifted to San Juan looking for trade opportunities. During the American War of Independence, some American ships used Puerto Rico as refuge haven. In 1868 a rebellion in the town of Lares eventually led to reform in the shape of abolishment of slavery in 1873 and autonomy from Spain in 1897.
Autonomy lasted not even a year. Soon after the Spanish-American War broke out in April 1898, the USA seized Puerto Rico and settled their own government in San Juan. On March 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Law, granting Puerto Ricans American citizenship, western freedoms as liberty of speech and freedom of press, and a democratic Senate and a House of Representatives. The governor was still appointed by President of the USA, with a right to veto anything.
In reaction to poverty and American supremacy, the Puerto Ricans longed for independence. In the so-called Ponce Massacre on March 21, 1937, a forbidden nationalist march ended in 20 casualties. The Puerto Rico Independence Party was founded in 1946. The Americans were willing to provide more autonomy, resulting in the first Puerto Rican governor in the same year. One year later the population was permitted to democratically elect their own governor. Another nationalist rebellion produced 23 killed people in 1950.
In the last half century, Puerto Rico developed into an industrial economy. Rum and cigars may be the most eye-catching traditional activities, pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries are the most important sources of income. The share of tourism in this figure grows each year.
The island currently has almost four million inhabitants.
Despite its small size (100 by 35 miles, or 160 by 55 kilometres), Puerto Rico's landscape is diverse. The mountain range Cordillera Central physically represents the island's spinal column. The tropical forests profit from over 600 centimetres of rainfall each year, which contributes to 250 different tree species and other widely varied flora and fauna. El Yunque (or Caribbean National Forest, as it is sometimes called) is the most popular rain forest, with its 284 different species of colourful birds and its musical coquis (tiny tree frogs) that are only found in this part of the world. The trained hiker finds a real challenge in ascending the 1,338 metres tall Ferro Punto, the highest peak of Puerto Rico.
One of the most enchanting National Parks in the Caribbean is the Rio Camuy Park in the northeast. Only five hundred tourists per day are allowed in the park. The main attraction features a tour to the third largest underground river cave system in the world, with stalactites, stalagmites and a species of blind fish. Not recommended for the claustrophobic.
Temperatures range from mid to high 80s in Fahrenheit, or mid to high 20s in Celsius. Bahia Fosforescente (Phosphorescent Bay) in Parguera is popular because a species of tiny marine plankton create a luminescent glow whenever there is movement in the water. Other aquatic activities for the nature lover include whalewatching and scuba diving.
Puerto Rico's capital is San Juan, a historical city with old, 13-metre high city walls and the fort El Morro. The all-around Coca Cola and hamburgers make clear this is America. San Juan hosts botanical gardens, museums and galleries, apart from the many historical buildings.
The buildings in Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities are unlike any other in the world. San Juan and many other cities and towns are a unique blend of new and old. A much-needed expansion of the capital resulted in the construction of modern San Juan, where new buildings and large hotels can be found. In contrast, Old San Juan’s restored 16th and 17th century buildings look out over charming, cobbled streets.
Part of the movie Contact was filmed in Arecibo Observatory, which does research here looking for extraterrestrials. The Bacardi Rum Distillery in Cataño is the largest rum distillery in the world. Ponce's Museum of Art is housed in a dramatic building designed by Edward Durrell Stone and features a collection of more than 2,100 pieces of art, by artists like Pieter Paul Rubens and Thomas Gainsborough. San Juan's Cathedral was built in 1529 and is the final resting place of Juan Ponce de León.