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Puerto Rico has been part of the United States since 1898, yet its people have always felt distinct from their nation and adopted a distinct identity that is filled with nationalism despite not being an independent sovereign state.
The territory has endured economic depression, a shrinking population, debt crisis and bankruptcy, natural disasters such as the coronavirus pandemic, government mismanagement and lack of representation in Washington D.C. It has worked hard to rebuild its economy while many residents still seek statehood.
The island you know and love today was first discovered by a group of indigenous people known as the Taino. These people lived on the island for thousands of years before Spanish settlers arrived, creating what we now call Puerto Rico.
In 1508, Juan Ponce de Leon established Caparra, the first European settlement in what would eventually become Puerto Rico. With his conquest of Taino people and control of much of the island, Ponce de Leon quickly rose to power.
Once the Spanish arrived, they started to cultivate agriculture by importing sugar cane, tobacco and coffee - which not only helped boost the island's economy but also brought many European diseases with it.
Despite these negative consequences, Puerto Ricans developed a strong sense of national identity which was evident through music, the arts and colloquial language spoken on the island.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Spain faced a severe economic crisis that contributed to the formation of secret societies advocating boycotting Spanish merchants. As a response, the Spanish government implemented harsh repression and imprisonments which only served to inflame citizens' resentment towards Spanish merchants.
Puerto Ricans speak a variety of languages, such as Spanish and English. Both are official languages in Puerto Rico and widely spoken among its local population.
Most people on the island speak Spanish as their primary language. It has been shaped by numerous groups and has a distinct sound that speaks to the mix of cultures that have settled here over time.
On the island of Guadeloupe, many non-indigenous languages are spoken, including French and Italian. There is also a strong African and Caribbean influence present.
Puerto Rican Spanish stands out with its soft L's, dropped final letters, and muted vowels. This makes it one of the smoothest forms of Spanish available.
It is also unique in that the letter R is pronounced differently due to a large population of French immigrants who settled along the western shoreline of the island.
In the past, authorities in the United States attempted to make English the primary language of instruction in public schools on the island; however, fierce resistance from educators and leaders of that community ultimately forced a shift in policy. Nowadays, most school students learn both Spanish and English simultaneously.
Puerto Rico boasts one of the richest cultural heritages in the world. Its blend of Spanish, Taino Indians, and African ancestry have had a lasting effect on its history, cuisine, and experiences.
Before the arrival of the Spaniards, Puerto Rico was home to an abundant indigenous community that worshiped multiple gods. Many of their traditions were passed down from mother to child; these include songs, music, dances, spiritual beliefs and home remedies that still influence modern-day Puerto Rican life today.
Today, actual Native communities and families of Native descent are reclaiming their ancestral ways. These individuals still practice traditional activities like farming and fishing, while honoring the customs of their ancestors.
These people utilize the same plants and medicines their ancestors did, with a strong sense of pride in their culture and heritage.
Puerto Rico boasts a vibrant sense of identity, which is evident in everything from food and drink to how residents treat one another. Despite some challenges the island faces, its people share an infectious joy.
Puerto Rico's cuisine is an eclectic synthesis of European and African influences. Pork is usually the main meat, but chicken or beef can also be found in many dishes.
One iconic dish in Colombia is mofongo, a mashed dish composed of green plantains fried in olive oil with chicharron (pork skin) or lard. It's often served alongside rice and beans.
Popular snacks include pastelillos, which are small cigar-shaped baked treats stuffed with cream cheese. They may be topped off with guava paste or other fruits.
Locals appreciate these snacks because they're easy to transport and don't require too much refrigeration or cooking time. You can find them at stalls across the island, but San Juan in particular has some of the tastiest varieties.
Following hurricanes that decimated Puerto Rico's agricultural industry, a renewed effort to promote local farming is taking off. This movement follows an international trend of pulling back from globalization as supply chains become more fragile and vulnerable to war, natural disasters or other unpredictable events. The movement demonstrates that countries can build up their own food security while reclaiming an inclusive economy.
When people think of Puerto Rico, they likely envision thatched-roof beachfront bars offering umbrella-topped mojitos and pina coladas. But this Caribbean island's bar scene is much more diverse than that; it embraces local ingredients like indigenous Taino spices.
Puerto Rico offers a wide variety of refreshing drinks, such as coconut water and fruity ice cream frappes. In addition to these, there are traditional alcoholic drinks like rum and sangria available as well.
Coquito, also known as Coquito in Puerto Rico, is a festive drink made with rum, sweetened condensed milk, coconut milk and cream that tastes just like eggnog! Perfect for celebrating Christmas season with this festive beverage!
Puerto Rico's tropical climate ensures that the weather remains comfortable year-round. On average, highs range from 84degF to 90degF while lows seldom drop below 70degF.
It's also an ideal place to sample some non-tequila drinks, such as the local beer Medalla. Produced in Mayaguez, this lager-style beer is a popular choice among travelers.
Puerto Rico enjoys a tropical climate that makes it an attractive vacation spot all year round. On average, high temperatures on the island range between 84degF and 90degF; in wintertime however, temperatures can dip down to around 70degF.
When visiting Puerto Rico, the best time to go is during high season (mid-December through mid-April). These months are less crowded and have less rain, making them perfect for beach vacations.
November is still hurricane season, which means stormy weather is possible. Fortunately, most of these storms pass quickly and you can still enjoy outdoor activities such as walking around old city streets, exploring caves and museums, or taking a siesta in the afternoon.
The climate also offers pleasant trade winds that keep the air cool even on hot days. This is especially helpful for travelers without air conditioning or who wish to go snorkeling.
Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, leaving the island reeling and unable to recover from both the disaster and its consequences - particularly for its public utility company PREPA.
Unfortunately, the company had already declared bankruptcy before Hurricane Maria hit. The lack of power only further damaged customer confidence in their capacity to meet island needs.
Due to this focus on debt repayment, the government has prioritized debt repayment above all else and been forced to cut back on public services that were essential for residents' wellbeing. As a result, Puerto Rico is facing an intensifying economic crisis and increasingly relies on social assistance from the United States for support.
Pro-independence groups have long sought to have Puerto Rico removed from the UN decolonization committee's list of non-self-governing territories. But an increasing number of activists and politicians are now advocating for statehood, which would grant Puerto Ricans full citizenship rights and give them more autonomy as a self-governing entity within the US. This would likely shift the balance of power between America's largest island and Puerto Rico - long excluded from American democracy.
The economy is the total output of goods and services produced by a nation's businesses. Its performance is determined by factors such as currency, interest rates, and other economic variables.
Puerto Rico's economy is primarily driven by manufacturing, which accounts for 47% of GDP. Finance, insurance and real estate also play a significant role in the island's economy.
Trade is a significant element of the island's economy, comprising one-tenth of GDP and employing around 20 percent of the workforce. Exports account for most of its international trade activity.
One major economic challenge facing Puerto Rico is rising energy costs, which are primarily the responsibility of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). With a budget in debt exceeding $8 billion, PREPA must find ways to reduce expenses without increasing electricity prices for consumers.