Favorite thing: Before I went to PR, everyone told me I could get by without knowing Spanish. Keep in mind that I only knew very basic words--I'm much more of a German/Russian speaker, which isn't saying too much. So, in San Juan, there was no problem. Then I got a rental car. EVERYTHING written is in Spanish and in Fajardo, to communicate with people, you should know Spanish. The general guideline is to know enough to get by to read general writing and when you are speaking to people who work in restaurants or other stores. And Puerto Rican Spanish is a bit different, too. For example, Gracias is said dropping the S and having a hard accent on the A. There are plenty of other differences as well, not that I would know since I never knew Spanish to begin with. You pick it up very quickly though.
Favorite thing: Just wanted to let everyone know to expect an encounter with an iguana if you are traveling outside of metropolitan San Juan. I thought it was awesome to see these creatures crawling around unabashedly to get the best spot in the sun. If you are afraid of them do not worry they are pretty harmless. Most of them will scurry away if approached and unless you try to stick your fingers in their mouths they won't hurt you.
I just had a long conversation with my good PR friend about the concerns you've raised here regarding the weather. Similar to what was noted in the above on-line link re: temperature, the subjective conclusion of people who know PR the best because they come from there is that the tropical weather of PR makes it an ideal location year-round as it does not change much throughout the year. The only real problem you need to be worried about is that of the annual tropical storms/hurricanes that peak around late July to September. Per my friend, sometimes luck may be on your side since this comes later during the season (sometimes between August-Sept.). Sometimes there may be downpours, but it stops a few hours later and the sun shines brightly again. Also know that it depends where you position yourselves in Puerto Rico. The northern part (e.g., San Juan, other areas close to the El Yunque National Rainforest, etc.) gets the heaviest amount of rainfall, but the south (e.g., Salinas, Ponce, etc.) less so. Please don't think that my earlier posts were that of a dissuading nature, I am merely cautioning you about what you will potentially encounter weather-wise as part of your travel-related planning. My friend graciously has compiled a list for you to peruse regarding feasts in August all over PR. I will e-mail it to you as soon as I receive it. As for the heat, well, it will not change...it will be warm to hot, but I often referred my experience with weather in PR as "warm" rather than "hot" because we made sure to stay around the coastal part where we got a nice sea breeze all the time. That made the difference, I think. As for the activities, we were all over PR in the few weeks we were there and actively pursued outdoor-type activities. Sailing is GREAT if you get to do it privately, but it may be too much of a stretch in August when you may not know when the storms/hurricanes strike. You don't want to be in the middle of it out there in the open water and risk having the boat capsize.
Good Luck & Enjoy!
Fondest memory: Our drive all over the island of Puerto Rico and the sailing with friends.
Regarding your question about what immigration papers they check in Puerto Rico if you're arriving from NY or NJ:
Just arrived in Puerto Rico yesterday and nothing was checked...as in nothing. We just got our luggages and that was it...no immigration...Of course we had our US pasports, birth certificates for the kids and driver's licences but they did not even look at it...it was just confusing to find out where our luggages we coming out of because we did not listen to the flight attendant when we were landing..there are no compuer screens to show where your luggages are (carousels 1-8).
Even leaving NY (La Guardia) we had to check in through the domestic counter - not considered International...
There are surprisingly many things to do & see in Puerto Rico. And it is just more than beaches, crazy parties, rums and casinos. I had the wonderful privilege of being "toured around" by locals and had seen pretty much everything the island has to offer through their eyes. I have a list of year-round events, but I don't have the file with me right now. As for places to go & see, these are some of the things I remember:
1.) A scenic coastal drive throughout the island. Be careful about the narrow roads in the inner/mountainous & hilly parts.
2.) An island getaway to either Culebra or Vieques.
3.) Old San Jan (many museums and art galleries abound including the Pablo Casals Museum. There are also fabulous cafes.)
4.) A folklorico show by traditional Puerto Rican dancers from the preeminent dance company (It was in the summertime and I believe the performance was in the courtyard of the San Cristobal fort).
5.) El Morro & San Cristobal forts
6.) Old San Juan City Wall
7.) A bay cruise with views of the city
8.) El Yunque National Rainforest in the Luquillo Mountains
9.) Luquillo Beach with food vendors selling delicious local fare
10.) Ponce in the south and its surrounding beaches. There is also a boardwalk there where you can "hang out" at night and check out the feel & vibe of the area. There are also the following: the Indian Ceremonial Park, the sugar mill & the rum museum, and the Museum of Art.
11.) The Tibes Indian Ceremonial Center is close to Ponce. There is a small museum/exhibit area and a semi-Taino Indian Village has been built.
12.)La Parguera: the Phosphorescent/Bioluminescent Bay. Definitely don't miss this experience especially on a moonless night. I believe there are also phosphorescent bays in Vieques and/or Fajardo.
13.) Camuy Caves (a large cave system with its underground river--it's pretty amazing!)
14.) Arecibo Observatory
15.) Caguana Indian Ceremonial Park (close to the observatory)
16.) A drive through sleepy/colonial towns is a wonderful way to experience PR.
17.) Sailing with friends around the South of PR was awesome! I heard that it only takes 8 hours to sail to Saint Maarten from there. Unfortunately, we were running out of time.
18.) Overall, I found these things about my PR experience: splendid wanderings in old San Juan (you never know what you may find--a cool local bookstore, a cozy cafe, etc.), spectacular drives, fantastic sailing opportunities & unforgettable people!
Enjoy Beautiful Puerto Rico!
Fondest memory: The scenic drives, the points of interest, the activities and the people!
Favorite thing: A hurricane ripped through the eastern side of the island in 1989. The islanders credit the rainforest for acting as a buffer system; preventing much of the island from major damage. Also, this year a tropical storm system passed through doing significant damage to the island. Clean up crews are magnificent, but damage is likely to still be visible in certain parts.
You might see in the trees of El Yunque these metal objects, huge pipes which are being used for conservation efforts for the green parrot. These are a bit rusty and snugly situated in the trees. You will also notice that there are camouflaged decks from which the scientists can observe the birds if they do use the pipes for nesting.
Why save them? Because they are so critically endangered (1994)and it has been a symbol of Puerto Rico! Its natural habitat has been removed and so in 2006, the estimates were that there were only about 40 parrots in the wild and 143 in captivitiy…what they have done now is that have a hatchling area where parrots of a similar species have helped in the reproductive cycle.
The green parrot is the only remaining native parrot in Puerto Rico.
Our guide Jose said if any of us sees one – he’ll drop dead because he has never seen one. It is about 12 inches (30 cm) with a red forehead and white rings around the eyes. The problems is they reproduce only once a year and sexual maturity is not until 4 years of age. And their diet is mainly from the forest canopy and wild fruits and flowers which have been disappearing from the archicpelago.
For beer a great drink in Puerto Rico try Medalla. It is a light beer white a good flavor. A great drink for a hot day on the beach.
For rum try Don Q. It is the drink of choice with locals. Don Q Crystal or clear rum is the most popular. They also have Don Q Gold and Don Q Limon as well.
A great drink to take to the beach for a day is limoncillo. Here's the recipe:
It's easiest made with a gallon jug of water. Drain the jug of water till it is 3/4 full. Add 1/2 a liter of Don Q Crystal rum. Add a Crystal Light lemonade mix pack. Add a bit of ice to make sure it stays cold.
Coqui frogs are the unofficial mascot of Puerto Rico. They are tiny little frogs that make a humoungous noise. They sing a song that sounds much like a bird that sounds sort of like "koh- kee", like their name.
These frogs can only survive in tropical environments. Recently, they were unfortunately introduced to Hawaii and are creating quite a problem. In Puerto Rico, however, they are very much beloved.
Fondest memory: Link to my town's (little puerto rico) page about the coqui: http://www.vineland.org/history/pr_festival/co
Food from local food/fruit vendors is quite cheap in Puerto Rico! We drove all over Puerto Rico and stopped for food/fruits sold in street corners/stands.
The chicken/pork pinchos (meat skewered in sticks or barbecue) are delicious and very inexpensive. I'd say budget around $15-20/day for food per person for this kind of travel-related dining arrangement.
Fondest memory: Happily eating "pinchos" sold in the streets en route to another exciting destination of the day.
The people of Puerto Rico are often referred to as Boriqua (singular) or Borinquen (plural). This is a reference to the name of the native Boriquen indians that inhabitated the island of Puerto Rico before explorers arrived and "contributed" there genes to the Boriquen gene pool. Puerto Ricans sometimes still refer ot themselves as Borinquen, even though there are few pure blooded Boriquas left.
Fondest memory: I was in Puerto Rico on a choir tour. After our group sang in the Catholic church in Old San Juan, we stood outside and sang non liturgical songs. It was very touching as we sang 'En Mi Viejo San Juan' (a traditional Puerto Rican song, very sad) to watch the local's eyes fill with tears....
One thing that slowly dawned on me over the course of our visit, was that Puerto Rico is not very touristy. Old San Juan is, but the city and island as a whole are not. Puerto Rico is a wowrking and comparatively thriving island economy, with the business of finance and education, government and commerce taking place in San Juan and most manufacturing located in Ponce. The smaller cities tend to struggle, but are easygoing towns that focus on the sea and fishing, or the nuts and bolts of rural life as everywhere else. Rural Puerto Rico does a lot of things like road maintenance, staff hospitals, retail work, fix cars etc.
Fondest memory: The best thing about Puerto Rico's non-touristy aspect is that you go local with surprising ease. You don't get out of the tourist areas, there are none. You don't seek out local restaurants, they're all around you. You shop in the same stores locals do, you eat the same foods and drink in the same open air bars, eat the same mallorcas they do, because that's all there is! Sure, they have chain restaurants, but even in those, you will be surrounded by local people, not tourists.
While driving from the airport to a suburd of Dorado we came across a bunch of street vendors right off the highway. They were mostly women or families with essentially hot dog carts- buy with deep fat fryers.
Our host pulled over and said - your in for a treat. I was hesitant but tried everything.
Piononos - ripe Plantain with chopped spiced meat, deep fried was my favorite. We stopped 3 more times in the 9 days we were there for them.
Has fried cod and several other delights from the sea. Everything was fantastic.
So stop by one and eat something not good for you, but good in your belly!
stay a while in San Juan the capital
Fondest memory: San Juan modern metropolis with high-rise beach strips, a major commercial center and a famous historic colonial core. The city is pretty well preserved given that it is over 500 years. The museums and colonial forts etc are a marvel!! The picture is a shot of a typical street in 'old' San Juan.
Fondest memory: Ponce is PR's second largest city and is situated on the south coast. Ponce has a long history dating from the late 17th century and it's historical center has been declared a national treasure. It consists of plazas and churches and highly decorative colonial homes and some glorious fountains. The city's reputation as a center of cultural excellence comes in the modern form of the Ponce Museum of Art, the best in the Caribbean, and is enhanced by the Museum of the History of Ponce and the Puerto Rican Music Museum. The swimming isn't great on the nearby beach, but there is plenty to see and do for the more 'cultural' visitors. The photo is of the Ponce fire station which has got to be one of the trendiest I have ever seen anywhere!!