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Celebrating America’s Melting Pot

A black and white photograph of a group of African Americans celebrating at a Fourth of July picnic.
A Fourth of July celebration on St. Helena Island, 1939.
Public domain photo by Marion Post Wolcott courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF33- 030417-M1.

On July 4, we celebrate not only the birth of our nation, but the birth of the ideals that make up the American Dream: equality, fairness, and the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s true that over the ensuing two centuries since 1776, many groups have had to struggle for their place in American society and fight for their rights. But it’s also true that the Founding Fathers had the foresight to create a blueprint for a robust future that would always remain adaptable to the changing needs of America’s changing population.

Here are some vibrant, living destinations from sea to shining sea where you can experience firsthand the diversity of America’s melting pot, with an appreciation not only for our stirring history of welcoming immigrants from all corners of the globe, but for our promising future.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

Pronounced “de shay,” Canyon de Chelly is a comparative rarity: a site managed by the National Park Service that lies within the borders of the Navajo Nation. As such, it offers an opportunity for insight into one of the West’s great geological displays, as well as into Native American culture. Various tribes from the Pueblo to the Hopi to the modern-day Navajo have lived there over the last four millennia.

Today, about 40 Navajo families still call the canyon home, and the tribe provides all the approved guides along the floor of the canyon’s high, red-tinged walls. Or you can opt for a self-guided trek on the “White House” trail, which takes you near an ancient cliffside adobe.

Camp for the night at the charming Spider Rock Campground. This delightfully laid-back spot is so far from urban light pollution that it offers some of the most amazing nighttime stargazing in the continental US. They even have a couple of traditional Navajo hogans available. Awake each morning to the soft sounds of native Navajo pipes played by the genial campground host, Mr. Howard Smith, before continuing on your Western journey. Just remember to hydrate!

A tall pillar of red rock juts skyward from the floor of a deep canyon with a massive plateau of rock visible behind it.
Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly. Photo © Nazhiyath Vijayan, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Few places in the US feature such an interesting and lively confluence of culture as the capital of New Mexico. As a center of Hispanic culture, it’s much older than the United States itself, with a founding dating back to 1610 and first European contact even before that. Santa Fe still has a European outlook today, and despite the local culinary emphasis on the state’s trademark spicy chiles, it’s culturally an heir to the tradition of old Spain.

The Palace of the Governors on the main square, which is now the state history museum, and the nearby St. Francis Cathedral are the no-brainer stops downtown.

For a more detailed look at area culture, Santa Fe’s “Museum Hill” on the east side of town features three conveniently located sites: the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, and the Museum of International Folk Art. The latter is probably the most compelling for both kids and adults, and an amazing place to gorge oneself on the unique culture of the region.

The Museum of Contemporary Native Arts downtown highlights more current contributions from regional Native American artists.

Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico also highlight existing Native American culture, particularly the eight northern Pueblos, still occupied as they’ve been for many millennia. You’re welcome to visit each of the Pueblos, but be sure to observe proper etiquette, particularly if you’re visiting during their frequent festival days—these are religious events as well. Visit for more info.

A vertical vintage theater sign reads Castro in neon letters.
San Francisco’s famous Castro Theatre. Photo © Fabien David, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

Castro District, San Francisco, California

While the city by the bay has changed a lot from its early days as a center of gay and lesbian culture in America, San Francisco remains in many ways the spiritual home of the nation’s LGBT community. At its core, as from the first days, is the Castro District, named for the neighborhood’s main street.

Still owned by the same family that built it, the Castro Theatre on the 400 block frequently hosts special screenings and film festivals. This includes the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival each June, which is concurrent with the always-epic San Francisco Pride Week, centering in the Castro.

Milk, the biopic of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in America, had its world premiere at the Castro Theatre in 2008. Nods to Milk abound throughout the neighborhood. Harvey Milk Plaza is at the entrance to the rapid transit, or Muni, station. Milk’s old camera store—also his campaign headquarters—is at 575 Castro Street.

The intersection of Castro Street and 18th Street remains the center of most activity in the neighborhood, from parades to street fairs to outdoor performances. Supposedly San Francisco’s first gay bar and an official historic landmark, Twin Peaks Tavern is at the intersection of Castro and Market.

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta, Georgia, is one of the epicenters of the American civil rights movement, due in large part to the enormous influence of native son Martin Luther King, Jr. One of the most expansive National Park Service offerings within an urban environment, the MLK Jr. National Historic Site is sort of a consortium of several sites, all within walking distance in downtown Atlanta.

The main Visitors Center should be your first stop, with its stirring historic exhibits about the life and tragic death of King, as well as the permanent “Children of Courage” exhibit. Across historic “Sweet Auburn” Avenue is the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where King preached, and where his mother was tragically murdered in the sanctuary three years after her son’s assassination. (Historic Ebenezer is now dedicated purely to the memory of King; the congregation worships in a new sanctuary near the Visitors Center.)

Right next door is the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which hosts the burial site of King. You can pay your respects at the tomb and its Eternal Flame, and visit the King Center’s Freedom Hall exhibits, which are open to the public.

For many visitors, though, the most poignant and worthwhile destination on Auburn Avenue is the King historical home, restored with period pieces to resemble how it would have looked as MLK and his siblings grew up there in the 1930s. Tours are free but are first-come, first-served and book up very early. Sign up at the Visitors Center immediately when it opens at 9am or else you’ll probably be out of luck.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Yes, it’s part of the US, and no, you don’t need a passport to go there. Founded by the Spanish in 1521, Puerto Rico’s capital city is older than the United States itself. It’s a great blend of American and Hispanic history and vibrant modern culture, art, and design.

Old San Juan is a formerly walled city that is home to more than 400 Spanish colonial-era buildings. The beautiful Catedral de San Juan Batista is the second-oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere. The little Pablo Casals Museum is the late cellist’s gift to the city, a collection of his memorabilia and papers.

For a more bustling experience, visit the Plaza Del Mercado in the hip Santurce District. The “Placita” is part public market, part sizzling nightlife hub.

Ecotourists will enjoy a side trip a short drive east of San Juan to the El Yunque Rain Forest, the only such ecosystem within a National Park Service site. If you’re seeking sunny outdoors playtime instead, visit the nearby Ocean Park beach, where many locals go to get a break from the city.

Blue painted cobblestones in the foreground with a row of colonial buildings.
Blue cobblestoned streets are common in Old San Juan. Photo © Steven Gaertner.

Penn School, St. Helena Island, South Carolina

One of the historic sea islands of South Carolina, charming St. Helena Island—a short drive from the classic and genteel town of Beaufort—offers unique insight into the ways of the Gullah people, descendants of emancipated slaves who continue to maintain their unique traditional culture.

The center of this culture for visitors is the Penn School. Begun by northern missionaries during the Civil War right after the Union occupation of the area in 1862, the school was specifically intended for the children of freed slaves—the first such institution in America. It ceased to be a school in 1948, and the Penn School morphed into a sort of a clearinghouse for Gullah culture.

For a brief period in the ‘60s, it was a center of the US Civil Rights Movement, hosting Martin Luther King, Jr. for planning sessions. In modern times, the Penn School has provided legal assistance to local Gullah homeowners who are often pressured to sell their homes to developers, occasionally by having their deeds challenged.

Today you can visit the York Bailey Museum, one of 17 historic structures on the beautiful moss-draped campus. The annual Heritage Days celebration each November brings Gullah food, music, dance, and storytelling to the Penn School for a delightful good time for the whole family.

Visiting the Bustling Seaside Town of Fajardo

Afternoon sunlight on water lapping gently along the yellow sand of Seven Seas Beach.
Balneario Seven Seas is a great beach for swimming and snorkeling. Photo © Jason Ross/123rf.

Map of East Coast, Puerto Rico
East Coast
Fajardo is a bustling little seaside town notable for its marinas and water sports enthusiasts. It’s also an excellent seaborne transportation hub to Caribbean points east, where you can catch a ferry or sailboat to Vieques, Culebra, St. Thomas, and beyond.

Although it has a town proper with the requisite plaza and church, the heart of Fajardo is along the coast, where hundreds of vessels dock and dozens of seafood restaurants vie to serve the day-trippers who flock here for the superb diving, fishing, sailing, and golf.

Fajardo is also home to one of the island’s bioluminescent lagoons, Laguna Grande, in Reserva Natural Las Cabezas de San Juan. Here you can kayak at night and marvel at the phosphorescent microorganisms that light up the water with a sparkling green glow.

Sights in Fajardo

Balneario Seven Seas

Balneario Seven Seas (Carr. 987, beside Las Cabezas de San Juan, Las Croabas, 787/863- 8180, Wed.-Sun. 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., open daily during summer, $5 per vehicle) is a great beach for swimming and snorkeling. For underwater action, check out the reef on the far eastern end of the beach. Camping for RVs and tents is also available, although quarters are close so don’t expect much privacy. Call 787/863-8180 for reservations.

Parque Las Croabas

Parque Las Croabas (Carr. 987) is a pleasant waterside park overlooking Bahía Las Croabas, dotted with moored fishing boats. From here you can see the island of Vieques. There are several concrete picnic shelters, poorly maintained bathroom facilities, and a small boat launch. Across the street are several bars and restaurants serving seafood. At dusk the park hums with activity because this is the launch site for all the kayak outfitters offering guided bio-bay tours in Laguna Grande.

Reserva Natural La Cordillera

Reserva Natural La Cordillera, comprising Icacos, Diablo, Palomino, and Palominitos, is a protected string of small sandy islands just north and east of Fajardo with lots of great snorkeling and diving spots around them. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen—there are no facilities or stores on the islands. To get there, go to the dock in Las Croabas and arrange a ride with one of the boat operators there. They’ll drop you off and return later to pick you up. The cost is typically $10 each way. The islands can get crowded on weekends and holidays.

Reserva Natural Las Cabezas de San Juan

Reserva Natural Las Cabezas de San Juan/El Faro (Carr. 987, km 6, 787/860-2560 or 787/722-5882, guided tours Wed.-Sun. 9:30 a.m., 10 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m., $7 adults, $5 seniors and children 11 and younger, free for children 4 and younger, reservations required) is a unique and treasured piece of island property that has been protected from encroaching development. This 316-acre piece of land contains examples of all the island’s natural habitats except for the rainforest: coral reefs, turtle grass, sandy and rocky beaches, lagoons, a dry forest, and a mangrove forest. It is home to many endangered wildlife species, including the osprey and the sea turtle, and artifacts of the Igneri Indians, precursors to the Taínos, have been excavated here.

Two main points of interest are found at Las Cabezas de San Juan. One is the neoclassical lighthouse (el faro), built by the Spanish in 1880, making it the island’s second-oldest lighthouse. Today it houses facilities for scientific research in the areas of ecology, marine biology, geology, and archaeology.

The other highlight of Las Cabezas de San Juan is Laguna Grande, a mangrove lagoon filled with microscopic bioluminescent organisms that glow green at night when they sense motion. Several outfitters in the area offer canoe or kayak rides into the lagoon after dark on moonless nights so visitors can witness the biological phenomenon. Swimming in the lagoon is no longer permitted.

This rich nature reserve also features a nature center, hiking trails, a boardwalk, and an observation tower from which you can see El Yunque and nearby islands as far away as Tortola. Entrance into Las Cabezas de San Juan is by guided tour only. Call for reservations. To get here, take Carretera 3 to the Conquistador Avenue exit and turn left on Carretera 987. The reserve is on the left after Balneario Seven Seas recreation area.

Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rican Culture: National Identity, Gender Roles, and Religion

Modern bronze sculpture green and pitted of a bishop with a shepards crook and women holding torches aloft.
La Rogativa by Lindsay Daen depicts the 1797 religious procession that allegedly scared off an invading British fleet that mistook the group for military reinforcements. Photo © Paul Sableman, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Today more Puerto Ricans live on the U.S. mainland than in Puerto Rico, and the island’s population is continuing to shrink as the high unemployment rate sends residents—mostly educated professionals—stateside in pursuit of work. Between April 2010 and July 2011, the population dropped 19,100 to 3.7 million. About 45 percent of the island’s residents live below the poverty level and at least 10 municipalities (primarily those in the Cordillera Central) have poverty rates greater than 60 percent. The economy is also blamed for the slide in the birth rate down from 60,000 in 2000 to 42,000 in 2012.

National Identity

There is a saying on the island that Puerto Ricans are like porpoises: They can barely keep their heads above water, but they’re always smiling. It’s an apt description. In 2005, Puerto Ricans were proclaimed the happiest people on earth, according to a highly reported study by the Stockholm-based organization World Values Survey. Despite high poverty and unemployment rates, it seems nothing can put a damper on the lively, fun-loving Puerto Rican spirit. Most Puerto Ricans like to celebrate big and often. In fact, there are reportedly more than 500 festivals a year on the island, and everything is a family affair involving multiple generations of relatives. Music is usually at the heart of most gatherings, and Puerto Ricans are passionate about their opinions and love few things more than to debate politics or sports for hours.

[pullquote align=”right”]Inroads of contemporary American culture have been made into much of island life, but Puerto Ricans are fiercely proud of their Spanish heritage.[/pullquote]The culture of Puerto Rican life has been significantly shaped by its history. It was originally inhabited by a society of peaceful, agriculturally based indigenous people who migrated to the island from South America. But beginning in 1508, the island became a Spanish colony, and for the next four centuries European influence reigned. Towns were developed according to Spanish custom around central plazas and churches. The church spread Catholicism, and Spanish became the official language.

Because the majority of colonists were men, the Spanish Crown officially supported marriage between Spanish men and Taíno women, leading to a population of mixed offspring. The Spanish also brought in slaves from Africa to work the island’s many coffee and sugar plantations, and they too produced offspring with the Taíno and Spanish colonists, producing what for years was called a population of mulattoes.

Perhaps because of this historic mixing of races, racial tensions are relatively minimal in Puerto Rico. There are some levels of society that proudly claim to be of pure European blood, and darker-skinned populations are sometimes discriminated against. But in general, Puerto Rico is a true melting pot of races in which skin comes in all shades of white and brown, and the general population is fairly accepting of everyone else.

When the United States took control of Puerto Rico in 1898, the island underwent another enormous cultural transformation. Suddenly U.S. customs and practices were imposed. English became a common second language, and has at times been proclaimed the official language. The U.S. dollar became the legal tender. American corporations set up shop, bringing with them an influx of American expatriates whose ways of dress, cuisine, and art were integrated into the existing culture. Much of this influence came in the form of the military, due to the many military bases that were established on the island. Some people credit that influence on the relative stability and orderliness of public life, particularly as compared to other Caribbean islands. The island’s governmental and judicial systems are organized similarly to the United States, and many U.S. social services are offered on the island.

Inroads of contemporary American culture have been made into much of island life, but Puerto Ricans are fiercely proud of their Spanish heritage. Since becoming a U.S. territory a little more than 100 years ago, Puerto Rico has undergone a seismic shift in its national identity that has divided the island politically. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, and they enjoy many—but not all—the privileges that entails. The issue of Puerto Rico’s future political status has been an ongoing debate for more than 50 years, and it is as much a part of the island’s national identity as its Spanish language and customs. Roughly half the island’s population wants to remain a U.S. commonwealth, in large part because they believe that status ensures the preservation of their Spanish culture. The other half wants to become a U.S. state so they can have full privileges of citizenship, including the ability to vote for the U.S. president and have full representation in Congress.

In 2012, Congress took actions that could put the future of Puerto Rico’s political status to a popular vote on the island. Until a vote is held, the future of Puerto Rico’s 3.7 million citizens hangs in the balance between two cultures. Regardless of the outcome of Puerto Rico’s 2012 referendums on whether to maintain commonwealth status or seek non-territorial status, Puerto Rico’s political standing will probably remain in flux for the time being.

Gender Roles

When it comes to gender roles, Puerto Ricans are fairly traditional. However, as in the rest of the industrial world, women have made inroads into the formerly male world of business and sports, particularly in urban areas. At one time it was common practice among the island’s most traditional families for young women to be accompanied by chaperones in the form of an aunt or older sister when they began dating, but that practice is quickly vanishing.

Vestiges of machismo still exist. Attractive young women may attract unwanted catcalls, usually expressed with a “s-s-s” sound, or calls of “Mira, mami!” (“Look, mama!”). But in general, Puerto Rican men can be quite chivalrous in ways American women may be unaccustomed to. Having a bus seat relinquished for their comfort and the holding of doors are courtesies commonly encountered.


Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1493, Puerto Rico’s indigenous population was composed of highly spiritual individuals who worshipped multiple gods believed to reside in nature. It was a common belief that these gods controlled everything from the success or failure of crops to one’s choice of a spouse.

All that began to change when Ponce de León arrived in 1508, bringing with him several Roman Catholic priests who ministered to the new colony and set about converting the Taíno Indians to the faith, beginning with baptisms. In 1511, Pope Julius II created a diocese in Caparra, the island’s first settlement.

Today, depending on the source, Puerto Rico’s population is between 75 and 85 percent Roman Catholic. Although weekly church attendance is far below that figure, the Catholic Church has great influence on Puerto Rican life. Each town has a Catholic church at its center and celebrates its patron saint with an annual festival. Although many patron-saint festivals have become much more secular over time, they typically include a religious procession and special Mass to mark the day. Images of saints are common items in traditional households, and you can’t enter a church without seeing clusters of women lighting candles, praying, or kissing the hem of the dress worn by a statue of Mary.

Some Puerto Ricans practice a hybrid form of religion called espiritismo, which combines elements of the Catholic religion and Indian beliefs in nature-dwelling spirits that can be called on to effect change in one’s life. Similarly, some Puerto Ricans of African descent practice Santería, introduced to the island by Yoruba slaves from West Africa. It also observes multiple gods and combines elements of Catholicism. Practitioners of both religions patronize the island’s botanicas, stores that sell roots, herbs, candles, soaps, and amulets that are employed to sway the spirits to help individuals achieve success, whether it be in business, love, or starting a family.

Once the United States arrived in Puerto Rico in 1898, Protestantism began to grow on the island, and all major sects are represented. Pentecostal fundamentalism has developed in recent decades, and there is a small Jewish community on the island as well.

Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Puerto Rico.

Environmental Issues in Puerto Rico

A green parrot perches on a branch and spreads its wings.
Endangered Puerto Rican parrot ceremonially released at the new flight cage of the flight cages at the Iguaca Aviary. Photo © Tom MacKenzie/USFWS, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Because Puerto Rico is part of the United States, local industry is subject to the same federal environmental regulations and restrictions as in the United States.

[pullquote align=”right”]Puerto Rico’s greatest environmental threats concern its vanishing natural habitat and the resulting impact on soil erosion and wildlife.[/pullquote]Puerto Rico’s greatest environmental threats concern its vanishing natural habitat and the resulting impact on soil erosion and wildlife. Reforestation efforts are under way in many of the island’s national parks and forest reserves, and organized efforts are under way to protect and rebuild endangered wildlife populations, especially the Puerto Rican parrot, the manatee, and the leatherback sea turtle.

Many of the island’s environmental protection efforts are overseen by the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico, whose headquarters is based in Casa de Ramón Power y Girault (155 Calle Tetuán, San Juan, 787/722-5834, Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m.), where visitors can peruse exhibits and pick up printed information on its projects.

In Vieques, the biggest environmental concern surrounds the ongoing cleanup of the grounds once occupied by the U.S. Navy, which stored munitions and performed bombing practice on the island. After years of protest by local residents, the Navy withdrew in 2003, but much of its land (18,000 acres) is still offlimits to the public while efforts to clear it of contaminants and the live artillery that still litters the ocean floor are under way. The cancer rate in Vieques is 27 percent higher than that of the main island, and many blame it on the presence of unexploded artillery leaking chemicals into the water and the release of chemicals into the air when the artillery is detonated, which is the Navy’s way of disposing of it.

Read more about the Puerto Rican parrot on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website.

Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Puerto Rico.

Romantic Escapes in Puerto Rico

Light shines on wet sand on a pristine beach lapped by gentle waves.
Culebra’s beaches are perfect for late afternoon walks. Photo © Jirka Matousek, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

It’s no wonder Puerto Rico is such a popular destination for honeymooners. The beautiful beaches, balmy breezes, and lush tropical foliage provide a perfect backdrop to a romantic getaway. But there’s more to it than that. There is a palpable sensuality to life in Puerto Rico. The Spanish architecture, the salsa music, the Caribbean cuisine, the heat — all those elements and more come together to enliven the senses and set the stage for amorous pursuits. Couples can’t help but fall sway to Puerto Rico’s many aphrodisiacal charms.

Old San Juan

Book your stay at Hotel El Convento, a former Carmelite convent that dates back to 1651, and request the romantic getaway package including a bottle of champagne, rose petal turndown service, and chocolate-covered strawberries. Spend the day strolling through the historic town’s cobblestone streets, playing hide and seek in Castillo San Felipe del Morro, and sipping café au lait at Poetic Café. That night, dine on expertly prepared French cuisine beneath a crystal chandelier at Trois Cent Onze, where the service is attentive and the ambiance quiet enough to hear a whisper. Spice things up with a passionfruit martini at Tantra, followed by a puff or two from the hookah.

La Parguera

La Parguera is a romantic spot with an old-fashioned, rustic charm. Stay the night at Parador Villa Parguera, a quaint, weathered inn with pleasantly landscaped grounds right on the water. The next day go sailing to Los Cayos, where you can find your own private beach for swimming, sunning, and snorkeling. Dine at any number of excellent seafood restaurants in town, and take a private nighttime boat tour of glittery Bahía Fosforescente.


Nothing says romance like privacy and seclusion, and nothing says privacy and seclusion like Culebra. Skip the ferry and hop a flight to this small island off the coast of Fajardo. Stay at Club Seabourne, a lovely, small property on Fulladoza Bay featuring private villas with luxurious beds and glass showers. Explore the primitive beaches in the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge, or go to famous Playa Flamenco and walk until you find a secluded spot. At night, dine at Juanita Bananas, specializing in fresh, seasonal seafood and produce. Stop by Mamacita’s for a Bushwhacker, a sensuous and potent blend of Bailey’s, Kahlua, Amaretto, coconut cream, rum, and ice cream.

Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Puerto Rico.

The Climate and Geography of Puerto Rico

Light streams over verdant rolling mountains.
Mountains in Puerto Rico. Photo © Patricia Mangual, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Puerto Rico is a rectangular island, situated roughly in the middle of the Antilles, a chain of islands that stretches from Florida to Venezuela and forms the dividing line between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The Antilles are divided into two regions—Greater Antilles and Lesser Antilles. Puerto Rico is the smallest and easternmost island of the Greater Antilles, which include Cuba, Hispañola (Dominican Republic and Haiti), and Jamaica. In addition to the main island, which is 111 miles east to west and 36 miles north to south, Puerto Rico comprises several tiny islands or cayos, including Mona and Desecheo off the west coast and Vieques, Culebra, Palomino, Icacos, and others off the east coast. The northern and eastern shores of Puerto Rico are on the Atlantic Ocean, and the southern shores are on the Caribbean Sea. To the west is Mona Passage, an important shipping lane that is 75 miles wide and 3,300 feet deep.

[pullquote align=”right”]Puerto Rico has three main geographic regions: mountains, coastal lowlands, and karst country. More than 60 percent of the island is mountainous.[/pullquote] The island was believed to have been formed between 135 million and 185 million years ago when a massive shift of tectonic plates crumpled the earth’s surface, pushing parts of it down into deep recesses below the ocean floor and pushing parts of it up to create the island. This tectonic activity resulted in volcanic eruptions, both underwater and above it.

Two significant things happened as a result of all this geologic activity. The Puerto Rico Trench was formed off the island’s north coast. At its greatest depth, it is 28,000 feet below sea level, making it the deepest point known in the Atlantic Ocean. Secondly, it formed the mountainous core of Puerto Rico that spans nearly the entire island from east to west and reaches heights of 4,390 feet above sea level. Volcanic activity is believed to have been dormant in Puerto Rico for 45 million years, but the earth is always changing. The Caribbean plate is shifting eastward against the westward-shifting North American plate, which has resulted in occasional earth tremors through the years. Although this activity is suspected to have led to the volcanic activity in Montserrat in recent years, its danger to Puerto Rico is its potential to cause earthquakes, not volcanic activity.

Puerto Rico has three main geographic regions: mountains, coastal lowlands, and karst country. More than 60 percent of the island is mountainous. The island’s mountains, which dominate the island’s interior, comprise four ranges: Cordillera Central, Sierra de Cayey, Sierra de Luquillo, and Sierra de Bermeja. The largest and highest range is Cordillera Central, which spans from Caguas in the east to Lares in the west. Its highest point is Cerro Punta (4,390 feet above sea level), in the Bosque Estatal de Toro Negro near Jayuya. Sierra de Luquillo is in the northeast and contains the Caribbean National Forest, home to El Yunque rainforest. These two mountain ranges feature dramatic pointed peaks and lush tropical vegetation. Sierra de Cayey, in the southeast between Cayey and Humacao, and Sierra de Bermeja, in the southwest between Guánica and the island’s southwestern tip, are smaller in area and height, drier, and less forested.

The coastal lowlands span more than 300 miles around the rim of the island, 8-12 miles inland in the north and 2-8 miles inland in the south. Formed through time by erosion of the mountains, the coastal lowlands are important agricultural areas that benefit from the rich soil and water that wash down from the mountains. Much of the area is defined by sandy or rocky beaches and mangrove swamps, although the mangrove forests are being whittled away by development.

The island’s third region is unique. The karst region spans the island’s northern interior, from San Juan in the east to Aguadilla in the west, and the southern interior, from Ponce in the east to San Germán in the west. It can also be found in isolated pockets throughout the island, as well as on Mona Island off the west coast. The karst region is distinguished by a fascinating landscape of sinkholes, cliffs, caves, and conical, haystack-shaped hills called mogotes. More than 27 percent of Puerto Rico’s surface is made up of limestone, and its erosion from rain helped create the beguiling patchwork of hills and holes. One of limestone’s unique properties is that it reprecipitates and forms case rock that is impervious to chemical and climatic change, which has basically frozen the odd formations in time. In addition, water produced by reprecipitation bubbles up to hydrate the earth’s surface, and drips down, creating subterranean rivers and caves.

As a result of its karst region, Puerto Rico has some of the most significant cave systems in the western hemisphere and the third-largest underground river, Río Camuy. The public can tour part of the massive cave system at Las Cavernas del Río Camuy in the municipality of Camuy.

In addition to Río Camuy, Puerto Rico’s other major rivers include the north-running Grande de Arecibo, the island’s longest; La Plata, Cibuco, Loíza, and Bayamón, which run north; and Grande de Añasco, which runs west. There are no natural lakes in Puerto Rico, although 15 reservoirs have been created by damming rivers. But there are several natural lagoons, including Condado and San José in San Juan, Piñones and Torrecilla in Loíza, Joyuda in Cabo Rojo, Tortuguero in Vega Baja, and Grande in Fajardo.


Puerto Rico’s climate is classified as tropical marine, which means it’s typically sunny, hot, and humid year-round. The temperature fluctuates between 76°F and 88°F in the coastal plains and 73-78°F in the mountains. Humidity is a steady 80 percent, but a northeasterly wind keeps things pretty breezy, particularly on the northeast side of the island.

Nobody wants rain during a tropical vacation, but precipitation is very much a part of life in Puerto Rico. Although there are periods when the deluge is so heavy that you might think it’s time to build an ark, rains are generally brief and occur in the afternoons. The average annual rainfall is 62 inches. Although it rains throughout the year, the heaviest precipitation is from May to October, which is also hurricane season. The driest period is January to April, which coincides with the tourism industry’s high season. Keep in mind that the north coast receives twice as much rain as the south coast, so if the outlook is rainy in San Juan, head south.

Hurricanes are a very real threat to Puerto Rico. It is estimated that the island will be hit by a major hurricane every 30 years. The most devastating storm in recent history was Hurricane Georges, a category 3 storm that struck in September 1998 and rendered $2 billion of damage.

For the latest information on weather conditions in Puerto Rico, visit the National Weather Service.

Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico, the “Island of Enchantment”

View from inside a limestone cavern with vegetation outside.
These limestone caves are easy to explore at Las Cavernas del Río Camuy park. Photo by Tyler S. Miller licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

Puerto Rico’s nickname, Island of Enchantment, is a fitting sobriquet. Sandy beaches, palm trees, and tropical breezes make it a favorite getaway for the sun and surf crowd. Rugged mountains and a verdant rain forest attract adventure travelers, and lavish hotels with ocean-side golf courses embrace vacationers who crave luxury.

[pullquote align=”right”]Despite the traffic jams and overdevelopment in some areas, natural beauty abounds in the many protected coves, mangrove lagoons, caves, and mountain streams.[/pullquote]But Puerto Rico is much more than a picture postcard. Four hundred years of Spanish heritage has left its mark on the island, giving it an Old World elegance. Its vibrant cultural life reflects not only the island’s European history, but also its indigenous origins and African influences.

An added bonus is the hip, bustling metropolis of San Juan, which boasts world-class restaurants, nightclubs, and casinos that keep the party-hearty set up until dawn. Yet, a simple stroll through the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan steeps visitors in a concentrated dose of the island’s history and cultural life.

Just 111 miles long and 36 miles wide, Puerto Rico has a population of 3.9 million people, making it one of the most densely populated places in the world. Despite the traffic jams and overdevelopment in some areas, natural beauty abounds in the many protected coves, mangrove lagoons, caves, and mountain streams. They provide the perfect backdrop for an immersion into the sensual pleasures of the tropics.

Less than an hour’s drive from San Juan is one of the island’s most popular sights, El Yunque Caribbean National Forest, which contains a semitropical rainforest. In the northwest karst country, there are limestone caves, easily explored at Las Cavernas del Río Camuy park, and several bioluminescent bays where kayakers can commune with the tiny luminescent organisms that turn the water a glittery green- or blue-specked sea on moonless nights.

Puerto Rico’s central mountain region is one of the dramatic, beautiful areas of the island, where high mountain peaks, canyons, ferns, orchids, streams, and cooler temperatures prevail. The indigenous Taíno culture was once a stronghold here, and their ancient ruins and petroglyphs can be found throughout the area.

All that is to say, there is a lot more to Puerto Rico than beaches. But if it is spectacular beaches one wants, there are plenty to be found, as is a bounty of water sports from surfing and diving to fishing and sailing.

Life is vivid in Puerto Rico, so prepare to have your slumbering senses awakened in this enchanted land where the sun shines brightly, rainbow-hued buildings pop with color, and tropical music fills the air.

Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Puerto Rico.

Visiting Coamo and the Coamo Hot Springs

View of the southern mountains along the road at Coamo. Photo © Elizabeth Aguilar, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.
View of the southern mountains along the road at Coamo. Photo © Elizabeth Aguilar, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

The town of Coamo is a modest little village in the hilly terrain just south of the island’s majestic Cordillera Central mountain range. The compelling reason to venture here is not for the town but for its nearby claim to fame, the Coamo Baños, a natural hot springs reputed to have restorative powers.

Coamo is 103 kilometers or 64 miles south of San Juan. Take Highway 52 south to Carretera 153 north to Carretera 14 north.

Map of Puerto Rico's South Coast
South Coast


Baños de Coamo (end of Carr. 546, daily 8 a.m.-6 p.m., free) may well be Puerto Rico’s very first tourist attraction. The hot springs, which retain a constant 110°F temperature and which are rich in minerals, were first discovered by the Taíno Indians, who shared their find with the Spanish colonists. By the mid-16th century, visitors were making their way here in a steady stream, and in the 17th century a resort was built that operated until the 1950s. Wealthy visitors from all over the world visited Coamo, including the most illustrious U.S. proponent of hot springs himself, President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The Coamo hot springs look very different today than they did then. The water has actually been contained in two places. One, which looks like a small standard swimming pool, is on the private property of the Hotel Baños de Coamo and is reserved for its guests. The public bath is an easy half-mile hike down a dirt road behind the hotel. Unfortunately, despite the size of the hotel parking lot, visitors to the public bath are forbidden to use it, so it’s necessary to park alongside the dead-end road, where local farmers sometimes sell produce from the backs of their trucks.

Until recently the bath was contained in a stone pool, but that structure has since been replaced by a square ceramic-tile enclosure that looks a lot like a giant bathtub set down in the great outdoors. Families with small children and many elderly folks gather here to relax for hours, bringing with them picnics (no alcohol allowed) and folding tables on which to play dominoes and cards. Whether the springs are truly healing can be debated, but that doesn’t stop the clearly infirm who are drawn to the waters.

Dips are limited to 15 minutes at a time, and there is a small rustic changing room on-site.

Sports and Recreation

Coamo Springs Golf Club and Tennis Club (Carr. 546, km 1, 787/825-1370, daily 7 a.m.-7 p.m.) is an 18-hole course designed by Ferdinand Garbin in a residential community that will challenge your ability to golf in the wind.

Maratón de San Blas de Illesca (787/825-1370) is an internationally renowned half marathon held in early February.

Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Puerto Rico.

Tour Operators in Puerto Rico

A fountain with sculpted figures lit up at night.
Raices fountain Old San Juan at the tip of Paseo de La Princesa.

Puerto Rico has a slew of tour operators offering a variety of adventures that span the spectrum from guided city walks to deep-sea dives to mountain-climbing hikes. All tour companies require reservations.

Historical Walking Tours

ArqueoTours Coabey (787/342-9317 or 787/470-1862, offers family-friendly hiking tours to Taíno archaeological sites around Jayuya, including La Piedra Escrita. Rates are $65 adults, $20 ages 5-12, free for children 4 and younger. The tours are guided by a historian and archaeologist.

Legends of Puerto Rico (Old San Juan, 787/605-9060, fax 787/764-2354) offers daytime and nighttime walking tours of Old San Juan that revolve around topics from history, pirate legends, and crafts. It also offers a Modern San Juan tour and hiking tours of the karst region, El Yunque, and mangrove forests. Tours range $35-85 per person.

Adventure Nature Tours

Acampa (1211 Ave. Piñero, San Juan, 787/706-0695) offers a large selection of hiking, rappelling, ziplining, and rock-climbing adventure tours throughout the island. Sights include San Cristóbal Cañon, Río Tanamá, El Yunque, Bosque Estatal de Toro Negro, Mona Island, and Caja de Muerto Island. Acampa also sells and rents camping, hiking, and mountaineering gear at its store in San Juan. Rates are $80-170.

Aventuras Tierra Adentro (268-A Ave. Jesus T. Piñero, San Juan, 787/766-0470, fax 787/754-7543, Tues.- Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m.) leads cave and canyon tours that include rappelling, rock climbing, and ziplining for adventure seekers of all experience levels, including beginners. Reservations are required. Participants must be 15 or older. Cave tours take place Friday and Sunday for $170 per person. Canyon tours are on Saturday and cost $160 per person.

Expediciones Palenque (787/407-2858) offers daylong group tours throughout Cordillera Central. Tours include spelunking in Yuyu Cave in Ciales, $85; kayaking Guineo Lake in Jayuya, $85; hiking Guilarte Mountain in Adjuntas, $80; and tours combining hiking, rappelling, caving, and body rafting tours on the Río Tanamá, $90.

Toro Verde Nature Adventure Park (Carr. 155, km 32.9, Orocovis, 787/944- 1196, 787/944-1195, or 787/867-6606, fax 787/867-7022, Thurs.-Sun. 8 a.m.-5 p.m.) offers zipline canopy tours, hanging bridge tours, mountain bike tours, and rappelling. Packages are $65-200. Reservations are required. Participants must be at least four feet tall. Hotel pickup can be arranged.

Diving, Snorkeling, and Boating Tours

Abe’s Snorkeling & Bio-bay Tours (787/741- 2134 or 787/436-2686, reservations required) offers a variety of kayak tours, ideal for exploring beaches, mangrove bays, the bioluminescent bay (bio-bay), or undersea life in Vieques. A two-hour bio-bay tour in a double kayak is $40 adults, $20 children.

Blue Caribe Kayaks (149 Calle Flamboyan, Esperanza, Vieques, 787/741-2522) provides kayak tours of Mosquito Bay for $30 per person. Kayak rentals are also available for $10-15 per hour, $25-35 for four hours, and $45-55 all day.

Cancel Boats (Carr. 3304, on the waterfront in La Parguera, 787/899-5891 or 787/899-2972) and Johnny Boats (Carr. 3304, on the waterfront in La Parguera, 787/299- 2212) offer on-demand tours of the La Parguera mangrove canals for $25 per person (less if you have a group) and nighttime tours of the phosphorescent bay for about $6.

Capt. Suarez Electric Boat (Carr. 987, Las Croabas dock, Fajardo, 787/655-2739 or 787/472- 3128, offers electric boat rides into the Laguna Grande bio-bay in Fajardo ($45 adults, $35 children).

Caribbean School of Aquatics (1 Calle Taft, Santurce, San Juan, 787/728-6606 or 787/383-5700) offers full- and half-day sail, scuba, snorkel, and fishing trips from San Juan and Fajardo on a luxury catamaran with Captain Greg Korwek. Snorkel trips start at $69 per person; scuba trips start at $119 per person.

Day & Night Boat Tours (Dewey boatyard, 787/435-4498) offers a day-long snorkeling trip from Culebra to Culebrita. Cost (including drinks, snacks, and gear) is $75 per person. Custom fishing, snorkeling, and sightseeing tours can be arranged.

East Island Excursions (Puerto Del Rey Marina, Fajardo, 787/860-3434 or 877/937- 4386, fax 787/860-1656) offers sailing and snorkeling trips to Culebrita ($69 adults, $49 children ages 2-9).

Eco Adventures (787/206-0290) offers bio-bay tours of Laguna Grande in Fajardo ($45 per person) and sailing snorkel tours ($65 per person). Transportation from San Juan to Las Croabas costs $20.

Flying Fish Parasail (Black Eagle Marina, Carr. 413, Rincón, Barrio Ensenada, 787/823- 2FLY-787/823-2359, daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.) offers single and tandem parasail rides ($60), glass-bottom boat rides ($30), sunset and whale-watching tours ($45), and reef snorkel tours ($55-85). Reservations are required, and there’s a 12-passenger maximum.

Island Adventures (Carr. 996, km 4.5, Esperanza, 787/741-0720) operates a tour of Mosquito Bay in Vieques on an electric pontoon boat that tools around the electric-blue water ($25 per person). Guides are friendly and informative.

Island Kayaking Adventures (787/444-0059 or 787/225-1808) offers bio-bay kayak tours to Laguna Grande ($45 per person, six-person minimum). Rainforest and bio-bay combo tours cost $100 per person.

Katrina Sail Charters (Black Eagle Marina, Carr. 413, Rincón, Barrio Ensenada, 787/823-7245) takes guests on snorkeling ($75 adults, $37.50 under age 12), sunset ($55, $27.50 under age 12), and full-moon sails ($55 adults only) aboard a 32-foot catamaran.

Kayaking Puerto Rico (787/435-1665 or 787/564-5629) offers bio-bay tours in Laguna Grande ($45 per person). Combination kayak and snorkel expeditions are also available.

La Cueva Submarina (Carr. 466, km 6.3, Isabela, 787/872-1390 or 787/872-1094 after 5:30 p.m., Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 8 a.m.-5 p.m., dive trips Thurs.-Mon. 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. depending on weather, book at least 24 hours in advance) offers several tours, including snorkeling ($25); scuba for first-timers ($65); scuba for certified divers ($55); and a cavern dive ($55). It also offers diving certification instruction.

The Vieques Dive Company (787/672-6565) offers one-tank ($55-65) and two-tank dive tours ($75-100) and Discover tours for first-time divers ($135).

Paradise Puerto Rico Watersports (Combate Beach, Cabo Rojo, 787/567-4386 or 888/787-4386) offers Jet Ski rentals ($85 per hour, $45 per half hour) and tours ($30 an hour, $55 for two hours, three person minimum).

Paradise Scuba Snorkeling and Kayaks (Carr. 304, km 3.2, La Parguera, 787/899-7611, offers dive tours ($70-80), night dives ($60), snorkeling tours ($50), sunset snorkeling tours ($50-65), phosphorescent bay tours ($25), gear rental, and dive instruction. Dive sites include El Pared, Enrique, El Mario, Chimney, and Old Buoy.

Parguera Watersports (Carr. 3304, on the waterfront in La Parguera, 787/646-6777) guides visitors in La Parguera on bio-bay or full moon kayaking adventures ($45 per person). Kiteboard instruction is $95 for the first session, $75 for additional sessions, including equipment. Rent kayaks by the hour for $20 double, $15 single, or paddleboards for $20 an hour. Day rates are available.

Sail Vieques (Carr. 200, on the waterfront in Isabel Segunda, Vieques, 787/508-7245, offers a half-day snorkeling tour ($50) and a daylong snorkel trip to the southern tip of the Bermuda Triangle ($110). Captain Bill also offers a two-hour sunset cruise for $30.

Salty Dog (1 Calle 1, El Batey, Fajardo, 787/717-6378 or 787/717-7259) offers catamaran snorkeling tours including all-you-can-eat lunch buffet and unlimited rum drinks ($60 per person). A sunset cruise includes cocktails and light snacks ($50 per person).

Scuba Dogs (Balneario El Escambrón, Avenida Muñoz Rivera, 787/783-6377 or 787/977-0000, Mon.- Thurs. 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Fri.-Sun. 8 a.m.-5 p.m.) offers snorkel tours ($55 adults, $45 kids), scuba tours ($75 for certified divers, $95 for instructional tours for first-timers), and kayak tours ($65 adults, $55 children).

Sea Ventures Dive Center (Marina Puerto del Rey, Carr. 3, km 51.2, Fajardo, 787/863-3483 or 800/739-3483) offers dive and snorkel trips to local reefs. A two-tank dive for certified divers is $120. A two-tank dive for beginners is $150. Snorkel tours cost $60. Prices include gear.

Sea Ventures Dive Copamarina (Copamarina Beach Resort, Carr. 333, km 6.5, 800/468-4553 or 877/348-3267, daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m.) runs day and night dive excursions ($65-119) to sites including the 22-mile-long Guánica Wall, the Aquarium, and the Parthenon, a coral formation featuring a variety of sponges. Daily snorkeling excursions go to Gilligan’s Island, Cayo Coral Reef, and Bahía de la Ballerna ($55 including equipment). Certification courses are offered. Also available are kayak, catamaran, and paddleboat rentals.

Taíno Divers (Black Eagle Marina, Carr. 413, Barrio Ensenada, 787/823-6429, daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m.) offers daily snorkeling and dive trips to various dive sites, including Desecheo Island. Snorkeling trips are $50-95, scuba trips are $65-129, and Discovery scuba dives for first-timers are $119-170. Taíno also offers whale-watching cruises (late Jan.-mid-Mar.), as well as fishing charters and sunset cruises. Private excursions to Desecheo Island can be arranged. There is also equipment for rent or sale.

Travesías Isleñas Yaureibo/Vieques Outdoors (Calle Flamboyan, Esperanza, Vieques, 787/447-4104 or 939/630-1267) offers snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, and biking tours. Bioluminescent bay kayak tours are offered nightly ($25 adults, $15 children). Meet at the malecón in front of Trade Winds Guest House. Snorkel, hiking, and biking tours are $30.

West Divers (Carr. 304, km 3.1, La Parguera, 787/899-3223 or 787/899-4171) specializes in scuba trips to La Pared, an underwater wall and world-class dive site. Snorkel trips, sunset cruises, kayak tours, and equipment rental are also offered. A one-day, two-tank dive is $100 per person. Kayak tours cost $20-30 per hour; kayak rentals are $10-15 per hour.

Yokahu Kayaks (Carr. 987, km 6.2, Las Croabas, Fajardo, 787/604-7375, offers kayak tours to Laguna Grande in Las Cabezas de San Juan with licensed guides and equipment included ($45 per person).

Fishing Tours

Bill Wraps Fishing Charters PR (Marina Puerta Real, Fajardo, 787/364-4216, 787/347-9668 or 787/278-2729) offers half-day charters for $650 and full-day charters for $950, including tackle, bait and snacks. Lunch is included with a full-day charter.

Caribbean Fly Fishing (61 Calle Orquideas, Esperanza, Vieques, 787/741-1337 or 787/450-3744) charters cost $375 for a half day, $650 for a full day, including gear and tackle. There is a two-person maximum.

Light Tackle Adventure (Boquerón pier, 787/849-1430 or 787/547-7380) specializes in light tackle and fly-fishing excursions. Excursions for two people are $340 for four hours, $425 for six hours, $550 for eight hours. A $100 reservation deposit is required. This company also provides kayak trips to the Cabo Rojo salt flats, Boquerón Bay, Joyuda, and La Parguera. Bird-watching tours in Cabo Rojo salt flats are also available.

Light Tackle Paradise (Marina Puerto Chico, Carr. Road 987, km 2.4, Fajardo, 787/347-4464, $350-450 half day for 4 or 6 people) offers fishing excursions on 22-foot and 26-foot catamarans or 17-foot skiffs.

Magic Tarpon (Cangrejos Yacht Club, 787/644-1444) offers half-day fishing charters for $330-460 for 1-4 people.

Makaira Fishing Charters (Black Eagle Marina, Rincón, 787/299-7374) offers halfday ($575) and full-day ($850) fishing charters aboard a 34-foot 2006 Contender. Rates include tackle and refreshments; there’s a six-passenger maximum.

Parguera Fishing Charters (Carr. 304, La Parguera, 787/382-4698) offers half-day ($500) and full-day ($850) charters to fish for dorado, tuna, blue marlin, and wahoo on a 31-foot, twin diesel Bertram Sportfisherman. Trips include bait, tackle, beverages, snacks, and lunch. It also offers light-tackle reef fishing, half-day snorkeling trips, and customized charters.

Taíno Divers (Black Eagle Marina, Carr. 413, Barrio Ensenada, 787/823-6429, daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m.) offers half-day offshore fishing charters including tackle, bait, lunch, and soft drinks for $1,200.

Surfing Schools

Surf 787 Summer Camp (Carr. 115, behind Angelo’s Restaurant, 787/448-0968 or 949/547-6340) offers year-round surfing instruction.

Located on the beach at The Ritz Carlton San Juan and El San Juan Resort & Casino in Isla Verde, Wow Surfing School & Water Sports (787/955-6059, daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.) gives two-hour surf lessons for $85, including board. Group rates are available. Equipment rentals include surfboards ($25 an hour), paddleboards ($30), kayaks ($25), and snorkel equipment ($15 and up). Jet Ski rentals and tours are available from La Concha Resort in Condado and San Juan Bay Marina. Call for prices.


Las Palmas Paddle (508/237-9652) offers paddleboard tours around Culebra starting at $40 per person. Introductory tours for beginners as well as adventure packages for experienced paddlers are available.

Velauno Paddleboarding (2430 Calle Loíza, Isla Verde, 787/982-0543, Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-7 p.m.) offers paddleboarding lessons ($100 first hour, $50 each subsequent hour) and tours ($75 for two hours, $25 subsequent hours).

Vieques Paddleboarding (787/366-5202) offers tours on stand-up paddleboards, a great way to explore the island. The four-hour downwind tour travels 2-4 miles, depending on wind conditions, along the north and south shores ($85). Or take a three-hour tour across the bay, through a mangrove forest, ending at a beach with a snorkel ($65). Kids 11 and younger can ride with adults for $20.

Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Puerto Rico.

Gay Puerto Rico: Clubs and Accommodations in San Juan

The Rainbow Pride Flag caught in a breeze with the sun behind it.
Rainbow Pride Flag photo by Kevin Wong licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Long before Columbus arrived in Puerto Rico, native Taíno men used to beseech the moon to send them wives with a ceremonial dance in which they wore female garb. Legend has it that when the colonists witnessed the ritual, they assumed the men were homosexuals and sicced their dogs on them.

Boy, would the colonists be shocked today. Today Puerto Rico has an active, out, and proud gay community, and it is a popular destination for gay travelers. Although homosexual acts are illegal in Puerto Rico, the law is rarely if ever enforced, and there are plenty of accommodations, nightclubs, and beaches that cater to the LGBT traveler.

The island’s largest gay community is in San Juan, and that’s where you’ll find the biggest concentration of businesses that specialize in serving gay clientele.

Accommodations on the Beach

Accommodations popular with gay and lesbian travelers include the laid-back Ocean Park properties and Numero Uno Guest House, as well as the more party-central Atlantic Beach Hotel in Condado. The beaches in front of these properties are the most popular gay beaches, although everyone is welcome.


There’s no shortage of gay and lesbian nightclubs in San Juan. Most of the gay bars can be found in Santurce. Atlantic Beach Bar is a casual bar at the Atlantic Beach House hotel right on the ocean, offering happy hour 5–7 p.m.

Krash (1257 Ave. Ponce de León, 787/722-1131), formerly Eros, is a major two-level party scene. Wednesday is urban pop night with three DJs spinning R&B, hip-hop, and reggaetón. Thursday and Friday nights feature DJs spinning house, tribal, and retro.

For a casual low-key gay bar, check out Junior’s Bar (613 Calle Condado, 787/723-9477). This is the place to have a beer, play some tunes on the jukebox, and check out the occasional drag queen or male stripper show.

Yet another popular gay bar and lounge in Santurce is Starz (365 Ave. de Diego, 787/721-8645).

The local lesbian crowd gathers in the laid-back ambiance of Cups (1708 Calle San Mateo, 787/268-3570). DJs spin dance music on Wednesday night, karaoke is Thursday night, and live music is Friday night. There are pool tables, too.

Excerpted from the Second and Third Edition of Moon Puerto Rico.

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