Exploring the Spanish Speaking World: ¡Vamos a Puerto Rico!

Imagine a place where it’s warm and sunny all year.  Where there are hundreds of miles of sandy beaches, where nature bursts with color and variety.  A place where the music, people, and foods are just as vibrant.  Sounds enchanting, right?  

Maybe it’s time to visit Puerto Rico!  In Spanish, it’s often called la Isla del Encanto, meaning “The Island of Enchantment” and there are plenty of reasons why.  If you want an experience that is family-friendly, immersive, and cultural, read on for a taste of Puerto Rico!   

A Few Facts…

Puerto Rico is a group of over 100 islands and cays nestled between the Dominican Republic and the Virgin Islands.  Its 3.3 million residents live on just three of the islands, Puerto Rico, Vieques, and Culebra. An easy flight from many US cities, Americans don’t need passports to enter since it’s a U.S. territory! 

Puerto Ricans are both U.S. citizens and citizens of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.  The official languages are Spanish and English, with Spanish being much more widely spoken.   

Long before Columbus arrived, the Taíno Indians called their land Borikén or Borinquén referring to their creator. The island had several name changes leading to its present name meaning “Rich Port” but the Taíno name has stood the test of time. Today you’ll still hear locals calling Puerto Rico Borinquén and referring to themselves as boricuas.

A Taste of Island Life

Boricuas will cheerfully and proudly show you the riches of daily life in Puerto Rico… food, drinks, music, and dancing.  

The must-try foods are too many to list, but some national favorites are mofongo, pernil, arroz con gandules, empanadillas, jibarito, pastelón, and tripleta.  Coconut is a star in piña coladas and an eggnog-like drink called coquito, as well as many desserts like tembleque and flan (the Puerto Rican version of flan uses cream cheese as its base). If you’re up for trying some recipes at home, here are a few.

To burn off that rich food, festive island beats will keep you dancing all night!  Popular musical styles include boleros, trova, guaracha, salsa, cumbia, and Latin pop.  Like much of Puerto Rican life, these are a mix of African, Caribbean, Taíno Indian, Spanish, and American influences.

Some traditional dance styles are la bomba and plena.  You’ll find plenty of places to show off your dance moves, whether you prefer salsa, merengue, bachata, cha-cha, or reggaeton (Marc Anthony and Ricky Martin are also musical favorites; Preciosa is a classic song about Puerto Rico ).   

The fun fiesta ambiance is year-round, but it’s never more festive than during the Christmas season.  Pace yourself, because Puerto Ricans pride themselves on having the longest holiday season in the world.  Festivities start in November with Puerto Rican-styled Thanksgiving feasts and culminate with the Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián in mid-January!

A Nature Lover’s Paradise

For such a small area, Puerto Rico has a huge variety in landscape and things to do.  Within a day, you could drive from caves, to mountains, valleys, and beaches (270 miles of beaches!).  There are endless spaces for snorkeling, surfing, and swimming in the crystal water of tranquil coves.  The sand ranges from powdery white to warm red, as well as coral sand and a black magnetic sand.  And if all those beaches aren’t enough, you can explore uninhabited islands on day trips.

One island that only a select few get to visit is Mona Island.  Only 100 visitors are allowed on the island at a time.  This nature preserve has rare, untouched beauty.  It’s famous as a habitat for many endangered species and massive colonies of sea turtles and giant iguanas.  These Mona iguanas aren’t found anywhere else on earth.  

The Small But Vocal Coquí!

Speaking of interesting species, meet Puerto Rico’s iconic coquí tree frog. Unlike other species of frogs, this little guy doesn’t have webbed feet.  He’s also VERY vocal – at only about 1” long, he’s the world’s loudest amphibian.  If you listen during evenings and nights (especially after rain) you can hear the males calling,  “Co-kee!  Co-kee!”  The sound measures 90-100 decibels (as loud as a lawnmower). 

The fascinating coquís have a few tricks.  They sometimes “rain” from the trees!  In El Yunque National Rainforest, when the humidity rises, coquís climb high in the trees. Tarantulas, birds, and other predators wait for them on their upward trek, so to avoid being eaten, the coquís spring from the trees and float down to the ground. An urban legend states that if you move the coquís to another country, they stop singing because they really miss Puerto Rico!

An Activity with “Glowing” Reviews

There are five bays in the world where the water glows and Puerto Rico has three of them!  Tiny microorganisms light up the water with neon blue lights when they are disturbed.  Mosquito Bay is the brightest of these bioluminescent bays.  Try a nighttime boat trip to experience the magic!   

The Beauty and History of San Juan

It’s not just the coast and rainforest that are a feast for the eyes.  San Juan, the capital, is a beautiful showcase of Puerto Rico’s history and culture.  One area worth a visit is Old San Juan, where you’ll see narrow streets paved with beautiful blue cobblestones.  These bricks were made from iron refinery waste in Spain and brought to P.R. as ballast on the ships, then left behind. The material was repurposed and you can still see the original cobblestones on Calle Cristo.  While in Old San Juan, be sure to check out the amazing views from the 16th Century El Morro Castle.

Just as we immerse our students in the Spanish language at Spanish Schoolhouse, we encourage families to seek out unique ways to interact with the language beyond the walls of the school.  If you’re ready to get back to travel, why not consider a visit to the beautiful, enchanted Puerto Rico for a family immersion experience?!


So, what do you think?