Puerto Rico: a beautiful and 'beguiling' holiday spot

One of the Caribbean's biggest islands is home to enchanting food, music and beaches

Crystal blue waters, palm trees and white sand at Playa Flamenco
Playa Flamenco: one of the world's finest beaches
(Image credit: arenacreative / Getty Images)

An unincorporated territory of the US, Puerto Rico has long been a favourite holiday spot for Americans, but is relatively little visited by Europeans. It's time they discovered its charms, said Lauren Jarvis in The Sunday Times. One of the Caribbean's biggest islands (it is 100 miles long by 35 wide), it has mountains as high as Scotland's, almost 300 beaches, and no fewer than three of the world's five bioluminescent bays. Its culture, food and music are "beguiling", too, blending indigenous, Spanish and African influences. Ruled by Spain for more than 400 years, it was ceded to the US after the Spanish-American War in 1898, and today its people are US citizens, although they cannot vote in congressional or presidential elections.

The island's capital, San Juan, has a beautiful old town of "candy-coloured" houses and "blue-cobbled" streets – as well as two huge citadels, San Cristóbal and San Felipe del Morro, which are the biggest European fortifications in the Americas. Elsewhere, there are vestiges of the Taíno culture that preceded the Spanish conquest, including ancient petroglyphs carved into a limestone cave at Arecibo. Head eastwards from San Juan, and you reach the El Yunque National Forest, a mountainous reserve that is home to rare birds including the Puerto Rican parrot and the elfin woods warbler. Nearby lies the St Regis Bahia Beach Resort, the island's "first ultra-luxe property", and a good base for hiking.

Scattered around the main island are more than 140 smaller islands and cays, of which Culebra – an easy day trip from the St Regis resort – is among the largest. It is one of the most important breeding sites for seabirds in the Caribbean, and its reefs are a critical habitat for turtles (and a paradise for snorkellers and divers). Playa Flamenco, where most boats stop, is considered one of the world's finest beaches, and westwards lie others – Carlos Rosario and Tamarindo – that are often less crowded, but no less beautiful.

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