20 Fun, Quirky, and Fascinating Facts About Puerto Rico

Puerto-Rico

Shutterstock/Sean Pavone

By Cynthia De Saint

January 10, 2023

If you think you know everything about Puerto Rico, check this out! Borinquen never fails to surprise…

With its 300 tropical beaches, quaint cobblestone streets in el Viejo San Juan, and many natural wonders, the island appropriately called “isla del encanto” is breathtakingly beautiful. But there are many other fascinating things about Puerto Rico you may not know.

  1. Small, but mighty. With its 5,515 square miles, Puerto Rico is approximately the size of Connecticut. Still, in terms of population, it has the third-highest density in the US, after Washington DC and New Jersey.
  2. World’s oldest. Christopher Columbus “discovered” and claimed the island for Spain in 1493. During the Spanish-American War in 1898, Spain lost its claim to Puerto Rico, making it a US territory and the world’s oldest colony.
  3. Feeling blue. Why are there blue cobblestones in San Juan’s Calle Del Cristo? In the 1700s Spain started using cobblestones as ballast on their ships coming from Europe and in 1784 began using them to pave the streets of Old San Juan.
  4. Mute dogs? Puerto Rico was home to a now-extinct breed of small, barkless dog that lived on the island before the arrival of Columbus. They were the Taínos’ only domesticated animals.
  5. Move over, Jack Sparrow! The island had its very own pirate of the Caribbean. The legendary Cofresí was born in the seaside town of Cabo Rojo, and would attack boats and share his spoils with the poor. Legend has it that some of his treasures are hidden in different parts of the island.
  6. A sad distinction. In 1519 Pope Leo X declared Puerto Rico the first ecclesiastical headquarters in the New World, making it the epicenter of the barbaric Spanish Inquisition.
  7. A precursor to the Piña Colada? Remember the pirate Roberto Cofresí? Well, he used to offer his crew a cocktail made with coconuts, pineapple, and rum to boost their morale. The recipe was lost after he died in 1825.
  8. Yes, the Piña Colada was invented by Boricuas. Cofresí’s death didn’t stop Puerto Ricans in Old San Juan from developing a similar concoction. The Caribe Hilton claims Ramon Monchito Marrero created it in the Beachcombers Bar in 1954, while others claim that Ramon Portas Mingot mixed the first piña colada in Barrachina in 1963.
  9. It’s official! Christmas in Puerto Rico lasts longer than in any other country. The celebrations originally start after Thanksgiving, and last until late January, after the Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián.
  10. Who you gonna call? Located in San Juan, Teatro Tapia has been the site of apparitions and unknown footsteps and voices singing. According to legend, there was once a woman who fell to her death while performing, and she is said to be seen wandering around the premises.
  11. Location, location, location. La Casa Estrecha is only five feet and three inches wide! Antonio Álvarez turned the neglected alleyway in San Juan’s Calle de Tetuan, into a two-story yellow home with living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom.
  12. The houses used to be all white! The old town houses were originally all whitewashed to protect the bricks, which made Puerto Rico one of the only remaining Caribbean islands without colorful buildings. In 1954 they began painting the buildings vibrant colors.
  13. World class. San Juan and La Fortaleza were named an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
  14. ¡Qué miedo! Built in 1634 in a remote location, Garita del Diablo, a sentry box overlooking the water, is where a soldier disappeared from his post. Some believe he ran away with his love… others, that he was taken by the devil. The fort is closed to the public, but can be seen from a nearby street.
  15. No, it’s not just an island. Although Boricuas everywhere refer to “la isla,” Puerto Rico is, in fact, an archipelago that consists of a main island surrounded by smaller islands and cays, including Vieques, Culebra, Gilligan’s Island, Isla Palomino, and Mona Island.
  16. The oldest carnival in the West Hemisphere. One of Puerto Rico’s top festivities, the Ponce Carnival, dates back to 1858 and takes place every year one week before Ash Wednesday.
  17. Boricua ¡hasta en la luna! More people of Puerto Rican origin (an estimated 5.6 million) live in the mainland United States than in Puerto Rico.
  18. May it proudly wave. The Puerto Rican flag was designed in 1895 in solidarity with the Free Cuba Movement. It is the same layout and design as the Cuban flag, but with the colors reversed.
  19. What’s in a name? Columbus called the island San Juan Bautista. It was later named Puerto Rico because of all the riches being taken out of the island and exported to Spain in the early 1500s.
  20. Call it preciosa. Borinquen is a derivation of Borikén, which is what the local Taíno Indians called Puerto Rico before Columbus arrived. It means “Land of the Valiant and Noble Lord” in the Taíno language.

 

READ: 7 Restaurants in Florida to Find Puerto Rican Food Made With Love

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