8 Interesting Facts About Puerto Rico

Last Updated on

Flag of Puerto Rico
Surprisingly, the Puerto Rican flag was not designed to resemble the American flag.

Located just off the coast of the U.S., Puerto Rico is more than just another territory of the United States—there’s a lot of interesting things about this island nation that most people might not know. On one of my trips to Puerto Rico I visited as a guest of the island’s tourism board. I spent my week cave exploring, visiting the island of Culebra, riding the world’s highest zip line, exploring the Old City of San Juan UNESCO site, and visiting the territory’s national park site. Given a it’s a new place, it’s the right time for the next installment of 8 Facts You Might Not Have Known: Puerto Rico facts edition.

1. The flag of Puerto Rico is not based on the American Flag.

Puerto Rico was taken by the Americans from the Spanish in 1898. The 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.

The one acknowledgment to the U.S. was in 1952 when the blue field was changed from a light blue to a darker blue to better resemble like the American flag.

2. Puerto Rico has elements of an independent country.

While Puerto Rico is technically a territory of the U.S., there are many facts about it that make it more like an independent country. Puerto Rico competes under its own name and flag at the Olympics and has won eight medals in Olympic history. They have their own entry in the Miss Universe competition, and have had two winners in the last decade. Puerto Rico also has a top level domain name like other countries (.pr).

Aerial view of Castillo San Felipe del Morro in Puerto Rico
Aerial view of Castillo San Felipe del Morro in Puerto Rico.

3. The original inhabitants of Puerto Rico were the Taino Indians.

The Taino Indians gave us the words for hurricane (huracán) and barbecue (barbacoa). They invented the hammock. Puerto Ricans often call the island Borinquen, from Taino word Borikén, which means “Land of the Valiant Lord.” It was thought that the Taino Indians were exterminated in Puerto Rico, but most recent DNA studies have found that they hid in mountains and later melted into the population.

4. There are many famous Puerto Ricans.

Think you don’t know any Puerto Ricans? We bet you do as they include a staggeringly long list of Oscar winners, athletes, and hall of famers.

Oscar Winners: Benicio Del Toro, José Ferrer, Rita Moreno, José Rivera.

Baseball Hall of Famers: Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Alomar.

Actors: John Leguizamo, Erik Estrada, Rosie Perez, Chita Rivera, Jimmy Smits.

Musicians: Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin, José Feliciano, Tito Puente.

Athletes: Felix Trinidad, Juan “Chi-Chi” Rodríguez, Héctor “Macho” Camacho.

Plus many more not listed here—because it’s a long, long list.

5. The world’s largest telescope is in Puerto Rico.

The Arecibo Radio Telescope is located in Puerto Rico. It is 305 m (1,001 ft) in diameter, making it by far the largest single astronomical observing object in the world. It’s located inside a sinkhole, which supports its massive size. It has appeared in many movies and TV shows, including “Contact” with Jodie Foster.

beach in Puerto Rico

6. Puerto Rico is home to more bioluminescent bays than anywhere in the world.

The waters in Fajardo Bay, Mosquito Bay, and La Parguera Bay all contain tens to hundreds of thousands of microorganisms (dinoflagellates) per gallon of water. When the dinoflagellates are disturbed they glow, resulting in glowing water around anything that moves through the water. It’s a favorite aspect with tourists as it’s fairly incredible to watch the waters light up around you while swimming at night. 

7. Puerto Rico is more than just one island.

Between the main island of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands lies Vieques Culebra (one of my favorite beaches in the world), which are sometimes known as the Spanish Virgin Islands. Also, between the main island and the Dominican Republic is Puerto Rico’s island of Mona. Additionally, there are many other small uninhabited islands.

island of Culebrita as seen from Culebra, Puerto Rico.
The island of Culebrita as seen from Culebra, Puerto Rico.

8. San Juan is the second oldest European city in the Western Hemisphere.

The official name is Municipio de la Ciudad Capital San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist). Founded in 1508, only the Colonial City of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic is older. The Old City of San Juan was a walled city with two major forts: Fort San Felipe del Morro and Fort San Cristóbal. Fort San Cristóbal was the largest citadel built by the Spanish in the New World. The old city is now part of a National Historic Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Raices Fountain of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The striking Raices Fountain in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

FAQ About Puerto Rico 

Is Puerto Rico a U.S. territory?

Yes. Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory—it’s been a territory of the United States since 1898, since it was ceded to the U.S. by Spain in the Treaty of Paris. And since 1917, Puerto Ricans have been citizens of the U.S., able to travel freely within the U.S.

Why is Puerto Rico a U.S. territory?

About the size of Connecticut, Puerto Rico was first settled by the Spanish in the 1500s. After the Spanish/American War, the island was given to the United States by Spain in the 1898 Treaty of Paris, thus making Puerto Rico a U.S. territory.  

When did Puerto Rico become a territory?

Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898 after it was ceded to the United States by Spain.

Inside Camuy Cave in Puerto Rico
Inside Camuy Cave in Puerto Rico.

Recommended Resources And Readings:

If you’re traveling to Puerto Rico, then you’ll likely want to pick up a Lonely Planet Puerto Rico guidebook for the best advice on where to go, what to see, and where to stay.

And if you’re keen to learn more fascinating facts about Puerto Rico’s rich history, culture, and landscape, here are our favorite reads.

Best Books About Puerto Rico:

27 thoughts on “8 Interesting Facts About Puerto Rico”

    • No.. he is half columbian andhalf Puerto Rican. I guess you are not much of a fan…most of his stand up comedy states that.

  1. The native exploration has a full circle ratio.
    It is said that these gold crops, literally can spin faster than before with only 22.7cicles per nanosecond. Ive tried the recycled rice after the kongfu chuck beef and its just soo good!
    But first Id totally recomend the sweet and sour tamarindo syrup all over your next trip.
    Believe me, Its blissful heaven!!

  2. Being Boricua also allows us to live in Spain for two years before becoming a citizen of Spain as oppose to waiting 10 years. All you need is to have been born in P.R or have parents that were. SWEET! IS A BLESSING BEING BORICUA….

  3. Love it, just the way it is, I was raised in Ponce.I believe that we are so intertwine with north America that we have become part of the tapestry, from the military, medical, arts, politics and now perfection. I don’t foresee any changes, what we must do is to do our part and contribute to the growth and stability of our island, through education. Now we have a responsibility as perfect dna humans to work harder and each one of us to contribute something for the betterment of Puerto Rico and America.

  4. I hope PR never, ever becomes a state. It would be a very sad day if that were to happen.
    Viva Puerto Rico libre!!!

    • It would a disaster if Puerto Rico was granted independence and it has very little chance it will. For an island so small with a high population and little resources independence would not be a good thing.

    • Can you tell me how Puerto Rico would benefit (or suffer) from independence? I’m inclined to wish them independence largely because it appears Puerto Rico is used as a place to stash money and perhaps exploit the people.

  5. I knew all but number 8. I love that I came from here. Moving to the actual states being a young kid I have l learned both English and Spanish. Now watch me become the first Hispanic president.

  6. Puerto Rico should become an independent country with it’s current flag.No statehood at all because I been observing how each country are pround of their cultures,heritages you name it and take that away from them.United States doesn’t deserve everything they have to earn it not steal cultures.Puerto Rico is better off as a strong independent country and it could do it don’t let United States win.

    • Support for independence in Puerto Rico is less than 10% now. The fact is almost everyone in Puerto Rico has family who lives and works on the mainland US and the ties between the two places are so great that breaking away would be very hard.

      Most Puerto Ricans seems to be happy with the status quo where they get most of the benefits of being a state without having to pay taxes.

      • You might one to do a little more research about what you said about puertorican not paying taxes. We do pay taxes!

        • Puerto Ricans do not pay federal income tax, as they have no representation in congress. They pay a tax which is the equivalent of the federal tax, but it stays in Puerto Rico.

  7. Great facts to spread around Gary. I’m from Puerto Rico and one of the things I love the most about the island is it’s nature and culture. Another small island that locals love to visit is Guilligan’s Island. It is off the coast of Guanica and it is literally a small mangrove cay. A great place to spend a day relaxing and swimming around.

    Another little known fact is that the oldest church still in use in the Americas, La Iglesia de San Jose, is in San Juan. It was built in 1522.

  8. A great place to visit in Puerto Rico is the city of Ponce. http://www.topuertorico.org/city/ponce.shtml . I went there for the day while staying in Puerto Rico and it was great! You start off at the historical landmark “Parque de Bombas” which is an old historical firehouse.There you get all the information you need to tour the city on your own as well as an inexpensive trolley tour. You must go to Kings Ice Cream across the street from the firehouse and try the almond and chocolate. It’s delish!

  9. The short answer is population. Puerto Rico has 8x more people than all the other territories combined.

    Puerto Rico: 3,725,789
    USVI: 108,448
    Guam:178,000
    CNMI: 86,616
    Am Samoa: 66,432

  10. Puerto Rico also has one of the largest cave systems in the world in Camuy. It’s often said that the underground river flowing through them is the third largest in the world, but when I was there last year I spoke with one of the tour guides and turns out it’s 2nd or 3rd largest in the Americas. The title of third largest in the world actually goes to some underground river somewhere in Asia, I believe, that was recently explored further than it had been in the past.

    It’s still 3rd largest in America and damn it, I’m proud of that.

  11. Did you also know that you don’t need a passport to travel to Puerto Rico from the United States? That they are U.S. citizens, speak English, and use American currency?

      • Its an American territory like the Virgin Islands. The island of Puerto Rico is not recognized as a nation but an American territory that’s why the enjoy all full benefits.

      • And English as well! The native language is Spanish
        but do not take away the fact that we are bilingual which
        is an absolute plus!

  12. 1) I didn’t know that about the flag, VERY interesting!!! And 2) I HAVE to see these bioluminescent bays. They sound magical.

    • The flag is actually a copy of the Cuban flag designed after the Spanish American War with inverted colors. The original Cuban flag that they still use today was designed in 1849

Comments are closed.