Land and People
Puerto Rico is one of the more densely populated areas in the world. The pleasant climate and sandy beaches attract many visitors. There is appealing variety in the land, as the mountains of the interior give way to low hills and fertile plains in coastal regions. But this is a relatively small place, measuring only about 180 kilometers (110 mi) from east to west and 64 kilometers (40 mi) from north to south.
The island’s architecture is mostly Spanish. Neighborhoods have winding cobblestone streets. Houses have pastel-colored, tile-roofed buildings with colorful, ornate balconies. Heavy wooden doors open onto inner courtyards in the style of Andalusia in southern Spain. Some estimates say there are over 400 structures of historic value in Old San Juan, including some of the finest examples of Spanish colonial architecture.
Average temperature is 28°C (82°F) throughout the year. A rainy season from April into November yields an average yearly precipitation of 168 centimeters (66 in).
Modern Puerto Rico benefits from a broad mix of influences—Taíno (Amerindians), Spanish, African, European, and North American.
The wide diversity of backgrounds is reflected in the delicious food. The Taíno—the original inhabitants of the island—ate corn, tropical fruit, and seafood. When the Spanish arrived, they added beef, pork, rice, wheat, and olive oil. Slaves from Africa brought okra and taro. Visitors from neighboring islands brought additional spices and ingredients. Mix these together with indigenous seasonings and ingredients—coriander, papaya, cacao, nispero, apio, plantains, and yams—and allow these to transfer among the different ethnic groups for generations—and you will be amazed by the delicious blend that is the base of Puerto Rican cuisine.
Imagine walking down a Puerto Rican residential street or restaurant row. The aroma of adobo (peppercorn crushed with oregano, garlic, salt, olive oil, and lime juice), roasted on meats, and sofrito (a potpourri of onions, garlic, coriander, and peppers browned in olive oil), used in soups, rice, and stews fills the air. It makes one hungry just to think about it! Arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) is the favorite chicken dish in Puerto Rico. The locals also love fish, eggs, and vegetables—all cooked with an array of delicious spices. Coconuts, papayas, mangos, soursop, star fruit, and many other fruits grow in abundance, leading to delicious desserts. Not to be overlooked is the rich mountain-grown coffee.
To be such a small place, Puerto Rico has had a very large impact on music. The musical instruments used by the Taíno people are still built, used, and exported. In Puerto Rico, numerous adaptations were made to Spanish guitars and to African drums, giving them their own distinctive Puerto Rican sound. The mountain-dwelling jibaros used these instruments to create powerful ballads and nostalgic local music. Later the bomba and plena, combined African, Puerto Rican, and Taíno tribes' music into a very energetic form of dance, which gained worldwide popularity. In recent decades, salsa has become the most popular type of music heard in Puerto Rico. Salsa originally developed within the Puerto Rican community of New York City, but now many popular salsa musicians come from Puerto Rico.