10 Things You Might Not Know About: Puerto Rico

Seemingly neverending dreamy beaches, colorful colonial buildings, overwhelming nature, tropical climate, and music everywhere: Puerto Rico offers something for everyone – especially for those who like to discover, explore, experience, and enjoy. We’ve taken a closer look at the smallest of the Greater Antilles and will show you now ten of the most unusual and probably relatively unknown facts about this palm-covered island!

Puerto Rico is NOT a Country

The island’s official name is “Commonwealth of Puerto Rico” (“Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico”). This Commonwealth Status makes Puerto Rico an Associated Free State (not a sovereign one) within the United States. The whole story began with Christopher Columbus’ second voyage to America when the Spanish crown laid claim to the island in 1493, which until then had been inhabited by indigenous peoples for centuries. As a result of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the Spaniards ceded Puerto Rico to the United States (U.S.). Consequently, the island residents have all the rights and obligations of U.S. citizens, e.g., paying social security contributions, receiving social assistance, performing military services – excluding the right to vote in presidential elections, and some tax exceptions legislation. Although Puerto Rico is considered U.S. territory, the island has its own Olympic team and participates in the Miss Universe election as an independent nation. 

The World’s Oldest Colony

Credits: Stephanie Klepacki

Following up on Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” during his second voyage to America, he claimed the island as a Spain colony. But during the Spanish-American War, when the Spaniards lost their claim, and Puerto Rico became U.S. territory, the island still kept its colonial status. Up to this day, Puerto Rico is the World’s oldest colony with its capital, “San Juan,” being the oldest European city under the American flag. 

Puerto Rico’s “Galapagos Island”

Credits: Erik Zobrist, NOAA Restoration Center

“Isla de Mona” or “Mona Island” is the third-largest island in the Puerto Rican archipelago, right after the main island of Puerto Rico and Vieques. There are no indigenous people since the island is naturally uninhabited. Due to the island’s unique topography, ecology, and location, it’s referred to as the “Galapagos Island of the Caribbean.” Scientists and ecologists regularly explore and study the island’s unparalleled ecosystem, marine life, unique caves with historically significant artifacts, and endemic plants and animals, some of which are considered endangered.

Piña Colada

The famous tropical drink is said to be invented at the Caribe Hilton Hotel in Puerto Rico by the hotel’s bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero in 1954. This delicious cocktail made of creamy coconut milk, pineapple, and rum was an instant success and, as a result, was named Puerto Rico’s national drink in 1978.

The World’s Largest Rum Distillery

Credits: Atlas Obscura & VisitTheUSA

Speaking of rum, Puerto Rico is also famous for its rum distillery – the “Casa Bacardi” in Cataño near San Juan, which is also the largest rum distillery globally and produces about 100,000 liters of rum every single day. Casa Bacardi is also the only rum producer to maintain a minimum aging law for its rum. 

It’s Raining Frogs

Credits: Cathybwl

Puerto Rico’s national animal is a non-poisonous small tree frog: the Common Coquí. It’s a nocturnal (night-active) species of frog that got its name from the loud “calls” the males make at night to repel other males and, at the same time, attract females. During those periods of the year, when humidity reaches its peak, the tiny Coquí frogs tend to climb up to the forest’s canopies, where they build small nests to keep their eggs hydrated. Predators, however, like the tarantula, lay in wait for their prey to climb up to their spots. But once the frogs see their predator, they quickly launch themselves into the air, instead of returning to the ground the same way they used to climb up. Luckily, due to their size and being almost weightless, they “float” completely unharmed to the ground. 

Coconuts are not native

Who would’ve thought that coconuts are not native to the tropical island of Puerto Rico? In fact, coconut palm trees are not indigenous to ANY American territory. In 1542, the Spanish imported the first coconuts and coconut palm trees, that it soon after became part of Puerto Rico’s diet. So we can indeed thank the Spaniards that we’re even able now to enjoy one of our favorite cocktails, the Piña Colada! 

The Battle of the Measuring Systems

Credits: Patricia Serna

Let’s get straight to the fact: Puerto Rico uses both the Metric (from its days as a Spanish colony) and Imperial (as a part of the USA) systems for measurements. Although they might’ve tried, the U.S. never really got rid of the metric system, so now there’s no consistent method of properly measuring things. Just as an example: when driving, the distance is measured in kilometers, while speed is measured in miles per hour. It is indeed a bit messy.

Mute Dogs

Credits: Charles Hamilton Smith (1776–1859)

There once was a dog breed that the indigenous people of Puerto Rico, the Taínos tribe, used to hunt conies or guinea pigs. The “Alcos” was a small and entirely bark-free dog breed, famous for their excellent companionship and favored by ladies to keep as lap dogs. Unfortunately, this dog’s been extinct for centuries now.

The World’s Brightest Bioluminescent Bay

Credits: James Garlick

We know by now that there are precisely five places in the world famous for their bioluminescent (“glow in the dark”) bays. Two of them are in Vietnam and Jamaica – the other three are all in Puerto Rico: the Laguna Grande, La Parguera, and Mosquito Bay, with the latter being currently the brightest of all five. “Bio bays” are fragile and extremely rare ecosystems with bioluminescent single-celled microorganisms that glow when disturbed. And since there are millions of them in the bay, you can probably imagine the impressive sight of the glowing sea at Mosquito Bay.