Puerto Rico, endearingly referred to as The Island of Enchantment”, has been alled as such for many good reasons. ne in particular is its national mascot, imply a local species of small tree frog, he enchantment part likely being the sound it produces “KO-KEE”, often amiliar song throughout the night. If you ou will likely hear the Coqui sooner or later, and while you’re at it, why not check out the points of interest in Puerto Rico, including the National landmarks and unique places to see and things to do. Perhaps you’ll find in these offerings, further reason to coin Puerto Rico as the “Island of Enchantment” too.
Old San Juan
Founded in 1521 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon and originally planned as a military stronghold, this 465 year old seven square block neighborhood has evolved into a charming residential and commercial district. In essence, Old San Juan is the city’s historical heart as it is comprised of a tiny maze of blue cobblestone streets, colonial architecture and historic fortresses and plazas. Plaza de San José is a favorite meeting place and is skirted by a number of historic buildings. Abutting it is the Plaza del Quinto Centenario, itself the cornerstone of Puerto Rico’s commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the New World. Another is the Plaza de Armas, Old San Juan’s main square on San José Street, featuring four statues representing the four seasons. Plaza de Colón, originally called St. James Square, was renamed in 1893 to honor Christopher Columbus on the 400th anniversary of his discovery of Puerto Rico. Built in 1971, Plazuela de la Rogativa features a modern sculpture depicting a procession of religious women commemorating an event that took place on the site in 1797. The Plaza de Hostos features artisan displays and traditional piragüeros who sell shaved ice topped with tropical fruit syrup. The downtown historic district features the tree-lined Plaza de las Delicias, comprised of fountains, gardens, and the 1835 Cathedral de Nostra Señora de Guadalupe and the red-and- black striped Ponce Firehouse, itself constructed in 1882 and now a museum of the history of local fire-fighting. Casa Alcaldía, or City Hall, is the oldest colonial building in the city. La Guancha Paseo Tablado or the boardwalk is a lively beachfront development popular with the locals. All in all, the city includes over 400 carefully restored 16th- and 17th-century Spanish colonial buildings. The Old San Juan attracts many tourists, who also enjoy the gambling casinos, fine beaches, and tropical climate.
This six level fortress formally called The Fort de San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) is a National Historic Site and the largest fortification in the Caribbean. It sits atop a high promontory overlooking the entrance to San Juan Bay. From its perch above it provided a useful defense against attacks by both the English and the Dutch. Begun in 1540 and completed in 1589, it was named in honor of King Phillip II. Rising 140 feet above the sea, its 18-foot- thick wall proved a formidable defense. The fort is a maze of tunnels, dungeons, barracks, outposts and ramps and is studded with small, circular sentry boxes (garita) that have become a national symbol. The views of San Juan Bay from El Morro are spectacular. The area was designated a National Historic Site in February, 1949 with 74 total acres. In 1992, the fortress was restored to its historical form in honor of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Puerto Rico by Christopher Columbus. Visit El Morro and stroll on the lawns where soldiers once marched.
Located about nineteen miles east of Puerto Rico and eight miles north of Vieques, Culebra is the smallest of the inhabited Spanish Virgin Islands at seven miles long and three miles wide. An arid island having no rivers or streams, it gets water from Puerto Rico via Vieques and boasts crystal clear waters with sixty feet of visibility. In 1909 the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge was established taking in over 1,400 acres of land and is well known both as a nesting area for numerous seabirds, as well as the endangered leatherback turtle and Culebra giant anole. The snorkeling and scuba diving around this Island is outstanding. Hard and soft corals, tropical fish and other sea life abound in the shallows and magnificent reefs encircle the island.
Named after the benevolent Indian spirit Yuquiyu and comprised of over 240 different species of trees, El Yunque located in the Luquillo Mountains, is the only rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System. El Toro is its highest peak at 3,532 feet, having only odd dwarf vegetation clinging to its sides. More than 100 billion gallons of precipitation fall each year, creating the jungle like ambience of lush foliage, sparkling leaves, shiny wet rocks, and shadowy paths. Spectacular waterfalls rush alongside its well maintained trails. Within the park, you have the choice of about 13 hiking trails. While walking, keep an eye out for the coquí frog (the national symbol of Puerto Rico), the rare Puerto
Rican parrot, beautiful orchids and waterfalls.
Arecibo Radio Telescope
In the northwest mountains of the island, nestled among the karst-country hills, is the Arecibo Ionospheric Observatory, the largest of its kind and one of the most important research facilities worldwide. The huge dish (more than a dozen football fields could fit inside) sits in a sinkhole and is forever aimed at the sky, tuned to detect the slightest sounds emitted by the farthest stars. It is the place where planets outside our solar system were discovered and is the home base for NASA’s SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. In the Visitors’ Center you will see how the colossal structure is used to study radio emissions from distant galaxies, quasars, pulsars and many other cosmic sources. The exhibits are interactive and contain extensive information on astronomy and atmospheric science.
Camuy River Cave Park
In the northeastern region of Puerto Rico over 200 caves have been discovered. Climb or even swim through this massive underground river system, it being one of the biggest underground rivers in the world. Visitors ride a trolley that descends into a sinkhole lined with dense tropical vegetation while a guide describes the sights. After a walk across ramps and bridges and through the dramatically illuminated, 170-foot high, Cueva Clara, another tram shuttles you to a platform overlooking the 400 foot deep Tres Pueblos Sinkhole. Another attraction is the Spiral Sinkhole and Cave. You can walk the 205 steps down into the sinkhole, but the cave itself is off limits to all but experienced spelunkers. The sinkhole is believed to have once been an enormous cavern. Cathedral cave is home to an impressive collection of petro glyphs etched into the walls by the ancient Taínos (native Indians). The 268 acre grounds include a cafeteria, picnic area, gift shop, walking trails, exhibition hall, and theater.
Just a quick plane ride away, Puerto Rico offers the very best in tourist attractions, culinary delight, music, entertainment…and romance. End your day with a walk around one of the “magical” bays or lagoons where you can enjoy the darkness of the moonless nights and surround yourself with the sparkle of the darting lights of a million fireflies. We promise you will see why Puerto Rico lives up to its reputation. It is truly enchanted.
The Enchanted Island
Written By Richard Hodes