Puerto Rico



Situated on the ne periphery of the Caribbean Sea, about 1,000 mi (1,600 km) se of Miami, Puerto Rico is the easternmost and smallest island of the Greater Antilles group. Its total area is 3,515 sq mi (9,104 sq km), including 3,459 sq mi (8,959 sq km) of land and 56 sq mi (145 sq km) of inland water.

Shaped roughly like a rectangle, the main island measures 111 mi (179 km) e-w and 36 (58 km) n-s. Offshore and to the e are two major islands, Vieques and Culebra.

Puerto Rico is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the n, the Virgin Passage and Vieques Sound to the e, the Caribbean Sea to the s, and the Mona Passage to the w. Puerto Rico's total boundary length is 378 mi (608 km).


About 75% of Puerto Rico's land area consists of hills or mountains too steep for intensive commercial cultivation. The Cordillera Central range, separating the northern coast from the semiarid south, has the island's highest peak, Cerro de Punta (4,389 ft-1,338 m). Puerto Rico's best-known peak, El Yunque (3,496 ft-1,066 m), stands to the east, in the Luquillo Mountains (Sierra de Luquillo). The north coast consists of a level strip about 100 mi (160 km) long and 5 mi (8 km) wide. Principal valleys are located along the east coast, from Fajardo to Cape Mala Pascua, and around Caguas, in the east-central region. Offthe eastern shore are two small islands: Vieques, with an area of 51 sq mi (132 sq km), and Culebra, covering 24 sq mi (62 sq km). Uninhabited Mona Island (19 sq mi-49 sq km), off the southwest coast, is a breeding ground for wildlife.

Puerto Rico has 50 waterways large enough to be classified as rivers, but none is navigable by large vessels. The longest river is the Rio de la Plata, extending 46 mi (74 km) from Cayey to Dorado, where it empties into the Atlantic. There are few natural lakes but numerous artificial ones, of which Dos Bocas, south of Arecibo, is one of the most beautiful. Phosphorescent Bay, whose luminescent organisms glow in the night, is a tourist attraction on the south coast.

Like many other Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico is the crest of an extinct submarine volcano. About 45 mi (72 km) north of the island lies the Puerto Rico Trench, at over 28,000 feet (8,500 meters) one of the world's deepest chasms.


Tradewinds from the northeast keep Puerto Rico's climate equable, although tropical. San Juan has a normal daily mean temperature of 80°f (27°c), ranging from 77°f (25°c) in January to 82°f (28°c) in July; the normal daily minimum is 73°f (23°c), the maximum 86°f (30°c). The lowest temperature ever recorded on the island is 39°f (4°c), at Aibonito, the highest 103°f (39°c), at San Lorenzo. The recorded temperature in San Juan has never been lower than 60°f (16°c) or higher than 97°f (37°c).

Rainfall varies by region. Ponce, on the south coast, averages only 32 in (81 cm) a year, while the highlands average 108 in (274 cm); the rain forest on El Yunque receives an annual average of 183 in (465 cm). San Juan's average annual rainfall is 54 in (137 cm), the rainiest months being May through November.

The word "hurricane" derives from hurakán, a term the Spanish learned from Puerto Rico's Taino Indians. Nine hurricanes have struck Puerto Rico in this century, the most recent being the devastating Hurricane Georges in 1998. On 7 October 1985, torrential rains created a mud slide that devastated the hillside barrio of Mameyes, killing hundreds of people; not only was this Puerto Rico's worst disaster of the century, but it was the single most destructive landslide in US history. On 15-16 September 2004, Hurricane Jeanne, the tenth named storm and the seventh hurricane of the 2004 hurricane season, entered southeast Puerto Rico near Maunabo and traveled west then north across Puerto Rico and exited over the northwest tip of the island near Aguadilla. Following the storm, Puerto Rico was declared a federal disaster area. As the storm approached, the entire power grid of Puerto Rico was shut down by the government, indirectly causing over $100 million in damage and resulting in 600,000 people left without running water. Seven deaths were attributed to Jeanne and there was also landslide damage.


During the 19th century, forests covered about three-fourths of Puerto Rico. As of the 21st century however, only one-fourth of the island is forested. Flowering trees still abound, and the butterfly tree, African tulip, and flamboyán (royal poinciana) add bright reds and pinks to Puerto Rico's lush green landscape. Among hardwoods (now rare) are nutmeg, satinwood, Spanish elm, and Spanish cedar. Pre-Columbian peoples cultivated yucca, yams, peanuts, hot peppers, tobacco, and cotton. Pineapple, guava, tamarind, and cashews are indigenous, and such fruits as mamey, jobo guanábana, and quenepa are new to most visitors. Coconuts, coffee, sugarcane, plantains, mangoes, and most citrus fruits were introduced by the Spanish.

The only mammal found on the island by the conquistadores was a kind of barkless dog, now extinct. Virtually all present-day mammals have been introduced, including horses, cattle, cats, and dogs. The only troublesome mammal is the mongoose, brought in from India to control reptiles in the cane fields and now wild in remote rural areas. Mosquitoes and sand flies are common pests, but the only dangerous insect is the giant centipede, whose sting is painful but rarely fatal. Perhaps the island's best-known inhabitant is the golden coqui, a tiny tree frog whose call of "ko-kee, ko-kee" is heard all through the night; it is a threatened species. Marine life is extraordinarily abundant, including many tropical fish, crabs, and corals. Puerto Rico has some 200 bird species, many of which live in the rain forest. Thrushes, orioles, grosbeaks, and hummingbirds are common, and the reinita and pitirre are distinctive to the island. Several parrot species are rare, and the Puerto Rican parrot is endangered. Also on the endangered list are the yellow-shouldered blackbird and the Puerto Rican plain pigeon, Puerto Rican whippoorwill, Culebra giant anole, Puerto Rican boa, and Monita gecko. The Mona boa and Mona ground iguana are threatened. Also, on the endangered list is the hawksbill sea turtle, which nests in Puerto Rico. There are three national wildlife refuges, covering a total of 2,425 acres (981 hectares). 



Puerto Rico's population was estimated at 3,912,054 in 2005, an increase of about 0.4% from 2004 and up from 3,522,037 in 1990. From 1990 to 2000, the population increased by 8.1%. The population in 2010 is 3,756.659. The population density in 2004 was about 1,137.4 persons per sq mi (439.2 per sq km).

In 2004, about 26.8% of the population was under 18 years of age and 12.2% were 65 years or over. The median age was 33.8 years. In 2003, there were 93 Puerto Rican males for every 100 females.

The population was estimated to be 75.2% urban and 24.8% rural in 2000. San Juan is Puerto Rico's capital and largest city, with an estimated 2005 population of 428,591, followed by Bayamon, 222,195; Carolina, 187,472; Ponce, 182,387; and Caguas, 142,378. Approximately one-third of all residents live in the San Juan-Carolina-Bayamon metropolitan area.


Three main ethnic strands reflect the heritage of Puerto Rico: the Taino Indians, most of whom fled or perished after the Spanish conquest; black Africans, imported as slaves under Spanish rule; and the Spanish themselves. With an admixture of Dutch, English, Corsicans, and other Europeans, Puerto Ricans today enjoy a distinct Hispanic-Afro-Antillean heritage. In 2006, about 80.5% of the population was white (primarily of Spanish origin), 8% were black, 0.4% was Amerindians, and 10.9% were of other or mixed race.

In 1898  at the end of the Spanish-American War  the island was ceded to the United States .  Residents of Puerto Rico have been considered as US citizens since 1917.   However, Puerto Ricans do not pay federal income tax to the Untied States and they do not vote in US presidential elections. Despite this link to the United States, most Puerto Ricans describe themselves as "Puertorriqueños" rather than Americans.

Less than two-thirds of all ethnic Puerto Ricans live on the island. Virtually all the remainder resides on the US mainland; in 2000 there were 3,407,000 people who identified themselves as Puerto Rican in the 50 states. The state of New York had the largest US ethnic Puerto Rican population (some 1.1 million) and ethnic Puerto Ricans made up 5.5% of that state's total population. New Yorkers who were born in Puerto Rico or who are of Puerto Rican descent sometimes refer to themselves as "Nuyorican." Florida's total ethnic population in 2000 stood second to New York's, at approximately one-half million.


Spanish and English are the official languages of Puerto Rico, but Spanish remains dominant among the residents. The issue of language has been an ongoing concern between residents and US authorities. A 1902 law established both languages for official use, but US officials pushed for many years to make English the dominant language in school and government use. In 1991, the Puerto Rican legislature issued a bill making Spanish the official language, but this decision was reversed in 1993, restoring both languages to official status.

Puerto Rican Spanish contains many Taino influences, which can be found in such place-names as Arecibo, Guayama, and Mayagüez, as well as hamaca (hammock) and canoa (canoe). Among many African borrowings are food terms like quimbombó (okra), guince (banana), and mondongo (a spicy stew). Some English words are incorporated into Spanish in what is commonly referred to as "Spanglish."


Until 1850, Roman Catholicism was the only religion permitted in Puerto Rico. Most of the population is Christian, with Roman Catholics accounting for about 85% of the population in 2006. The Catholic Church maintains numerous hospitals and schools on the island. Most of the remaining Puerto Ricans belong to other Christian denominations, which have been allowed on the island since the 1850s. Pentecostal churches have attracted a significant following, particularly among the urban poor of the barrios.

A small number of residents (an estimated 0.71% or 27,799 adherents in 2001) are Spiritists, incorporating native and African beliefs into their faith practices. Santeria, a syncretic religion originating in Cuba and Brazil that incorporates African and native Caribbean beliefs (including voodoo) with Catholicism, is practiced by some residents. As of 2001, Puerto Rico had 3,446 Hindus, 2,818 Baha'is, 2,715 Jews, 1,135 Muslims, and 509 Buddhists.

In 2006, the United Evangelical Church of Puerto Rico (Iglesia Evangelical Unida de Puerto RicoIEUPR) voted to end a 40-year partnership with the United Church of Christ (UCC) due to the denomination's liberal polices on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. The IEUPR, which was established in 1931 and became a conference of the UCC in 1961, planned to con-tinue to operate as an independent denomination, much as it had before affiliation with the UCC.


Puerto Rico's inland transportation network consists primarily of roads and motor vehicles. A system of public buses operated by the Metropolitan Bus Authority (MBA) provides intercity passenger transport in the capital of San Juan and nearby cities. As of 2000, the bus service carried 135,000 daily passengers, up from 60,000 daily passengers in 1995, a 125% increase. The públicos, a privately owned jitney service of small buses and cars, offers transportation between fixed destinations in cities and towns.

As of 2004, Puerto Rico had 264 mi (424 km) of interstate highways and 15,673 mi (25,217 km) of local roads. In 2000, the territory had approximately two million registered automobiles.

The Tren Urbano (Urban Train), a heavy rail transit train, began operations in December 2004. Tren Urbano connects San Juan to the surrounding urban areas with 16 stations along a 10.7-mi (17-km), 30-minute route. The cost of the Tren Urbano project was $2.25 billion. 


*Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, Copyright (c) 2003.