Puerto Rico & the Spanish Virgin Islands Travel Guide
Puerto Rico is the smallest of the Greater Antilles, but had significant strategic importance from the time Christopher Columbus first sighted it on his second voyage in 1493. This is due to it being the first island a European ship comes upon that is large enough to have fresh water. Thus, the Spanish Empire held onto Puerto Rico for over 400 years until they lost possession to the United States at the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898.
Although Christopher Columbus named the island San Juan after John the Baptist, it was Ponce de Leon that explored and colonized the island. The settlement and harbor was called originally called Puerto Rico (meaning rich port) and the island was San Juan, but over the centuries these names became reversed thus we have the city of San Juan on the island of Puerto Rico.
Due to the original colonization and ownership for 400 years by the Spanish Empire the people of Puerto Rico are Spanish speaking, but the island has been part of the United States for over 100 years.
This gives you a feel of Latin America with the comfort of still being in the United States.
The Spanish Virgin Islands is a term used for the islands between Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands (Culebra and Vieques being the main two islands). They are geographically similar to the US and British Virgin Islands, so cruisers gave them the title Spanish Virgin Islands to be consistent. They are owned by Puerto Rico and most locals do not know them as the SVI, but as Culebra or Vieques instead.
Having been based in the US Virgin Islands for 6+ years I travel through the Spanish Virgin Islands several times each year. Plus, when I haul my boat out each year in Fajardo, on the east coast of Puerto Rico, I try and see something new on the main land. On top of taking a day here and there in between boat projects, I did a week-long road trip around Puerto Rico in 2015.
Likes, Dislikes, and Recommendations
My favorite things to see on Puerto Rico are Old San Juan (easily 2-3 days of historic sites), El Yunque rain forest, and the Arecibo radio telescope. With this said do not forget about all the beaches, pre-Columbian sites, and the mountains (where it gets into the 50s and they grow coffee).
The Spanish Virgin Islands have the feel of what I am told the Caribbean was like 30 years ago, and Culebra is one of my all-time favorite islands.
This is another location that I do not have any dislikes for, but there are some fun quirks. For example, road distances are given in kilometers while speed limits are given in MPH.
If you come by boat remember to go through Boarder Patrol, even if coming from the US Virgin Islands. Oddly, you do not have to check into the US Virgin Islands if coming from Puerto Rico though.
Below you can get even more helpful hints by watching the two travel videos I made for the Puerto Rico and the three for the Spanish Virgin Islands. Also, you can read what all I did there in my blog posts located below the video.