The crossing of Puerto Rico’s cultures
Puerto Rico's starting pitcher Ivan Maldonado throws during a Baseball World Cup game against Panama. (Andres Leighton/Associated Press)
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has a long history of being caught between two cultures.
The Caribbean island was founded by the Spanish in 1508 but ceded to the United States during the 1898 Spanish-American War. Today, the unincorporated US territory has its own government, but the US controls its foreign relations. And Puerto Rico’s status is a hotly debated topic: should the island become a US state, remain a commonwealth or become an independent nation?
Given this unique Spanish-then-American colonial status, Puerto Rico can be a slightly confusing place to visit. Here’s a quick roundup of what to know before you go.
United States citizens don’t need passports to visit Puerto Rico, but tourists from all other countries do. The visa rules for Puerto Rico are largely the same as those for the US. Tourists who don’t require visas for the US, don’t require visas for Puerto Rico.
US dollars are used in Puerto Rico. As in the US, there’s no national value-added tax. There is a sales tax, though, which is 5.5% – and some municipalities add 1.5% to that. Official hotels also charge a 9% accommodation tax. All of the taxes you pay in Puerto Rico go to its government, rather than the federal US government.
Tipping tends to also follow American rules – 15% to 20% being customary in restaurants and taxis.
Both Spanish and English are national languages in Puerto Rico, but Spanish is more widely spoken as the primary language. In the 1990s, the government actually eliminated English as a national language to demonstrate its opposition to becoming a US state. The move was later reversed, but the sentiment behind it still exists among some locals.
Puerto Rico’s cuisine combines Spanish, African, American and Taíno influences. Ingredients from the native Taíno population include plantains, cacao and yampee, a white yam; African ingredients include okra and taro, called yautia; Spanish ingredients include olive oil, chorizo and rice; American ingredients include corn oil and American style bacon. The African ingredients remain from Puerto Rico’s period of Spanish rule, during which Africans were brought over as slaves.
Signature dishes include sopón de garbanzos con patas de cerdo (chickpea soup with pig’s feet, made with pumpkin, chorizo, chilies, cilantro, tomatoes, potatoes and cabbage) and mofongo (mashed-up plantains, garlic, olive oil and pork rinds).
Unlike nearby Latin American countries, fútbol (soccer) is not the most beloved sport in Puerto Rico. American baseball is the sport of choice and the island is known for exporting pro baseball players to the US. To see a Puerto Rico Baseball League game while visiting the country, check out the winter schedule.