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Puerto Rico's monkeys and more

Travel & news discussion about Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico's monkeys and more

Postby KarenS » Tue Jun 13, 2006 7:06 am


What's more fun than a barrel of monkeys?

An island of monkeys. Monkeys, monkeys everywhere, from the top of the coconut palms to the edge of the beach, curious primates that line up to watch equally curious humans.

Monkey Island, also known as Cayo Santiago, is located off the southeast coast of Puerto Rico. This tiny island is home to the descendants of a colony of rhesus monkeys brought here from India in the 1930s for research. Today the land is off-limits to visitors, but snorkelers are welcome to observe from the sea.

And so we approached the island, feeling a little like James Bond as we silently slid through the waves, hoping to edge a little closer before the lively primates saw us.

Wrong. Our best Bond technique delivered us about 100 feet from the shoreline when we were spotted, our arrival heralded by squawking, bouncing, waving monkeys. One male was particularly aggressive, baring teeth as he warned of our incursion. We had to be content to go no further, observing the island's inhabitants from the shallows, hearing their excited chatter.

In contrast to our reception on Monkey Island, visitors to Puerto Rico are greeted with a hearty "Bienvenidos" and a welcoming blend of the familiar and the exotic. It's a recipe that's sure to please: take one part Caribbean island and one part US destination. Add a sprinkling of US currency, equal portions of English and Spanish languages, and a good helping of a uniquely regional spirit that bubbles over in everything from dance to dishes. The result? A recipe for a festive vacation with all the spirit of the Caribbean and all the conveniences of the US. The Caribbean's fourth largest island lies a quick two and a half hour flight from Miami or less than four hours from New York.

Starting with your arrival in the capital city of San Juan, you'll find a bustling pace, regardless of the hour. Casinos ring with the clink of slots; showgirls kick up their heels in lavish revues; couples cram the dance floor, undulating to the sounds of salsa and merengue. This mega-city buzzes night and day with commerce, cruise ships, and savory cuisine.

San Juan sprawls across several districts. Tourists typically visit Condado, Isla Verde, and Old San Juan, the historical heart of the city. Here you'll find buildings so old and quaint they look a movie set. Walking tours of the old city include a visit to El Morro, the historic fort overlooking the Atlantic, and continue along narrow cobblestone streets that echo back to the city's earliest days. Fine examples of 18th century Spanish architecture abound, mixed with small shops and restaurants as well as numerous monuments. Visitors might hear the sound of a cruise ship's horn in the distance, calling its passengers; the port is one of the Caribbean's most popular.


When a resident of San Juan travels beyond the city limits, he says he's going "en la isla" or out on the island. Beyond the boundaries of San Juan, traffic sounds give way to the slap of waves on the honey-colored shore or the clear piping of the tiny coqui (co-kee), a frog that's a symbol of Puerto Rico. (It's said that the coqui can survive only on the island, so to be "as Puerto Rican as a coqui" is a declaration of island pride.)

Mountains form a rugged ridge from east to west. These mountains, the Cordillera Central and the Sierra de Luquillo, loom some 3000 feet above sea level, easing into rolling hills before reaching the coastal plains. The rainiest area is in the northeastern El Yunque rain forest, rich with tropical plants ranging from breadfruit to mahogany trees to fragrant orchids. In contrast, southwestern Puerto Rico is far drier, sporting cacti and succulents.

Off Puerto Rico's shores, the islands of Mona, Culebra, and Vieques offer quiet getaways for those willing to take an extra hop. Unlike Monkey Island, the inhabitants of these islands welcome vacationers savoring peace and quiet in tiny Puerto Rican villages.


Don't leave Puerto Rico without a taste of the island's cuisine, a distinct blend of Spanish, African, and Taino Indian influences. Start with an appetizer of tostones (fried plantains) or empanadillas, little meat turnovers. Other Puerto Rican dishes include asopao, a rice stew made with chicken or other meat, and mofongo, mashed plantains mixed with fried pork rinds and seasoned with garlic. Save room for flan, a creamy custard, or tembleque, a custard made with coconut milk and sprinkled with cinnamon. Don't worry about going thirsty in Puerto Rico: along with some of the Caribbean's finest rums, the island offers excellent local beer and stout Puerto Rican coffee.


The action doesn't stop when the sun goes down in Puerto Rico. In true Latin fashion, the city puts on its best clothes and gets ready to party during these cooler hours. Starting with a typically late dinner at 9-10 p.m., the evening continues with dancing in one of the many discos in San Juan, bar hopping along San Juan's trendiest area -- "Sofo" or the South Fortaleza district, or, perhaps, a little gaming in the luxurious casino hotels.

Most Puerto Rican casinos open at noon and remain open until the early hours of the morning. Dress codes require semi-formal attire; leave the shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops in the room for your night at the tables.


Shopping, whether for duty-free luxuries or handmade crafts, is a major activity for Puerto Rico's visitors. The shops on Calle Christo and Calle Fortaleza in Old San Juan tempt shoppers with a range of goods. For a distinctive island product, popular purchases are cuatros (small handmade guitars), mundillo (bobbin lace), santos (hand-carved religious figures), rum, and cigars.
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