By Ilona Kauremszky

Q:I'll be traveling to Puerto Rico for the first time and will be spending four days there. Can you give me a brief history about the island and some key land marks worth visiting. I'm also unsure on what items to pack. Any info you have is appreciated.

A: Consider that the roots of American blockbuster stars Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin hail from Puerto Rico, than you begin to understand how the tune "Living La Vida Loca" translated as "Living the crazy life" is the perfect theme song for this island sandwiched between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean off the West Indies.

Puerto Rico, (Rich Port) is a contrast of old and new cultures, blending Spanish traditions with good old-fashioned American fare and the result: a hybrid culture of sorts. This wasn't always the case.

When Christopher Columbus discovered the island in 1493, the Taino Indians were the principal residents. Later, the Spanish arrived, influencing the island's architecture, cuisine, music and government.

It wasn't until 1898 during the Spanish-American war that Puerto Rico along with other islands were ceded to the US. Years later, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Act, granting Puerto Ricans by an act of Congress as American citizens. Ping ponging over the idea of self-identity, Puerto Rico was granted increased local autonomy in 1946 and in 1952, Puerto Rico was granted a Commonwealth status.

However, the US style does manage to prevail over the heads of the locals. So, when visiting, don't be surprised to see lots of parking lots, plazas, casinos, narrow cobblestone streets and a street festival with some musicians playing the congas and maracas. The rhythmical gyrations of Salsa and meringue will certainly get any tired souls up and going.

If you wish to avoid the maddening crowds of tourists flocking to every shop and historical landmark, then you've picked a good time to visit as May through November are considered off-season.

Tour information can be picked up at your hotel. One trip worth noting is the tour of the Bacardi rum distillery. Across from Old San Juan over San Juan Bay, the Bacardi distillery operates tours of its 127-acre operation. The Puerto Rico Tourism office reports this tour is free and is available Monday-Saturday, 9:00-4:00. Don't miss Old San Juan and be sure to explore the many fortresses open to the public.

Pack sweaters and some rain gear. If planning to visit the interior, the cool mountain air is certainly refreshing after a day of shopping in San Juan and the rain gear is for good measure. Don't worry if you've forgotten items at home. Remember you can always make purchases while there.

For more travel-related information on Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico Tourism Office has a toll-free phone number, 1-800-667-0394 or visit their web site.


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