By Jacob Aldridge

When we arrived here in Puerto Rico, we enjoyed a rapid refresh of the island’s Spanish and American history. This island territory is on the cusp of becoming the USA’s 51st State.

There’s a lot to make Puerto Rico different to the other 50 States, not least its location: Puerto Rico’s capital city San Juan will actually be closer to 33 other countries than it will to Washington DC! But today, we want to put differences aside, and explore the ways in which Puerto Rico will find common ground with the rest of America.

Where is Puerto Rico? Right next to the Dominican Republic, and a long way from Alaska.

Where is Puerto Rico? Right next to the Dominican Republic, and a long way from Alaska. Photo by Wikimedia Commons, CC License.

Why is Puerto Rico like Maui, Hawaii?

Let’s start our morning the refreshing way, by heading down to Condado Beach for a swim. It’s not Puerto Rico’s most gorgeous beach (that’s probably Flamenco Beach, which is on nearby Culebra Island – Puerto Rico is actually a collection of islands; even Old San Juan is technically a separate island, albeit connected by bridges). But Condado is an ideal start to a day in San Juan.

Comparisons with Hawaii – currently America’s only island State – are obvious. And yet many Americans don’t think of Puerto Rico when they consider dream beach holidays. And while Hawaii benefits from being surrounded by 4.5 million square kilometres of Pacific Ocean (1.7 million square miles), Puerto Rico will continue to compete with other Caribbean resort destinations. They do have one advantage, however: US Citizens do not need a passport to swim at Condado, Flamenco Beach, or Vieques Bay.

This is an aerial view of Flamenco Beach, Puerto Rico's best beach. If you know of a more stunning beach location … please tell us immediately so we can go!

This is an aerial view of Flamenco Beach. If you know of a more stunning beach location … please tell us immediately so we can go! Photo by Blucolt, CC License.

Why is Puerto Rico like Las Vegas, Nevada?

Gambling, particularly Casino gaming, is still a minority activity in the USA – in fact just one current State, Nevada, allows Casinos to operate state-wide.

Puerto Rico would double that number, and thankfully by bringing a gambling culture that’s more reminiscent of the Rat-Pack-era Las Vegas than The Hangover era Las Vegas. The grand El San Juan hotel and casino has a reputation for being the most opulent; we’re ducking into the Ritz-Carlton instead because we hear they have a better range of table games than most of the others.

First rule to casinos while travelling – No Slots (pokies? fruit machines? call them what you will, they’re not gambling they’re a donation to a company that doesn’t need your money). Roulette, on the other hand, is definitely gambling … and enjoyable as it was putting ten consecutive $2 bets on lucky number 15 only to see both 14 and 16 (twice!) come up, we know when to draw a line.

The second rule to casinos while travelling is placing them into one of 3 categories – sightseeing, reason, or problem.

  • Sightseeing is when you briefly duck into a casino, lost $20, take in the experience and leave (like we’ve done today).
  • Reason is also cool – that’s when you head on a holiday specifically intending to gamble and take in a show, and we won’t pass judgement because what happens in Vegas (or Atlantic City) stays in Vegas.
  • Problem is when you go to a beautiful island like Puerto Rico … and spend the entire time plowing quarters into slot machines. Choose your category beforehand, and bet with your head not over it.
If the Casino isn't your style, the Ritz-Carlton bar certainly is. Did Dean Martin drink Pina Coladas? They were invented in Puerto Rico in 1963, so this year is the 50th birthday of the Pina Colada. And that's a trick question - Dean Martin drank everything!

If the Casino isn’t your style, the Ritz-Carlton bar certainly is. Did Dean Martin drink Pina Coladas? Photo by Cellular Immunity, CC License. (That’s a trick question – Dean Martin drank everything!)

Why is Puerto Rico like Connecticut?

At 13,792 square kms (5,325 sq mi), Puerto Rico would be the United States’ 3rd smallest State by area – north-eastern Connecticut just beats it for size.

Remarkably, Puerto Rico and Connecticut would also be beside each other in a list of US States by population. Coming in at number 29 and 30 on that list, 3.6 million people call each state home, although in this case Puerto Rico just comes out ahead.

(This also means Puerto Rico would have the same representation at Connecticut – five seats in the US House, two Senators, and 7 votes in the Electoral College to elect a President. That’s more than Iowa … and Puerto Rico could be a swing state in future elections.)

Have you ever challenged yourself (or your group of friends) to drink a bar completely out of your favourite drink? Don't come here and try that with Bacardi. It doesn't matter how big your group tour of the Bacardi Rum Factory is, you won't win.

Have you ever challenged yourself (or your group of friends) to drink a bar completely out of your favourite drink? Don’t come here and try that with Bacardi. Photo by Pat7047, CC License.

Why is Puerto Rico like Lynchburg, Tennessee?

After 4 (6?) Pina Coladas last night, we were a little dismissive of Puerto Rico’s best known rum export, Bacardi. We always like to apologise over a drink, and there’s one other fact that’s compelling us to the Bacardi Rum Factory Tour – it’s free!

Beware of local tour operators offering you this tour for anything up to $40. For the cost of a short ferry ride from San Juan and then a taxi (total: about $1.50 each) you can get here and do exactly the same tour for free. And there are samples!

That’s the same amazing price as a tour of the Jack Daniel’s facilities in Tennessee. We won’t get into a bourbon v whiskey v rum debate here, mostly because whiskey is obviously the superior drink.

Would you like a Nightmare with your Bacardi Breezer? An exhibit inside the Bacardi Rum Factory Tour, and a more realistic version of the Bacardi Bat Symbol (Bacardi Logo) than we expected.

Would you like a Nightmare with your Bacardi Breezer? Photo by Tyler S Miller, CC License.

Why is Puerto Rico like Atlanta, Georgia?

Well we didn’t win big at the Ritz-Carlton, so instead of the private jet tonight we’re still going to be flying Delta Airlines. San Juan’s International airport has a reasonable reputation – Skytrax customers rate it a 6.4 out of 10 which means it’s roughly the same experience as Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport (6.3 out of 10 – and yes, we were also only slightly surprised that there’s a database of airport reviews on the internet!)

We probably wouldn’t care about that comparison … if it weren’t for the fact that our flight from this Caribbean island back to the US mainland is actually direct to Atlanta! Both airports also receive mixed reviews for their spaciousness – in Puerto Rico that’s what comes from building a modern airport that’s not yet heavily serviced; in Atlanta, that’s what comes from being the world’s busiest airport for fifteen consecutive years.

Why is Puerto Rico NOT like Los Angeles? I doubt this graffiti art from San Juan's Luis Munoz Marin airport would ever be installed inside LAX.

Why is Puerto Rico NOT like Los Angeles? I doubt this graffiti art from San Juan airport would ever be installed inside LAX. Photo by jplpagan, CC License.

If you needed something to snap you out of the island paradise routine, a busy airport will probably do it. And there’s only so much laying around on a beach you can do, even on a dream holiday. So ladies and gentlemen … start your engines …

Want to go? Need to know!

  • Our two days in Puerto Rico centred on San Juan; for the beach island experience head east to Fajardo, and plan to visit the islands of Palominitos, Culebra, and Vieques.
  • While the 2,500km (1550 mi) distance between San Juan and Washington DC is large, it’s actually only half the distance from DC to Anchorage, Alaska, and one-third the distance from Honolulu, Hawaii. In fact, it’s even closer than Salt Lake City, Utah!
  • It’s been estimated that the entire population of the world could fit into America’s smallest State, Rhode Island. That means you could fit about 22 billion people into Puerto Rico, but good luck enjoying the beach after that.
  • We read several reviews that said Atlanta’s airport is great “when you get used to it”. That bodes well for we everydaydreamers – this is our second visit in a month, and we’ll be back again (carrying golf clubs, hint hint) in the not too distant future.
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