The "gatekeeper" of the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Rico is the smallest of the Greater Antilles Islands at 35mi/22km wide and 100mi/62km long. The official languages of the island are Spanish and English. Puerto Rico, Spanish for "Rich Port", has a distinct culture that is a fusion of Amerindian ancestors, Spanish conquistadors, West African slaves and the influences of the United States.
The complexity of Puerto Rican history and culture is mirrored in the variety of attractions the island offers to visitors. Spanish architecture is abundant on the island, and cities such as Old San Juan (National Historic Site) and Ponce offer forts, churches and other structures dating back to the Columbus era. The varied landscape is one of the island's main attractions, including the El Yunque National Rainforest. Beaches are abundant, offering opportunities for water activities such as diving, sailing and surfing. Observe the world's largest radio telescope in Arecibo. Those who want to get away from it all can plan a boat excursion to the small islands of Culebra and Vieques off the eastern coast.
The climate is mild tropical marine, with very little seasonal temperature variation. The terrain is mostly mountainous, with a coastal plain belt in north; mountains precipitous to the sea on the west coast; and beaches along most coastal areas. The highest point is the Cerro de Punta at 4,389ft/1,338m. There are 78 municipalities within Puerto Rico.
The first peoples to settle the island were the Igneris (300 AD) the Taínos Indians (600 AD). Islanders still refer to their home as Borinquen - the Taíno name for the island before the arrival of Columbus. The Taíno flourished on Borinquen until an invasion of the Carib in the 15th C, a warrior tribe of Indians originating in South America. The Taíno took refuge in the mountainous interior. Christopher Columbus landed on Puerto Rico in 1493 and named the island San Juan Bautista during his second voyage to the New World. He then sailed on to establish colonies on other Caribbean islands but a member of his fleet; Ponce de León vowed to return.
In 1508 León and conquistador Cristóbal Sotomayor returned to establish gold mining colonies on the island, first in Cappara and then in San Germán. The Spaniards felt they were above the labor it took to mine gold so they began to colonize and Christianize the Taínos in order to force them into labor. The Spanish priests soon officiated marriage to Taínos women. 1511 saw the first allied attack on the Spanish by the Taínos and the Carib, who murdered Cristóbal. León assembled a militia of 120 men and violently struck back, burning villages and killing many Indians. Most Taínos fled while those who stayed perished from European diseases. Some Taínos retreated deep into the mountains.
Eventually, Borinquen was populated mostly by Spanish men, their Indian wives and their children, known as Mestizos. West African slaves were brought to the island in 1518, and slavery wasn't abolished until 1873. Over time, the island becomes known as Puerto Rico, and in 1898 the U.S. invaded Puerto Rico, ending the Spanish-American War. In 1951 Puerto Rico became an official U.S. commonwealth. Since then, there have been a number of independence movements. The main industries of Puerto Rico are pharmaceuticals, electronics, apparel, food products and tourism.