Information for Volunteers
The main island of Puerto Rico is approximately 3,500 square miles (9,064 sq km). There are several smaller islands adjacent to it including Vieques and Culebra, which are located east of the main island, and are the only two that are also inhabited. In addition, there is Caja de Muerto off the southern cost, Mona, Monito and Desecheo off the western coast, among others. Mona is an important natural reserve, often referred to as the Galapagos of the Caribbean, for its impressive natural diversity.
After the US-Spanish War in 1898, Puerto Rico became a “territory” of the United States and since 1917 Puerto Ricans are born US citizens. As a US territory, many US federal laws, including US immigration laws, apply here. The US dollar is used for all transactions, public and private and banks and commerce is regulated by the US Government. Most federal agencies have offices in the island, including federal law enforcement and security agencies and the Federal Court.
Currently, there are approximately 3.6 million people living on the islands, most of them of Taino, African and Spanish decent. There are also many people from other parts of Latin America, the US and indeed the world.
Puerto Rico has a tropical maritime climate, dominated all year round by a hot and humid weather, moderated by ocean breeze (trade winds) and with local variations up in the mountains and in the southern regions. Average temperatures in the capital city of San Juan (north coast) range from 86° F (30° C) for the high to 74° F (23° C) low, although it can go much higher, up to the mid 90s (35° C) or higher in the summer months.
The annual average rainfall in Puerto Rico is approximately 69 inches (1762.6 mm), with wide variations throughout the year and the regions. The southern coast, which is usually drier, may average as low as 35” (889 mm), while there can be up to 200” (5080 mm) in El Yunque National Rain Forest (northeast region). The “wet season” is usually from May to the end of October, August being the wettest (and hottest) month, December the coolest and February the driest.
The main language in Puerto Rico is Spanish, but English is also spoken by many locals.
Puerto Rico has a remarkable geographic and ecological diversity for its size. The largest island has a mostly mountainous topography with a moderately high mountain range running east-west at the center of the island and reaching its highest altitude of 1,338m (4,390ft) at Cerro Punta in the municipality of Jayuya. This central mountain range, called by locals the “Cordillera Central” is surrounded by coastal plains, wider in the north than in the south. It also has a smaller mountain range called “Sierra the Luquillo” in the northeast corner, where “El Yunque” National Forest is located, the only tropical rain forest in the US Forest System, and a smaller and much older range in the southwest called “Sierra Bermeja”
Other significant topographic features are the various Karts formations located along both the southern and northern plains, being the onece in the north the largest and more diverse. Topographic features in these formations includes caves, sinkholes, cone and tower formations and conical hills commonly none as “mogotes”.
Puerto Rico has a diverse flora and fauna, with an important dry forest in the southwestern part of the island, and the rainforest in the northeast. Mangroves dominate the shore in many areas and are a very important part of the island's ecosystem.
There are a number of bioluminescent lagoons and bays in Puerto Rico, being the Mosquito Bay in Vieques, Laguna Grande in Cabezas de San Juan, Fajardo and La Parguera Bay in Lajas the most famous.
Immigration and visas
Volunteers from the United States do not need a visa or passport to enter Puerto Rico. Although, it may be good to have your passport for identification purpose, your State driver’s license or official ID may be enough.
Volunteers from outside the US must find out with the US-State Department if they need a visa to enter Puerto Rico. In most cases a tourist visa will be enough.
Health and Safety
It is required for non-US volunteers to buy an international traveler’s health insurance that covers evacuation and repatriation services if needed. You will be required to send us a copy of the international insurance policy before you arrive to the island.
US volunteers should check with their health insurance companies to make sure they are covered while in the island, other than for emergency treatment. If not, you may have to pay for treatment in advance and get refunded later by your health insurance. It may also be a good idea to buy traveler’s health and safety insurance with evacuation and repatriation services.
Modern hospital and health care services are found across the island, although it may be necessary to transport patients out of some remote places to more urban settings.
As a tropical island, dengue fever may be of concern, as may be Chikungunya and Zika, that has recently being documented in the islands. Protecting yourself from the mosquitoes that transmit these diseases is important. The use of insect repellant and/or long sleeve shirts and long pants may be helpful. Knowing when mosquitoes are more active (usually early in the morning and in the late afternoon) can also help to avoid them.
Puerto Rico is a relatively safe place. Some drug related violence and petty crime does exists, as in any major concentration of people, but it tends to be localized in certain areas. Political turmoil is very rare and it mostly consists on strikes and protests resulting from economic harshness, but they are essentially peaceful.
As in every destination, it is important that you are aware of your surroundings: do not walk by yourself, particularl, at night and in poorly lighted areas, be mindful while approaching strangers, do not go with people you do not know enough to their homes or isolated areas, do not antagonize people.
Puerto Rico’s banking system is regulated by the local and US government. There are several international banks such as Banco Santander (Spain) and Scottia Bank (Canada) which can be use to transfer money from abroad, exchange currency, etc. Local banks like Banco Popular, First Bank or Oriental Bank can also be used for those transactions.
Many places accept credit and/or debit cards, especially with international logos and ATMs are very accessible. However, always make sure they do accept them before you make a purchase. Usually there are signs at the door or by the cashier that will tell you if cards are accepted, but if signs are not visible, ask someone.
It is always a good idea to talk to your bank before you leave your home country to make sure you can use your card in the islands, even if you are from the US and to let them know you will be traveling, so that they do not block your card out of concern.
Public transportation in Puerto Rico is scarce. In the metropolitan area of San Juan (that includes the municipalities of San Juan, Carolina, Bayamón, Guaynabo, Trujillo Alto y Loíza) you may find service from the Metropolitan Bus Authority, but even within that system the services is limited. There are several taxi companies offering services in local areas and also “limousines”. Taxi service is very expensive, particularly in tourist areas.
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