Puerto Rico, Geography

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Puerto Rico, Geography

Puerto Rico is the easternmost point of the Greater Antilles with an area covering 3,435 square miles. Located to the east of the Dominican Republic, north of Venezuela, and west of the Virgin Islands, its jurisdiction includes the largest island, properly known as Puerto Rico (which is also the smallest of the Greater Antilles); two adjacent islands to the east, Vieques and Culebra; three other islands to the west, Mona, Monito, and Desecheo; and small surrounding islands and keys. Belonging to the Virgin Island chain, Vieques and Culebra are known as the Spanish or Puerto Rican Virgin Islands and are located in close proximity to the U.S. Virgin Islands. The territory is bordered to the south by the Caribbean Sea and to the north by the Atlantic Ocean. Puerto Rico's inhabitants numbered 3,927,776 (2006 est.) with a population density of more than 1,100 people per square mile. More than 4 million Puerto Ricans reside in the mainland United States.

Since the sixteenth century, the geographical location of Puerto Rico at the center of the Antillean arch has made its territory a valuable and strategic military zone. U.S. military bases once occupied most of the territory of the islands of Vieques and Culebra.

Three elements compose the island of Puerto Rico's physical surface: mountains, coastal plains, and valleys. The Central Cordillera runs from east to west, shaping three-fourths of the island as hills and mountains. The Sierra de Cayey and Sierra de Luquillo are two small mountain ranges respectively to the east and northeast of the Central Cordillera. Cerro de Punta is Puerto Rico's highest peak, at 4,390 feet. The highest points of the cordillera contrast with the lowest levels along the island's coasts.

Most of the industrial activity of the main island is on the coastal plains surrounding the cordillera. The major cities are San Juan (the capital), Ponce, Mayagüez, Arecibo, and Fajardo, all connected by a highway system. In the center-eastern part of the island, the city of Caguas occupies an extensive valley. Although unnavigably narrow, Puerto Rico's rivers (including Río Grande de Loíza, Río Bayamón, Río Grande de Arecibo, and Río La Plata) have been used as a source of hydroelectric power.

Puerto Rico's average temperatures fluctuate between 75°F and 80°F. Divided into two zones according to altitude, the climate shows slight differences in temperature between the "moderate" (higher parts of the mountains) and the "hot" (plains and low hills) areas. These climatic zone differences are accompanied by rainfall variations, ranging from averages of 200 inches a year in the rain forests to less than 30 inches in some of the urban coastal sections.

The main island's rain forests include Luquillo, Carite, Toro Negro, and Maricao. To the east, Luquillo, the largest of these reserves, hosts the Yunque peak at 3,494 feet and is home to the Puerto Rican parrot, an endangered species. At the island's center, shaped by the Usabón River, is the San Cristóbal Canyon, whose walls rise between 495 and 660 feet high. Endemic to Puerto Rico's fauna is the coquí (of which there are sixteen species), a petite member of the frog family that sings its name. Trees such as the flamboyán and the maga adorn Puerto Rico's vistas.

See alsoCaribbean Sea; Virgin Islands.


Arana-Soto, Salvador. Diccionario geográfico de Puerto Rico. San Juan: n.p., 1978.

Blanco De Galiñanes, Maria Teresa, ed. Geovisión de Puerto Rico: Aportaciones recientes al estudio de la geografía. Río Piedras: Editorial Universitaria, Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1977.

Cadilla, José Francisco, et al. Elementos de geografía de Puerto Rico. San Juan: Editorial Librotex, 1988.

                      MarÍa del Rosario Ramos GonzÁlez

                                   Ismael GarcÍa ColÓn

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Puerto Rico, Geography

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Puerto Rico, Geography