Situation And General Appearance Of Puerto Rico

The island of Puerto Rico, situated in the Atlantic Ocean, is

about 1,420 miles from New York, 1,000 miles from Havana, 1,050 miles

from Key West, 1,200 miles from Panama, 3,450 miles from Land's End in

England, and 3,180 from the port of Cadiz. It is about 104 miles in

length from east to west, by 34 miles in average breadth, and has an

area of 2,970 square miles. It lies eastward of the other greater

Antilles, Cuba,
aiti, and Jamaica, and although inferior even to the

last of these islands in population and extent, it yields to none of

them in fertility.

By its geographical position Puerto Rico is peculiarly adapted to

become the center of an extensive commerce. It lies to the windward of

Cuba, Santo Domingo, and Jamaica, and of the Gulf of Mexico and Bay of

Honduras. It is contiguous to all the English and French Windward

Islands, only a few hours distant from the former Danish islands Saint

Thomas, Saint John, and Santa Cruz, and a few days' sail from the

coast of Venezuela.

Puerto Rico is the fourth in size of the greater Antilles. Its first

appearance to the eye of the stranger is striking and picturesque.

Nature here offers herself to his contemplation clothed in the

splendid vesture of tropical vegetation. The chain of mountains which

intersects the island from east to west seems at first sight to form

two distinct chains parallel to each other, but closer observation

makes it evident that they are in reality corresponding parts of the

same chain, with upland valleys and tablelands in the center, which

again rise gradually and incorporate themselves with the higher

ridges. The height of these mountains is lofty, if compared with those

of the other Antilles. The loftiest part is that of Luguillo, or

Loquillo, at the northeast extremity of the island, which measures

1,334 Castilian yards, and the highest point, denominated El Yunque,

can be seen at the distance of 68 miles at sea. The summit of this

ridge is almost always enveloped in mist, and when its sides are

overhung by white fleecy clouds it is the certain precursor of the

heavy showers which fertilize the northern coast. The soil in the

center of the mountains is excellent, and the mountains themselves are

susceptible of cultivation to their summits. Several towns and

villages are situated among these mountains, where the inhabitants

enjoy the coolness of a European spring and a pure and salubrious

atmosphere. The town of Albonito, built on a table-land about eight

leagues from Ponce, on the southern coast, enjoys a delightful


To the north and south of this interior ridge of mountains, stretching

along the seacoasts, are the fertile valleys which produce the chief

wealth of the island. From the principal chain smaller ridges run

north and south, forming between them innumerable valleys, fertilized

by limpid streams which, descending from the mountains, empty

themselves into the sea on either coast. In these valleys the majestic

beauty of the palm-trees, the pleasant alternation of hill and dale,

the lively verdure of the hills, compared with the deeper tints of the

forest, the orange trees, especially when covered with their golden

fruit, the rivers winding through the dales, the luxuriant fields of

sugar-cane, corn, and rice, with here and there a house peeping

through a grove of plantains, and cattle grazing in the green pasture,

form altogether a landscape of rural beauty scarcely to be surpassed

in any country in the world.

The valleys of the north and east coasts are richest in cattle and

most picturesque. The pasturage there is always verdant and luxuriant,

while those of the south coast, richer in sugar, are often parched by

excessive drought, which, however, does not affect their fertility,

for water is found near the surface. This same alternation of rain and

drought on the north and south coasts is generally observed in all the

West India islands.

Few islands of the extent of Puerto Rico are watered by so many

streams. Seventeen rivers, taking their rise in the mountains, cross

the valleys of the north coast and fall into the sea. Some of these

are navigable for two or three leagues from their mouths for small

craft. Those of Manati, Loisa, Trabajo, and Arecibo are very deep and

broad, and it is difficult to imagine how such large bodies of water

can be collected in so short a course. Owing to the heavy surf which

continually breaks on the north coast, these rivers have bars across

their embouchures which do not allow large vessels to enter. The

rivers of Bayamon and Rio Piedras flow into the harbor of the capital,

and are also navigable for boats. At Arecibo, at high water, small

brigs may enter with perfect safety, notwithstanding the bar. The

south, west, and east coasts are also well supplied with water.

From the Cabeza de San Juan, which is the northeast extremity of the

island, to Cape Mala Pascua, which lies to the southeast, nine rivers

fall into the sea. From Cape Mala Pascua to Point Aguila, which forms

the southwest angle of the island, sixteen rivers discharge their

waters on the south coast.

On the west coast, three rivers, five rivulets, and several

fresh-water lakes communicate with the sea. The rivers of the north

coast are well stocked with edible fish.

The roads formed in Puerto Rico during the Spanish administration are

constructed on a substantial plan, the center being filled with gravel

and stones well cemented. Each town made and repaired the roads of its

respective district. Many excellent and solid bridges, with stone

abutments, existed at the time of the transfer of the island to the

American nation.

The whole line of coast of this island is indented with harbors, bays,

and creeks where ships of heavy draft may come to anchor. On the north

coast, during the months of November, December, and January, when the

wind blows sometimes with violence from the east and northeast, the

anchorage is dangerous in all the bays and harbors of that coast,

except in the port of San Juan.

On the western coast the spacious bay of Aguadilla is formed by Cape

Borrigua and Cape San Francisco. When the southeast winds prevail it

is not a safe anchorage for ships.

Mayaguez is also an open roadstead on the west coast formed by two

projecting capes. It has good anchorage for vessels of large size and

is well sheltered from the north winds.

The south coast also abounds in bays and harbors, but those which

deserve particular attention are the ports of Guanica and Hobos, or

Jovos, near Guayama. In Guanica vessels drawing 21 feet of water may

enter with perfect safety and anchor close to the shore. Hobos or

Jovos is a haven of considerable importance; sailing vessels of the

largest class may anchor and ride in safety; it has 4 fathoms of water

in the shallowest part of the entrance, but it is difficult to enter

from June to November as the sea breaks with violence at the entrance

on account of the southerly winds which prevail at this season.

All the large islands in the tropics enjoy approximately the same

climate. The heat, the rains, the seasons, are, with trifling

variations, the same in all, but the number of mountains and running

streams, the absence of stagnant waters and general cultivation of the

land in Puerto Rico do, probably, powerfully contribute to purify the

atmosphere and render it more salubrious to Europeans than it

otherwise would be. In the mountains one enjoys the coolness of

spring, but the valleys, were it not for the daily breeze which blows

from the northeast and east, would be almost uninhabitable for white

men during part of the year. The climate of the north and south coasts

of this island, though under the same tropical influence, is

nevertheless essentially different. On the north coast it sometimes

rains almost the whole year, while on the south coast sometimes no

rain falls for twelve or fourteen months. On the whole, Puerto Rico is

one of the healthiest islands in the West Indies, nor is it infested

to the same extent as other islands by poisonous snakes and other

noxious reptiles. The laborer may sleep in peace and security in the

midst of the forest, by the side of the river, or in the meadow with

his cattle with no other fear than that of an occasional centipede or

guabua (large hairy spider).

Unlike most tropical islands there are no indigenous quadrupeds and

scarcely any of the feathered tribe in the forests. On the rivers

there are a few water-fowl and in the forests the green parrot. There

are neither monkeys nor rabbits, but rats and mongooses infest the

country and sometimes commit dreadful ravages in the sugar-cane. Ants

of different species also abound.