Culture and traditions

Culture and traditions

Culture and traditions | Fuente: iStock Photo

Culture and traditions

Puerto Rico is a rich melting pot of cultures, although the strongest influences come from the Taino Indians, Spain and Africa. Indeed, over the centuries these cultures have left countless customs and traditions that can be traced back to our ancestors.

The names of various towns and villages, foods, objects and domestic utensils all come from the Taino Indians. Today, objects such as the famous hammocks that they used to sleep in can still be seen in many Puerto Rican homes.

The principal legacy passed on to us by the Spanish was Catholicism and the Spanish language, whilst from the Africans we have inherited the traditional ‘bomba’ and ‘plena’ dances, as well as percussion instruments including the drum and the maraca.

The fact that Puerto Rico has been a US territory since 1898 means that we have also adopted many of their traditions. As a result of our close ties with the USA, Puerto Ricans have learned to merge the Spanish language with English, creating what is known as Spanglish.

Many utensils used by our ancestors, and the Taino Indians in particular, have been discovered at archaeological sites scattered around the island. Most of these objects are today kept in the country’s museums and universities.

When it comes to art and literature, Puerto Rico has been a rich breeding ground for many outstanding writers and artiest including Julia de Burgos, Eugenio María de Hostos, José Gautier Benítez, José Campeche and Francisco Oller. Many of them are known throughout the world for their poetry, publications and works of art. Puerto Rican artists have also been involved in promoting the island’s film industry.

Puerto Rico is also famed for its music. Its cultural and folk roots lie in ‘bomba’, ‘plena’, ‘trova’ and ‘jibara’ rhythms. The island also boasts world-famous salsa, merengue, reggaeton and pop artists, such as Ricky Martin, Luis Fonsi, Chayanne, Victor Manuel, Olga Tañón, Ednita Nazario, Daddy Yankee and Wisin & Yandel, all of whom are proud of their Puerto Rican origins.

To find out more about the island’s culture, we recommend you visit the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture (ICP) website. This government-run organisation is responsible for conserving, enriching and promoting the cultural values of the people of Puerto Rico.


Puerto Rican culture can be seen and felt all year round, but especially at Christmas, when people celebrate the traditional parrandas – Puerto Rico’s version of carol singing – when family and friends gather together at home. This tradition tends to take place in the early hours of the morning in order to surprise the unsuspecting family members who are normally fast asleep.

Interestingly, Puerto Ricans celebrate what is probably the world’s longest Christmas. The festivities get underway on 23 November and last until the end of January when the Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián take place.

Epiphany is another of Puerto Rico’s deeply-rooted celebrations, with children visiting their relatives to collect the gifts left by the Three Wise Men.

One of the most important characters at this time of year is the Puerto Rican Jibaro, figures that represent the island’s ancient working classes. They could be easily recognised by their attire - a shirt, trousers and neck tie – and their machete knife and traditional hat, known as a ‘pava’.  The Jibaro wore a blouse, a long skirt and a poppy in their hair.

In addition to their love for Christmas traditions, Puerto Ricans also celebrate the Night of Saint John (the Baptist), where crowds of people flock to the beaches around the island to jump backwards into the sea seven times. They believe that this ritual rids them of their bad luck. Essentially it’s a kind of baptism, accompanied by music, dancing, eating and drinking.