Traditions and customs in Puerto Rico are an important part of the country’s culture. While informal and easily understood by Puerto Ricans, they can leave visitors perplexed. Take a look at this useful guide to find out more about what makes the country tick.
Dishes like mofongo, asopao, or tostones may be considered exotic by visitors to the island, but for Puerto Ricans, traditional dishes like these are everyday food. Their ingredients and recipes reflect part of Puerto Rican culinary history and the cultures that have shaped it. In addition, many of them are absolutely delicious and a great way to taste Puerto Rican life.
Common Puerto Rican words and phrases
Puerto Rico is among the many countries worldwide that are predominantly Spanish-speaking, and while there are many words and phrases that are common and mean the same internationally, there are others that are local to the island. Some phrases, for example, refer specifically to things in Puerto Rico – such as the skyward-pointing statue of Christopher Columbus referenced in the saying “cuando Colón baje el dedo” (“when Columbus lowers his finger”), meaning that something will never happen. There is also the word china, which Puerto Ricans use to signify the color orange and an orange (the fruit), when in other Spanish-speaking countries naranja is used.
Clapping when a plane lands in Puerto Rico
Anyone that’s flown to Puerto Rico might’ve already seen first-hand that sometimes Puerto Ricans clap when the plane lands at the airport runway. The clapping isn’t all that uncommon, although the popularity of it has arguably waned in recent years. If you’re wondering what it means, clapping is a gesture of thanks that the plane has landed safely in the island home.
Attending the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City
Every summer down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New York City, thousands of Puerto Ricans attend the parade, set to celebrate its 60th year in 2017. It is one of the largest, if not the largest, event celebrating Puerto Ricans that takes place in the United States, with a number of cultural activities held and educational scholarships. A significant event, it has become tradition for many generations of Puerto Ricans to come together to attend the parade.
The long Christmas season
The Puerto Rican Christmas or Navidad season lasts approximately from the end of November at around Thanksgiving, until mid-January. Not only do people typically celebrate the birth of Jesus, but there are also further celebrations when children receive gifts; Santa Claus appears towards the end of December, coinciding with Noche Buena (the night of December 24), while the Three Kings bring gifts to children on the night of January 5, the Víspera de los Reyes. The Three Kings, which are also called the Three Wise Men or Three Magi, have a religious significance because it is believed that they also brought gifts to baby Jesus.
Music is often played during Christmas time and popular songs include “Feliz Navidad” by Jose Feliciano, and “Canto a Borinquen” by salsa standouts Héctor Lavoe and Willie Colón, with assistance from Yomo Toro. Food is very important, and traditional Christmas dishes that are frequently on the menu during the season include pasteles, pork cooked in different ways (especially a la parrilla), and arroz con dulce.
Trullas and parrandas
One of the most noteworthy and fun Christmas traditions is the trulla or parranda. The custom is a bit similar to Christmas carolers in other countries, but turned up a couple of notches with instruments and surprise appearances at the houses of friends and family at any time of night. Often people in parrandas wake up the resident of the house they’re visiting and make so much noise that the neighbors are woken up as well. After the Christmas songs have been sung, the parranda people spend time at the house they’ve visited and sometimes have a meal together. There’s a lot of fun to be had with family and friends during this time of the year, and a parranda is a great way to keep the festivities going.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.