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Digitizing artwork to share Puerto Rican culture around the globe

Arts & Culture

Sep 15, 2022

min read

Luis Miranda Jr.

Philanthropist, advocate and strategist

Today, for the first time, Puerto Rican art and culture is accessible on a new scale to audiences around the world. 10 museums and archives in Puerto Rico have come together through a partnership with Google Arts & Culture, Lin-Manuel Miranda and myself to launch Puerto Rico: The Sum of Its Arts. This new, digital exhibition is an immersive experience of Puerto Rico’s rich multicultural heritage through over 60 expert stories and exhibits, curated from over 1,100 artworks and artifacts by our partners.

After the damage caused by Hurricane Maria, many of our partners’ artworks aren’t on view to the public because of building renovation, artwork fragility, or both. Over the past three years, Google Arts & Culture’s Art Camera has lived on the island, digitizing more than 900 artworks in high-resolution so you can get up close to masterpieces by influential Puerto Rican artists like Rafael Tufiño, Olga Albizul and José Campeche, no matter where in the world you are. The Art Camera is a breakthrough technology in art-digitization developed by Google Arts & Culture. It is a robotic camera, custom-built to create gigapixel images faster and more easily. A robotic system steers the camera automatically from detail to detail, taking hundreds of high resolution close-ups of the painting.

Some of you may remember our announcement back in 2019, when we began working with Google Arts & Culture and four partners on the island: the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, the Museo de Arte de Ponce, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico and the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. Since then our work has grown to include 10 partners, including organizations like the Ateneo Puertorriqueño and Museo de las Américas. The more you dive into works like the Caribbean Impressionist painting Ponce Silk-Cotton Tree, the sci-fi imagery of Yolanda Fundora, or the portrait of Puerto Rico’s “father of public education,” the more you start to understand how Puerto Rico is a truly multicultural island, mixing Latin American, Caribbean, European, African, North American, Taíno, and pretaíno indigenous» influences. These cultures mingle under the umbrella of a spectacular landscape, commemorated by artists like Manuel E. Jordán and Francisco Oller, and preserved by Puerto Rican collectors with a love of their home.

In the coming months and years, the project will grow into a hub for all things Puerto Rico. Already the Flamboyan Arts Fund is telling the story of San Juan’s ballet, the Galeria Lin-Manuel Miranda is spotlighting our family’s proud connection to the island, and the Casa Del Libro is sharing a rare collection of books.

So dive into our world, we present this project. We hope Puerto Rico: The Sum of its Arts helps you see the island as we do.


Rental Cars and Getting Around

Driving is the easiest and most convenient way to get around Puerto Rico, but like any destination, it has its challenges. A Puerto Rico native shares what you need to know about safety, road conditions, the local drivers, and other transport options.

Photo © Getty Images / Maremagnum

  • Getting around by car
  • Local drivers and traffic in Puerto Rico
  • Is it safe to drive in Puerto Rico?
  • Other ways to get around Puerto Rico

As a person who grew up in Puerto Rico and travels there often, one of my main recommendations to travelers is to get to know the island beyond San Juan. Puerto Rico, an archipelago of several islands, can be traveled by car, plane, bus, and ferry, but one of the easiest and most convenient ways to get around and explore stops off the beaten path is by car. Driving is the best way to enjoy less crowded beaches, go for a hike in the rainforest, or indulge at the countryside restaurants. Every destination has its quirks when it comes to driving, and Puerto Rico is no different. Here are some tips to consider.

Getting around by car

Getting around by car in Puerto Rico is pretty straightforward. If you’re traveling with a US-based phone plan or with roaming, Google Maps works pretty well on the island – even lesser-known spots such as Charco El Hippie, a stunning waterfall and swimming hole, are easily found when using the Google Maps App. Also, with providers like T-Mobile, there’s ample cell coverage across the island, including rural areas. If you’re lost, it’s generally safe to ask residents for directions. Many Puerto Ricans speak English, especially in the urban areas. However, bringing a Spanish-English dictionary or downloading Google Translate is always helpful.

Puerto Rico has several main highways that are in good condition. Just note that some of them now have automated tolls, so ensure you speak to the car rental agency about how they charge for tolls. Most cars will already have the AutoExpreso, the Puerto Rican toll collection system, installed in their vehicles.

The main highway, Highway 52, is a toll highway that takes you directly to Ponce, the second largest city in Puerto Rico on the southern coast. Highway 22 takes you along the northwestern coast of Puerto Rico, while Highway 2 takes you along the western coast, and Highway 3 takes you along the southeastern coast from Guayama back to San Juan. There are also several well-kept panoramic roads in the center of the island. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can drive the island’s perimeter in one day.

Renting a car is relatively affordable, and the prices are comparable to mainland United States. Since 2020, there’s been a price surge in rental vehicles, and unfortunately, Puerto Rico has not been immune to the pricing changes. Plan to spend between US $50-$100 a day for a car rental. Most mainland USA rental companies operate in Puerto Rico, making it easy to use your loyalty programs. Puerto Rican roads do have a lot of potholes, and sometimes, you need to take an unpaved road to get to some of the more remote beaches. If your budget allows, we recommend renting a jeep or SUV.

An unpaved road on the island of Vieques. Image credit: Getty Images / Alberto Coto

Local drivers and traffic in Puerto Rico

Location will dictate your driving experience in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico does have aggressive drivers, especially in San Juan. Don’t be surprised if you see someone hopping on the roadside to advance on an exit or cutting you off if you’re too slow. However, drivers are more relaxed when you go into the rural or less populated towns.

San Juan, the densely populated metropolitan area, has its share of rush hour traffic or what residents call «El Tapón» (traffic jam). Avoid traveling towards San Juan between 6-9am and away from the metro area between 4-7pm. It can take you an hour to travel ten miles! Driving during rush hour can be very loud as well. Between the honking of impatient drivers, people blasting their music with the windows open, and friends chatting across vehicles, the San Juan commute can be pretty eventful.

Is it safe to drive in Puerto Rico?

Since the devasting damage of Hurricane Maria in 2017, there have been a lot of repairs done throughout Puerto Rico, and the highways are in good condition. Due to heavy rains, you may find potholes, especially on residential roads. If you’re traveling throughout the countryside, be mindful that rural streets can be narrow, windy, and with a steep incline. If you want to travel to these areas, be alert on the road. When traveling narrow, winding streets, be sure to honk the horn as you drive around the curves. Hurricane season is from June to November when random heavy rains commonly occur. Some downpours only last for 15-20 minutes, but they can seriously affect visibility or cause flooding.

Another thing to consider is street crime. Unfortunately, carjackings happen in Puerto Rico, so be aware of your surroundings. Keep the car locked and the windows up and avoid distractions. Puerto Rico’s Department of Transportation authorizes drivers to treat stoplights like stop signs between midnight and 5am. However, many locals will start doing this after 10:30pm with very little enforcement. Also, don’t leave any valuables in your car, especially at the beach. In the case of an emergency, call 911 to contact the police.

Other ways to get around Puerto Rico

Although driving is the most convenient way to explore the island, there are several other ways to get around. In the San Juan tourist areas, local taxis and Uber are widely available. Rideshares and taxis may be available to take you outside of San Juan but be mindful that you may not be able to get a ride back as quickly (or at all). Public transportation is also available in San Juan via AMA, the bus system, and Tren Urbano, a train system connecting San Juan with the greater metropolitan area. Fares are US $.75 and $1.50, respectively. The AMA bus routes cover the main tourist areas in San Juan such as Isla Verde, Condado, and Old San Juan. There’s also a ferry from Old San Juan to Catañ, perfect if you want to visit the Casa Bacardi.

If you want to travel outside of San Juan via public transportation, it’s a bit more complicated. You can hire a carro público (public car), which leaves from the Rio Piedras Terminal. This public car service has been in Puerto Rico for decades, and it’s still affordable; however, there’s no set schedule. These cars go to other towns such as Caguas, Ponce, and Mayagüez.

Finally, if you’re considering a trip to Vieques or Culebra, the picturesque islands off the east coast of mainland Puerto Rico, there are two ways you can visit: by boat or plane. A ferry departs from Ceiba, a town on the island’s east coast, and runs a route between the mainland and Vieques or Culebra. Check the website for the itinerary and to purchase tickets in advance. There’s also a long-term parking lot at the port where you can leave your car. A ticket for $2 for a non-resident adult makes it an affordable choice, but it’s usually crowded. Another option is taking a short flight from San Juan or Ceiba via Vieques Air Link or Cape Air. Although shorter and more convenient, the tickets can cost up to $200 per person roundtrip.

By Jessica van Dop DeJesus,

World Nomads Contributor — Wed, 18 May 2022

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    Not 64, but 2975: the number of victims of the hurricane in Puerto Rico was underestimated by 50 times.

    How is this possible?

    Sign up for our ”Context” newsletter: it will help you understand the events.

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    Hurricane Maria was one of the deadliest in 100 years

    50 times higher than the figure that was considered correct until now.

    For a whole year, the official figures were 64 dead, but in fact there are 2975 people.

    Many died not during the hurricane itself, but because of the lack of adequate medical care, electricity and drinking water.

    Many also died due to blood poisoning and lack of medicines for people with diabetes.

    New data came from a study conducted by experts from the George Washington University.

    • Hurricane Maria left Puerto Ricans without power
    • Hurricane Maria as prime minister of Dominica

    Trump is no help

    Photo credit, Getty Images

    Image caption towels

    Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosello said it was with regret that his government must accept the independent commission’s findings.

    Skip the Podcast and continue reading.


    What was that?

    We quickly, simply and clearly explain what happened, why it’s important and what’s next.


    The End of History Podcast

    The government of Puerto Rico is still unable to fully restore infrastructure and electricity to the island and has asked the US Congress for $139 billion in emergency aid.

    Puerto Rico has the status of an «unincorporated organized territory», that is, it is under the control of the United States, without being an integral part of it. Immediately after the disaster, financial assistance was provided, but Donald Trump, who arrived on the island in those days, jokingly reproached the Puerto Ricans for the fact that they «hit the federal budget hard» with their situation.

    When the island authorities again asked Washington to help, Trump tweeted rather harshly: «Puerto Ricans want everything done for them, but efforts must be made at the local level.»

    According to official figures, «Maria» caused damage to Puerto Rico for 90 billion dollars, and the small island is not able to cope with the restoration of infrastructure on its own.

    Elon Musk wants to power Puerto Rico with solar panels

    The initial death toll seemed implausible to experts from the very beginning.

    During the hurricane, the wind speed in the capital of Puerto Rico, San Juan, reached 240 kilometers per hour. The wind uprooted trees and tore electric wires.

    Critics accused the island authorities of deliberately underestimating the number of victims. The governor’s office justifies itself by keeping records of only those who died directly from the hurricane — under the rubble of houses or drowned.

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