Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island that is a self-governing commonwealth of the United States of America. Located in the Caribbean Sea to the east of the Dominican Republic and west of the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico lies on a key shipping lane to the Panama Canal, the Mona Passage.
Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Puerto Rico in 1493 on his second voyage of discovery, and originally named it San Juan Bautista in honor of Saint John the Baptist. The name of the island’s present day capital, San Juan, honors the name Columbus first gave the island. It was then settled by explorer Ponce de Leon, and the island was under Spanish possession for over four centuries.
Puerto Rico became United States territory after the Spanish-American War ended in 1898. The United States passed Law 5600 giving Puerto Rico authorization to create and approve its own constitution. The relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico is known in English as a commonwealth. There is no precise Spanish equivalent to this word; thus, it is translated as estado libre asociado (literally, “freely-associated state”).
The island of Puerto Rico is a rectangular shape and is the smallest, most eastern island of the Greater Antilles. It has almost 580 km (360 mi) of coast. In addition to the principal island, the commonwealth islands include Vieques, Culebra, Culebrita, Palomino, Mona, Monito, and various others isolated islands. Puerto Rico is surrounded by deep ocean waters. To the west, Puerto Rico is separated from Hispaniola by the Mona Passage which is about 120km (75 mi) wide and as much as 3,300m (2 mi) deep. The Puerto Rico trench, 8,000m deep (5 mi), is located off the northern coast. Off the south coast is the 5,466m (3.4 mi) deep Venezuelan Basin of the Caribbean. Because Puerto Rico is relatively short in width, it does not have any long rivers or large lakes. The Rio de la Plata is the longest river in the island of Puerto Rico, which flows to the northern coast and drains into the Atlantic Ocean about 18km (11 miles) west of San Juan. Puerto Rico does not have any natural lakes; however, it does have 15 reservoirs.