Puerto Rico is one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean and a great one to explore. No matter what your travel style is, a Puerto Rican holiday can be whatever you want it to be: action-packed with activities and sports, filled with culture, delicious with gourmet local fare or relaxing with gorgeous beaches. Below are some of the best things to see and do while in Puerto Rico.
Explore San Juan
Puerto Rico’s capital city is as cosmopolitan as they come, with an added unmistakable island flair. It’s a modern city with great dining, galleries, bars and shopping but it’s also rooted in history as one of the oldest settlements in the Americas. Among the things not to be missed in this buzzing capital are its oldest assets located in historic Old San Juan, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There you’ll find such treasures as Fort San Cristobal, a fortress built to protect the city; Castillo San Felipe del Morro, which dates back to 1539; and El Capitolio, built in the Neoclassical Style. San Juan is also home to several museums such as the Puerto Rico Museum of Art, which showcases Puerto Rican artists. Lastly, San Juan is also home to several stretches of gorgeous urban beaches like those of Condado, Isla Verde and Ocean Park.
If you’re spending a few days in San Juan, check out our article on the top things to see and do in Puerto Rico’s capital city.
Go to the beach
One cannot talk about Puerto Rico without discussing its gorgeous beaches. With 500 km of coastline, it’s easy to realise why this island nations has some of the best beaches in the Caribbean, if not the world. Whether you prefer wild, untamed and non-touristy stretches of sand or would rather do some people watching on the urban beaches of San Juan, you can find a Puerto Rican beach that fits your preferences.
Eat! And drink
Puerto Rican cuisine is fantastic and a melting pot of African, Spanish and native Tainos culinary cultures. It’s also naturally influenced by the United States. The result is a unique and delicious local food culture that visitors must partake in. Try some of the local dishes such as mofongo, lechón and tostones.
Streetfood is a big thing in Puerto Rico and a great way to try some authentic food. In San Juan, head to the Miramar Food Truck Park, as well as La Placita de Santurce, which is a farmers market by day and a lively streetfood gathering by night. The Luquillo Kiosks, a gathering of 60 family-owned outdoor stands selling food and beverages near Luquillo Beach is also great for tasting authentic food. Hit the road towards Guavate and indulge in La Ruta del Lechón (pork highway), a stretch of road lined with dozens of open-air vendors serving whole, slow roasted pork, a local specialty.
The cocktail culture is thriving on the island and can be enjoyed in some of San Juan’s more upscale bars as well as within the more modest beachside establishments. Rum is the preferred spirit on this island since Puerto Rico produces most of the world’s rum (see Casa Bacardi text below). Piña Colada is a Puerto Rican creation and the national drink, so do indulge in a few of those while you’re visiting.
Visit Casa Bacardi rum factory
Bacardi Rum is the top selling rum in the world. Located in Cataño, a town located across the San Juan Bay, the Bacardi distillery is the largest premium rum distillery in the world. Bacardi founder Don Facundo Bacardí Massó invented white rum in 1862 and the current Cataño distillery has been running since 1958. Take a tour of the modern facilities to learn how rum is distilled or practice your mixology skills with a bartending class. You can even bottle your own Special Reserve double aged rum in a custom engraved and red-wax sealed bottle!
Discover El Yunque National Rainforest
The El Yunque National Rainforest is the only tropical rainforest in the United States. Hike around the forest and cool off in one of its many ponds and lagoons or under its waterfalls. El Yunque is also the perfect spot to do some birdwatching or learn about its 240 endemic plant species. Camping facilities are available in the park as well as rustic accommodations.
Kayak in bioluminescent bays
There are 5 bioluminescent bays in the world and you’ll find 3 of them in Puerto Rico, in Mosquito Bay (Vieques), Laguna Grande (Fajardo) and La Parguera (Lajas). Bioluminescence happens when there is a large concentration of microscopic, single-celled organisms called dinoflagellates. These organisms are stimulated by movement, which makes them glow in the dark. While in Puerto Rico, you can take a kayak tour of these bays. The movement of the kayak makes the waters light up for a surreal unique and memorable experience.
Go island hopping
Puerto Rico’s main island is remarkable but its smaller surrounding islands are just as pretty and interesting. Vieques and Culebra, two islands located on the east side of the mainland, have some of the most beautiful beaches. They are accessible via an affordable ferry that makes several crossings a day. Desecheo Island is a great spot if you enjoy snorkelling or scuba diving because of its extensive network of underwater caves. Guilligan Island makes for a great day trip with water so warm and shallow, you’ll feel like you’re swimming in a giant swimming pool among the mangroves. You can also take a boat from Ponce to Caja de Muertos, a beautiful island off the coast that’s also a protected birdnesting area as well as a favourite among sea turtles.
Ponce is located on the south shore of Puerto Rico and is only about a 90-minute car ride from San Juan The island’s second largest city is known for its cultural life and has earned the nickname “museum city”. There are many cultural activities to explore in Ponce such as the iconic red and black Parque de Bombas, the country’s first fire station now converted to a museum; the Museo de Arte de Ponce that features local and international artists; and the great mansion that is Castillo Serrallés. Ponce also has many dining options from local Puerto Rican fare to international cuisine. Stroll along Paseo Tablado La Guancha to catch the sunset and taste some local dishes from the street vendors.
Play scientist at the Arecibo Observatory
If you enjoy going off the beaten path and visiting unusual structures on your travels, then head to the Arecibo Observatory. It’s the world’s biggest single-dish radio telescope. You can tour the visitor center with interactive exhibits to learn more about astronomy and how the radio telescope operates. Even if science is not your thing, a visit to the observatory is worth it for the sheer grandeur of the actual monument.
Visit a coffee plantation
Coffee is one of Puerto Rico’s main exports and has been a big part of the local culture for 150 years. Coffee plantations, or haciendas, are spread out throughout the island and are located in the mountains since coffee grows best at an elevation. You might be able to book a tour through your hotel but you otherwise have to drive there. It’s a bit of a trek but so worth getting to the source of this most delicious beverage if you’re a coffee lover. You can witness the entire process from planting to harvesting to processing and roasting. Keep in mind that harvest season runs from October through December and is the best time to visit. You can also learn more about Puerto Rican coffee by visiting the Museo del Café in Ciales.
Dive and snorkel
If you’ve never gone scuba diving or snorkelling, it’s time to take one of these two activities up. Puerto Rico has excellent diving sites that are among the best in the world. You can swim (or dive) in some of the clearest waters around and admire gorgeous coral reefs as well as frolic with stingrays and turtles, among many other sea creatures.
If your idea of a great vacation is one spent partaking in outdoor activities, then Puerto Rico is the place for you. From hiking in rainforests to surfing tall waves, kayaking in bioluminescent bays, exploring caves, horseback riding on the beach, ziplining across forests, repelling off mountainsides, exploring caves or biking around the island, this majestic island has it all!
Visit the Guánica Dry Forest
Located on the south shore of the island, the Guánica Dry Forest is a United Nations International Biosphere Reserve and home to hundreds of species of flora and fauna, many of which are unfortunately endangered. It’s also notably home to 130 species of birds, many of which are endemic. There are several trails throughout the forest, on the most popular of which leads to historic Fort Caprón, from which you can get a breathtaking view of Guánica Bay and the surroundings.
Book your direct Air Transat flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Cover photo credits: cogito ergo imago