Even though it is small it is the perfect destination to explore the Caribbean. You’ll not only find the typical sand beaches and palm trees but an island full of history, art, music, good food and an authenticity you’ll not find in any oft he resorts that seem to dominate the Caribbean. Puerto Rico has something for everyone: nature to explore, cities to shop in, beaches to sunbathe, and bars to go out. But be prepared: You’ll probably want to stay at the end.
3 Reasons to go
- The Food: Who doesn’t love a good meal and a refreshing drink? Puerto Rico has an amazing array of rum and rum-based cocktails, a tasteful and colorful cuisine and a typical dish – Mofongo – you really shouldn’t miss.
- Outdoor Adventures: The Puerto Rican weather is perfect for any outdoor activity; snorkeling, surfing, kayaking or hiking the only rainforest in the US National Park System are just a few of the adventures you can dive into.
- Culture: The Caribbean isn’t all about sun and beaches, it also has a rich and fascinating culture that is often overlooked. There is something for everyone; history, art, and music will greet you at every corner.
Destination 1: Old San Juan
Start in the heart of Puerto Ricos biggest city and get a feel for people, food, and culture. Dance to Caribbean vibes or stroll along the colorful cobblestone streets.
Destination 2: El Yunque and Bio Bay
Take a hike to a beautiful waterfall with a natural pool in the only rainforest in the US National Park system and observe the nightly glow of the Bioluminescence bay at Laguna Grande.
Destination 3: Ponce
Explore Puerto Rican life beyond the tourist streams and learn how the world’s favorite hot drink – coffee – is made.
Destination 4: Rincon
Get some rest or hop on a surfboard in this Surf Mecca where expats and locals alike enjoy the beaches and waves.
Destination 5: Arecibo
The Rio Camuy Canyon with its caves is one of the natural highlights of the island and taking in the largest Radio Telescope on the planet is a view to behold.
How to book your vacation?
If you enjoy organizing your own trips.
Start booking hotels:
Day 1: Arriving in San Juan
The largest airport on the island and the most common arrival point in Puerto Rico is located in San Juan. Take a taxi to your hotel (about 24 $ when you have an accommodation in Old San Juan) and put on some Flip Flops and Sunscreen after checking in. The streets of Old San Juan are a sight to behold at any time of day, but especially in the evening, you’ll find a lot of bars and restaurants buzzing with people and music. Take a walk around the colorful houses and take a trip to the Paseo de Princessa for a beautiful evening walk.
Day 2: Culture, Castles and Cuba Libre
The two sights you shouldn’t miss in San Juan are the Castillo Cristobal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro. The latter has the best views over Old San Juan and the former is your best bet if you’re really into history. And if you’re already at El Morro, take a walk along its outer walls on the Paseo del Morro. It’s beautiful and has a little breeze from the sea. If you’re more of an art fan, take a taxi to Santurce and dive into an amazing collection at the Museo del Arte de Puerto Rico. The perfect ending for a day in San Juan is a ferry ride to Catano and a tour at Casa Bacardi with complimentary Cocktails. When you’re back in San Juan make sure to find a restaurant and try the Mofongo if you haven’t done that already the day before.
Day 3: Natural wonders in El Yunque and Fajardo
Rent a car and make the short 1-hour trip to El Yunque. It’s a beautiful piece of rainforest and the only one in the US National Park System. The La Mina Trail is perfect for a little exploring and a natural pool and waterfalls await you at the end. After getting your fill of the forest, drive the 30 minutes to Fajardo and wait for the sunset. You should book a Bioluminescence tour in advance (at least 3 weeks) and always take the last one if possible. The sky will be darker and you’ll see the glow better. If you’re up for it, do a kayaking tour. I would recommend booking with Kayaking Puerto Rico. You’ll kayak through a pitch black mangrove tunnel to the Laguna Grande. It’s a once in a lifetime experience.
Day 4: Ponce
Drive along the coast to Ponce, Puerto Rico’s second largest city. The drive along the coast will take you about 4 hours (twice as much as if you would drive through the mountains) but you’ll be rewarded with amazing scenery. When you’re in Ponce go and explore the quaint and historically interesting downtown around the Parque de Bombas. If you’re into art and haven’t been to the museum in San Juan, take a look at the Ponce Art Museum.
Day 5: Coffee galore
North-West of Ponce with an about 1-hour drive, lies the Hacienda Buena Vista coffee plantation which provides great tours that will show you the history of coffee on Puerto Rico, and teaches you the process of making your favorite hot beverage. After your tour, which you should book in advance, drive 1.5 hour to Rincon and catch the sunset at one of the beach bars or take an evening stroll along one of the beautiful beaches.
Day 6: Rest and recreation
Take a break from all the exploring and sunbathe at the famous beaches of this surf Mecca. You can observe some of the best surfers conquer the waves or try your own luck if you’re so inclined. End the day at one of the great beach bars and restaurants with some good cocktails and amazing food.
Day 7: Exploring caves and looking at the universe
Get an early start and make the 1.5 to 2-hour drive to Arecibo. Near Arecibo, you’ll find the world’s largest Radio Telescope. The Visitor center also has an amazing exhibition about the history of he universe and some really cool interactive exhibition pieces. After having a look at the Telescope, drive for about 30 minutes to the Parque Nacional de las Cavernas del Rio Camuy. Take a tour through the Caves and take in the astounding beauty of our planet.
Day 8: Back to reality
Drive the 1.5-hour back to San Juan and turn in the rental. Make your way back home and remember all the beautiful things you encountered on this amazing Caribbean island.
Tips & advice
- Pack Bug spray and sun lotion. You can get both on the island but the prices are crazy. It will be much cheaper to buy it at home and take it with you
- I probably wouldn’t need to mention this, but Puerto Rico is Zika infested. So please, if you are pregnant or planning on conceiving, don’t go if you don’t have to.
- Puerto Rico is a prime destination for all American spring breakers, so try to avoid that time, or you’ll probably share your hotel with a mass of drunk students
- If you plan on exploring the island absolutely get a rental car. The streets will be pretty bad in some places, but waiting on the publicos (local busses that drive between all cities and villages) can take up to 10 times longer to get to your destination. And you probably don’t want to stay pressed inside a small van for the most part of your vacation. As a bonus: It’s really a lot of fun to drive the small mountain streets.
- Ditch the American chain restaurants. There are so many really good local restaurants that have really decent prices, that going to McDonalds or Pizza Hut really would be a shame. And if you are really adventurous, try some of the food trucks. They have surprisingly good food, the portions are huge and the prices can’t be beaten. Just take a good look at them first before choosing, some can be a little unhygienic and you don’t want to end up with food poisoning.
- Puerto Rico is part of the US Territories, so most of the people actually speak at least a little English. None the less, you should learn at least the most basic sentences in Spanish as it will open you even more doors and show the locals that you at least try and that you are not one of those often times obnoxious all inclusive tourists from one oft he cruise ships that flood the island every few days.
Simone Neuber is from Cologne, Germany. The only thing she loves more than experimenting with ingredients for her cooking is traveling with her husband and writing about it on their blog A Wanderlusters World. Together they love to explore their destinations off the beaten path and get to know the people and customs of the places they visit. Maybe even getting a new recipe or two. Follow their adventures on:
Photo credit: Simone Neuber