ViaHero · April 2, 2019
There are so many awesome things to do in Puerto Rico, deciding what to put on your itinerary can be a challenge! Don’t fret: below, we break down everything you must do in Puerto Rico—organized by your traveler type. Are you a foodie? A history nerd? A nature lover? A rum fan? Some or all of the above? It doesn’t matter—here are the must-dos for you. Any questions after reading? You must send us a message.
Want to explore Puerto Rico differently? Have a local plan your trip.
Must-dos for foodies
If cocina criollo (traditional Puerto Rican food) motivated your trip to Puerto Rico, we don’t blame you! Between street food and sit-down restaurants, there’s so much good food in Puerto Rico. There are a couple of things foodies absolutely must do while visiting this island paradise:
- Try the street food: Sampling street food is one of the best things to do in Puerto Rico no matter what you’re into—Puerto Ricans are serious about their snacks. Keep an eye out for empanadas, bacalaitos (thin-cut, deep fried cod fish) and piraguas (similar to snow cones—this snack is a crowd-pleaser if you’re traveling in Puerto Rico with kids).
*Bonus*—Indulging in street food is a delicious activity that will keep your Puerto Rico trip below budget.
- Find restaurants that use local ingredients: Puerto Rico’s food scene is in the midst of an exciting renaissance with a focus on locally sourced ingredients (foodies, start your engines!). Some of Puerto Rico’s best restaurants have a local focus, which is good news for everyone.
- No matter what, try the cocina criollo: While in Puerto Rico, do as the Puerto Ricans do and do not miss out on the traditional dishes. There is Burger King in Puerto Rico (if you fainted, foodies, press on!) but there are so many incredible Puerto Rican dishes to try—for every type of taste! Here are a few favorites:
- Mofongo: one of the most popular dishes in Puerto Rico, mofongo is made of mashed plantains topped with meat, seafood, and/or vegetables.
- Arroz con gandules: This hearty dish is a mixture of rice, pigeon peas, and pork.
- Asopao: It’s impossible to frown while eating
asopao. It’s a rice stew, a bit like a gumbo. It’s the kind of thing that sticks to the ribs. Mmmm.
- Flan: Let’s talk flan. Topped with fruit and fresh cream, this is an excellent way to top off a night out.
Pro tip: While travel agencies that arrange trips to Puerto Rico *might* know a few good spots for a decent meal, for an authentic (and often more delicious) culinary experience, we’d recommend getting recommendations from a local.
Must-dos for history nerds
Puerto Rico has a rich history that stretches back way before Christopher Colombus “discovered” the island in 1493. A few favorite spots:
- See Cueva del Indio: Among the top places to visit in Puerto Rico is Cueva del Indio. Be sure you have the right shoes for this site—it involves scrambling over rocks to get to the caves. The journey is worth it—the caves are inscribed with petrographs made by Puerto Rico’s native Taino people. The history here is incredible (and so is the nearby beach!).
- Check out San Juan’s forts: some of the best things to do in San Juan involve exploring the city’s historic forts. The Castillo San Felipe del Morro is a so worth a visit—it’s one of the most iconic sights in Puerto Rico. Spend the afternoon exploring the fort and top it off by relaxing in the nearby El Morro Esplanade, the huge green space nearby.
Pro tip: Don’t miss out on San Juan’s lesser-known fort, the Castillo San Cristobal. Here you’ll find small crowds but the same sense of rich history and wonderful views.
- Go to the museums: with so many incredible museums in Puerto Rico, it’s easy to spend an afternoon learning about the island’s art, history, and culture. Some favorites:
- Museo de la Historia de Ponce: The history museum in Ponce focuses on, well, Ponce’s history. Since Ponce is Puerto Rico’s second largest city, this is an excellent way to get a sense of Puerto Rico’s history as a whole.
- Museo de las Americas: The Museo de las Americas in San Juan is a museum with the goal of telling the story of Puerto Rico, Latin America, and the United States (so, well, the Americas). It’s a cool way to spend an afternoon admiring art, learning about native people, and soaking in the history of this part of the world.
- Parque de Bombas: The Parque de Bombas is not only the (possibly) coolest looking building in Puerto Rico—it’s also a spectacular museum. Originally a fire station, this vibrant black and red building now acts as a museum that tells the history of firemen in Ponce.
Must-dos for nature lovers
Puerto Rico has some of the world’s best beaches (and forests!), so it’s no wonder that it’s such a draw for nature lovers. Many of Puerto Rico’s coolest activities involve nature in some form, so here are some that visitors absolutely must do.
- Do some island-hopping: Puerto Rico is an island, completely surrounded by water. It’s also surrounded by tons of little islands. Friends—you should not miss out on island hopping while in Puerto Rico. The surrounding islands are tiny, often uninhabited, and they are oh-so-cool.
- Caja de Muertos: “Coffin Island” sounds like a place you’d go to, you know, die, but Caja Muertos is nothing like the name suggests (promise!). A visit to the island is one of the best things to do in Ponce, and, honestly, worth the trek to Ponce if you’re staying elsewhere. Caja de Muertos is uninhabited and a refuge for wild turtles, pelicans and more. Visitors can explore the beaches, hike, and simply take in the rare quiet of an uninhabited place.
- Isla Culebra: For the ultimate beach experience, visitors must go to Isla Culebra. A visit here is one of the top things to do in Puerto Rico because, well, it’s stunning! White-sand beaches, clear blue water...what’s not to like? Playa Flamenco is considered to be one of the best beaches in the world so, it’s pretty hard to go wrong here.
- Cayo Santiago: Ok, so you can’t actually visit this little island (unless you happen to be a scientist with a focus on primate research) but you can get close. Monkey Island is a great spot to add to your Puerto Rico vacation—book a kayaking or snorkeling trip to wave at some of the resident monkeys from the water.
- Hike through the forests: Puerto Rico has tons of excellent hikes, and two incredible (and incredibly opposite) forests to explore. Although they couldn’t be more different, visits to El Yunque Rainforest and Bosque Estatal de Guanica are among the coolest things to do in Puerto Rico.
- El Yunque: folks, Puerto Rico has a freaking rainforest. El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the United States, making it a must-have on any good Puerto Rico itinerary. Some Puerto Rico travel agencies offer tours but they can be expensive and fairly rigid in scope. Alternatively, you can chat with a local about the best ways to check out El Yunque solo.
- Bosque Estatal de Guanica: We’ve all heard of rainforests. What about dry forests? That’s what the Bosque
Eststalde Guanica is—a dry forest. Simply put, it’s the opposite of a rainforest: it doesn’t get much rain (and it’s pretty cool that Puerto Rico has BOTH kinds). Bosque Estatal de Guanica has amazing hikes and stellar views. Just be sure to pack plenty of water!
- Admirer the animals: If you perked up at the mention of “Monkey Island” then it’s only going to get better. Puerto Rico’s great nature is intertwined with its stunning wildlife—there are so many great opportunities to admire both!
- Horses of Vieques: *Some of us* spent our childhoods dreaming of running with horses on the beach. Well, now it can be a reality. The horses of Vieques trot along the island’s black sand beaches, making for a unique and stunning sight. Believe us—getting a glimpse of these lucky horses is one of the most fun things to do in Puerto Rico.
- Find magic: There are a couple of nature sights in Puerto Rico that are simply magical.
- El Charco Azul swimming hole: One of the best off-the-beaten-path places to go to in Puerto Rico: the El Charco Azul swimming hole. Tucked in the woods just off the highway near Guavate, it’s a magical place to take a dip.
No matter where in Puerto Rico you decide to stay, astonishing nature is right around the corner.
Must-dos for rum fans
As Puerto Rico provides around 70% of the US’ rum, you can bet it’s an excellent destination for some killer cocktails. So what are the must-do activities in Puerto Rico for those who relish rum? Raise a glass—there are plenty!
- Meet Don Q: One of the most popular rums in Puerto Rico is Don Q Rum. The history of the family behind the distillery is intertwined with the history of Puerto Rico itself—visit the grand Castillo Serralles in Ponce to learn more.
- Hit the Bacardi Distillery: Bacardi is perhaps the best known among Puerto Rican rums (though it was founded in Cuba). So, obviously, rum fans should take a pilgrimage to the Bacardi Distillery near San Juan. Spend an afternoon on the rum tasting tour to get a sense of all the rum Bacardi has to offer.
- Get local rum recs: This is definitely an area where locals know best. Get insider recommendations from a local who knows the rum scene. They’re the ones in the know when it comes to neat bars, good drinks, and the best nightlife.
Obviously, when it comes to nightlife, be smart about it. Puerto Rico is safe and has largely recovered from Hurricane Maria. Just do as you’d do in any city at night, and you’ll be ok.
The must-do activity now? Get yourself to Puerto Rico! Armed with these “must-dos” for every type of traveler, you’re ready to conquer all the amazing things Puerto Rico has to offer. Before you jet off, make sure to get in touch with a Puerto Rico-based trip planner for help building your custom itinerary full of local gems and insider tips. After all, there’s nothing worse than missing on the *real* Puerto Rico.
- Connect With a Local to Plan Your Trip
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