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20 Best Places To Visit in Puerto Rico (Local Recs)

Updated September 11, 2023

Travelers to Puerto Rico will have their pick of gorgeous towns, stunning rainforests, lively street markets, and breathtaking natural sights. It can be definitely hard to decide which places to visit in Puerto Rico. 

That's why we asked island locals about their top places to visit in Puerto Rico. They gave us some of their favorite reasons to visit the island below.

Looking for more insider info about exploring Puerto Rico? Work with a local for on-the-ground access as you plan your trip. Learn more

#1: Old San Juan: A colorful and deeply historic neighborhood

Old San Juan | ViaHero

One of our Puerto Rico locals wrote: "This charming old part of town is a great place to explore restored buildings from the 16th- and 17th-century Spanish colonial period. Walk through the narrow cobblestone streets and enjoy a lively and colorful area full of history, culture, and personality." 

This sums it up pretty well! We love Old San Juan's color (the streets are paved with unique blue stones) and the area is full of restaurants, bars, and outdoor cafes.

However, Old San Juan can get touristy. To avoid tourist traps, get a local perspective. Locals can let you know about the things to do, see, and eat in the area that they love. 

Local Tip:

Make your way to Fortaleza Street (pictured above) for some Instagram-worthy shots—but take note that the colorful art installation also has a deeper meaning. Installed following Hurricane Maria, the umbrellas offer visitors a sense of the Puerto Rican community's resilient spirit. 

#2: Santurce, San Juan’s hipster mecca

Street art in Santurce | Juan Cristobal Zulueta/Flickr

The center of San Juan’s incredible music and art scenes, Santurce is a hipster’s paradise. The neighborhood abounds with murals, bars, and cafes so if you want to “hang with the cool kids,” this is the place to do it.

You'll find a lot of dining options here, so benefit from local advice. Locals let us know that some of the best spots to visit include Tresbe (a former food truck that planted roots and has some delicious options), Berlingeri (a vegetarian restaurant with quality food), and Pinkys Calle Loiza (a solid brunch option that's also budget-friendly).

Local Tip:

Santurce's famous market – La Placita – is known as the hub of San Juan's hottest nightlife scenes. The nightlife is especially good on Thursday and Friday nights. 

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#3: Vieques: an island of unspoiled beauty

The island of Vieques is home to some of the best beaches in the Caribbean, as well as the stellar Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. Semi-wild horses roam the island's black-sand beaches, and sea turtles nest along Vieques' shores. Plus, at just eight miles from the main island, it’s an easy ferry ride or flight over.

Benefit from local knowledge—our local trip planners tell us the ferry is by far the most cost-effective form of transportation (it's $2/person). However, they also advise that the trip takes longer than flying and that you'll have to wait in line. 

Local Tip:

You can purchase tickets in advance at porferry.com.

#4: Playa Flamenco: The ultimate beach paradise

Tank on Playa Flamenco | Wikimedia Commons

Playa Flamenco, about 17 miles from Puerto Rico proper, on Isla Culebra, is a paradise of white sand, clear blue water, and phenomenal snorkeling. It's definitely one of Puerto Rico's top beaches and is consistently rated as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world

Locals tell us that it's easy to get to Playa Flamenco. You can either hop on a ferry or book a flight. 

Local Tip:

Be sure to check out the rusting, graffiti-covered tanks that dot the beach. They were left there when the US military abandoned the area in 1975.

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#5: Balneario de Carolina: A beach getaway from urban San Juan

While a little further out than the other popular beaches along Isla Verde (technically in San Juan's neighboring town of Carolina), locals tell us that Balneario de Carolina is among the area's least crowded. 

They note that this beach is frequented mostly by locals and has public bathrooms, food kiosks, and drinks. (In other words, it's a great destination if you want to travel to Puerto Rico with kids.)

#6: Mosquito Bay: A bioluminescent wonderland

Located on Vieques, a small island off Puerto Rico’s eastern coast, Mosquito Bay (aka Caño Hondo) glows bright blue with microscopic bioluminescent critters at night. Though Puerto Rico has two other bioluminescent bays (Laguna Grande and La Parguera), Mosquito Bay is by far the brightest. In fact, it's the brightest in the world.

Local Tip:

You can't swim here, but you can at La Parguera. 

"How did I ever not travel like this?! Ana’s local insight & planning was a game changer. It’s like having a digital concierge, travel agent, and local fixer all rolled into one!"
Sierra, recent ViaHero traveler to Portugal
Sierra, recent ViaHero traveler to Portugal

#7: El Yunque: An adventurer and nature-lover's dream

El Yunque | Doreeno/Flickr

Did you know there’s a rainforest in the US? El Yunque is made up of 28,000 acres of lush, tropical vegetation, and is home to more than a thousand species of flora and fauna. Some, like the Puerto Rico Parrot, Puerto Rican Boa, and Coquí frog don't exist anywhere else in the world. Oh, and you'll find a treetop walkway, miles of trails, and camping options!

Local Tip:

Certain areas of the park are currently closed due to recovery efforts from Hurricane Maria. Ask a local for an on-the-ground update. Our trip planners can let you know what access to El Yunque is like. 

#8: Cueva Del Indio: A cave full of pre-Columbian carvings

If you're looking to get off the beaten path, locals say to visit Cueva del Indio. They tell us that the walls of this seaside cave are covered in petroglyphs made by Puerto Rico’s native Taino people prior to the arrival of Columbus.

The cave is a little hard to get to, but it's worth the extra effort. Plus, Cueva del Indio is located right near the town of Arecibo, so you can easily hit this and the Observatorio de Arecibo on just a single day trip.

Local Tip:

The cave is tough to access. It no longer has a ladder, which means you'll have to scramble down without aid. 

#9: The Rio Camuy Cave Park: An unreal natural wonder

The third-largest cave network in the world, the Rio Camuy caves are a breathtaking glimpse into a hidden world. Ten-story-high caverns, sparkling waterfalls, lush green cliffs, and millions of sleeping bats are just a few of the incredible things you can spot in the caves.

Best of all, the cave system is only an hour-and-twenty-minute drive from San Juan and is accessible for travelers of all ages.

Local Tip:

Rio Camuy Park is currently closed due to Hurricane Maria recovery efforts, so our locals let us know that Cueva Ventana is another great option. Benefit from insider tips. Our local trip planners can design a flexible guidebook in case of unexpected closures or bad weather. 

#10: Cayo Santiago: An opportunity to see monkeys from afar

In 1938, roughly 400 Rhesus Macaque monkeys were dropped off on Cayo Santiago, a small, uninhabited island off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico proper. Since then, these monkeys and their descendants have been studied by researchers in their “wild” environment. While stepping onto the island is forbidden for both the monkeys' safety as well as your own, kayak tours are common.

#11: La Placita de Santurce: Half farmers market, half nightlife hub

The heart of San Juan’s up-and-coming Santurce neighborhood, La Placita is part farmers market, part food hall, and the center of Santurce’s nightlife scene. After dark, La Placita transforms into a hive of outdoor bars and food stalls with live music and dancing that goes late into the night. Locals tell us that the nightlife here is especially great on Thursdays and Fridays!

Local Tip:

While Puerto Rico is relatively safe at night, individual neighborhoods can be more hit-and-miss. Make sure to get some insider info before you go. 

#12: Castillo San Felipe del Morro: San Juan’s historic fort

Castillo del Morro | Stephanie Klepacki/Unsplash

Constructed by the Spanish starting in 1539, Castillo del Morro wasn’t actually completed until 1787, more than 200 years later. Today, it’s a gorgeous park with stunning ocean views, and it's on most top 10 lists for places to visit in San Juan.

For something a bit more off-the-beaten-path, locals recommend visiting Castillo de San Cristobal, another fort in San Juan that isn't as famous as El Morro. Less famous=less crowds. 

While Castillo del Morro was built to defend San Juan against sea attacks, Castillo de San Cristobal was built to defend against land attacks. So if you’re more of a history buff, locals say this is the fort you should visit. 


Love travel? Love history? Check out Yesterday in Travel, a podcast sponsored by ViaHero. One recent episode covered the "Great Migration" of Puerto Ricans to NYC:

Be sure to follow Yesterday in Travel on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

#13: Observatorio de Arecibo: A scientific landmark and cultural icon

Look familiar? While the massive Observatorio de Arecibo was the largest telescope in the world for 53 years, you probably recognize it better as the setting of the climactic battle in everyone’s favorite movie-turned-video game: Jame Bond’s Goldeneye.

The observatory is well worth a visit. It’s packed full of incredible exhibits, displays, and demonstrations of the telescope’s groundbreaking discoveries.

Local Tip:

The observatory sadly collapsed at the end of 2020. Stay tuned to see what happens next with this scientific wonder. 

#14: Ponce: Puerto Rico’s cultural center

Ponce's Parque de Bombas | Wikimedia Commons

The second-largest city in Puerto Rico, Ponce is often described as “The Jewel of the South”—and for good reason. Home to nine museums (including both the Museum of Puerto Rican Music and the Hacienda Buena Vista, a must-visit site that commemorates the Puerto Rican coffee trade), Ponce is internationally recognized for its art nouveau architecture. Locals recommend checking out the bright-red Parque de Bombas, an impressive landmark and great photo opportunity.

Once you've had your culture fix, be sure to visit El Rastro for cuisine inspired by the owners' travels around the world (like the tacos pictured above). Improve your trip with local knowledge: locals rave that it's one of the best restaurants for farm-to-table cuisine and beer from Ponce micro-breweries.

#15: Rincon: The ultimate surf town

Rincon | cogito ergo imago/Flickr

Rincon is a beautiful little beach town with a couple of big perks. It’s said to have some of the best surfing in the Caribbean (if not the world), and every summer, majestic humpback whales migrate just offshore. Plus, the sunsets are absolutely stunning.

Local Tip:

Check out the Rincon Art Walk every Thursday at 6 pm. An art and food market that takes over the town's main square, the Art Walk buzzes with energy and offers tons of cool hidden gems. 

#16: San German: A haven for history buffs

The second-oldest city in Puerto Rico, locals tell us that San German is full of charm and intensely cool history.

If you're hoping to avoid the more touristy parts of the island, locals tell us that San German offers rich culture and phenomenal traditional food. 

#17: La Ruta de Lechon: The Pork Highway

Pork in Puerto Rico | Jeffrey Bary/Flickr

If you're looking for traditional Puerto Rican food, look no further than "La Ruta del Lechón"—literally, "The Pork Highway." Up on Highway 184, outside the town of Guavate, it's a three-mile stretch of highway packed with outdoor restaurants that specialize in lechón or whole slow-roasted pig.

Oh, and the food isn’t the only fantastic part of La Ruta: many of the restaurants feature live music, drinking, and dancing. We're not one to play favorites, but local Puerto Ricans let us know that Lechonera Rincón boricua and Lechonera Los Pinos are two must-visit spots for local cuisines. 

#18: Farm-to-cup: A coffee lovers' haven

If you’re a coffee-lover, then you'll enjoy checking out Puerto Rico's coffee plantation. Locals let us know that Hacienda Tres Angeles and Sandra Farms are two great places to visit. Both specialize in sustainably-grown beans and are located near the town of Adjuntas. 

Plus, enjoying locally roasted coffee is a great way to support Puerto Rico's economy and contribute to sustainable travel

#19: The Bacardi Rum Factory: Yeah, it’s worth it

Bottles of Bacardi rum | sunsheng/Pixabay

While we usually avoid “big name” factory tours like this (looking at you, Heineken Experience), this is one that you shouldn’t miss. One part history, one part technique, and one part delicious rum, Casa Bacardi is well worth a visit. Plus, you can take the ferry there from San Juan. What’s not to like? 

#20: El Panadero Artesanal: The best bakery in San Juan

If you’ve done your homework, you’ll know that Puerto Ricans are crazy about their bread. As such, locals highly recommend a visit to El Panadero Artesanal in Old San Juan (preferably right around opening time, when the loaves are hot and the lines aren’t too long). You’re welcome, traveler.

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