ViaHero · December 7, 2018
There’s so much more to Puerto Rico than just beaches and tropical drinks (although those are amazing too). From colonial towns to rainforests, street markets to coffee plantations, there are infinite reasons to visit
Want to explore Puerto Rico differently? Have a local
#1: Old San Juan: Crazy beautiful and tons of fun
There's a reason Old San Juan appears on so many must-see lists: it's absolutely magical. Dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries, the neighborhood is packed with vibrant colors, Spanish colonial architecture, and tree-lined plazas. Its narrow cobblestone streets (paved with San Juan’s unique blue stones) are home to hundreds of restaurants, bars, and outdoor cafes. Pull up a chair, have a drink, and listen to some live music—you won’t regret it.
#2: Mosquito Bay: A bioluminescent wonderland
You may have seen pictures of Mosquito Bay, but believe us—they really don't do it justice. Located on Vieques, a small island off Puerto Rico’s eastern coast, Mosquito Bay (aka Caño Hondo) glows bright blue with microscopic bioluminescent critters. Though Puerto Rico has two other bioluminescent bays (Laguna Grande and La Parguera), Mosquito Bay is by far the brightest.
Pro tip: Mosquito Bay is best seen without moonlight, so make sure to have your local trip planner book your kayaking or boating expedition around a new moon.
#3: Vieques: An island of unspoiled beauty
Vieques is home to not just Mosquito Bay, but also Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, a former US navy base, and some of the best beaches in the Caribbean as well. Wild horses are known to roam the countryside, and sea turtles nest all over the island’s shores. Plus, at just 8 miles from Puerto Rico, it’s an easy ferry ride or flight over.
#4: The Pork Highway: Exactly what it sounds like
This may just be the greatest cultural experience of all time—or at least the most delicious. Up on Highway 184, outside the town of Guatave (essentially in the middle of nowhere), lies “La Ruta del Lechón”—literally, “The Pork Highway”. It’s a 3-mile stretch of highway packed with outdoor restaurants that specialize in
It’s essentially a 3-mile pork party. Need we say more?
#5: The Town of Ponce: Puerto Rico’s cultural center
The second-largest city in Puerto Rico, Ponce is often described as “The Jewel of the South”—and for good reason. Home to 9 museums (including both the Museum of Puerto Rican Music and the Hacienda Buena Vista, which commemorates the Puerto Rican coffee trade) the city is internationally recognized for its art nouveau architecture. And don’t miss the Parque de Bombas—it’s one of the most incredible buildings you’ll ever see.
#6: Playa Flamenco: The ultimate beach paradise
Ok, I know we said there was more to Puerto Rico than just the fantastic beaches—and there is—but we would be totally remiss if we didn’t mention Playa Flamenco front and center! Located on Isla Culebra (17 miles east of Puerto Rico proper), Playa Flamenco is a paradise of white sand, clear blue water, and phenomenal snorkeling. Consistently rated as one of the best beaches in the world, it’s an easy ferry ride or flight from the main island.
Pro tip: Don’t forget 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.
#7: Coffee plantations aplenty: Bean-to-cup goodness
If you’re a coffee lover, you can't go to Puerto Rico and not go to a coffee plantation. The island is known for growing some of the best beans in the world, so make sure a visit makes its way onto your custom travel itinerary! We’d recommend Hacienda Tres Angeles or Sandra Farms; both specialize in sustainably-grown beans and are located near the town of Adjuntas.
#8: The Rio Camuy Cave Park: An unreal natural wonder
The third-largest cave network in the world, the Rio Camuy caves are like nothing you’ve ever seen. 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 here. 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.
#9: Rincon: The ultimate surf town
While not the most—ahem—*authentic* example of Puerto Rican culture, Rincon is nonetheless a beautiful 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.
Pro tip: Check out the Rincon Art Walk every Thursday at 6 PM. It’s a buzzing art and food market that takes over the town’s main square and is totally worth the visit.
#10: Santurce: San Juan’s hipster mecca
The center of San Juan’s incredible music and art scenes, Santurce is an absolute hipster’s paradise. Newly gentrifying, the neighborhood is abounding with murals, bars, and cafes—so if you want to “hang with the cool kids”, this is the place to do it. Interestingly, Santurce is also the center of San Juan’s Jewish population. And speaking of Santurce…
#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 late into the night.
#12: El Yunque: An actual rainforest
Did you know there’s an actual rainforest in the US? And that it’s awesome? Well, if you don’t know, now you know (shout-out Biggie). El Yunque is home to over a thousand species of flora and fauna. Some, like the Puerto Rican Parrot, Puerto Rican Boa, and Coquí frog—exist nowhere else in the world. Oh, and there’s a treetop walkway, miles of trails, and camping options to boot.
Pro tip: Certain areas of the park are currently closed due to clean up from Hurricane Maria. As your local trip planner to find out where you can still galavant!
#13: Monkey Island: An island of adorable monkeys
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 this “wild” environment. While stepping onto the island is forbidden (and most of the monkeys have hepatitis B anyway), kayak tours are common. How adorable is that? Have your local Hero arrange your trip.
#14: Castillo San Felipe del Morro: San Juan’s super-famous fort
Constructed by the Spanish starting in 1539, Castillo del Morro wasn’t actually completed until 1787. Today, it’s a gorgeous park with stunning ocean views.
Bonus: Castillo de San Cristobal: San Juan’s not super-famous fort
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 (and don’t love battling crowds), this is the fort you should visit. While it’s part of the same park complex as El Morro, it’s much more well-preserved and looks like something straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean.
#15: Balneario de Carolina: San Juan’s best beach
We know, we know, another beach. But this one’s important too—it’s the best one in San Juan! While a little further out than the other super-popular beaches along Isla Verde (technically in San Juan’s neighboring town of Carolina), it’s by far the least crowded. Frequented mostly by locals, it also has bathrooms, food kiosks, and drinks.
#16: Observatorio de Arecibo: A scientific landmark and cultural icon
Look familiar? While this massive structure 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’s Bond’s Goldeneye. #only90skids! Upsettingly sexist films aside, the observatory is well worth a visit—it’s packed full of incredible exhibits, displays, and demonstrations of the telescope’s groundbreaking discoveries.
#17: The Town of San German: A colonial haven
The second-oldest city in Puerto Rico, San German offers all the colonial charm of Old San Juan—but without the crowds. If you’re keen to soak up some Puerto Rican history in an adorable colonial village with phenomenal food (and even more phenomenal local culture), San German is the place to go.
#18: The Bacardi Rum Factory: Yeah, it’s worth it
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
Pro tip: Be aware—the distillery is closed on Mondays.
#19: Cueva Del Indio: A cave full of pre-Columbian carvings
Far off the beaten path, the walls of this seaside cave are covered in petrographs made by Puerto Rico’s native Taino people prior to the arrival of Columbus. And though the cave’s a little hard to get to (you have to shimmy down a ladder), it’s totally worth it. Plus, it’s located right near the town of Arecibo, so you can easily hit this and the Observatorio de Arecibo on just a single day trip. Have your Hero plan it out for you!
Update: The cave is still open, but the ladder has been removed. Talk to your Hero about arranging a guided tour instead.
#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—specifically, how fan-freaking-
Ready to jet off on your Puerto Rican adventure? We thought so. Before you do, make sure to arrange your itinerary with a local trip planner, and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to message us directly! Also, make sure to check out: