ViaHero · March 8, 2019
Get the inside scoop on Puerto Rico’s amazing cities, nature, lodging, beaches, food, history, and more with these 40 one-of-a-kind experiences. Rejoice, travelers: here's your 2019 guide to the most incredible things to do in Puerto Rico. Any questions after reading? Message us!
Want to explore Puerto Rico differently? Have a local plan your trip.
Part 1: Experience the cities and towns
Wander romantic Old San Juan
No Puerto Rican adventure is complete without a day spent visiting Old San Juan. Beautiful and historical, Old San Juan is packed with some of Puerto Rico’s coolest tourist attractions like El Morro and San Felipe, as well as tons of hidden gems.
See the beauty and history of Ponce
Located on Puerto Rico’s southwestern coast, the city of Ponce is full of unique architectural gems and acclaimed museums. Don’t miss the Parque de Bombas firehouse, the Hacienda Buena Vista Museum, or the city’s beloved boardwalk, Tablado La Guancha. Ponce is also a great home base for day trips, as there are tons of unique places to visit within an hour radius.
Be enchanted by colonial San German
San German is a smaller, more manageable version of San Juan, but don’t let its size fool you—San German’s cobblestone streets and colonial-era churches will melt your heart just as well. The best way to tour San German is on foot since the city’s 200 historic sites are within 30 minutes of each other. The city isn’t often visited by travelers, so make sure to get some local recommendations before visiting.
Soak up nature in Fajardo
A serene seaside town, northeastern Fajardo is off most tourists’ radars. Ask a local about the best times of year to swim with the manatees and turtles that call Fajardo’s waters home. And Fajardo’s beaches don’t just border the western trails of El Yunque National Forest—the city is also a departure point for ferries to Vieques and Culebra, making it one of the best places to stay in Puerto Rico.
Get rustic in Parguera
Full of mangroves and a sizeable iguana population, coastal Parguera is only a 30-minute drive from the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse on Puerto Rico’s southwestern coast. One of Puerto Rico’s hidden gems, Parguera boasts some of the clearest, calmest ocean waters you’ll ever see.
Kick back in Mayagüez
Mayagüez is known as the “Sultana of the West” for its gorgeous architecture and even more beautiful natural scenery. A 30-minute drive from Cabo Rojo on Puerto Rico’s southwestern tip, Mayagüez is also accessible by plane through the Eugenio Maria Hostos Airport. From there, you can access prime snorkeling spots like Desecheo Island and Isla de Ratones.
Part 2: Become one with nature
Surf with sea turtles in Rincon
Located on Puerto Rico’s western coast, Rincon is a magnet for leatherback sea turtles. You can easily have a local book you a custom turtle tour, where you’ll snorkel, swim, or scuba dive next to these gentle giants. If you’re traveling to Puerto Rico in the springtime, organize your vacation package around turtle nesting season (April–June).
Pro tip: If you surf, you’re in luck—Rincon is known as the best surf spot in the Caribbean.
Kayak around the Bioluminescent Mosquito Bay
After dark, the waters of Mosquito Bay light up in brilliant electric blues thanks to the millions of microscopic, bioluminescent critters the call the lagoon home. Since Mosquito Bay is located on the eastern island of Vieques, you’ll need to fly in or take a ferry from Fajardo to get there—you really can’t go wrong with either option.
Snorkel by Cayo Santiago—aka Monkey Island
Home to hundreds of macaque monkeys, Cayo Santiago is just off Puerto Rico’s eastern coast. Since the island is monkeys-only, you’ll need to take a boat or snorkel past the island to see these fluffy creatures in person. Have your travel planner fit an excursion here into your custom itinerary.
Trek through Puerto Rico’s “dry forest”
Basically a desert next to the ocean, Bosque Estatal de Guanica is filled with beaches and cacti-covered cliffs. The dry forest is great for beach biking and hikes next to stunning Caribbean views. Since this southern forest is just a 40-minute drive from Ponce, it makes for an unforgettable day trip.
Search for Amazon parrots in El Yunque Rainforest
The only tropical rainforest in the US, El Yunque is both an unparalleled hiking spot and home to the endangered Amazon parrot. Keep an eye out for the parrot’s bright red and green plumage, especially around the forest’s largest trees where the parrots make their nests.
Part 3: Stay in one-of-a-kind lodgings
Sleep like a local in a
Why settle for a run-of-the-mill hotel when you could stay in a unique family-owned country inn? A night in a
Catch some ZZZs in a seaside villa
Going for secluded seaside vibes? Locally-owned villas in Rincon, Ensenada, and Puntas are all great options for experiencing Puerto Rico. To stay a few days with incredible, uncrowded Caribbean views, check out villas on VRBO—they typically go for just $50–$90 a night.
Relax in a rainforest treehouse
For the most unique place to stay in Puerto Rico, spend the night in your own jungle treehouse. You can find rustic treehouses like the Treehouse of Life in western Rosario and the eclectic El Yunque View Treehouse on Airbnb. Or, go a more glamorous route at Yuquiyu Farms for $100–$250 a night.
Be rocked to sleep in a houseboat
If you’re a water-lover, houseboat rentals are the way to go. A simple “floating house” on the coast of San Juan goes for just $75 a night on Airbnb. To take it up a notch, luxury yacht rentals go for $200 a night in Cabo Rojo and Vieques.
Part 4: Go on an unforgettable excursion
Trek through Rio Camuy Cave Park
“Awe-inspiring” is an understatement when it comes to the Rio Camuy Cave Park, one of the world’s biggest cave systems. With over 200 10-story caverns to explore, there’s plenty to see for adventurers of all ages.
Get your caffeine fix in the Coffee Zone
A group of coffee plantations in the western mountains of Toro Negro, exploring the Coffee Zone is a great way to see Puerto Rico’s sights while diving into a tasty part of the island’s cuisine. With picturesque backgrounds, coffee plantations like Hacienda Tres Angeles belong at the top of any coffee lover’s Puerto Rico itinerary.
Discover shipwrecks off the coast
Puerto Rico is known for its stunningly blue waters, but even more amazing treasures lie beneath the surface. To snorkel past shipwrecks that date all the way from the 1500s, head over to Vieques or Rincon. You can also scuba dive if you’re certified; either way, ask your Puerto Rican trip planner to arrange a shipwreck dive.
Explore beachside cliffs in Isabela
Only 20 minutes from the northwestern tip of Puerto Rico, the coastal town of Isabela boasts massive, surreal cliffs and rock formations. Dive into spots unknown by most tourists, like the abandoned Guajataca Railroad Tunnel or the pit cave of Pozo de Jacinto, both of which lead to white sand beaches.
Helicopter around Puerto Rico’s outer islands
There are tons of ways to tour Puerto Rico—but seeing it from above is one of the best. Ask a travel expert about helicopter charters that leave from San Juan to secluded beaches in Vieques or Culebra Island.
Chill with locals in San Juan
Whether you’re looking for a popping party or lowkey time in the sunshine, San Juan’s beaches are a must. Local favorites off Isla Verde and Condado are just minutes from Old San Juan—but feel like they’re miles from the city.
Part 5: Relax on the iconic beaches
Experience the unparalleled beauty of Culebra
Culebra is a Puerto Rican highlight just off of the island’s east coast. Among many other natural wonders, it’s home to Flamenco Beach, one of Puerto Rico’s best beaches. To get to Culebra, you can take a short flight from San Juan for around $100, or take a ferry from nearby Fajardo for $4.50.
Run with wild horses on Vieques
Want to see baby horses frolicking with their mothers on a black sand beach? With over 2,000 wild horses roaming Vieques, a trip to this island is your chance. Vieques is likewise off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico proper and is also home to the bioluminescent Mosquito Bay. The island was hit hard by Hurricane Maria, but like the rest of Puerto Rico, it’s now safe for travel.
Explore secluded beaches in Guanica
Located on Puerto Rico’s southwestern coast, Guanica’s beaches are some of Puerto Rico’s best-kept secrets. Set aside a day or two for the real-life Gilligan’s Island, full of mangroves and coral reefs. Next up on your Guanica adventure, check out Playa Jaboncillo and Punta Ventana, white-sand beaches with gorgeous cliffs for cliff-jumping.
Part 6: Dig into Puerto Rican cuisine
Sample the street food in Piñones
A quick drive from San Juan, Piñones is a small beachside town where street food is an art. Buy some fried treats like empanadas,
Don’t miss the food trucks in Santurce
Brooklyn’s hipster twin, Santurce is San Juan’s up-and-coming artistic barrio—and no artsy hotspot would be complete without food trucks. In the Miramar Food Truck Park (open daily from noon–11 PM), try awesome fusion dishes like Peruvian ceviche at the Peru Rico Food Truck or fried cheese rolls at Que Toston.
Stroll the farmers' markets in Rincon
Open every Sunday from 8–2, the Rincon Farmers Market is the perfect local spot to support Puerto Rico’s farmers and buy some of Puerto Rico’s legendary produce. Plus, eating as the locals do helps a lot if you’re trying to take a cheap trip to Puerto Rico (or at least trying not to murder your bank account).
Get pork for days on La Ruta de Lechon
Just an hour south of San Juan, La Ruta de Lechon (“The Pork Highway”) is
Chow down on Mayagüez’ world-famous bread
Puerto Rico is known for its delicious sweet bread, and Mayagüez has some of the best. Be sure to visit Massa Artisan Bakery and Cafe, the Ricomini Bakery, and Panaderia La Candelaria—your taste buds will thank you.
Part 8: Adventure off the beaten path
Stargaze at the Observatorio de Arecibo
Puerto Rico’s Observatorio de Arecibo is essentially 20-acre dish-style telescope in the middle of the jungle. Its awesome visitor center is alone worth the visit. Just be warned: If you drive to the observatory, have a local make you a custom map. The mountain highways can be tricky to navigate, even with GPS.
Pro tip: Remember the James Bond movie Goldeneye? The climax was filmed here!
Venture through the Humacao Nature Preserve
An ecotourism must-do, the Humacao Nature Preserve is full of iguana colonies and coquis. Free and open to the public, the preserve also features drastically different ecosystems, like swamps, lagoons, and beaches, and mangroves—there’s seriously something for every traveler here. It was damaged in the storm but has since reopened; for more information on hurricane recovery, check out this Puerto Rico tourism update.
Marvel at the Taino Stonehenge
Taino Stonehenge is part of a sacred ceremonial site of the Taino, Puerto Rico’s indigenous people. With petroglyphs and craggy edges, this stone circle will leave you wondering at just how far back Puerto Rico’s history goes. Have a trip planner set you up with an English-language tour given by local archaeology experts at the Caguana Ceremonial Park.
Dive into the swimming hole at El Charco Azul
A seemingly bottomless blue lake in eastern Puerto Rico, El Charco Azul is a favorite local spot for cooling off in the jungle with the locals. A great half-day trip, El Charco Azul is accessible via a short, clear jungle path. Since few tourists know of El Charco Azul, you’ll likely have this off-the-beaten-path Puerto Rico attraction all to yourself.
Climb the heights of La Cueva Ventana
A huge inland cave looking over the lush Arecibo Valley, La Cueva Ventana (“The Window Cave”) boasts one of the most iconic views of Puerto Rico. Every day between 10:00–4:30, La Cueva Ventana tours are given by an official park guide. Just sure to have your local trip planner reserve your tickets in advance so you don’t miss out!
Part 9: Experience Puerto Rico’s rich history
Climb the ramparts of Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Castillo San Felipe del Morro (they don’t kid around with names here) was built by the Spanish in the 1500s to protect San Juan. Since the fort is open daily from 9–6, you’ll have plenty of time for incredible pictures on the castle walls. For a local experience, try kite-flying with families on the fort battlegrounds.
See the pre-Columbian carvings in Cueva del Indio
Nestled next to crashing ocean waves, Cueva del Indio is an ancient cave covered in petroglyphs from Puerto Rico’s Taino Indians. For $5, you can climb a wooden ladder into the cave’s depths. Since Cueva del Indio is close to Arecibo, it’s easy to make a combined day trip with La Cueva Ventana.
Get the creeps in Puerto Rico’s military bunkers
Puerto Rico hosts many spooky World War II landmarks—if you know where to look. Hit up the El Morrillo bunkers next to the Humacao Nature Preserve or the abandoned Fort Buchanan in Bayamon. Best of all, these WWII bunkers boast stunning jungle and ocean views.
Watch for pirates in Cabo Rojo
Perched atop Puerto Rico’s southwestern cliffs, the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse continues to watch for pirates and other invaders from the Caribbean. Don’t be dissuaded by the bumpy, dirt road entrance—this off-the-beaten-path spot is easily one of Puerto Rico’s most dramatic landscapes, with pink salt flats, caves, and lagoons.
There are so many incredible things to do in Puerto Rico, your only problem will be deciding which ones you can’t miss—so make sure to have a local trip planner (aka a Hero) curate a personalized guidebook and itinerary just for you. Basically, they’ll do everything but pack your bags.
- Connect With a Local to Plan Your Trip
- Puerto Rico Travel Advisory 2019
- 6 Puerto Rico TripAdvisor Tips We Love
- Puerto Rico Travel FAQs
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