There are really two Puerto Rico’s. The one known for rest, relaxation, and cocktails, and the one beloved by outdoor adventure adrenaline junkies.
If you’re the one looking for your next beach holiday, you’d do well to consider Puerto Rico – it’s the stuff that Caribbean daydreams are made of. With fantastic beaches, incredible waves, and stunning coral reefs, you’ll find a beach to suit your mood.
If you’re looking for action try hiking through the rainforests, considered some of the wettest on Earth, or head into the mountains for some awe-inspiring views.
Puerto Rico’s culture is unmistakably fun and includes incredible cuisine, dance, and sports fanatics.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Puerto Rico:
1. San Juan
Tucked inside a tiny islet that protects the harbour, San Juan is an old town, settled by colonists roughly 100 years before the Mayflower landed in Massachusetts.
This incredible town balances an intense modern energy with bona fide historical roots as one of the oldest settlements in the Americas.
Surrounded by walls that are 15 feet thick, the city isn’t just a museum of artefacts, though you will be amazed at what’s been preserved, it’s a complex system of growing neighbourhoods filled with unbelievable restaurants, galleries, night life, and shopping.
And of course, you can’t forget the beaches. The north of the city is lined with crystal blue water with great resorts along the shore.
2. Rio Camuy Caves
About one hour’s drive from the capital of San Juan is where the planets third largest river carves out roughly 220 caves over the course of ten miles.
You can visit with one of the many organized tour groups or find an adventure operator who will show you what spelunking was meant to be.
Geologists hypothesize that there could be as many as 800 undiscovered caves there. Run by the Parques Nacionales, the caves are located in a 300-acre park and park guides offer walking tours of the area.
This is nature at her best and most stunning. And if you’re wondering what that heat is, it’s the heat that’s given off by the hundreds of sleeping bats that nest at the top of the caves.
3. Culebra & Vieques
Just seven miles from the mainland, the two spectacular gems of Puerto Rico’s Caribbean are Vieques and Culebra.
After 50 years of military occupation (now over), you’ll be surprised by the completely laid-back atmosphere and the towns populated by expats, locals, and sailors on leave.
There’s a ton of delights waiting to be discovered on the islands: endangered turtles and herds of beautiful wild horses. Most people go for the incredible beaches.
Several are deserted, which allows you to stretch out and sink in and many say that Vieques and Culebra have the best beaches in all of the Caribbean.
All in all, the islands haven’t been over developed yet which allows them to keep their quaint vibe.
4. Mosquito Bay
If you’re going to be spending time on the island of Vieques, most travellers will tell you that Mosquito Bay needs to be your home base.
If the calming view of Sun Bay isn’t enough, the seclusion that you feel is often one of the major draws here.
The beach is about two miles long, one of the few with public facilities and life guards on the island, and people love the feeling of getting away from it all.
For that very reason, the beach is most popular in the evening time, around sunset.
5. El Yunque National Rainforest
The only tropical forest in the entire United States National Forest Organization, El Yunque is a huge favourite among those who love hiking and being in nature.
Just 35 miles east of San Juan, the park receives over 100 billion gallons of precipitation each year.
Remember to wear waterproof clothes and bring waterproof gear as well.
There are 13 trails that range from easy to difficult. Be sure to check out Big Tree Trail and La Mina – both of which follow La Mina River and wind up near La Mina Falls.
Another necessity is to plan for at least two days. Camping is a great option but there are plenty of accommodations in the area as well.
6. La Vuelta Cycling Tour
If you’re looking for a way to see the entire country at the perfect pace, consider participating in the La Vuelta Cycling Tour.
You’ll see all 375 coastal miles of the country from the seat of your bike. Don’t be intimidated by the name, it’s more of a tour than a race, and people from all over enjoy the spirit and the community of it all.
For three days each January, riders cycle through tropical rainforests, marinas, coconut plantations, cover some fantastic beaches, and go through over 42 towns.
You probably do need to be relatively fit to enjoy La Vuelta, but the organizers set up rest stops along the route and many riders break and relax for a while during the day in order to take in their surroundings.
At night, there’s incredible food and Puerto Rican hospitality to enjoy.
Many consider Puerto Rico’s second largest city to be reflect the essence of the country.
The often repeated saying, Ponce es Ponce (Ponce is Ponce) reflects its reputation for being a bit unique.
When you walk through town and see the lovely fountains in the square, or stroll down the narrow lanes of the historic centre, you’ll get a sense of the wonderful history of the place.
You’ll find all the urban problems of a modern city – like traffic congestion and crowding, but you’ll also find over a dozen museums, wonderful colonial architecture, and a fabulous boardwalk filled with restaurants worth visiting two or three times each.
8. Fort San Cristóbal
Built to protect old San Juan from attacks, Fort San Cristóbal isn’t on many of the travel guides (like the more popular Fort El Morro), but it’s worth your time to get a sense of the history of Puerto Rico.
The views of the shore from the fort are worth the trip alone. Spend an hour or two wandering through the sprawling complex, visiting the dungeons and picturing life gone by as you stand in the courtyard and take it all in.
If you’ve come to Puerto Rico for the beach, it’s entirely possible that you’ll never get any farther than Condado.
Located in the middle of some unbelievable high rise towers and resort, Condado is the place for beach bars and any water sport you can think of.
This is a beach in the heart of the city so it’s lively and something is always happening there. Waiters will cater to your every cocktail whim and its close proximity to so many hotels makes it easy to spend a day in the sun and then head out into the city at night.
10. Carolina Beach
Also in San Juan, Carolina is a public beach that’s popular with both tourists and locals.
Families love it because the tides aren’t too strong and there’s a life guard on duty during the day.
It’s popular, which translates to often crowded, but for many, that kind of energy is what makes a beach great. Great water sport rentals here too so plan to bring a cooler of your favourite beverages and spend a day relaxing.
11. Guanica State Forest
Calling all nature lovers! Guanica was designated as a Biosphere Reserve in 1981 and this dry forest is one of the best in all of the Caribbean.
Guanica is also well-loved by birds. More than 50 percent of Puerto Rico’s bird species make their home here.
There are over 36 miles of trails to hike and discover the more than 700 plant species in the forest – 48 of which are, unfortunately, endangered.
The forest covers about 1000 acres and gets about 30 inches of rain each year (compared to El Yunques’ 200+ inches!) – enough to keep it green and beautiful. Bring your binoculars and enjoy.
12. Fort El Morro
Jutting out from San Juan harbour is El Morro, strategically placed there in the 16th century to defend the city against sea attacks. This six story fort is massive and is considered the number one place to explore when travelling in the city. The views are inspiring and the history is intriguing. If you’re feeling adventurous, go underground and explore the prison cells and extensive tunnels. It’s recommended that you plan half a day for El Morro as there is plenty of ground to cover here.
13. Las Cuevas of Desecheo
Designated as one of Puerto Rico’s “Galapagos of the Caribbean,” Desecheo’s history is a little bizarre and definitely unique.
The interior is off limits due to the possibility of unexploded ordinance left over from military training in the 1940’s.
There’s also a ton of Rhesus monkeys on the island. They were brought there in the 1960’s as part of a science experiment.
Out by the shore, underwater, lie the real reasons you visit Desecheo. There’s an extensive network of undersea caves and canyons that make this the perfect destination for scuba diving.
Just 12 miles from the mainland, the island is uninhabited and you’ll love relaxing on its beautiful beaches between dives.
14. Mona Island
Mona Island is 22 square miles of uninhabited ecological reserve. If you’re looking for unspoiled and pristine Puerto Rico, this is the place.
The island has park rangers that oversee the camping facilities and you can stay there from May to November.
Explore the island and discover ancient carvings created by the Taino Indians who once made the island home.
Another of the “Galapagos of the Caribbean” islands, this place exudes mystery and rugged beauty. If you want off the grid you won’t do better than Mona Island.
15. Hell Mile Extreme Race
In Cerro de Nandy in San Lorenzo, you can take part in a killer extreme race known affectionately as Hell Mile.
Attracting extreme athletes and wide assortment of interesting characters, the course is a one-mile run up and down a rather intense mountain.
But it’s not just up and down once. During round two you make the same trek with a 15-25 pound bag. And then in round three the bag gets heavier.
And if that isn’t enough, they hold the race in July, one of the hottest months everywhere. This well-known race is a point of pride not just for the survivors (er, participants), but also for the locals.
If you’re not feeling up to three rounds of Hell Mile, consider stopping by and watching the extreme fun. Sure to make for some great stories back home.