Puerto Rico Neighborhoods & Towns
Puerto Rico sits just east of the Dominican Republic in between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Although the island is small -- The Encyclopedia of the Nations cites Puerto Rico as having 311 miles of coastline -- Puerto Rico's geographic and cultural diversity make the island an interesting place to explore.
San Juan & Vicinity
Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan, is a northeast city with some of the best-preserved Spanish architecture in the Caribbean. Frommer's writes, "Once a lynchpin of Spanish dominance in the Caribbean, it has three major fortresses, miles of solidly built stone ramparts, a charming collection of antique buildings, and a modern business center." Some of the most popular tourist attractions in the city are the forts of Old San Juan -- now known as the San Juan National Historic Site -- which were built in the 16th and 17th centuries and are now the oldest European-style forts within U.S. territory. San Juan is also the site of the official home and office of the governor of Puerto Rico, the 16th-century Ponce de León family residence and several of the oldest Christian religious sites in the Western Hemisphere. The city also features numerous shops and restaurants in the main downtown area; popular resorts along the Condado and Isla Verde beaches, and a lively nightlife scene in the southern neighborhood of Santurce.
Puerto Rico's financial district, Hato Rey, sits just southeast of downtown San Juan and is home to numerous shops and restaurants, as well as the headquarters of Banco Popular and of Puerto Rico's FBI. Southwest of Hato Rey is Guaynabo, a major administrative hub and home to such attractions as the Caparra Ruins, which are the remains of the first capital of Puerto Rico, and the Centro de Bellas Artes Luis A. Ferré (Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center).
Just west of San Juan is Dorado, the island's oldest resort town that consists of six beaches along the northern coasts. According to Frommer's, the area is popular with tourists thanks to its several golf courses, luxury hotels and a water park.
Many travelers choose to book hotels in the San Juan area because of its proximity to major attractions and a cache of popular beaches.
You can find Playa del Condado or Condado Beach just east of Old San Juan. This crowded beach is backed by high-rise hotels, such as Condado Plaza Hotel (whose stretch of beach enjoys calmer waters, popular among families) and Atlantic Beach Hotel (which is favored by the gay community).
- Beach bars, water-sports outfitters, and chair-rental places abound. You can access the beach from several roads off Avenida Ashford, including Calle Cervantes and Calle Candina." -- Fodor's
- Lifeguards police the area on weekdays and snack bars are open daily, but bathrooms are few and far between. You can rent beach chairs." -- Lonely Planet
Isla Verde Beach
The beautiful Isla Verde Beach is located near the airport in the city of Carolina; you might also find that this beach is called Balneario de Carolina. Lined by rows of palm and almond trees, this stretch of sand also offers a number of amenities including changing rooms, restrooms and lifeguards. Keep in mind that if you drive, you'll have to pay a small sum to park.
Balneario de Escambrón
A favorite among families, this stretch of golden sand offers typically gentle waves that are watched by lifeguards. You'll also find restrooms and restaurants.
Although Luquillo Beach is an about 30-minute drive east of San Juan, many visitors -- especially families -- make the trek to enjoy the clear and calm Atlantic waters. This beach is also praised for its sparkling white sands, as well as its picnic areas, changing rooms and showers.
- Although crowds converge here at weekends and during holidays, Luquillo has always been more about atmosphere than solitude. With its famous strip of 50-plus food kiosks congregated at its western end, it's also a great place to sample the local culinary culture, including scrumptious surullitos (fried cornmeal and cheese sticks)." -- Lonely Planet
Interior Puerto Rico
In sharp contrast to the mostly flat coastal regions, the island’s interior is covered with hills and mountains. Located roughly 25 miles southeast of San Juan, the El Yunque rainforest of the Luquillo Mountains provides a plentiful habitat for wildlife and a very popular day trip for hikers.
The island's northwest coast is home to some of Puerto Rico's oldest towns, such as Aguadilla, the center of Puerto Rico's lace-making industry; and Rincón, a small town known for its beautiful surfing beaches. It's also known for its lighthouse -- one of the most powerful lighthouses on the island -- which warns passing ships of Puerto Rico's off-shore reefs. A mountainous landscape and networks of rivers and caves -- the most famous being Rio Camuy Cave Park -- make the area popular among hikers and spelunkers.
Rincón used to be THE place to surf with waves breaking anywhere from two to 25 feet, according to Lonely Planet. Now, the beaches on the northwest coast attract surfers, but also those looking to kick back in style at one of the chic boutique hotels popping up along the shore. For surfing, head to Puntas, Domes, Tres Palmas and Steps beaches; for a bit less gnarly waves, head to Rincón Balneario.
- There's a safe and newly renovated Rincón Balneario, where there's beach swimming, restrooms, showers, some temporary food shacks and a new mall which contains the tourist office, harbor restaurant and lookout tower." -- Lonely Planet
Puerto Rico's southwest coast is home to the island's second and third largest cities, Ponce and Mayagüez. Located approximately 90 minutes from San Juan, Ponce has several museums, including the Museo de la Musica Puertoriquena, or the Museum of Puerto Rican Music, as well as the Ponce Art Museum (Museo de Arte de Ponce).
If you need a break from sightseeing, you might want to grab your towel and sunscreen and head to one of Ponce's beaches.
This small public beach, located at the end of Route 14 in Ponce, is frequented by families who enjoy its shallow waters, as well as the shade from umbrellas.
Caja de Muertos
Caja de Muertos (Coffin Island), accessible by boat from La Guacha, is one of Puerto Rico's top places to snorkel.
- Ask one of the many boatmen at La Guancha to take you out for about $30 round-trip." -- Fodor's
Coamo, located near Puerto Rico's southeast coast, is known for its therapeutic mineral springs. President Franklin D. Roosevelt even made a trip to the area for polio treatment. Frommer's says, "Some historians claim that these springs inspired the legend of the Fountain of Youth, which in turn set Ponce de León on his vain search of Florida." The popular resort community of Palmas del Mar sits on the site of an old coconut plantation. With its white sand beaches, golf course and luxurious accommodations, some have called it the New American Riviera.
Travelers desiring a luxurious resort vacation, accompanied by a relaxing beach, might want to look in the Humacao and Palmas del Mar areas of southeastern Puerto Rico. Farther north, along the east coast, you can also find some sweet spots, in which to lay your towel down.
Balneario La Monserrate
This eastern Puerto Rico beach is famous for its Mar Sin Barreras (Sea without Barriers), which is a long ramp that leads into the sea and allows people in wheelchairs to experience the waters.
- This government-maintained beach is well equipped with changing areas and restrooms, lifeguards, food stands and picnic areas, and even stands where you can order a cocktail." -- Fodor's
Balneario Seven Seas
Sprawling outside of Fajardo on Puerto Rico's east coast, travel experts enjoy this beach for all its amenities: changing rooms, restrooms, showers, picnic tables and watersports contractors.
Vieques and Culebra
Puerto Rico's territory includes four smaller islands: Cayo Santiago, Culebra, Vieques and Mona, all of which are accessible by ferry from the main island. For tourists, the most popular of these remote islands are Vieques (first) and Culebra (second), which offer visitors the opportunity to relax on the beach and enjoy fresh seafood without the hustle and bustle of the main island. And unlike San Juan, Vieques is the type of place where hitting the bar scene in shorts and a t-shirt isn't discouraged -- it's the norm.
If you're looking for a little spot of island paradise, book a ferry or take a quick flight out of Fajardo Airport (FAJ) and head to Puerto Rico's accompanying islands, Vieques and Culebra.
This northern Culebra beach is a favorite among travelers and experts alike. Fodor's even ranks it as one of the best beaches in the world. With soft white sand, gentle waters and towering mountains penning it in on all sides, visitors feel as if they're in a remote paradise.
- The beach has been partially developed: there are park rangers, showers, bathrooms and one or two kiosks where you can get a beverage or some ice and a bit of food during the day. Take water and food to be on the safe side because you either pay (a modest fee) for a ride or it's a 1/2 hr walk in tropical heat to get to the town." -- TripAdvisor
Playa Media Luna
You can find Playa Media Luna off a rustic trail just east of Playa Sun Bay. This family-friendly beach has placid, shallow water, though parents should keep in mind that there are no facilities, such as restrooms or restaurants.
Playa Sun Bay
One of the most popular beaches on Vieques, Playa Sun Bay features a mile of bright white sand just east of the southern city of Esperanza. You'll also find changing rooms, picnic tables and food stands, but on less busy weekdays, you also might see some wild horses.
Puerto Rico sees a good amount of mainly drug-related crime in San Juan and Ponce, but it's usually not directed toward tourists. Still, watch out for pickpockets, especially on the beach, and don't leave your property unattended or it might be swiped.
Steer clear of shanty slums, such as La Perla in San Juan, as these areas are prone to drug activity and violence.
If you're planning on taking some jungle hikes -- and then want to take a dip in a refreshing lake or stream -- keep in mind that some bodies of water are polluted. Wikitravel says, "Generally, if you see Puerto Ricans swimming in it then you are probably okay, especially high in the rain forest.