Puerto Rico Neighborhoods & Towns
Puerto Rico sits in the Caribbean, between the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands, with the Caribbean Sea to the south and the Atlantic Ocean to the north. Although the island is small — Puerto Rico has 311 miles of coastline — Puerto Rico's geographic and cultural diversity makes it an interesting place to explore. Technically, Puerto Rico is made up of 78 municipalities; for tourists, it's easiest to decide where to visit by using the coastline as a guide.
San Juan & Vicinity
Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan, is a northeast city with some of the best-preserved Spanish architecture in the Caribbean. Some of the most popular tourist attractions in the city are the forts of Old San Juan — found at 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.
Old San Juan
Old San Juan is especially popular among tourists for its major attractions like the forts of San Juan National Historic Site as well as its winding walkways and hints of the island's European-influenced past. Dining and nightlife abound in Old San Juan, as many popular hotels and resorts can be found along the area's cobblestone streets. This quaint portion of San Juan sits northwest of Santurce and is surrounded by the coastline.
Just west of San Juan is Dorado, the island's oldest resort town that consists of six beaches along the northern coasts. This area is popular with tourists thanks to its several golf courses, luxury hotels — including the top-ranked Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve and the nearby Watermill water park.
This area of San Juan is defined by its beaches, like the popular Condado Beach, along with its top-notch hotels and resorts and its lively nightlife. Casinos, bars and restaurants are easy to come by, and many tourists tend to spend much of their vacation exploring the allures of this densely populated neighborhood. The popular Centro de Bellas Artes Luis A. Ferré (Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center) resides in Santurce as well.
Puerto Rico's financial district, Hato Rey, sits just southeast of downtown San Juan and is home to numerous shops and restaurants. This area is also where you’ll find the headquarters of Banco Popular and of Puerto Rico's division of the 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.
You can find Playa del Condado just east of Old San Juan. This crowded beach is backed by high-rise hotels, such as The Condado Plaza Hilton (whose stretch of beach enjoys calmer waters, popular among families). Many travelers choose to book hotels in the San Juan area because of its proximity to major attractions and a cache of popular beaches.
Isla Verde Beach
The beautiful Isla Verde Beach is located near the airport in the municipality 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 about 30 miles east of San Juan, many visitors — especially families — make the trek to enjoy the clear and calm Atlantic waters. Visitors also praise this beach for its sparkling white sands, as well as its picnic areas, changing rooms and showers.
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.
Sitting far northwest on the island, Aguadilla gets a bit of tourist traffic in large part because of its reputable beaches; the 19 beaches in Aguadilla are among the best for surfing. Among the other attractions in Aguadilla is the Las Cascadas Water Park, Old Sugar Pier and even an ice skating arena.
In addition to its beaches, this town is known for its lighthouse. As one of the most powerful lighthouses on the island, the Rincón lighthouse warns passing ships of Puerto Rico's offshore reefs. A mountainous landscape and networks of rivers and caves (the most famous is Camuy Cave Park) make the area popular among hikers and spelunkers.
Rincón used to be the place to surf with waves reaching anywhere from 2 to 25 feet high. Now, the beaches on the northwest coast not only attract surfers, but also those looking to kick back in style at one of the chic boutique hotels popping up along the shore. Rincón Balneario's waves are a bit less treacherous than those at nearby Puntas, Domes, Tres Palmas and Steps beaches.
Puerto Rico's southwest coast is home to the island's second and third largest cities, Ponce and Mayagüez. Some travelers opt to take daytrips from San Juan to the southwest coast — only about 70 miles south of San Juan by car — in order to see more of what the island's cities have to offer.
Often deemed Puerto Rico's second most popular city after San Juan, Ponce is home to bustling nightlife and breathtaking architecture. Located approximately 90 minutes from San Juan, Ponce has several museums, including the Museo de la Música Puertorriqueña, or the Museum of Puerto Rican Music, as well as the Ponce Art Museum (Museo de Arte de Ponce).
Mayagüez hasn't experienced quite the tourist fervor of Ponce, but if you're making a trip to the southwest coast (or staying at one of the hotels there), you'll want to make a stop here. Mayagüez centers on an open-air plaza and is home to Puerto Rico's only zoo.
If you need a break from sightseeing, you might want to grab your towel and sunscreen and head to La Guancha. 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. It's located about 8 miles off the southwest coast of Puerto Rico. Should sunning bore you, Caja de Muertos also boasts a nature reserve and several hiking trails.
Southeast and East Coast
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.
Palmas del Mar
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.
Located near Puerto Rico's southeast coast, Coamo is known for its therapeutic mineral springs. President Franklin D. Roosevelt even made a trip to the area for polio treatment.
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.
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.
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. Luquillo Beach makes a great stop for those looking for to take a dip or cool off in the water after a long day of trekking.
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 and Culebra, 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, often considered among the best 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.
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 some violent drug-related crime as well as thefts 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 more rundown areas like La Perla in San Juan, as these towns 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. Stick to bodies of water higher up in the rainforest.