Best Things To Do in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico's attractions range from the adventurous (like the underground caves of Río Camuy Cave Park) to the historic (like the 500-year old walls of the El Morro fort). And there are plenty of options between the two extremes. Beach lovers must visit the western beaches of Rincón for sunbathing and surfing; snorkelers are bound to enjoy Vieques' bioluminescent Mosquito Bay. And if you're the kind of traveler who parties heartily, you'll discover a varied but vibrant nightlife in San Juan.
Updated August 13, 2018
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This south Vieques beach might not sound like much, but it's one of travelers' favorite experiences in Puerto Rico. During the day, Bioluminescent Mosquito Bay is your stereotypical Caribbean hideout — but at night, the sky and waters emit a blue glow from the half-plant, half-animal microorganisms that live there. More than 700,000 bioluminescent dinoflagellates live in each gallon of bay water, and recent travelers have been amazed by just how much visibility these tiny creatures provide.
But avoid visiting the bay during a full moon; the microorganisms aren't as visible then. Also aim for a quiet approach: "I would definitely go in a group with kayaks-not a motorized boat," one TripAdvisor reviewer said. "It is very peaceful and beautiful to be on the water at night but the sparkling water is a real treat."
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El Morro juts out of San Juan harbor beckoning to cruise ships just as it used to deter sea attacks. The structure is a hulking six-story fortress built between 1539 and 1589, withstanding the two World Wars and several other scrimmages. Now, El Fuerto San Felipe del Morro is Puerto Rico's go-to tourist attraction, both for its extensive history and its outstanding vistas of the Atlantic Ocean. You can also walk though the fortress' depths, which include a maze of tunnels, barracks and prison cells.
You'll enjoy exploring more if you wear comfortable walking shoes, as the site is quite big. Some travelers report that it can take up to three hours to explore the entire fort on foot.
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On the island of Culebra — which sits about 20 miles east of Puerto Rico— visitors will find a beach perfect for families, snorkelers and those looking for a remote spot that boasts a delightful aesthetic from nearly every angle. Flamenco Beach's 1½-mile strip of sand is the most popular on Culebra and is often recognized by travelers and experts as the most beautiful in all of Puerto Rico.
Facilities like bathrooms and showers can be found on site, and the beach's white sand is peppered with kiosks selling refreshments or offering chairs and umbrellas for rent — all available for inexpensive prices (about $10 USD each). Amenities and tranquility are among the many allures of this favorite spot but above all else, travelers simply can't stop raving about the beach's beauty. "The water is shades of teal, turquoise, and blue. I've never seen such amazing ocean water," one TripAdvisor reviewer raved. Some travelers do complain that Flamenco Beach's popularity means it can get a bit crowded on the weekends (despite a lack of fancy resorts or restaurants). And your company won't just be of the human variety; fish tend to swim right up to the shallow water's edge.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Puerto RicoBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Mosquito Bay is popular in the evenings, but the island of Vieques' daytime beachcombers like the chalky sands and serene vantage point of southwestern Sun Bay. It's also the only beach on Vieques with public facilities: The 2-mile-long beach on Vieques' south coast has lifeguards, showers, bathrooms and a small area to purchase food. Plus, the town of Esperanza (and its restaurants and bars) is just a short walk away.
While San Juan's beaches have a distinctly urban vibe, travelers appreciate Vieques' seclusion. The on-site amenities make the beach appealing for groups. "The water is shallow for quite a ways out, and the waves are mild. It's great for families with kids," one TripAdvisor reviewer adds. If you're an avid snorkeler, however, you may want to skip Sun Bay as there's not much marine life to see here.
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Sometimes referred to as the Caribbean National Forest, the El Yunque National Rainforest, or simply El Yunque, this lush expanse is the only tropical forest in the U.S. National Forest System. It's also a particular favorite for vacationers who like to hike — but even if nature really isn't your thing, travelers urge you to make the trip just 35 miles east of San Juan. Remember to wear layers that can get wet — the site receives more than 100 billion gallons of precipitation annually — and pack a water-resistant camera to capture some of the area's splendor. Keep your ears peeled in the evenings, when Puerto Rico's tiny coquí tree frogs begin their serenade.
The forest has 13 well-marked hiking trails that range in difficulty. The two most popular, La Mina & Big Tree Trail, are a combined two-hour hike that snakes by La Mina River and ends around La Mina Falls.
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Fort San Cristóbal's 27 acres were built to protect the city of Old San Juan from land attacks. It doesn't receive as many visitors, or as much adoration from travel guides as the city's El Morro fort, but recent visitors are equally amazed by the majesty and significant history of the site. Travelers insist you won't be disappointed if you spend an hour roaming the fort's ramparts.
The fort's stellar shoreline views (not to mention the occasional iguana) draw travelers to the sprawling site. Remember you're in the Caribbean and this is an old, crowded tourist attraction: If you want to be most comfortable during your history lesson, visit San Cristóbal in the early morning or late afternoon.
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Outlet shoppers should come to Old San Juan prepared to let go of a few dollars. The city's Calle del Cristo is a haven of restaurants, art galleries and boutiques. In addition to popular stores, those walking the cobblestone street can discover local crafts and artisan shops. But if you're only in San Juan for a port of call, some suggest you save your money for the stops in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands or St. Martin/St. Maarten (Calle del Cristo isn't a duty-free shopping district).
If you're looking to skip shopping altogether, Calle del Cristo is still a worthwhile spot to get a feel for the beauty of Old San Juan. "Trees, cobblestones, shops, restaurants, small squares, people, traffic, birds, locals playing guitar and serenading in Spanish all adds to the vibe of this gorgeous street," one TripAdvisor reviewer wrote.
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If you're staying in San Juan there's a good chance you'll never venture farther than Condado Beach. For many sun-lovers, that's just fine. Condado is framed by a string of high-rise hotels and resort complexes, plus it's ground-zero for water sports and beach bars in Greater San Juan. Families, however, sometimes forego these sands for one of the government-run beaches, or balnearios, because Condado's beach's tide is often too strong for young swimmers.
Travelers say you won't be disappointed with Condado, as long as you recognize it's not a remote strip of sand, but rather a beach that sits alongside a bustling city. But its proximity to so many hotels and resorts has its perks when it comes to being tourist-friendly. According to one TripAdvisor reviewer, the beach has "loungers and umbrellas for rent, waiters around to provide drinks" and is a "great place to just relax."
- #9View all Photos#9 in Puerto RicoMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
Following an extensive renovation, Museo de Arte de Ponce reopened in 2010 boasting a bigger space and a larger art collection. Today, the museum houses more than 4,500 works from Europe, Africa and the Americas dating back to as early as the 14th century. During its brief hiatus, the museum lent 125 items from its permanent collection to 15 museums across nine countries, where it was admired by countless visitors. At home in the Puerto Rican city of Ponce — along the island's southern coast — the collection is particularly beloved for its blend of European baroque works, Victorian paintings and Puerto Rican folk art.
Recent travelers loved the variety within the collection and raved about the museum's intuitive, easy-to-follow organization. Others found the museum's setting perfect for a bit of R&R.
- #10View all Photos#10 in Puerto RicoBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Located near the Isla Verde resort area in greater San Juan, lengthy Carolina Beach is a popular public beach among both visitors and locals. Families especially love its white sand, warm water and that there's an on-duty lifeguard. What they're not so thrilled with are the crowds. The best times to visit are early in the morning or later in the afternoon, after the port-of-call sunbathers have re-boarded their cruise ships.
There are plenty of vendors on the beach, including spots to rent equipment for water sports like kiteboarding, to satisfy the needs of most visitors. Although there are plenty of vendors selling refreshments, "You can bring music, coolers, food, pretty much anything you want," one TripAdvisor reviewer writes. "But, if you bring soda or beer, be careful. You could possibly get a ticket if you bring glass bottles." Another minor drawback is that Carolina Beach's proximity to the airport means you may hear a bit of loud noise from airplanes overhead.
- #11View all Photos#11 in Puerto RicoHiking, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Most travelers say the same thing about the Parque de las Cavernas del Río Camuy: Loved the caverns, didn't care so much for the tour. Too bad it's not possible to do a self-guided visit of this 268-acre park of underground caves.
When you arrive at the park you'll take a tram ride down to a 180-foot high cave filled with a variety of light-shy wildlife, including crabs, tarantulas and bats. You'll also spot plenty of stalactites and stalagmites and one of the largest subterranean rivers. Then walk through the more than 200 caverns is generally manageable, but it can be difficult in some parts. It could also be muddy and wet.
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The resort beaches along Condado or Isla Verde are beautiful, but if you tire of the same old scenery, take a 30-minute drive east along Route 3 to Luquillo Beach. Families flock to this shore for its reef-protected calm waves, and you'll also see a lot of day trippers fresh from a jaunt in the nearby El Yunque National Rainforest.
Recent vacationers agree that Luquillo isn't crowded, but there are differing reports on its cleanliness. Following an April 2010 trip to the beach, one TripAdvisor user wrote: "It was the most disgusting site ever. You literally could not walk to the beach without stepping on some piece of garbage." But another TripAdvisor user that visited around the same time is full of praise: "The beach was gorgeous, the water clean, the view spectacular and real easy to get to."
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