Best Things To Do in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico's attractions range from the adventurous (like the jungles of El Yunque or the Cueva Ventana) to the historic (like the 500-year old walls of the El Morro fort). And there are plenty of options between the two extremes. Shoppers will want to stroll the outlets and boutiques in Old San Juan. Beach lovers must visit the western shorelines of Crash Boat for sunbathing and surfing; night owls are bound to enjoy Vieques' bioluminescent Mosquito Bay. If you aren't sure where to start, taking one of the best guided tours in Puerto Rico could be just what you need to plan the rest of your stay.
Updated March 12, 2020
- #1View all Photos#1 in Puerto RicoBeachesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDBeachesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
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 waters emit a blue glow from the organisms, called dinoflagellates, that live there. More than 600,000 bioluminescent dinoflagellates live in each gallon of bay water, and recent travelers have been amazed by just how much visibility these tiny creatures provide.
Avoid visiting the bay during a full moon; the microorganisms aren't as visible then. Also aim for a quiet approach. Recent travelers recommended going out in a kayak to get the full effect of the glow and to prevent disturbing the dinoflagellates.
- #2View all PhotosfreeOld San Juan#2 in Puerto RicoSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Viejo San Juan is home to a variety of top attractions, including El Morro, Castillo San Cristóbal and Calle del Cristo. It's here you'll find Calle de la Fortaleza, which once held the city's famous umbrella installation but is now adorned with a massive Puerto Rican flag. While most people do take advantage of seeing the historic and iconic sights, many also visit Old San Juan just to experience the area. Many of the best tours in Puerto Rico include strolls through this area. Numerous travelers encourage others to walk the cobblestone streets to view the historic, colorful architecture and experience the vibrant culture. No need to leave for lunch, this section of town is bursting with street vendors and restaurants ready to satiate your appetite. At night, the city comes alive and is filled with a bustling nightlife known for its drinks and dancing.
For optimal strolling, past visitors recommended seeing the area early in the morning before tourists wake up and vacationers disembark from their cruise ships (the cruise port is at the base of Old San Juan). Should your feet get tired, you can hop on the free trolley that operates throughout this part of town; however, know that it can run infrequently. You can visit Viejo San Juan 24 hours a day, but know that individual bars, shops and restaurants operate their own hours.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Puerto RicoSightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDSightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
El Morro juts out of San Juan harbor and beckons to cruise ships. Construction for the hulking six-story fortress started in 1539. It was originally built to deter sea attacks, and went on to withstand two world wars and several other scrimmages. Now, El Castillo San Felipe del Morro (known simply as "El 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 through the fortress' depths, which include a maze of tunnels, barracks and prison cells. Exhibitions and a park film offer a more in-depth look at the fort's history, and park rangers are stationed around the site to answer questions and lead interpretative programs.
You'll enjoy exploring more if you wear comfortable walking shoes, as the site is quite big. Travelers tend to agree the site is worth visiting, whether you're a history buff or not. In addition, they report that it can take up to three hours to explore the entire fort on foot. For a little guidance on the fort's history, consider signing up for one of the best tours in Puerto Rico.
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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 1 1/2-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 (about $5 to $10 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. Some travelers do complain that Flamenco Beach's popularity means it can get a bit crowded on the weekends (despite a lack of upscale 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.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Puerto RicoBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
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 approximately 2-mile beach 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 Sun Bay's seclusion. Reviewers said there's plenty of room to spread out along the beach and that it is relatively uncrowded, save for a herd of wild horses. The on-site amenities were also a bonus. In addition, beachgoers say Sun Bay a great family beach as the waves are calm. If you're an avid snorkeler, however, you may want to skip these waters as there's not much marine life to see here.
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The El Yunque National Rainforest, or simply El Yunque, 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 about 30 miles east of San Juan.
Remember to wear layers that can get wet (the highest elevations can receive up to 200 inches of rainfall 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.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Puerto RicoSightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDSightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Spanning 27 acres, Castillo San Cristóbal was built to protect Old San Juan from land attacks. It doesn't receive as many visitors, or as much adoration as its sister fortification, El Morro, but recent visitors are equally amazed by the majesty and significant history of the site. Allow several hours to visit both sites.
The fort's stellar shoreline views (not to mention the occasional iguana) draw travelers to the sprawling site. Though the fort tends to draw crowds (especially cruise ship passengers), recent visitors said that due to the sheer size of the complex, touring San Cristóbal never feels cramped.
- #8View all PhotosfreeCalle del Cristo#8 in Puerto RicoShopping, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDShopping, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
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 street can discover local crafts and artisan shops.
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. Past travelers routinely praised the old churches and unique architecture that line the cobblestone streets.
- #9View all Photos#9 in Puerto RicoMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Located in the bustling Santurce neighborhood of San Juan, the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico houses more than 1,000 artworks created by Puerto Ricans. The collection showcases pieces that date back to the 1600s and includes sculptures, photographs, paintings, drawings and more. The 24 exhibition galleries are housed across two wings. The west wing is a neoclassical building designed in the 1920s, while the east wing is a modern structure designed by Puerto Rican architects. The east wing also features a stained-glass piece by Eric Tabales called "Taíno Rising Sun."
Recent visitors raved about the museum and found that its exhibits helped them better understand the island's history and culture. Many also refer to the museum as a must-do activity and a pleasant way to pass the time. Others noted that though the museum is small, it displays an impressive collection of art.
- #10View all PhotosfreeCondado Beach#10 in Puerto RicoBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
If you're staying in San Juan and want to stretch on the sands, you won't need to 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. Families, however, sometimes forego these sands for one of the government-run beaches, or balnearios, because Condado beach's tide is often too strong for young swimmers.
According to past travelers, 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 makes it all the more tourist-friendly.
- #11View all Photos#11 in Puerto RicoBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Located near the Isla Verde resort district in the metro area, lengthy Carolina Beach is a popular public beach among both visitors and locals. Families especially love its white sand, warm water, the on-duty lifeguard and on-site paramedics. What they're not so thrilled with are the crowds. The beach tends to get busy during the weekends, but you can avoid some beachgoers by visiting during the week.
There are plenty of vendors nearby selling food and renting water sports equipment. The beach has a volleyball court and a playground for children. It also has a team dedicated to helping wheelchair users, though this service is available Monday through Friday only and must be requested in advance. Another minor drawback is that Carolina Beach's proximity to the airport means you may hear a bit of loud noise from airplanes overhead.
- #12View all PhotosfreeCrash Boat Beach#12 in Puerto RicoBeaches, Natural Wonders, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Natural Wonders, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Despite its name, you won't need to worry about sinking ships at this beach in Aguadilla. Snorkelers regularly trek to Crash Boat for its clear waters and multitude of fish. The beach and its pier are also beloved by sunbathers, fishermen, volleyball players, scuba divers and daredevils who love to jump into the water from the pier. After a day in the sun, stop by one of the area's many kiosks to refuel or take a short drive to one of Aguadilla's restaurants. It's no wonder this western beach is often one of Aguadilla's most popular spots for travelers of all ages.
Repeat travelers said the beach is smaller after Hurricane Maria, but noted that Crash Boat is well worth a visit. Tourists loved the beach's turquoise waters and ample activities. The near-constant crowds don't seem to bother many travelers, but if you're looking for a quiet environment this may not be the beach for you.
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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-mile 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 daytrippers fresh from a jaunt in the nearby El Yunque National Rainforest.
Recent vacationers agreed that Luquillo wasn't crowded, but they offered differing reports on its cleanliness. Some travelers say that the beach is dirty, there's garbage strewn across the sand and the on-site changing rooms and bathrooms are not well kept. Others report that the beach is clean and one of the prettiest beaches they've ever visited.
Since the 1960s, scientists have used Arecibo Observatory's massive telescope to collect data about Earth's atmosphere, the solar system's planets, comets and more. Though Puerto Rico may seem like an odd place for this important device, it's actually the perfect location. Situated near the equator, the telescope is in the ideal spot not only to study the Earth's ionosphere (its original purpose) but also to study planets. In addition, Puerto Rico could accommodate the space needed for the telescope's reflecting mirror: The dish is 1,000 feet in diameter and 167 feet deep.
Visitors can indulge their scientific curiosity at the site's Science & Visitor Center. There, they can view exhibits about atmospheric science, attend lectures, watch informative movies and visit the observation deck to see the telescope and its radio mirror. There is also a gift shop on-site.
- #15View all Photos#15 in Puerto RicoTours, Wineries/BreweriesTYPETours, Wineries/BreweriesTYPE
A visit to Puerto Rico wouldn't be complete without tasting one of its best-known beverages: rum. It's one of Puerto Rico's top exports and the island is often referred to as the "rum capital of the world." There are many kinds of rum from traditional white rum to dark rum as well as several producers including Bacardí, Don Q and PitoRico, a smaller brand.
One way to learn more about Puerto Rico's rum production (and to taste some of the libations) are to go on a tour. Bacardí and Ron del Barrilito offer a variety of tours and cocktail experiences at their facilities. (Don Q, however, does not have a distillery that accepts visitors.)
- #16View all Photos#16 in Puerto RicoNatural WondersTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDNatural WondersTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Cueva Ventana, which literally means "window cave," is another breathtaking outdoor adventure in Puerto Rico. During a visit here, you'll not only hike through a limestone cave, you'll also see stone engravings and pre-Columbian petroglyphs. But the cave's main draw is its namesake view. You'll reach a circular opening in the cave that overlooks a lush landscape.
To visit this wonder, you must join a guided tour. The hourlong trips are given by trained biologists to help tourgoers learn more about the flora and fauna in the cave as well as the Taíno Indians.
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