12 Best Things to Do in Puerto Rico, From Tasting Rum to River Tubing

San Juan is just the beginning.

Two men behind a roasted pork on a spit

Visit Guavate to indulge in Puerto Rico’s lechon.

Photo by Jesse Echevarria

Located approximately 1,000 miles southeast of Miami, Puerto Rico is a popular Caribbean island with American travelers. Leave your passport at home and head to year-round summer, piña coladas, and occasionally getting caught in the rain. It’s all part of the charm of being in the tropics.

Puerto Rico is best know for its abundance of places to unplug, unwind, and explore the unknown. The island is filled with secluded wonders, from beach coves and clear waters to tree swings with panoramic mountain views. It’s also a place to eat, drink, and be merry. A half dozen brands of local rum collectively back Puerto Rico’s claim to the title “Rum Capital of the World.”

If you want to discover Puerto Rico beyond the San Juan cruise port, consider renting a car or hiring a guide to reach lesser-known destinations. Here are 12 of the best things to see and do in Puerto Rico.

1. Eat your fill of pork in Guavate

There’s a pork trail in Guavate that is a meat lover’s dream come true. Only 40 minutes from San Juan, the town within the mountain municipality of Cayey is most active on weekends when you’ll also find live music and street vendors. There are lechoneras lined up one after another, small shops specializing in roasted pork—one of several essential Puerto Rico dishes to try.

How the lechoneras came to exist depends on who you ask: One account attributes them to the need to serve locals driving from San Juan, while another claims there used to be a penitentiary nearby, and that visiting families needed somewhere to eat; the prison had a farm that raised hogs. No matter their origin, the lechoneras in the area are a beloved part of the community, each serving their own version of pork—pair your cut of choice with arroz con gandules, a yellow rice and pigeon peas side item that is a Puerto Rican staple.

2. Experience natural waterslides at Las Paylas

Ever thrown yourself down a waterslide carved into giant boulders by the flow of a river? Las Paylas is a series of natural slides and pools located in a resident’s backyard in Luquillo, about 45 minutes from San Juan. The slides are a three-minute walk from the driveway turned parking lot. Spend the morning in nature’s playground, rope swing optional. Exercise caution and tuck in your elbows while going down the slides. If you work up an appetite, stop by the local kiosks for an empanada and chilled fresh coconut on your way back.

Bridge in the middle of the beach, pink sand on one side and white sand on the other

Cabo Rojo, an area on the southwest tip of Puerto Rico, is known for its pink waters.

Photo by Danielfreire/Shutterstock

3. Marvel at pink lakes in Cabo Rojo

Cabo Rojo is only an hour from the airport in Aguadilla for those flying into the west side of the island. The area is a draw for its natural wonders, including salt flats that look like a vast span of pink lakes in the right light. While this phenomenon is not unique to Puerto Rico (other examples from around the world include Lake Tyrrell in Australia and San Francisco Bay’s salt ponds), it’s a rare sight and one that’s largely unobstructed and unmonitored here.

There’s a small, volunteer-run information center, but the salt flats are not officially labeled or advertised as a tourist destination. There are no designated entry points or tickets for admission. You can park by the side of the main road and enter for free. You’ll find the salt flats en route to La Playuela, commonly referred to as Playa Sucia, a popular white-sand beach surrounded by large cliffs on which you can hike or bike.

4. Taste savory ice cream flavors at Heladeria Lares

Creative flavors and community connection are family traditions at Heladeria Lares, a small ice cream shop nestled in the small town of Lares in the center of Puerto Rico. The recipes are created in-house and can range from sweet potato to cilantro flavored. The ice cream shop makes the perfect stop after exploring the nearby cave system at Parque Nacional de las Cavernas del Río Camuy.

5. Meet “Flaming June” at the Museo de Arte de Ponce

The well-known painting Flaming June portrays a sleeping woman in a vibrant saffron dress. You can see this work by by Frederic Leighton ar the Museo de Arte de Ponce. The museum opened to the public in 1959 and houses an estimated 4,500 works of art, including pieces from Puerto Rico and Latin America.

6. See Ponce’s Gaudí-style architecture

Located in the southern part of Puerto Rico’s main island, Ponce is full of delights for art and architecture lovers; the Parque de Bombas is a visually striking former fire station and one of the island’s most notable landmarks, while Casa Weichers-Villaronga is a neoclassical mansion that doubles as an architecture museum.

Enjoy the city’s own style of architecture, called Ponce Creole, which incorporates fantastical elements—think intricate, ornamental decorations on rooftops, stately columns, and exterior crown molding. Notable buildings with this style include Casa Weichers-Villaronga, the Museo de la Música Puertoriqueña, and Casa-Font Ubides.

A rainbow over a forest at Toro Verde

A forested world awaits at Toro Verde.

Photo by Jen Ruiz

7. Go ziplining at Toro Verde

The Monster” at Toro Verde is one of the longest ziplines in the world. It’s hung between the trees in Orocovis, a mountain town toward the center of the island about 90 minutes from San Juan. The 1.57-mile-long line takes an adrenaline-packed two minutes to fly from one end to another, Superman-style. Other zipline options are available for those seeking moderate to mild thrills. You can make reservations online; there is a restaurant and bar on site if you want a drink in celebration of your bravery afterwards.

8. Taste local rum at Ron del Barrilito

Puerto Rico has no shortage of rum distilleries. Opened in 2019, the Ron del Barrilito factory offers guests the option to tour the building, Hacienda Santa Ana, for $40, or attend a mixology class or partake in a premium tasting tour for $80 each. Here you’ll also find Ron del Barrilito 5 Star, a collector’s edition aged up to 35 years and more than $700 per bottle.

You will also spot a special “freedom barrel” on your tour, undisturbed since 1942 and reserved for consumption by the people of Bayamon in the event Puerto Rico one day declares independence.

People walking on a street lined with colorful buildings

Go to Old San Juan for food experiences ranging from unfussy to fine dining.

Photo by Zixi Zhou/Unsplash

9. Explore Old San Juan with a food tour

Those looking to experience Old San Juan in a new way should consider a food tour around the city with Spoon. The area is walkable and the tour includes history about the city’s plan and design. From freshly brewed coffee to avocado stuffed with pork, you’ll taste the classics while simultaneously supporting small businesses.

For an upscale dining experience, head to Marmalade Restaurant and Wine Bar, which offers international dishes like a harissa-seasoned ahi tuna tartar.

10. Try river tubing at the Tanama River

The Tanama River in the town of Utuado offers a twist on the traditional lazy river; it’ll float you into a pitch-black cave. The reward at the end of this adventure, which accommodates large groups, is a free facial thanks to a large supply of river clay. The word “Tanama” is Taino for “butterfly,” so expect to see many of them on your visit.

11. Kayak in a bioluminescent bay

There are three places to find bioluminescence in Puerto Rico: Fajardo, Lajas, and Vieques. Mosquito Bay in Vieques is the brightest of them all, and several companies offer evening kayak tours on glass-bottom boats. Go with Bieque Ecotrips if you want a smaller group tour; Aqua Sunset Tours is an operator to consider if you want a fully clear kayak versus just a glass bottom. Plan your visit during the new moon to see the brightest contrast possible, and make reservations ahead of time as spots fill up quickly.

The Best Things to See and Do in Puerto Rico

Cueva Ventana in Arecibo is one of many delights waiting to be discovered in Puerto Rico.

Photo by Tinapat B / Shutterstock

12. See Taino petroglyphs at Cueva del Indio

Cueva del Indio is about 25 minutes north of Cueva Ventana. If possible, aim to see both caves on one trip. Cueva del Indio is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s so scenic it’s been featured in movies like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. There are a number of Taino petroglyphs on site dating back nearly a thousand years. Wear sneakers or hiking shoes as the terrain is rugged and explore at your own risk.

This article originally appeared online on March 30, 2021; it was most recently updated on October 14, 2023, to include current information.

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