Top Attractions in Puerto Rico
While visiting Puerto Rico’s waterfalls, caves, and underground rivers; checking out its busy resort beaches and romantic secluded ones; wandering its rain forests, street festivals, and farmers markets, you’ll fall in love with this happy island.
501 Calle Norzagaray, San Juan, 00901, Puerto Rico
Old San Juan may look, at first glance, like a few other charming cities built during the height of Spanish colonialism—Havana or Santo Domingo, for example—but what sets it apart is the extent to which its architectural infrastructure from that era remains visible. It’s the only city that has its original colonial wall almost entirely intact, and both of its principal forts are in excellent condition, remain accessible to the public, and offer panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean (so bring your camera). Both El Morro and Fuerte San Cristobal are run by the National Park Service; guided tours will leave you with greater knowledge about the era, as well as the forts’ construction and their role in Puerto Rican history. (There are other, smaller forts in and around the capital, next to the Caribe Hilton, and in Luís Muñoz Rivera Park, plus Fort San Juan de la Crúz in the nearby town of Cataño.)
204 Calle Fortaleza, San Juan, 00901, Puerto Rico
Travelers who love beautiful, locally made souvenirs, and who are concerned about their ethical sourcing, will want to stop by this shop in Old San Juan. Its inventory is composed entirely of goods that are made by Puerto Rican artisans and craftspeople; both the artists and objects sold are certified by the government. Look for the island’s traditional crafts, including vejigante masks and carved figurines called santos, which Catholic missionaries carried with them during the colonial era as ministerial storytelling tools. Puerto Rico is also known for its beautiful landscape paintings and woodblock prints.
Puerto Rico 191
Few visitors to Puerto Rico leave without having visited El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. national forest system. Stop at the visitor center to pick up a park map and stock up on bug repellant, ponchos, water, and snacks before heading off on a self-guided expedition of El Yunque’s highlights. These include La Mina Falls and a trip to the top of El Yunque Tower. Along the paths, look for the elusive Puerto Rican parrot, which was on the verge of extinction before its population was stabilized by the Forest Service staff.
Bahía Bioluminiscente, Puerto Rico
Phosphorescence isn’t a phenomenon limited to Puerto Rico, but the island’s phosphorescent bays (there are three of them: one in Fajardo, one in La Parguera, and one on Vieques) are easily accessible with tour operators and provide a memorable experience for visitors who have never experienced this magical nocturnal phenomenon. The bays’ depth and warmth create the perfect conditions for microscopic dinoflagellates to flourish, and these tiny creatures emit light that makes them look like stars in the sky slipped straight into the water. You can kayak through a mangrove channel to reach the bays, guided by an expert kayaker who can tell you more. Lucky visitors might see fish flashing by like neon streaks. Leave your camera in your hotel room; you can’t capture the phosphorescence without special equipment.
Carr. 987 Km 5.9 Las Croabas, Fajardo, 00738, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico’s nature conservancy, called Para la Naturaleza, recovers land and property that have historical and environmental significance, then restores and reopens them as spaces for public access and education. One such place is this nature reserve, Cabezas de San Juan, which features seven different ecosystems, including a mangrove that visitors can explore and learn about on a guided tour. Reservations are essential.
Km. 27.7, PR-184, Cayey, 00736, Puerto Rico
There are several island spots where locals flock on weekends for favorite Puerto Rican fare. Love fried seafood? Head for roadside stands on the coastal road that runs through Piñones, or the west coast shacks in Joyuda. But if you’re jonesing for pork, then you’d best make your way to the mountain town of Guavate. Its “Pork Highway” is a carnivore’s fever dream, with whole pigs roasting to crispy, dripping perfection on spits. You’ll see that nearly every spot is ultra-casual, so don’t dress up, but be sure to bring some wet-naps because things could get greasy.
Ponce, 00730, Puerto Rico
Ponce is Puerto Rico’s second-largest city and is nicknamed the “Pearl of the South.” Life here seems to move at a slower pace than San Juan, and that’s the way locals like it. For them, there’s nothing better than an evening or weekend stroll around Plaza Las Delicias, the main square, which is full of history and entertainment. Stop by the unmissable red-and-black–wooden firehouse (now a museum) to learn more about the central roles that fire and firefighting have played in Ponce’s history. Then work your way around the square to see Ponce’s symbol, the lion, anchoring each side of the plaza, the church, the fountains, and finally, Kings Cream, a no-frills emporium that sells small cups of ice cream—with flavors such as passion fruit, peanut, guava, and coconut—at bargain prices.
Sector El Vigia, Paseo De La Cruceta, Ponce, 00730, Puerto Rico
Castillo (castle) may be an overly generous descriptor for the former home of the Serrallés rum dynasty, but the estate is an impressive spread, especially if you buy a combination ticket that allows you to explore the grounds. Tour the house with a guide to learn more about the Serrallés family before visiting the Japanese garden and ascending to the observatory level of the Cruceta del Vigía, a cross-shaped structure. You can see all the way to the Caribbean through the observatory’s floor-to-ceiling windows.
Km 16.8, PR-123, Ponce, 00728, Puerto Rico
Love chocolate and coffee? If so, a visit to this nature-conservancy property will prove worthwhile. The former plantation, acquired by the conservancy, was turned into a historical site that’s open to the public. Today, knowledgeable guides offer tours of the grounds and demonstrations that teach visitors how chocolate and coffee are made.
Ponce, Puerto Rico
One of Puerto Rico’s offshore islands, Caja de Muertos, or “Coffin Island” (so named for its shape), is an eight-mile boat ride from Ponce’s docks. Take a day to explore the area, which is a designated nature reserve with a lighthouse built in 1887, a cave, and trails, or to simply relax on its white-sand beaches. Neither fresh water nor food kiosks or vendors are available on the island (so bring a picnic, and pack in and pack out). Isla Caja de Muertos remains one of Puerto Rico’s best-kept secrets.
2325 Boulevard Luis A. Ferré Aguayo, Ponce, 00717, Puerto Rico
San Juan is considered Puerto Rico’s hub for museums and artists, but Ponce’s Museo de Arte is certainly a cultural highlight on the southern coast of the island. Its collection, initiated by former governor Luís A. Ferré, is eclectic and includes European and Asian art, but its prize paintings are Frederic Lord Leighton’s Flaming June (seen on postcards and prints around the island) and Francisco Oller’s La Ceiba de Ponce, which depicts a massive ceiba tree that still grows in the city.
Ruta Panorámica, Puerto Rico
Many visitors to Puerto Rico confine themselves to San Juan or perhaps venture westward to the surf town of Rincón or to the outlying islands of Vieques and Culebra. If they head inland, it’s typically for specific attractions such as El Yunque, Camuy Caves, or the observatory in Arecibo. Travelers with some extra time and a sense of adventure may want to rent a car and head into the heart of the island on the Ruta Panorámica, where the jíbaro (or country) lifestyle can be observed. Signage can be poor and roadways hazardous, so confine your driving to daylight hours.
493 Km. 0.7, Hatillo 00659, Puerto Rico
This woman-owned artisanal aged-cheese producer was on the front wave of what is an increasingly vibrant local food movement. Wanda Otero, a microbiologist, decided to start her business in part to offer Puerto Ricans an alternative to expensive imported cheeses. She has since expanded into yogurt-making, and her products are now sold in supermarkets and found on the menus of the island’s finest restaurants. Travelers can visit the Vaca Negra facility for a tour, which includes the opportunity to make their own cheese.
Puerto Rico’s El Yunque rain forest may be better known, but this small island has incredible geographic and botanical diversity beyond that park’s boundaries. Exhibit A: the Dry Forest of Guánica. Less visited by travelers than the rain forest, the Dry Forest, located on the southern coast, is studded with cacti and other arid plants. Travelers who enjoy hiking will have fun exploring the forest’s trails. Just be sure to bring water as the heat and humidity can be punishing, and there are no facilities at this park.
KM 2.0, Carretera 413 Ramal, Rincon, Rincón 00677, Puerto Rico
Nowhere in Puerto Rico is surfing more popular than Rincón. It’s so popular, in fact, that the town plays host to annual international surfing competitions. There are plenty of shops where you can get the surf report or sign up for lessons if you’re a beginner (or want to take your skills to the next level). Some of Rincón’s beaches are postcard photogenic, especially Crashboat Beach, where a line of colorful wooden boats sit on the sand.
200 Avenida Marina View, Fajardo, 00738, Puerto Rico
Tropical sunsets figure prominently into many travelers’ vacation dreams, and in this regard, Puerto Rico doesn’t disappoint. Locals don’t tire of the spectacular golden hour, especially on the western coast, where the blazing ball of sun seems to slide straight into the ocean. The daily show can be seen from any westward-facing beach, or from the deck of a cruising yacht. Sunset cruise options abound in Fajardo, which, while on the east coast, still offers a romantic evening on the water.
Toroverde Adventure Park is home to Puerto Rico’s highest peak, which beckons hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts, including those who enjoy the adrenalin rush of zip-lining. It’s claimed that this is the longest zip line in the world. Is the superlative true? The answer becomes less important as you’re swooping across the canopy, enjoying the thrill of speed and the bird’s-eye view of the forest.
Flamenco Beach, Flamenco, Culebra 00775, Puerto Rico
Vieques may get more airtime when it comes to promoting Puerto Rico’s offshore islands, but the other “little sister” island, Culebra, attracts visitors for its famous Playa Flamenco, which was once named a world’s-best beach by the Discovery Channel. No one really remembers or cares when the superlative was bestowed, because as far as they’re concerned, Culebra retains the honor. Puerto Ricans come from the mainland to spend holiday weekends here, and even when it’s crowded, there’s plenty of room for everyone to enjoy the perfect sand and surf.
There are plenty of places around Puerto Rico where you can ride horses and the scenery is as varied as your imagination. You can gallop along a white- or golden-sand beach or take more leisurely jaunts through the mountain and interior regions of the island. If it’s been a while since you’ve been in the saddle, head to Luquillo, where the Carabalí Rainforest Adventure Park offers two guided ride options: one on the beach, the other in the rain forest.