Sitting in the middle of the Caribbean, Puerto Rico doubles as a popular port of call and embarkation port for cruise ships. Calling cruisers inland to experience a mixture of cultures, culinary pleasures, and rhythmic dance, the “Isla del Encanto” (Island of Enchantment) has a unique energy that keeps visitors on their toes. Sample a slice of Spain through its traditional colonial architecture and its charms through historical sites like Old San Juan. Seek out an awe-inspiring Puerto Rico travel adventure on foot, where you’ll see the natural beauty of the extraordinary rainforests, waterfalls, mountain peaks, and beaches.
Top 5 Travel Attractions in Puerto Rico
In each direction you go, there are many new faces and astounding surprises to greet you. Once you land in San Juan, the lively and stylish city of excitement, you could wander along the eastern shore and come across white sand beaches and crystal clear waters great for boating or diving. If your feet take you south, you’ll be met with an abundance of tropical dry forests that shelters a rich variety of exotic birds and animals. You’ll also see Porta del Sol, the “Doorway to the Sun,” which is the only place where you can watch the sunset over the ocean. Up and down the western coast, you’ll stumble on many ways to interact with your surroundings including wild surfing, sailing, cave exploring, and whale watching.
The Spanish Roots of San Juan
Proudly proclaimed the most cosmopolitan city when it comes to Caribbean travel excursions, San Juan has a vivacious nature while still preserving its Spanish heritage at the core. Feel the pulse of the conga drums and Spanish guitar as you stride down the cobblestone streets, which glimmer with brilliance from the city lights at nightfall. Eat-in style with Puerto Rico’s tasty Creole cuisine blended with Spanish, African, Taíno, and American flavors. Try some of the delicious local products including yucca, plantains, seafood, and “sofrito,” which is a unique mixture of onions and spices used in many dishes.
You’ll find traces of colonial Spain inside the walls of San Juan, where numerous houses, public buildings, and monuments have undergone restoration over the years. The wealth of the city’s cultural past was publicly heightened around the 1980s, when the United Nations officially designated San Juan as a World Heritage Site. Locally and abroad, artists and photographers have grown to love the character of its old town – from the romantic courtyards to charming, overhanging balconies to the chalk-white churches scattered throughout the city.
Rising 140 feet above sea level, the city’s 20-foot-thick walls proved a formidable defense against Spain’s European enemies. The fort is a maze of tunnels, dungeons, barracks, outposts, and ramps still partially intact for visitors to examine up close. Take a brief tour of La Fortaleza, the governor’s residence and headquarters, and also the oldest executive mansion in the New World. Since the 16th century, the historic hall has been home to more than 170 governors and hosted various dignitaries including U.S. President John F. Kennedy and King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain.
For the wild at heart, San Juan proposes many ways to explore the depths of Mother Nature. Travel less than an hour from the city’s hotel district and go rappelling off one of the ancient mountain peaks or hike in the gentle rainforest in El Yunque. Perfect for the soft adventurer, El Yunque Rainforest is lined with plenty of well-managed and safe hiking trails. Take a cool dip at one of the many waterfalls
and then stop for a picturesque lunch break at a nearby barbeque hut. Also, don’t miss Luquillo, one of Puerto Rico’s best-known beaches featuring a string of “kioskos,” or seafood stands.
Just a skip over from Las Cabezas is Fajardo, the perfect vacation town to experience by land and sea. For beach lovers, scuba divers, and snorkelers, this area has beautiful beaches surrounded by calm, clear waters ideal for all kinds of water sports. Just west is Las Cabezas de San Juan, a remote nature reserve where you can observe the area’s exotic wildlife at its best. It features an impressive contrast of coral reefs, lagoons, dry forests, mangroves, and lush tropical rainforests.
The Unspoiled “Spanish Virgin Islands”
The half-hour flight to Vieques and Culebra will be worth your time. With few crowds to weave through and more unspoiled coastline to enjoy, the Spanish Virgin Islands add the right touch of serene ambiance and an easy-going pace that every Caribbean vacation needs. While the rest of Puerto Rico is wild with “la Vida Loca,” you’ll be able to simply live in the moment at this wonderful retreat neighboring the popular island of St. Thomas.
A destination on the rise, Vieques is still blooming with new boutique hotels and chic eateries that are on par with the Caribbean’s trendiest resorts. Travel across wide rolling hills and explore the palm-fringed beaches, swamps, and salt flats dispersed throughout the island. You could spend your evening kayaking in the bioluminescent waters of Mosquito Bay. Or experience a taste of the local night scene in Esperanza, the adjoining village that offers a quaint collection of friendly bars and restaurants.
The sea reigns as the most popular attraction on Culebra. The beaches of Playa Zoni and Flamenco Beach are a snorkeler’s grand paradise, boasting a multiplicity of underwater life and caves. With 23 small islets surrounding Culebra, you could while away a clear afternoon navigating the different bays, peninsulas, and bars by kayak or sailboat. The main island also contains one of the oldest existing bird sanctuaries in the U.S. territory and many turtle nesting sites on the beach.
Natural Reserves of Central Puerto Rico
An inspiration for Robert Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Caja de Muertos (translated “Dead Men’s Chest”) is an uninhabited island where the sun shines virtually every day of the year. Make your way up a large limestone hill to the historic Spanish lighthouse, where you can look down on all corners of the land. By sea, you could charter a sailboat and snorkel or dive around the area’s shallow reef formations. You could also comb the sandy beaches for seashells or hike through the dry forest, encountering the rarest of plants and wildlife creatures.
Turn off the beaten track during your vacation in Puerto Rico by seeing the sights of the Cordillera Central, one spectacular attraction that visitors often overlook. This ridge runs along the center of the island and contains landscape views beyond compare. Drive down the Panoramic Route through miles of forested mountains and remote nature reserves. In the Toro Negro State Forest, you’ll close in on towering waterfalls, natural pools, and Cerro de Punta, the highest peak of the mountain range. Let your feet take you down any number of foot trails in the Black Bull State Forest, and spot the exotic birds of Caja de Muertos at one of the lookout points.
Spice up your vacation the right way in Puerto Rico, one of the world’s hottest tropical escapes. If you’re looking for a new travel destination to captivate your mind and revitalize your body, this is the place to be.