Puerto Rico offers an abundance of unique sights, tastes and experiences. This incredible journey begins in the vibrant bustle of San Juan before traveling to a nature lovers’ paradise. Then loop around the island’s beaches and end the trip back in the rich history of Spanish Conquistadores in Old San Juan. Don’t forget to pack a bathing suit to hit the beaches, hiking shoes to explore the rainforest and an appetite for adventure.
San Juan is the cosmopolitan hub of the island, home to nearly a third of Puerto Rico’s 4 million citizens. Flights touch down in the heart of it all at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, just minutes from the high-rise hotels, hip restaurants and trendy clubs.
You’ve now looped the island and are back in San Juan to explore its historic center. All of Old San Juan is a World Heritage Site, and every colorful building front, cobblestone street and statue tells a story. Iconic Fortaleza San Felipe del Moro’s towering 16th century stone ramparts rise six stories above the ocean, making it Old San Juan’s most visible and impressive sights. Its massive towers, turrets and cannons were originally built by the Spanish Conquistadores. It was connected by the city’s stonewalls to the Castillo de San Cristóbal fortress, built between 1634 and 1783. Today, both remarkably preserved forts are part of the U.S. National Parks Service and hold museums and exhibits.
Visitors can also experience amazing vistas over the centuries-old cathedrals and historic buildings built from the early 1500s to the late 1800s. A perfect last view of the diverse attractions of a trip to Puerto Rico.
Take Route A-66 east out of San Juan to reach the verdant oasis of El Yunque. It may be just a short 45-minute drive from San Juan, but it feels like another world when you enter the only subtropical rainforest in the USA. Even a short excursion on foot reveals waterfalls and spectacular lookouts.
Start with a stop at the El Portal Rainforest Center at the entrance to the park. Try the four-kilometer El Yunque Trail, which brings you to the summit of Cerro el Toro, the highest point in the forest. La Mina Trail is only one kilometer, but quickly ascends 610 meters along the way. The reward for the steep climb? A dip in the icy waters of the La Mina Falls at the end of the trail.
Don’t forget to bring a jacket: Temperatures can shift from hot and sunny to cool and damp as you enter the rain forest.
Drive out of the forest and then continue west on PR-3. For an authentic taste of Puerto Rico, stop at the small kioskos that dot the island, offering bite-size snacks that burst with local flavors. Some of the best can be found at the kiosko paradise near beautiful Luquillo Beach, where nearly 60 small stands vie for your attention.
Mouth-watering highlights include bacalaitos (potato chip thin, battered and fried salt cod), empanadas and pasteles (fried turnovers filled with meat, seafood or veggies), and pinchos (small skewers of grilled meat). Wash it all down with a fresh tropical fruit batida (smoothie).
Take PR-195 to the Fajardo Ferry Terminal to catch the ferry to one of Puerto Rico’s two islands, Culebra, is a best-kept secret with enticing beaches, as well as pristine natural areas.
The small island can be explored in a day. Start at Flamingo Beach, named one of TripAdvisor’s top beaches in the world, with ideal swimming conditions in turquoise waters and expansive white drifts of cushy sand to relax on. Grab a barbecue lunch from one of the beach vendors, then in the afternoon, snorkel to explore the underwater beauty of the coral reef at Carlos Rosario Beach or get a peek at sea turtles, lumbering manatees and rare tropical birds at the island’s century-old National Wildlife Refuge.
Back on the mainland, get back in your car and hop onto the Route 52 Expressway heading south until you connect with Ponce. Puerto Rico’s second largest city is centered around the aptly named Plaza de las Delicias or Plaza of Delights. Hop on the free trolley train to the crown jewel of the city: The Museo de Arte de Ponce, one of the largest art museums in the Caribbean. Among the 4,500 pieces of art in the museum’s permanent collection are masterworks by Rubens, Rosetti and Constable.
Drive west along Puerto Rico’s beautiful western coast where you can bask in the warm turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. Boqueron is a favorite for its family friendly stretch of sparkling beach. Or catch the endless waves in Rincon, which draws surfers from around the globe. Take a lesson from one of the many surf instructors, if you’re new to the sport, or simply watch riders catch the big waves at Tamboo Tavern, Rincon’s open air surfer bar.
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