10 Things To Do And See In Puerto Rico
Updated: Nov 18, 2019
Puerto Rico is known by some as "La Isla del Encanto" or "The Island of Enchantment/Charm." After my recent visit to the island in early April, I can wholeheartedly say that the island not only lives up to the name - it surpasses it.
A 30-minute flight from St. Croix, I had visited Puerto Rico numerous times as a baby and even a few times during high school. Puerto Rico was also a normal layover on flights from home to the U.S. when I was in college. I must admit however, that until this trip I never got to fully immerse myself on the island and experience Puerto Rico like a tourist. On this six-day stay, I was able to do just that and it turned out to be even better than I imagined. Here are ten things I think you MUST do and see on your Puerto Rico visit.
1. Stay In An Airbnb
Hotels are great and the island has numerous highly-rated hotels with all of the amenities you could ever want or need, but in my opinion an Airbnb adds an entirely new layer to your experience. Depending on location they allow you to really get a feel of what island life is like. Our Airbnb host was extremely polite, constantly available via text, and provided a detailed manual about the apartment, nearby stores, restaurants, and even the direct number of a taxi driver should we need a ride outside of Uber during our trip. The apartment was charming, and right in the center of it all in the historic city of Old San Juan. I'll definitely be staying in an Airbnb on my next visit.
2. Visit (or stay in) Old San Juan
You cannot visit Puerto Rico without seeing Old San Juan. The oldest settlement on the island is home to some of its most beautiful architecture, with pastel buildings and cobblestone streets that make you feel like you've gone back in time. It's so much more than a great place for a photo-op (you'll have plenty of opportunities for that here.) The city has so much history; two large forts still stand at the city's bay as a remnant of Spanish colonial rule from the 1500s to the 1800s. For just $7 you can see both forts in one day (they are just a short walk from one another) and learn all about Puerto Rico's history with Spain. Near the city's cruise ship port, you'll find food trucks, artisans, street merchants, souvenir shops...and did I mention food trucks? You can get lost in the beauty of Old San Juan for your entire trip. It's a must see.
3. Eat local
From the famous Raice's, food truck pinchos and tripletas, to the mojitos at Old San Juan's local bars - there is no shortage of GREAT places to find food and drinks in Puerto Rico. Do yourself a favor and avoid any of your normal eats on this trip. Get some mofongo; it's a Puerto Rican plantain dish that Raice's does ALL too well. The restaurant even has its staff dress in Puerto Rican traditional wear which was one of my favorite parts of the visit. On the Eastern side of the island in cities like Rio Grande and Luquillo (home of the famous Kioskos Luquillo) there are dozens of streetside restaurants that serve you up with the best chicken, rice, fried plantains, and frozen sangrias. Looking for a great brunch spot? The Bistro Cafe in Isla Verde has the best mimosas, an expansive menu and stuffed avocado dishes that are to die for.
4. Talk to your Uber driver!
I learned this lesson from a good friend of mine, Ivy. She's much more experienced than I am when it comes to traveling and a LOT more extroverted. One thing I loved about having her on our trip is how often and how freely she spoke with our Uber drivers. She got them to open up about their lives and experiences on the island, including their Hurricane Maria experiences. They shared so much with us about places to visit and things to do. Some drivers even volunteered to pick us up again or go with us if we needed guides. I know some of you are thinking - meeting up with strangers is probaaaaly unsafe. We never felt unsafe or creeped out by the drivers and they always suggested tourist areas that were well known. We didn't end up meeting up with any drivers, but we did find some awesome things to do because of them!
5. Visit the beaches
This might be some obvious advice for anyone headed to a Caribbean island, but with all there is to do in Puerto Rico it's easy to miss out on an opportunity to see the beach! Puerto Rico has too many beautiful beaches to name - we stopped by three during our trip (one even required a boat to get there which we'll talk about later.) Be sure to check out Escambron Beach near Old San Juan and Luquillo Beach (about 45 minutes away) if you're looking for the perfect beach day on-island.
6. Wear Sunscreen
Speaking of beaches and coming back with the obvious advice - WEAR SUNSCREEN. It's easy to forget about it when you're not headed to the beach, but it is an absolute necessity in Puerto Rico no matter where you're going. The sun in the Caribbean is no joke, just ask my sunburn from my first day of exploring (minus the sunscreen.) Make sure that you're covering your skin, wearing sunscreen, using sunglasses and hats. A nice tan is good for vacation pictures, but severe sunburn doesn't do anyone any justice.
7. Visit El Yunque & Carabali Rainforest Park
El Yunque National Forest is one of the most "must-see" places in Puerto Rico. It's home to numerous trails, waterfalls, and beautiful views. Unfortunately the girls and I were not able to hike in El Yunque or see any waterfalls, but we did get pretty close on horseback with our tour at the Carabali Rainforest Park. This park sits just outside of the rainforest and offers a number of activities for visitors such as ATV and UTV rides, go-karting, and horseback riding. MAJOR TIP: the ATV and UTV rides are popular, and if you don't have a reservation you may not be able to book as a walk-in. We ended up on the horseback ride through the rainforest which was both scary (I am afraid of horses) and beautiful. The staff was friendly (although my horse was not) and I wouldn't mind visiting again.
8. Book a day-sail with The Traveler Catamaran
We originally had booked a hike/nature-walk to Cueva Ventana (a local cave known for its amazing views and nearby waterfalls.) Unfortunately, our tour guide cancelled for unknown reasons leaving us with some room in our schedule. After some online searching we found The Traveler Catamaran. This guided sail was one of the best things about the trip. For about $90 per person, we received transportation from Old San Juan to the marina in Fajardo (and back), a full lunch, snacks, soft drinks (and alcohol), snorkeling gear and lessons as well as an unforgettable sail to Icacos Island and the nearby Tortugas Reef. To say that it was beautiful just doesn't give it justice. An awesome bonus was sailing by Sailing Yacht A, a $500 million super-yacht known to be one of the biggest in the world, which happened to be docking in the waters off Fajardo that weekend.
9. Visit Casa Bacardi
Puerto Rico is also home to one of the largest premium rum distilleries in the world, Casa Bacardi. The factory offers multiple tours (with three different types of tours to choose from) throughout the day. All tours offer drink samples, including the island's famous mojitos. We learned the history of the Bacardi factory and how the company was started, the meaning behind it's bat symbol/logo, as well as the process of ageing, and distilling rum. One of my friends was even able to engrave, label and wax seal her own personalized bottle of Bacardi rum.
10. Calle Fortaleza (Paseo de las Sombrillas)
A fairly newer sight to see in Puerto Rico takes us back to Old San Juan on Fortaleza Street near the governor's mansion. I saw this art installation of colorful umbrellas on Pinterest and knew I had to see it in person before leaving. The art was commissioned by the governor and first lady of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017. They are meant to represent the resilience of the people. "Just as umbrellas move fluidly with the wind, Puerto Rico is a place that flows and majestically embraces every challenge it faces.”⠀⠀
Puerto Rico was unforgettable, and I can't wait to visit again. I hope that this list gives you a little insight into just how much the island has to offer. Planning a visit to Puerto Rico soon? Comment below and let me know if you'll be trying any of the places I mentioned! Have you been to Puerto Rico? What was your favorite part of your trip?