Are you thinking about visiting the Caribbean this year? Here are some of the very best places to visit in Puerto Rico that are sure to make for an unforgettable vacation experience.
If your idea of a perfect island vacation involves phenomenal beaches and an array of sightseeing attractions, combined with a rich local culture, then nothing quite matches up to Puerto Rico. Within the U.S. territory, Puerto Rico is the single largest tourist destination in the Caribbean.
All the best Airbnbs in Puerto Rico share one thing in common: no matter where they’re located, they’re never far from beautiful sights and fun activities. Whether you’re taking a stroll through the magnificent shoreline to exploring the impressive Spanish colonial architecture, there’s a lot for you to experience in Puerto Rico. This is why I’ve compiled a list of places that, in my humble opinion, are worthy of being on your schedule for your trip to Puerto Rico.
12 Best Places to Visit in Puerto Rico for an Unforgettable Tropical Vacation
It is hard to strictly characterize Puerto Rico as a travel destination. It’s so much more than that. If you want a laid-back, relaxing vacation destination, there are plenty of places where you can find immense calm and peace along with spectacular views. Puerto Rico, however, stands out by being a haven for adventurers, too, as the island offers an abundance of thrilling adventures and activities for you to partake in.
Because of the diversity of the island, it’s a good idea to consider the kind of vacation you’re looking to experience and then pick the places you most want to visit during your stay. It’s easy to get distracted here, as Puerto Rico is one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Having an itinerary is a good way to ensure you make the most of your stay.
1. Old San Juan
No matter which travel blog or website you search on the Internet, without fail, you will find Old San Juan topping every list of recommended Puerto Rico tourist attractions, and for good reason. Being the territory’s capital city, San Juan is a great starting point for exploring the beauty of the island.
Founded in 1521, San Juan is the oldest European settlement in the country. Once you arrive, the rich history of this place will be visible to you almost instantaneously. From the Spanish colonial-era buildings enveloped in pastel colors, to the compacted cobblestone streets, 16th and 17th-century fortresses, to the 15-foot serpentine wall, it’s hard to not be impressed by what the city has to offer.
Of course, San Juan is more than just beautiful architecture. Its cultural and culinary scene impresses with a vibrant historical legacy. After all, this is the birthplace of every vacationer’s favorite adult beverage: the piña colada!
The city is filled with fun touristy places to visit: restaurants, sightseeing attractions, architectural marvels, etc. However, if you’re seeking a unique experience, you must visit Fortaleza Street. The vibrant art installed here is worth checking out, as it carries meaning for the residents and community of Puerto Rico. It was placed here after the devastating hurricane Maria, in memory of those lost and to extend support to those who live on.
2. Playa Flamenco
If you are making plans for a vacation in and around Puerto Rico, you’re probably envisioning a perfect beachside location to have a great time. If that’s what you have in mind, you can’t go wrong with the immaculate white-sand shores and shining waters of Playa Flamenco.
This is the best beach on Isla Culebra, a tiny island located just 17miles off the east coast of Puerto Rico. Not just a great place to visit in Puerto Rico, Playa Flamenco is among the premier beaches around the globe. That alone should make it more than worthy of being on your list.
Named after the flamingos that come to rest in a nearby lagoon during the winter months, Playa Flamenco is easily accessible through flights or ferries. A gorgeous spot for snorkeling, you are guaranteed to have a fun time visiting this marvelous beach.
3. El Yunque National Forest
Looking for a scenic place to visit in Puerto Rico that isn’t on the shoreline? You’re in luck because the island’s inland region offers plenty to explore and enjoy, too!
Showcasing some of the most fantastically lush beauty in all of Puerto Rico, El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rainforest in the entire United States. The forest extends across the Luquillo Mountains, covering Pico El Yunque. A fun place for nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts, there are several walking trails across the forest.
What makes hiking expeditions here even more fun are the 240 species of trees and hundreds of plant species that are scattered all around the forest. There are 50 different species of orchids and diverse wildlife. The peak of El Yunque is at an elevation of 3,500 feet. The entire area covered by forest accounts for 43 square miles.
While exploring El Yunque National Forest, make sure to check out La Coca Falls. It is the premier attraction of El Yunque National Forest, comprising an 85-foot cascade onto boulder formations. Also, be sure to visit the 1930s Yokahú Tower, which you can climb on for breathtaking views overlooking the entire rainforest. Among other highlights are Baño Grande, Baño de Oro, and La Mina Falls.
4. Rio Camuy Caves
Everyone likes fun in the sun, but if you’re in the mood for something a little different, there are plenty of cool and unique Puerto Rico attractions worth checking out. In fact, some are about as far from the sun as you can imagine.
Situated an hour away from San Juan by car, the subterranean Rio Camuy Caves stretch out across ten miles. Carved out by the third-largest river on Earth, there are approximately 220 magnificent underground caves in total at Rio Camuy. What’s more, according to geologists, it’s likely that around 800 caves remain undiscovered in this area!
As part of a larger 300-acre stretch of forest land, the caves are run by the National Park Service. You can go on a tour of the park along with a park guide, and familiarize yourself with the wonders of these caves. Presenting quite a spectacular side of nature, these caves are home to hundreds of sleeping bats, who you will find nestled at the top of the caves.
5. Bioluminescent Mosquito Bay (Vieques)
Among the premier sightseeing destinations in Puerto Rico, Bioluminescent Mosquito Bay (or Vieques Beach, as it is more commonly called) is a fascinating place that you absolutely must visit on your trip. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
In broad daylight, Vieques Beach place appears to be a typical Caribbean spot to relax and hang out. However, if you wait until night-time, you will have the chance to witness something truly spectacular.
Along the southern shore of the bay, there are colonies of dinoflagellates (a type of single-celled organism) that live here in colonies of more than 600,000 per gallon of water. These bioluminescent creatures emit a bluish light and, due to the high numbers of them in the area, the bay itself appears to take on a seemingly magical glow.
The best times to visit Bioluminescent Mosquito Bay are dark nights without a full moon. This ensures maximum visibility of the dinoflagellates. Even better, you can enhance your experience of witnessing these wonderful creatures up close by choosing to go on a kayak. In this way, you will be able to get a superb view without disturbing the dinoflagellates.
6. Culebra Island (Isla Culebra)
Isla Culebra, or just Culebra, is a tiny island with splendid beaches and exuberant hills. This place has its own unique charm and you should try to make time to explore this beautiful island if you are looking forward to having a laid-back vacation.
The island is located approximately 17 miles east of Puerto Rico. Also, the island is merely 12 miles west of Saint Thomas, which is a Caribbean island. Extended in an area that is only a seven-mile-long, three-mile broad stretch, Culebra comprises 23 offshore islands. It is also is home to a number of comfortable tourist establishments operated by expats, making this one of the most tourist-friendly destinations in Puerto Rico.
Some of the highlights include the best coral reefs in the entirety of the Caribbean, the highly protected Isla de Culebra National Wildlife Refuge (which covers over one-third of the entire area of Culebra), and Cayo Luis Peña, whose rough terrain and coves make for a unique and challenging hiking spot.
Ponce is the second biggest city in Puerto Rico. As a result, it is a tourist hotspot. But what makes Ponce special as a vacation destination is how it essentially encapsulates the quintessential experience of exploring Puerto Rico.
In Ponce, you can go on a stroll across town and witness the beautiful fountains adorning street squares. The compacted lanes lead to the historic center, where you will be reminded of the history of this incredible Puetro Rico attraction. Being a popular tourist destination, you may find Ponce to be a bit busy and crowded. Don’t let that discourage you from exploring this wonderful city.
There are plenty of fascinating museums and marvelous colonial architecture for you to explore. Moreover, the city has a thriving culinary scene, which you can get introduced to on the famous boardwalk. There, restaurants serve mouth-watering cuisines of all kinds, making it one of the best places to visit in Puerto Rico for foodies.
8. El Morro (El Castillo San Felipe del Morro)
El Castillo San Felipe del Morro or simply El Morro is among the best places in Puerto Rico to visit if you’re a lover of history. In fact, work on this six-story fortress first began in 1539. That makes it older than the United States of America!
At first, the aim of building El Morro was to deter sea attacks. As it turned out, the fort capably withstood through two world wars and many other skirmishes. Known, not just for its proud history but also for its phenomenal views of the Atlantic Ocean, El Morro is another must-see place to visit in Puerto Rico.
The whole fortress can be explored on foot, and it only takes a few hours to see it all. Going through the labyrinth of tunnels, you can visit the barracks and prison cells inside the fortress. There are exhibits throughout the fort, and you can also check out the park film to get a more in-depth understanding of the history and legacy of this fort.
Want to learn more about El Morro? You’re in luck. The knowledgeable park rangers stationed on-site are always happy to share interesting details and factoids to sate your curiosity. Don’t be afraid to ask.
The breathtaking splendor of Rincón is unmissable, especially when one is getting this many awesome surfing spots in one place. Rincón has rightfully earned its nickname- ‘Pueblo del Surfing’, which means Surfing Town. The locals also famously refer to it as ‘Little Malibu’ and a ‘Gringo Paradise.’
Several expats and surfers from overseas have settled in Rincón, and therefore, the prominent language spoken here is English. This makes Rincón a more appealing Puetro Rico destination for many vacationing tourists.
The World Surfing Championships in 1968 were held in Rincón, after which the place became renowned as the best place to visit in Puerto Rico for both amateur and professional surfers. However, even if you are not much interested in surfing, you can have a great time swimming at the incredible beaches in the south of Rincón.
This is also one of the premier spots for whale-watching excursions in the Caribbean. The peak season for humpback whale watching is between mid-January to the end of March. If you’re a marine animal lover, this is one Puerto Rico tourist attraction you won’t want to miss.
10. Isla Desecheo
Isla Desecheo is another one-of-a-kind Puetro Rican offshoot situated just off the west coast of the main island. Only 12 miles away from Rincón, Isla Desecheo is among the best places to visit in Puerto Rico for divers. This is due to its abundance of beautiful reefs and gentle waters.
If you are looking for a vacation spot that is less crowded, this is the perfect place to find a calm and secluded environment to relax and unwind. Unlike the other overcrowded areas, the picturesque waters at Isla Desecheo are calmer and the atmosphere is much more tranquil. In other words, it’s the perfect spot to soak up the natural splendor of the region.
But that’s not all! The visibility of Isla Desecheo’s waters is approximately 80 feet. This means it’s an ideal place for you to observe the stunning coral reefs and schools of tropical fish that populate the area. Indeed, you don’t even need to put on a snorkel to do it!
11. Lago dos Bocas
Many of the best places to visit in Puerto Rico are natural wonders. They are the result of time and environmental forces, and have been lovingly preserved by the local people. However, those people have also created some wonders of their own. Lago dos Bocas is one of them.
An incredible man-made lake, the beauty of Lago dos Bocas is just as moving as those of Puerto Rico’s natural landscapes. Situated in the middle of Arecibo and Utuado, this lake was built in 1942 to provide water for a then-new hydroelectric plant. Today, this lake is amongst the drinkable water reserves on the entire island. Hop on a ferry and enjoy a calm ride on the serene and tranquil waters of this astounding fear of human ingenuity.
The area surrounding Lago dos Bocas is also stunning and is sure to captivate your attention. Last but not least, there are several open-air restaurants by the lakeside. There, you can enjoy a hearty meal in a soothing and harmonious environment.
12. Fort San Cristóbal
Unlike the more popular El Morro, not many travel itineraries put Fort San Cristóbal on the list of must-visit places to visit in Puerto Rico. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend giving it a look. Constructed to ward off attacks on Old San Juan, Fort San Cristóbal is especially fascinating for anyone interested in the rich history of Puerto Rico.
Obviously, the legacy attached to the fort isn’t the only thing worth exploring. The breathtaking beachside views it provides are themselves enough to warrant a visit. Visitors can go for a stroll around the sweeping fort, breathing in the fresh ocean air. Feeling adventurous? Delve beyond the fort’s beautiful courtyard to discover its dank, ancient dungeons.
All of this and more can be experienced in just one or two hours. This makes the fort a tourist attraction in Puerto Rico that can easily fit into most schedules. Don’t miss out!
Discover the Beauty and Wonder of a Tropical Vacation
Puerto Rico isn’t the only tropical destination worth visiting this year. There are countless adventures waiting for you in Hawaii, Aruba, Spain, and more.
Check out more of my favorite travel destinations in the blog posts below!