A Travelers Guide to Puerto Rico

El Morro Fort at Sunset in Puerto Rico
Matt Anderson Photography/Getty Images

It’s hard to believe that a destination this exotic is not only close to the United States (2.5 hours from Miami) but also part of it. When you travel to Puerto Rico, you’ll discover gorgeous white sandy beaches, delicious food, fascinating Spanish history, and extraordinary natural attractions that include a rain forest and a bay where you can swim at night surrounded by millions of tiny, glowing creatures.

Located between the Carribean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, east of the island nation of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico has a total area of 3,508 square miles and uses the United States dollar as its official currency—you don't even need a passport to travel to this American territory.

Following Christopher Columbus’ arrival in 1493, the local Taíno Indians were first enslaved, then decimated by disease while African slaves took their place as laborers. The island was first ruled by the Spanish until 1898 when Spain ceded the island to the United States, but it wasn't until 1917 that Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens and even later, in 1952, when Puerto Rico became a commonwealth of the United States.

Present-day Puerto Rico is a major tourist destination, and Puertorriqueños take pride in their unique combination of heritages: African, Taíno (Amerindians), Spanish and North American; plan your next trip with information from our handy guide below and experience the beauty and magic of Puerto Rico for yourself.

Getting to Puerto Rico

Whether you decide to visit Puerto Rico by airplane or by boat, there are a number of great ways to get to this small island territory. Just make sure to compare prices and plan your trip according to what you'd most like to get out of your journey—the Puerto Rico Tourism Company can be a great resource for planning your adventure.

You can fly into the capital of San Juan via the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport into the popular tourist city Aguidilla via the Rafael Hernández International Airport. Alternatively, you can visit Ponce directly via the Mercedita International Airport or fly into Vieques through the Antonio Rivera Rodríguez Airport.

If traveling from the southern United States, especially Florida and other Gulf Coast states, you can also hop on any number of cruises with stops in San Juan and other popular tourist cities. The Royal Carribean cruise liner, for instance, offers a cruise that touches many of the islands in the Carribean including Puerto Rico.

Activities, Attractions, and Beach Life on the Island

With average year-round temperatures in the mid-80s, Puerto Rico's an island of outdoor adventure and beautifully relaxing beaches, however, visitors should be cautious when visiting from June through November as this time of year is considered hurricane season.

If you're a fan of history and culture, be sure to stroll around the historic district of Old San Juan with its pastel-colored Spanish-style homes, and visit El Morro, a fort built by the Spanish in 1540. For nature fans, El Yunque Rain Forest, located 24 miles southeast of San Juan, is another must-see, with wonderful hikes that take you past waterfalls and natural pools.

Mona Island offers snorkelers and scuba divers exceptional visibility and a huge variety of marine life including turtles and octopuses. Hope for a cloudy night so you can take a mystical, nighttime swim in the bioluminescent bay on the island of Vieques or in Fajardo.

For those looking for more of a relaxing vacation on America's island territory, Puerto Rico has some of the best beaches in the world. Luquillo Beach near San Juan is great for families, with excellent facilities and lots of restaurant options.

On the island of Culebra, Playa Flamenco is considered one of Puerto Rico’s loveliest beaches, with soft, pure white sands that strike a vivid contrast to the surrounding green foliage.

Playa Zoni is also picturesque and more secluded. Boquerón Beach, near the charming village of the same name, is more than a mile long but can get crowded on weekends. Discover which Puerto Rico beach is right for you and plan your visit accordingly!

Hotels, Resorts, and Accommodations on the Island

Puerto Rico offers plenty of resorts and hotels, many on or near a beach. The Horned Dorset Primavera, located in the surfing hotspot Rincon, is one of the most romantic. However, if you’re the type to get bored easily, book a stay at the El Conquistador Resort & Golden Door Spa, where activities include watersports, horseback riding, golf, tennis, a spa, a casino, a marina, and, for escapists, a private island.

Lower-key options in Puerto Rico can be a great way to save money; these include B&Bs, guesthouses, villas, and paradores (country inns) as well as renting personally from island residents on apps and websites like Airbnb. You can also stay at one of the many San Juan Casino Hotels if you've got an itch for gambling during your visit.

Restaurants, Dive Bars, and Cuisine

Puerto Rican restaurants serve traditional Criolla food (a blend of Taíno, Spanish and African influences) as well as just about every international cuisine. Mofongo, a favorite island dish consisting of mashed green plantains fried with garlic and other seasonings, can be served plain or stuffed with meat or seafood.

Look for restaurants participating in the Mesones Gastronomicos Program if you want to sample traditional dishes. San Juan has a wonderful selection of restaurants, from upscale fine dining to familiar U.S. chain eateries, while other cities, especially those that are further inland, will offer a wide selection of local and international fare.

For more information on Puerto Rico restaurants and cuisine, you can browse popular review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor to see what locals and tourists alike are saying about the many restaurants spread across the island territory.

Special Events, Festivals, and Nightlife

Whether you're in town specifically to attend a big festival or special event or you're just looking for something to do on a night out in Puerto Rico, the thriving culture of this small island territory offers a wide array of entertainment to locals and tourists alike.

The Casals Festival, a classical music festival in late February and early March, draws many international guest conductors, orchestras, and soloists to San Juan's Performing Arts Center while Puerto Rico’s Carnival features float parades, dancing, and street parties and takes place the week before Ash Wednesday.

June’s Heineken Jazz Festival is a big draw, and November marks the start of baseball season—occasionally, you even may find a Major League Baseball player doing a stint with a Puerto Rican team in the offseason.

Whether you’re looking for bars, salsa, casinos, performing arts or discos, San Juan is the place to go. Be warned, though, that things heat up very late here and keep on going until the wee hours. Most of the hotels in Condado-Isla Verde have casinos, but you should check out the Ritz-Carlton for a luxury stay. In Old San Juan you’ll find many bars lining Calle San Sebastián. Pick up a copy of Qué Pasa, the visitor's guide, for events listings.

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