Known for its lush rainforest, gorgeous natural attractions, and thriving cultural scene, Puerto Rico is full of beautiful places to explore and plenty of things to do. From swimming along a 22-mile undersea wall to grabbing a cocktail inside the 16th-century Viejo San Juan, there's an adventure for every type of traveler on the island. Whether you'd rather bask in the beauty of nature or you want to learn something about Puerto Rican history and traditions, you'll find something you can enjoy on your trip to PR any time of year.
El Yunque National Forest is located in northeastern Puerto Rico, a few miles southwest of Luquillo. Yunque means "The Anvil," and the rainforest is so named for the flat peak in its center that resembles the anvil of some ancient deity, according to local legend.
As for what makes it a spectacular natural treasure, the rainforest is home to 150 native fern species and 240 unique tree species. It has no large fauna, but the musical and colorful coquí tree frog, the rare Puerto Rican parrot, and the pygmy anole are among the creatures that call it home. When you find yourself under its leafy canopy, listening to birdsong and rushing water, you'll understand why it ranks as Puerto Rico's top natural attraction.
A biobay is named for its phosphorescence, which is caused by a concentration of tiny creatures called dinoflagellates that give off light whenever they are agitated. When the concentration is strong enough, the effect is a magical neon glow that will take your breath away. There are only five biobays in the world, and three of them are in Puerto Rico—including Vieques Biobay.
Known locally as Bahía Bioluminiscente a Puerto Mosquito (Bioluminescent Bay at Port Mosquito), Vieques Biobay is located on on the south-central shore of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques between Esperanza and Puerto Diablo. Enter the biobay by boat or kayak and marvel at as the dinoflagellates light up when they come in contact with your oar, hand, and boat.
Known in Puerto Rico as Parque Nacional de las Cavernas del Río Camuy, the Camuy River Cave National Park is home to one of the largest cave systems in the world, which was formed by the third-largest underground river on earth.
Take a guided tour through the beautifully-illuminated and sculpted caverns to learn about the riverways that formed the cave system out of limestone. Alternatively, if you're feeling a bit more adventurous, try spelunking (caving) yourself to dive deeper into the caves than the guided tours allow. Note: Due to damage from Hurricane Maria in 2017, parts of the caves are undergoing renovations and may be inaccessible to guests.
Puerto Rico is a much-loved dive destination, and its most famous dive spot is The Wall. Off the Southwest coast of Puerto Rico near La Parguera, The Parguera Wall runs for 22 miles and features incredible drop-offs and visibility from 60 to 150 feet below the surface.
The diversity and quantity of marine life found here are astounding and include octopi, sharks, rays, and a tremendous variety of fish, and La Parguera is also home to a rare forest of black coral. Beneath the water, it is Puerto Rico's most stunning natural resource.
Less famous than El Yunque, the Guánica Dry Forest is nonetheless a natural treasure in its own right. One of the best-preserved subtropical dry forests in the Caribbean, Guánica is home to a United Nations Biosphere Reserve. Within its 1,000 acres of arid land are more than 600 uncommon types of flora and fauna as well as 48 endangered species, 16 of which are unique to Puerto Rico.
Hikers who visit Guánica find a totally different experience from EL Yunque, but one that is also pretty special. Known locally as Bosque Estatal de Guánica and maintained by the Departmento de Recursos Naturales (Department of Natural Resources), Guánica offers miles of hiking trails and stunning views of the bay and lighthouse ruins from a 16th-century fort, Fort Caprón.
Find the Coquí Tree Frog
The coquí is a tiny little frog endemic to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands that serves as the unofficial mascot of the island. You'll find its image everywhere, and you'll hear its song anytime you get closer to nature. The frog also produces an amazingly clear, high-pitched call that sounds like "coquí," which is where it gets its name. Fortunately, no matter where you go on the islands—but especially in the forests—you're sure to find these small creatures hopping around the ground.
If you're a fan of extreme sports and risk-taking, Puerto Rico is an island unlike any other for exciting activities high above the ground. From ziplining and helicopter tours to hang gliding and skydiving, there's no shortage of high-flying adventure in Puerto Rico.
- Ziplines: Get a birds-eye view of the lush nature of the island at Toro Verde Nature Adventure Park, which offers one of the longest zip lines in the world, or stop by the Rainforest Zipline Park in the Rio Grande region for a shorter but still awe-inspiring ride.
- Helicopter Tours: Take a city, mountain, or coastal tour of the island from San Juan in the comfort of a passenger helicopter with Vertical Solutions or Puerto Rico Helitours.
- Parasailing: Take to the sky while being pulled behind a boat at any number of paragliding companies around the island. In Fajardo, check out A&J Adventures; in Rincón, visit Flying Fish Parasail; and in San Juan, look for Watersports4U right on Isla Verde Beach.
- Skydiving: There's nothing quite like seeing Puerto Rico as you rapidly approach it from above. Try skydiving from Arecibo with Xtreme Divers or at various locations across the island with Puerto Rican Skydiving.
- Hang Gliding: Take off from one of the many mountains in Puerto Rico and glide down to the valley below on one of these hang gliding tours. Team Spirit offers comprehensive hang gliding tours in Canovanas, near Punta Santiago.
Built to protect the city of Old San Juan from land attacks in 1783, Fort San Cristóbal is the largest Spanish fortification in the New World. Covering 17 acres, this fortress also includes Castillo San Felipe del Morro, the San Juan Gate, and Fort San Juan de la Cruz. While there, explore the history of San Juan's first woman mayor at the Museo de Doña Fela, take a walk on the Paseo del Morro recreation trail, or marvel at La Puerta de San Juan, which was constructed in 1635 as the main gate for the city.
Located about 20 miles east of Puerto Rico on the island of Culebra, Flamenco Beach is only accessible by charter flight or ferry from the mainland. However, this secluded beach is perfect for families, snorkelers, and travelers who just want to get away from the crowds during their vacations.
Flamenco Beach is free to enjoy, as are the bathrooms and shows that can be found on-site. Additionally, you'll find a number of kiosks along the white sand beach selling inexpensive refreshments and renting out umbrellas and chairs. If you find Flamenco Beach too crowded, try out other popular beaches on Culebra including Zoni, Carlos Rosario, Soldier's Point, and Resaca Beach as well as playas Melones, Tamarindo, and Tortuga.
Over the years since it stopped being used as a bombing range for the U.S. Navy, Vieques has become home to a herd of over 2,000 "feral horses." Although these creatures started as domestic horses during World War II, they were released by their owners after the military training stopped and became more wild with each new generation. No matter where you go on the island of Vieques, you'll likely see a large herd of these beautiful horses—who likely belong to the Paso Fino breed—roaming the fields and forests.
Located on the southern coast of Puerto Rico, Ponce is the second-largest city on the island and home to a rich, diverse culture. Popular attractions in the city include the Ponce Art Museum, the Parque de Bombas 1882 firehouse, and Paseo Tablado la Guancha, a historic seaside boardwalk with a variety of restaurants and bars.
Each year, the events' calendar of the city is dominated by the Ponce Carnival, which rivals Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Carnivale across the Caribbean. The celebration usually takes place in February, but always occurs in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.
Also known as Isla de Los Monos (Island of the Monkeys), Cayo Santiago is a small island less than a mile off the east coast of Punta Santiago in Humacao, Puerto Rico. In order to visit the monkey sanctuary, which is overseen by the University of Puerto Rico's Caribbean Primate Research Center, you'll need to make a request at least four weeks in advance and have a special medical clearance form filled out before arrival. Daily trips to Cayo Santiago are available from Punta Santiago, and a two-bedroom trailer-house is offered for interns and volunteers of the research center.
San Juan, the capital and largest city of Puerto Rico, is also its cultural center and nightlife/entertainment hub. From the historic forts and streets of Old San Juan to the bustling modern bars and restaurants across the city, there's plenty to see and do in San Juan any time of year. For a great evening in the city, dine out on Fortaleza Street's Restaurant Row and take a sunset stroll along Paseo la Princesa, a broad promenade that runs from the docks at the base of the city to Raíces Fountain; then head out to chic lounges and funky bars across the city for a night of drinks and dancing.
Go Swimming at El Charco Azul
Accessible via a short, clear jungle path about 15 minutes from Guavate, Charco Azul is a deep, blue freshwater swimming hole located in the middle of the Carite Forest. While you'll likely find a crowd at this popular swimming spot on the weekends, the pool is relatively quiet during the week.
To get to El Charco Azul, take Route 184 south from Guavete about 15 minutes until you get to the Charco Azul Recreation Area, which should be well-marked. As you walk down the marked path to the pool, you'll find a variety of camping and picnic areas throughout the recreation area. While free to use, the small lake is only open for swimming on Tuesdays through Sundays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Said to contain the largest number of cave drawings in the region, La Cueva del Indio is a Natural Reserve managed by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources. Located in Las Piedras, this prehistoric rock art site is a great place to see the early history of mankind on the island. The cave drawings date back to the Late Ceramic Period—from A.D. 1200 to 1500.
Located in the Arecibo municipality of Puerto Rico in the middle of the forest, the Observatorio de Arecibo (Arecibo Observatory) is the largest radio telescope in the world. Operated by the University of Central Florida, Yang Enterprises, and UMET as well as the U.S. National Science Foundation, this massive telescope also features a visitor center where guests can learn about the history of the telescope, watch how astronomers work, and see live images the telescope is taking of deep space.
Puerto Rican cuisine offers a unique combination of ingredients, cultures, and serving styles—the native Taíno Indians, the Spanish conquistadores, and the African slaves that were brought to Puerto Rico all influence the modern dishes you'll find across the island. While you're in Puerto Rico, don't miss out on mofongo, a tasty dish made of mashed plantains, seasonings, and a variety of fillings, which you can usually find at roadside shacks and most local eateries. Other popular dishes to keep in mind include lechón asado, arroz con gandules, asopao de pollo, and alcapurrias, Puerto Rican stuffed fritters, for dessert.
No matter when you visit the island, you're almost certain to find a party, festival, or major holiday celebration happening in at least one of Puerto Rico's cities. From El Día de Los Tres Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day) on January 6 to close out the Christmas season to the Saborea Food Festival in April, there's no shortage of great events happening every year in Puerto Rico.