Puerto Rico Travel Guide
Puerto Rico Summary
- Stunning white-sand beaches with Atlantic or Caribbean waters
- Beautiful colonial architecture, especially in San Juan and the southwest
- Warm year-round -- though summer can be hot and steamy
- Wonderful criolla (local) food and some of the world's best coffee
- Hopping nightlife, especially in Santurce, Condado, and other parts of San Juan
- Over 20 forest reserves, including El Yunque a famous rainforest
- Great surf, especially along the north and west coasts around Rincon
- Gorgeous smaller islands like Vieques and Culebra to the east
- No need to trade currency or get a passport for U.S. citizens
- Amazing rum distilleries -- some of the oldest in the region
- English is relatively widely spoken
- Travel through the countryside means tiny two-lane highways
- Poor public transportation, with no island-wide bus or rail service
- Taxi rates on the island can be exorbitant
- Expensive hotel prices compared to other countries in the Caribbean
- Hurricane season from September to November
Puerto Rico was severely affected by Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Many businesses, including hotels and resorts, are closed. We will update our travel guide as soon as we have more information.
What It's Like
Though it's struggled under the yoke of colonialism and imperialism for centuries, Puerto Rico has a culture that runs proud and deep. And that -- more than any other aspect of this stunning island -- makes it a truly special place to visit. Political inclinations aside, there's no denying the magnetic pull of its mixed traditions -- blending indigenous, African, Spanish, and American influences -- all alongside gorgeous white-sand beaches, mouth-watering local cuisine, and nightlife that burns hot. Is it paradise? Due to the United States' ongoing oppression and mismanagement of the island's economy, not exactly (particularly not for locals), but Puerto Rico's draw isn't dimming any time soon.
This certainly isn't a deserted tropical island. In fact, almost every corner of Puerto Rico buzzes with activity -- particularly around San Juan, Ponce, Fajardo, and the northwest coast. Of course, the mountain interiors still feel untouched and rugged, and the southwest just might win all of the awards for long expanses of untouched land and pristine beaches. In any case, whether you want to perreo or dance salsa in lively nightclubs, or lazily recline on a beach for days, Puerto Rico has plenty of options.
Most travelers will touch down in San Juan, and it would be a shame to give this fascinating city a pass -- it's one of the most underrated metropolises in the Western Hemisphere, and is a cosmopolitan city with lots to offer any traveler. Yes, taxis can be expensive, and some neighborhoods definitely aren't safe, but San Juan's core is a great place to explore. This starts with the picture-perfect cobblestone streets of Old San Juan, where art galleries and foodie spots sit next to casinos and centuries-old forts. Across the lagoon, neighborhoods like beachfront Condado -- which gives South Beach a run for its money -- and hipster-heavy Santurce (home to both an annual street art festival and La Placita) are swarming with locals day and night. Heading east from Condado, the city has seemingly limitless ocean beaches, all blessed with warm water, white sand, and -- if you venture out to locals-only Pinones -- amazing food from beachside shacks.
You'll need to rent a car in Puerto Rico if you want to explore the island, as public transportation isn't exactly reliable. But once you have your own wheels, a network of well-kept highways connects the island's major destinations (mostly around its perimeter). Head west from San Juan and you end up in Puerto Rico's surfer-friendly northwest, where Rincon has become a de facto hub for laid-back vibes and simple, beachy crash-pads. Moving south from there leads to Cabo Rojo, which is home to some of the island's most pristine beaches, particularly La Playeula (also known as Bahia Sucia). Both are embedded in nature preserves that draw migrating wildlife in season. East and inland a bit from Cabo Rojo is Ponce. This funky little city has an atmosphere that blends mid-century modern with colonial styles, and is home to one of the best art museums in the Caribbean, the Ponce Museum of Art.
Outdoor pursuits are a big deal in Puerto Rico as well, as the island continues to look toward adventure- and eco-tourism to help set it apart from other Caribbean destinations. These include working coffee plantations in the mountains, body-rafting the island's rushing rivers in Arecibo, touring famous El Yunque rainforest, braving the world's longest zip-line courses, and visiting its many famous cave systems, like Camuy. On Vieques, visiting the island's bioluminescent bay is a must-do activity (though exploring its many secluded beaches alone can take many, many bliss-filled days).
Where to Stay
Prices in Puerto Rico are similar to those in the U.S., and the hotel offerings are varied, from luxury resorts to government-sponsored inns to chain hotels. Public transportation can be hard to find, though the island is fairly easily navigate by car -- at least around its perimeter. Travelers wanting big-city appeal alongside history and the beach should opt for San Juan. There, Old San Juan is best for those in town on short stays, as it puts photo-ready colonial sights alongside cafes, restaurants, and galleries galore. Those wanting to feel a bit of Miami-style buzz (and beach) should opt for high-end Condado, while Santurce is best for travelers who like locals-only neighborhoods. Isla Verde is more low key and has one of San Juan's best beaches -- plus hotels that are a bit cheaper than right in the center.
In eastern Puerto Rico, you’ll find big resorts, nature reserves, miles of beautiful beaches and luxury living. Head to the western side of the island to be close to charming towns like Ponce, the forest reserves in Boqueron, and the beaches of Rincon and Cabo Rojo. Aguadilla Airport (BQN) is a fine option for those planning to bypass San Juan and the east. Travelers wanting secluded island appeal should opt for Vieques or Culebra, accessible by ferry or plane.
- San Juan: A business and tourist hub with preserved Spanish colonial architecture, shops, bars, restaurants, and bustling nightclubs
- Northeast: A short drive from San Juan, this area is densely populated, but low-key and home to beautiful rainforests and secluded beaches
- Northwest: World-class surfing, natural wonders, and some of the best beaches on the island; Aguadilla, Rio Camuy Cave Park and Rincon are main draws, but also Dorado, with its golf courses and casinos
- Southwest: Arguably the island's most beautiful region, with white-sand beaches, forest reserves, exotic birds, phosphorescent waters, charming colonial architecture, and opulent villas
- Southeast: It's the land of contrasts, with luxury living, golf courses, miles of beautiful sandy beaches, and undeveloped areas.
- The Islands: The most famous offshore islands are Culebra and Vieques, with clear waters, breathtaking beaches, and coral reefs; uninhabited Isla Mona has beautiful soaring violet cliffs