Beginner’s guide to Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a relatively small island, measuring only 100 miles and 30 miles wide. But this island is jam-packed with excitement. The island caters towards a wide variety of people: those who are searching adventure, those looking to come home with a great tan, history buffs, and those who want a little bit of everything.
The best way to tour the island is to rent a car. There is public transit in San Juan, but the rest of the island’s excitement lies in outside the city limits.
Below I’ve broken down Puerto Rico into three different types of tour, including the highlights for each.
Highlights – Surfing in Rincon; Hiking and zip lining in El Yunque; Snorkeling and biobay tour in La Parguera; Cave spelunking
First, venture through the hidden labyrinths of cave systems all over Puerto Rico. Start at Cuevo del Indio in Arecibo, west of San Juan. Careful for the water that will be flooding the cave’s floors occasionally! Explore this cave if you love “off road” adventures. Other caves you can explore are Cueva Ventana (the Window Cave), this is a famous landmark of Puerto Rico, and Las Cuevas de Camuy (Camuy Caves).
Venture further west and visit Rincon, the home of the surfers in Puerto Rico. Rincon is well-known for its semi-rough waves, perfect to host world-wide surfing competitions. Along the coast, there are dozens of surfer shacks you can stay at and try to tame the waves with your board.
My favorite memory from my trip to Puerto Rico was swimming under the moon’s light and stars in a bioluminescent bay in La Parguera, located on the south edge of Puerto Rico. A bioluminescent bay is a bay where light-emitting organisms live. When these organisms are moved around they produce a green glow (it looks blue in photos). I went on a fantastic tour in La Paguera to see the bio bay there. Two other bio bays are located in Puerto Rico at Fajardo, the eastern part of the island, and in Vieques, a small island off the eastern coast. La Parguera was my favorite tour because you were able to swim in the bays to make it glow. Other tours you kayak or boat through the bays.
Your final stop is in the western part of Puerto Rico. Explore the only rainforest that is part of the United States National Park Service, El Yunque. Many of the parks main natural attractions are located along the roadside, easy access for tourists to jump out their cars and snap a quick photo. But I encourage you to trek further into the rainforest and see what lies in the quieter parts of the misty wilderness. One of the easiest and most-recommended hikes is La Mina Falls Hike. It’s completely worth it.
Highlights – Culebra and Vieques
Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are located in Culebra and Vieques, two small islands located off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. Vieques is also known for the wild horses that inhabit the island. Both of these islands have an abundance of beaches for you to choose from to watch the sunset and bum the day away under the sun. In Vieques, I bummed at the Sun Bay beach, a small secluded beach located near the Nature Reserve on the island.
In Culebra, visit Flamenco Beach, voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Also make sure to visit the colorful, painted tanks on Flamenco Beach. They have a rich history behind them and also make for a great Instagram photo.
History buffs tour:
Highlights – Ponce, San Juan, Jayuya.
San Juan is considered the central hub for most tourist that visit Puerto Rico. The city is rich with history. Some of San Juan’s historic highlights include the gates of San Juan, El Morro and Cristobal, Viejo San Juan and Barrachina, where the Pina Colada originated.
Spend a few days in San Juan to absorb the rich and vibrant nightlife of San Juan, then jump into a rental car and venture to more of the secluded gems on the island.
The caves, located west of San Juan, are artifacts of the Taino Indians. Taino Indians were some of the first inhabitants of the island. See Taino Indian hieroglyphics at Cueva del Indio. These caves are on the shoreline and offer a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean.
Your next destination stop should be venturing the mountains of Puerto Rico. Inside Puerto Rico’s beach infested rim, lies rolling hills and mountainous terrain. In the mountain lies Puerto Rico’s world-renowned coffee plantations. Take a tour of the plantations and see up close what goes into making Puerto Rico’s lust-worthy cup of java.
Further south is Puerto Rico’s Mecca for museums and art, Ponce. Many art and architecture enthusiasts call Ponce home. Ponce, located in southern Puerto Rico, boasts an abundance of museums and impeccable Spanish-inspired architecture. Spend an afternoon basking in Ponce’s colorful city center, or spend a few days hoping to each museum and soak in the culture’s history.
El Yunque, Bioluminescent bays, La Solpaera waterfall in the mountains
Vieques, Culebra and on the mainland: Isla Verde, Isla La Mujeres, Rincon
Tropical activities you cannot pass up-
Snorkeling, hiking in the rainforest and mountains, exploring caves and splashing in waterfalls. Other than the obvious, relax on the beach, Puerto Rico has a lot to offer.
Whatever you decide to see and experience in Puerto Rico, the inviting island is rich in culture and will offer you a trip of a lifetime.