20 Amazing Experiences to See the Beauty of Puerto Rico & Get to Know its Culture
Puerto Rico > Best Things to Do in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico…The Island of Enchantment, The Land of a Thousand Blessings…we invite you to step outside the boundaries of your hotel and experience why this island is referred to this way…
We are blessed having all this beauty at our disposal to enjoy year-round, we spend a lot of time traveling the island, speaking with visitors, and putting together this guide in order to help you plan an unforgettable experience in Puerto Rico. Respecting everyone’s style of travel, we created a list of “Best things to do” to include a variety of activities, while also taking into consideration travel time, making this list more doable for the tourist not wishing to spend much time away on the road. For those with a more adventurous spirit, the great thing about Puerto Rico is its size, at only 100 x 35, no place or activity is too far from your hotel with some planning.
Most of the tourists arrive at the San Juan International Airport, the majority will choose a hotel in the capital city and nearby tourist districts. Some of the most impressive sights are in the capital city of San Juan, however, for those wanting to experience the true magic of Puerto Rico should check out our list of places beyond the city. We’ve had long conversations with thousands of visitors, the ones truly enchanted by the island venture out of the tourist hot spots, mingle with locals, and experience the true spirit of the island.
We hope you enjoy your visit to Puerto Rico.
We are not affiliated with any hotels or businesses on the island, what we write is independent of any advertisements. We gain nothing by losing your trust in our travel guides. We provide some links to tours you can book online for your convenience through GetyourGuide.com, a trusted online booking engine from which we get a small commission when you book. We assure you that it does not influence the inclusion of that particular activity nor do we endorse it, but we do appreciate supporting our efforts by booking through our site.
Spend a Day Walking the Streets of Old San Juan
Old San Juan is the cultural epicenter of Puerto Rico, an open living museum that houses over 500 historic buildings. As you walk around Old San Juan you can tour five-century old castles, churches, relaxed squares, restored buildings turned into interesting shops, excellent restaurants, and casual cafes. Old San Juan is constantly changing, offering something new and interesting to repeat visitors. Relax, ditch the map, take in the sights, sit at a square and have a cup of coffee, dance to the music playing, enjoy the company of your party…that’s what Old San Juan is all about.
If you’re short on time and you’ve never been to Old San Juan, be sure to visit at least one of the forts, then walk the streets (Calle del Cristo and Fortaleza are great), and simply do what catches your eye, that’s how you find YOUR special place in Old San Juan. You can do a self-guided tour, but if you wish to get the most of your visit, we recommend you book a guided tour.
While in San Juan, you can’t miss San Juan National Historic Site, which includes two of the most spectacular landmarks in Puerto Rico, the forts of Castillo San Cristóbal & Castillo San Felipe del Morro.
- Castillo San Felipe del Morro (known as El Morro) is one of the most beloved landmarks on the island rich in history, where many cultural events are held. Most Puerto Ricans have fond memories of flying a kite on the lawn, a must-do while here.
- Castillo San Cristobal is the largest of the two, a lot of fun for kids as they tour the tunnels, views are spectacular.
If you wish to tour both forts, you can follow our Calle Norzagaray Walking Tour.
Time to visit San Juan National Historic Site (Both forts) – At a relaxed pace, you can tour both forts and walk along Calle Norzagaray is a full morning/afternoon. You’ll need about 1.5 hours at each fort.
El Yunque National Rainforest – Luquillo / Rio Grande, Puerto Rico
El Yunque nominated as one of the natural wonders of the world is within reach, officially located in Rio Grande, on the east coast of Puerto Rico. Cool, breezy, crisp air, lush greens, and refreshing spring waters you can jump into. El Yunque National Rainforest is one of the reasons this island is called The Island of Enchantment, the forest is simply captivating and awe-inspiring.
Getting Here: Driving Distance from San Juan: 45 minutes. You can drive to El Yunque or hire a tour operator. You can do both El Yunque and a bioluminescent bay tour at Las Cabezas de San Juan in Fajardo.
Time Needed: If you wish to explore the best trails, you’ll need a full morning and afternoon. Stop by a bakery (Panaderia) in town, get sandwiches, and plenty of drinks before visiting.
Sun, Seclusion & Snorkeling
Let a catamaran or water taxi swept you off to Icacos, a secluded cay surrounded by turquoise clear water, with coral reefs teeming with colorful fish, you may find yourself swimming along with dolphins often seen here. You may feel like a kid on a playground, but be sure to take time to relax, take a walk along the beach with your loved one and simply be… from the white sand of Icacos be sure to take a few minutes to receive the benefits of color therapy by the shades of the Caribbean Sea.
Catamarans take a group to Icacos, if you’re the type who wants to enjoy a beach more to yourself, you can book a water taxi in advance to take you early in the morning. Catamarans are much fun, they take care of all the details, some include drinks, lunch, and most will arrange transportation from and to your hotel.
Experience the magic of bioluminescence…
This world-class attraction has been included by many travel experts as one of the “things to do before you die”, and one of the most romantic experiences in nature. This place is often described as magical, you have to see it to believe it, no video or photo can capture the magic. You may have seen bioluminescence on scenes of movies such as Avatar and Nim’s Island. You can book a kayaking tour, which allows you to be closer to the water, you can touch the magical waters with your hands, it looks like twinkling stars running down your fingers. Laguna Grande, located in the town of Fajardo, is the most convenient option for visitors staying on the metro and east coast of the island.
Spend a Day Swiming in one of the Best Beaches in the World… Flamenco Beach
Simple Perfection…World-class beach consistently ranked among the best in the world
Puerto Rico offers about 300 beaches, each offering something unique, you may be thinking…how much better can a beach really get? Once you get to Flamenco Beach, you’ll understand why it is one of the most glorified beaches around the world.
Flamenco is located on the sleepy island of Culebra, located off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. Be sure to make the day trip to Culebra, better yet, split your vacation by spending a few nights there and you’ll have bragging rights to visiting one of the best beaches of the planet.
Getting to Culebra: The most convenient way to spend a day in Culebra is by booking a catamaran cruise ahead online. If you wish to spend more than a day in Culebra, the most convenient way is by taking a short flight from San Juan Airport. Sadly, due to the poor management and reliability of the ferry system, we discourage travelers from taking the ferry.
Enjoy the countryside with an ATV Tour
We know is hard to get away from the blue coastline, but the green side of the island is also enchanting offering a fun, educational, and cultural experience the whole family will enjoy. Campo Rico is a Hacienda with trails perfect to explore by ATV a short distance from the city in Carolina. Campo Rico has stables with elegant Paso Fino horses, visitors can also go horseback riding on the Hacienda.
Arecibo Observatory – Arecibo, PR
World’s 2nd Largest Radiotelescope
For decades the Arecibo Observatory held the record of the largest radio telescope in the world until 2016 when China finished construction now holding the title, still, the Arecibo Observatory is named the most powerful radio telescope in the world. High in the karst region of the town of Arecibo, one of the most interesting man-made wonders in Puerto Rico and the world.
Cueva Ventana – Arecibo, PR
Prepare to be wowed at the window…
Photos are a disservice to Cueva Ventana, the scene you encounter at the window after hiking through the forest and passing through the dark cave is truly rewarding. The tour guides are bilingual and very friendly.
Need to Know: Average physical shape is necessary to make the walk. You’ll be stepping on boulders that service as steps once inside the cave, so be sure to wear appropriate non-slip sneakers/hiking boots (no sandals).
+ Tours to Cueva Ventana - Arecibo, Puerto Rico
Caja de Muertos Island – Ponce, PR
Gorgeous beach, hiking, snorkeling, bird watching…
Caja de Muertos, located off the coast of the city of Ponce on the south coast of the island. This island is one of the most underrated places in Puerto Rico. The island is a nature reserve, this is the kind of island a developer or cruise line would pay high dollar to acquire. The little accessibility has kept Caja de Muertos sort of a secret, that even a few residents of Puerto Rico have visited.
This uninhabited island is home to Playa Pelicano which has won the Blue Flag award for many years. You can enjoy a full day of beach-combing, suntanning, and snorkeling. If you’re staying in Ponce, Playa Pelicano is truly the only beach by our standards.
Getting there: Caja de Muertos is accessible from the town of Ponce. Driving distance from San Juan to Ponce is about 45 min to 1 hr depending on traffic. Island Ventures offers trips to Isla Caja de Muertos. See below for more information.
+ Tours to Caja de Muertos Island - Puerto Rico
Zip on the Longest Zip Line in the World
The Monster in Puerto Rico has been confirmed as the longest zipline cable worldwide by the Guinness World Records in Toro Verde Adventure Park in Orocovis, Puerto Rico. The new thrill ride is 7,234 feet long, or 28 football fields, and about 1,200 feet high.
Cabo Rojo Wildlife Refuge – Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico
Three amazing places attractions in one location – Los Morrillos Lighthouse, Las Salinas / The Salt Flats & La Playuela Beach (Playa Sucia)
The most breathtaking views on the island, moon-shaped beach cove, pink waters, hiking trails, natural bridges…a full day of adventures. This is one of the best day trips you can take in Puerto Rico, and practically free, all you need is a car rental to get here.
The most scenic location on the island is located in the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge. The Cabo Rojo Wildlife Refuge is an eco traveler paradise offering 4 attractions into one, hike along nature trails with scenic vistas, take a tour of the Salt Flats, visit La Playuela Beach, one the prettiest beach coves on the island. Visit the elegant Los Morrillos Lighthouse, and walk along the limestone cliffs with breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea, the most photographed natural bridge, and impressive rock formations.
Time Needed: Plan on spending at least a full morning or afternoon here, then head over to the village of Boqueron for a local nightlife experience.
A giant natural pool with a live aquarium underneath…
We adore this place…and so does everyone we know. So much fun for the kids, so romantic for couples, so connecting for nature lovers. The nickname says it all…”Gilligan’s Island”, a tiny paradise where one could easily dream of being lost away from it all. This tiny mangrove island formally named Cayo Aurora has the clearest water in Puerto Rico all year round. The bottom is white and the “pool” is shallow, making it safe for children to swim where they can see schools of fish swim around their feet. Romantic couples should get to the island early mid-week to pick the most intimate quiet spots. After a fun day, you can head to Copamarina Beach Resort for a nice lunch or dinner, it is the best place to dine nearby.
- Time Needed: Plan on spending a full morning or afternoon here. Mornings are best, during the summer afternoons tiny sandflies tend to come around.
- Getting there: Gilligan’s Island is a short ferry ride from the coast of Guanica.
- Places to Stay nearby: Copamarina Beach Resort
Swim with Sea Turtles at Tamarindo Grande Beach – Culebra, PR
Being on a beach is a great experience, but putting your head down where noise is canceled and senses are introduced to a new world where sea turtles gracefully glide in tempered waters over grass beds…are among the experiences that make Caribbean life so enviable. This is an activity you simply can’t miss while in Culebra.
Tamarindo Grande Beach is a protected cove with calm water offering easy access to the snorkeling site. You can drive to Tamarindo Grande Beach and snorkel on your own, or book a tour. This amazing beach is a popular spot for kayaking, you can paddle out to Luis Pena Marine Reserve where you can snorkel on the reefs, the scenery is stunning.
If you’re not staying in Culebra, there are tours available meeting up at Fajardo offering a full day of adventure. A day in Culebra and we can confidently say you’ll soon be planning a full week vacation there next.
Watch the Sunset in Rincon, Puerto Rico
Visit Rincon for the beaches and stay until the end of the day for the sunset. The residents of Rincon argue they enjoy the best sunsets on the island and we can’t deny it, the other contestant for the best sunsets in Puerto Rico is the town of Cabo Rojo, about an hour and 45 minutes from Rincon.
Go Beach Hopping in Vieques
Go on a treasure hunt for YOUR perfect beach…
Vieques must be the best beach hopping destination in the Caribbean. The island is only 21×5 miles making it easy to explore many beaches without wasting precious vacation time driving. Driving is a fun adventure on its own, no major highways or street lights, just narrow dirt roads surrounded by lush flora with views of the Caribbean pulling you towards its shores. Once in Vieques, you’ll be in awe at how many beach coves there are to explore, each with their own unique qualities, impossible to say which is best. If you’re short on time, head to the Wildlife Refuge on the south side, the calmest and clearest water beaches are hidden there. If you only have a day in Vieques, you can walk from Esperanza Beach to Sun Bay.
Museo de Arte de Ponce
A must visit for art lovers…
Museo de Arte de Ponce is the most prestigious art museum in Puerto Rico, one of the most well known across the Caribbean.
“The Ponce Museum of Art is recognized worldwide as an important center of European art in America, and continues to offer its visitors a rich panorama of Western art, from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century. Two strong points within the European collection are Baroque art and Victorian painting.”
“The permanent collection consists of 4,500 paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, ceramics, three-dimensional objects, photographs, engravings, drawings, videos and installations of sound art. The works of art span 30 centuries (from 900 BC to the present) and come from Europe, America, and Africa. In 1956 Luis A. Ferré established a foundation that bears his name and acquired his first group of European paintings for the future museum in Ponce that opened in 1959.”
Don’t miss the impressive and captivating Flaming June by Frederic Leighton.
Eat Pork at Guavate
Puerto Ricans love pork and to those that wish to have the best foodie experience to savor the best pork on the island should head uphill into the cool mountains of Cayey. You’ll be driving past many restaurants competing for the title of best pork on the island. The best time to go, although busy, is on the weekends, where you’ll find a lively crowd, live music, and dancing in some establishments. We don’t wish to name a particular restaurant to be fair, but a good indicator of the best places is the crowds.
Hang out at a Plaza
To observe the best architecture and European charm of Puerto Rico, visitors ought to visit a plaza (square), considered the center of each municipality. At the plazas, you’ll find a Catholic church, the Alcaldia (Mayor’s Government Office), local shops, cafes, and small restaurants typically serving traditional Puerto Rican food. The best part of visiting a plaza is seeing locals just sitting down speaking to friends over a cup of coffee. Be sure to stop by the table of dominos where abuelitos (grandpas) enjoy the most beloved game, dominos, they’re happy to chat and show off their game.
Our favorite plazas are Plaza de Armas, in Old San Juan, Plaza Colon in Mayaguez (west region), the plaza in San German (the only town with two squares), and the plaza in the town of Dorado, one of the few remaining traditional plazas left on the island.
Camuy River Cave Park “Parques de Las Cavernas del Rio Camuy” – Camuy, PR
The third-largest underground river in the world…
Even if you’re not into caves, you’ll be mesmerized by the Camuy River Cave Park, one of the most impressive natural attractions of Puerto Rico. Camuy River Cave Park is the third-largest underground river in the world and not to be missed. You can do both the Cave Park and the following Arecibo Observatory in one morning or afternoon.
Getting Here: Driving time from San Juan is about an hour with traffic. See maps on pages for directions.
Time Needed: You can do both the Cave Park and the Arecibo Observatory in one full morning or afternoon.