Are you considering a trip to Puerto Rico? Don’t hesitate to cross this one off your bucket list. With all that there is to see and do in Puerto Rico, it’s now become one of my favourite places. This place literally has it all. It has a diverse tropical landscape with mountains and waterfalls, endless white sand beaches and an undeniably rich history. Puerto Rico is definitely a Caribbean treasure. If you are planning a vacation to Puerto Rico, I hope some of this is helpful information. Read on for details about hiking in Puerto Rico, and beaches in Puerto Rico. You will agree, there are so many places to visit in Puerto Rico!
How did I end up on a Vacation in Puerto Rico?
My trip to Puerto Rico was pretty spontaneous. I was in Orlando for a work trip, and I wanted to see where else I could visit while in the area. So, I looked all the cheap flights available from there. Of all the nearby destination options, Puerto Rico was the one I chose to visit. I’m definitely glad I did. A vacation in Puerto Rico, is a great add on to a Florida vacation! Before I knew it, I was researching and planning a Puerto Rican vacation!
Is Puerto Rico a State?
It isn’t a state, but it is a US territory. US currency is used there as well, meaning that for US travelers, traveling to Puerto Rico is almost like taking a domestic trip.
How much English can you Expect to in Puerto Rico?
English is the joint official language in Puerto Rico along with Spanish, which means you will be able to communicate without much problem. In the city I found that almost everyone spoke some English, but as I traveled to the less touristy areas, there were actually very few who spoke English.
Old San Juan
I started off my vacation in Puerto Rico in Old San Juan, and I could not get over how colourful it was. Plus, it was also very clean. As you walk through the area, you’ll see brightly coloured houses along the cobblestone streets. You’ll wander through plazas where you can find some shade amongst cafes and restaurants serving delicious food.
In its entirety, this area consists of seven square blocks with nearly 400 colourful Spanish-colonial buildings. There’s 16th century history all around, and so much to photograph.
There are a lot of great places to visit in Puerto Rico, but there is so much to see in Old San Juan alone. So much so, that I would recommend waking up early and getting out before the crowds if you want to take photos. You will be missing out if you don’t get out to explore this area during your vacation in San Juan.
Old San Juan is just seven square blocks with nearly 400 colorful Spanish-colonial buildings. You will be missing out if you don’t get out to explore this area during your visit.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro
I started off my trip to Puerto Rico by visiting Castillo San Felipe del Morro (aka El Morro). This is one of the most popular and significant landmarks in Puerto Rico. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site. El Morro is right by the water and this 16th Century fort was built to protect the city from an invasion. If you have time during your visit, I highly recommend that you stop by.
A Few Fun Facts about Castillo San Felipe del Morro…
Puerto Rico translates to “rich port” in English. The island was called this because it helped Spain protect all of the riches it was getting from the New World (gems, spices, gold and silver from Central and South America).
This Spanish colonial fort served as Spain’s control point over most of the Caribbean. Over the centuries, the fort was attacked by the English, Dutch, America and even hurricanes but it still stands and it is a symbol of pride for Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico means “rich port” and it was called this because it helped Spain protect all of the riches it was getting from the New World (gems, spices, gold and silver from Central and South America).
This Spanish colonial fort served as Spain’s control point over most of the Caribbean. Over the centuries, the fort was attached by the English, Dutch, America and even hurricanes but it still stands and it is a symbol of pride for Puerto Rico. Don’t miss out on learning about the history of the area when on a vacation in Puerto Rico.
La Perla is yet another destination without which your trip to Puerto Rico would not be complete. It is located just outside the city walls of Old San Juan and is a community that is full of history….and also so much colour!
The recently popular music video, Despacito, undoubtedly brought a ton of tourism to this area. However, this bright and colourful barrio was already initiating some big changes in the years leading up to the filming of the video. The community had started painting their structures those beautifully vibrant colours they’re so famous for today. They had also begun painting the murals that now decorate the squares and many areas throughout the neighbourhood.
The location of their town was already in their favour—after all, La Perla has an amazing view of the Atlantic Ocean. Leaders of its community only hope these changes can continue bringing further tourists who are traveling to Puerto Rico into La Perla. This can continue contributing to more growth and business development in the area.
Specifically, this community is located right in between the forts of San Cristobal and El Morro, two of the most significant historical landmarks in Puerto Rico. A vacation in San Juan must include at least a half day trip in La Perla!
Where to Stay
Hotel El Convento
Hotel El Convento was built in 1646 as a convent. It housed nuns for 252 years until closing in 1903. It then served as a store, a dance hall and a flophouse before opening as a luxury hotel in 1962. 1646….that is old!
Is Hotel El Convento Haunted, or not?
In the 1600’s, the pendulum clock was invented and the US still consisted of colonies. I love all the history here. I am told that it is haunted, but I didn’t see or hear anything while I stayed there.
What else is around Hotel El Convento?
The Hotel El Convento is located right in Old San Juan, so it is a perfect location to stay while you explore that area. Old San Juan is home to museums and historical landmarks, as well as great restaurants and night life. Hotel El Convento is conveniently located within walking distance of most of them and only 15 minutes away from the airport.
Are there Food Options Near Hotel El Convento?
I ate a few times at Patio de Nispero which is located in Hotel El Convento. It has a gourmet menu of delicious and authentic Puerto Rican food. I was able to get gluten and dairy free meals here which were incredibly good.
A special thanks to Harold for taking my photos while I was on vacation in Puerto Rico. If you need a photographer…definitely contact him!
La Concha Resort
After staying in Old San Juan I wanted to spend the second half of my stay close to the water, so I went to the La Concha Resort. La Concha Resort is luxury hotel located on Condado beach with a full-service spa, infinity pools, bars and restaurants. Condado is one of the most popular tourist beaches for those on vacation in San Juan. I highly recommend checking out a few locations while on your vacation in Puerto Rico.
I had the most wonderful stay here. They have multiple infinity pools but I think this one was my favourite with the wind-sculpted palm trees hugging the ocean.
The view from my oceanfront room was gorgeous and it was amazing to wake up to each morning. You can see palm trees and crystal blue water as far as the eye could see. A resort can definitely be a great way to see the beaches in Puerto Rico. Exploring all the beaches in a must when on vacation in Puerto Rico.
What Dining Options are at La Concha?
At the La Concha resort there are several dining options….and even a special gluten free menu. I highly recommend their gluten free pancakes!
Surfing is big in Puerto Rico, which was a surprise to me. The best surfs spots on the island are on the west coast, between Isabela, Rincon and Aguadilla. Here is a map of the best surfing spots on the island.
There are many surf schools in Puerto Rico, so if you want to learn, this trip would be a great opportunity for you. I took a lesson at the Courtyard Isla Verde…..Isla Verde beach is a great spot to learn, because of the small, steady, well-formed waves. I had never surfed before and I was so happy because I got up during my lesson!!!
Getting Around Puerto Rico
I am not someone that spends my entire day at a resort when I travel. I like to get out and experience a ton. There is especially a lot to see and do in Puerto Rico, so I travelled around as much as I could. When traveling to Puerto Rico, I recommend renting a car (or even for just a few days of it) so that you can drive throughout the island to take in all the sights. There are so many places to visit in Puerto Rico that renting a car will definitely be worth it..
Random Facts about Puerto Rico
- There are only five bioluminescent bays in the world and three of them are are in Puerto Rico. The most popular, Mosquito Bay, is located on the island of Vieques off the east coast of the mainland. The other two are Laguna Grande which is located on the north side of the island and La Parguera on southwestern side of the island.
- The world’s largest telescope is in Puerto Rico. The Arecibo Radio Telescope is is over 300m in diameter making it the largest astronomical observing object in the world. It is located inside a sinkhole and has appeared in many movies and TV shows including the James Bond film, Goldeneye.
- Puerto Rico Was “Discovered” by Christopher Columbus. Columbus landed on the shore of Puerto Rico in 1493 and claimed it for Spain. Puerto Rico at the time was inhabited by a tribe of Indians called the Taíno. It became a US territory during the Spanish-American war in 1898.
- Puerto Rico is more than one island. Between the main island of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are Culebra and Vieques, which are sometimes known as the Spanish Virgin Islands. Between the main island and the Dominican Republic is the island of Mona…plus there are many other small, uninhabited islands.
Puerto Rico Trip Vlog
Don’t miss my Puerto Rico trip vlog! You can watch on YouTube for better quality!
Visit the Beaches in Puerto Rico!
If you’re itching for the best things to see and do in Puerto Rico, going to the beach is a pretty good bet! The beaches in Puerto Rico are stunning, and the island has hundreds of them—plus an amazing 435km of coastline. You didn’t really visit this island if you didn’t make it to a beach or two…or three! When planning what to see in Puerto Rico, plan for some beach days! This pic below is the beach at the La Concha Resort.
Borinquen Beach in Aguadilla is one of the most stunning beaches in Puerto Rico, and one of the most impressive that I have ever been to. It is an expansive beach with just stunning views. During your visit here, you should make sure to walk all the way to the east end of this beach before you head back to the car park at the west end. That way, you can take in all the sights and every perfect angle of this beach. Definitely don’t miss a stop at the Borinquen Beach for your trip to Puerto Rico!
Isla Verde Beach
What most people know as Isla Verde Beach actually consists of three separate beaches…El Alambique, Pine Grove Beach, and Balneario de Carolina. All three beaches provide almost 5km of sand., so even on a really busy beach day, it doesn’t feel crowded!
A little fun fact about beaches in Puerto Rico…
The generic word “balneario” is actually a government-run, or public beach. These are the ones that will have public showers and restrooms. The ones that are not may be much less touristy, have more natural wild, and have a more untouched feel.
Piñones is a beautiful area and it is just a few minutes east of Isla Verde. It has beaches, mangroves, restaurants and an 11-kilometer long nature trail. In fact, nearby to the beach is the island’s largest mangrove forest! Piñones is also popular for its many open-air seaside eateries. These sand floors and tasty seafood which you can wash down with cheap icy beer have made it popular.
Compared to the other beaches on the island, such as Isla Verde Beach, this one is much wilder and has more of a natural feel. This is an example of a beach this isn’t public, or a balneario.
That also means lots of natural beauty! It isn’t an ideal spot for swimming due to the strong tide and limited shallow water. However, the array of delicious food I mentioned earlier is plentiful. Overall, this area is a stark contrast to the busy touristic areas of Old San Juan, Isla Verde and Condado.
Along the north coast of Puerto Rico, there are various natural pool beaches and Mar Chiquita is one of the most popular ones. This pool is a sheltered cove almost completed cut off from the surrounding water. It’s enclosed by jagged rocks all around, and people often use it for both swimming and snorkelling. This area really reminded me of Greece, and was probably one of my favourite beaches in Puerto Rico.
What Else is Around Mar Chiquita?
It is located just 45 minutes west of San Juan. You might find food and coconut stands nearby, making it a nice place to spend a few hours.
Things to remember about Visiting Mar Chiquita…
Snorkelling reviews on Trip Advisor recommend going early in the morning when the tide is low.
Go on an Adventure!
This Caribbean island is home to plentiful tropical forest, beautiful waterfalls, caves and natural swimming pools. In other words, there’s lots to explore! Experiencing this side of Puerto Rico was my favourite part of my visit. Some of the hiking trails are still being rebuilt from Hurricane Maria, but most places we went were in good shape.
Gozalandia Falls (or Las Cataratas) was one of my favourite places. There are two beautiful waterfalls here—one of them towering to sixty feet in height! One has a rope swing and the other you can do cliff jumping. It’s located on the west side of the island, in San Sebastian, and is considered more of a locals’ spot. These falls are an absolute must when traveling to Puerto Rico. You won’t want to miss adding this to your plan for what to see and do in Puerto Rico during your trip.
Is Gozalandia Falls Crowded?
Although it can be a nice place to escape the major crowds, it still might get a little packed at this spot the summertime. Therefore, plan your arrival for earlier in the day when you’re visiting during that time of year.
What does Gozalandia Falls Cost?
Although the entrance to the falls is free, you’ll have to pay $5 for parking. If you don’t see parking attendants monitoring the lot outside, you might need to go into the restaurant located near the parking area.
Cascada Las Delicias
Cascada Las Delicias is a picture-perfect tropical waterfall and I am so glad that we made it here! This waterfall is located in the town of Ciales, which is in the centre of the island. You have to drive through some winding roads to get there, but it’s definitely worth it. Eventually, you will reach the more elevated town of Jayuya. You’ll then find the Cascada after a brief walk (just off the road). It’s nestled within the Tres Picachos State Forest, and its water was so refreshing!
If you want to go hiking in Puerto Rico, and you’d prefer a less challenging one, Cerro Mime will be perfect for you. Cerro Mime is located in Orocovis County, and is also great for those that enjoy seeing views from above. It’s a nice, easy easy hike that only takes 20 minutes. For such little effort, you’re rewarded with beautiful views. At the top you see lush, green mountains…which for me was a very surprising view. Add this to your list of what to see and do in Puerto Rico!
This hike is located between Cayey and Salinas, and is worth the trip if you enjoy going hiking. I wish there weren’t so many clouds when we went, but such is life. Here, you will enjoy great 360° views of the mountains, surrounding towns, and the Caribbean Sea. This viewpoint is truly one of the elite when it comes to your options for hiking in Puerto Rico.
You can also see, Arbol Solitario (or Lonely Tree) but we didn’t go quite that far. It’s now a popular stopping point for tourists because of the views you can see from there. Not to mention the fact that there’s also a swing quite close to the cliff edge where people sit and take photos. That’s one of the places to visit in Puerto Rico on my next trip for sure!
Not really keen on much hiking in Puerto Rico? Charco Azul might be a good option for you, since most of this journey is a drive through winding roads. There is a short walk from the road, but nothing strenuous or long. This is also a great place to visit if you love natural swimming pools…which I am always excited to check out when I travel.
Charco Azul (which translates to blue pond in English) is one of Puerto Rico’s most famous natural pools, and when you see the colour you will immediately know where it gets its name! It is located in the middle of the Carite Forest about 20 minutes from Cayey.
What I Want to do Next Trip to Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico has so many hidden gems that I didn’t get to experience this trip. I am a already mentally planning a trip back. Here are some things I want to see and do next time:
- Go kayaking at a Bioluminescent Bay – I saw bioluminescents when I was in Senja, Norway and it was so beautiful! I definitely want to see this natural phenomenon again. A bioluminescent bay is home to millions of bioluminescent organisms, which emit bluish light and it is sure to be quite stunning in the black Caribbean sea at night. I can’t wait to do go kayaking in Puerto Rico on my next trip.
- Visit Culebra Island – Taking a quick flight (or longer ferry ride) to Culebra Island is high on my list for next trip. This island is 27km east of the mainland and is widely know for its beautiful beaches and nature reserves. Some of the beaches are even protected as marine wildlife reserves. This is also something that I would like to see and do in Puerto Rico during my next trip.
- Spend the day at the El Yunque National Forest – El Yunque is known for having one of the greatest concentrations of biodiversity in the world, especially among its insects, mushrooms and ferns. Some of them are even bioluminescent (see above). There are so many things to do in El Yunque!
Have you visited any of the above spots in Puerto Rico already? Do you have any favourite spots on the island? Let me know what your experience was like below! I hope you found some helping hints for planning a trip to Puerto Rico. I am sure you will agree that there is so much to see and do in Puerto Rico!
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Bella Bucchiotti of xoxoBella is a storyteller, food lover, dog mom and adventure seeker living on the Pacific coast. She shares her passion for recipes, dogs, sustainability, adventures, travel and philanthropy, in hopes of encouraging followers to run the extra mile, try new recipes, visit unfamiliar places and stand for a cause. Bella lives with Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease.
Bella Bucchiotti is a freelance food, travel, and lifestyle writer for MSN and the Associated Press Wire.