As one of the largest islands in the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Rico has a lot to offer visitors. From sun-drenched beaches to remote tropical islands and diverse coral reefs, Puerto Rico can be a tropical dream for vacationers. It’s a place for adventurers, water sports lovers, divers and beach lovers and every day it’s possible to try a new activity or to explore a new and ever more beautiful part of the island. There is truly no shortage of epic things to do in Puerto Rico.
The island is home to some of the best-preserved forest in the Caribbean and the mountainous, rugged interior of Puerto Rico offers hikers and explorers an interesting escape from the beaches. Culture lovers will find themselves at home in the cities, with the streets of old San Juan being colorful, historic and vibrant. Anyone looking for good food or a party need look no further than Puerto Rico either, especially rum lovers, as the island is home to some of the world’s most favorite distilleries, including Bacardi.
There’s a lot to experience on this Caribbean Island, so to help you plan your holiday, here’s our guide to the best things to do in Puerto Rico.
Don’t leave home without your Lonely Planet Puerto Rico (Travel Guide)
Where is Puerto Rico?
Puerto Rico is the largest island in the eastern half of the Caribbean. The Dominican Republic lies not far to the west, while the US and British Virgin Islands are close to the east. Puerto Rico is the name of the largest island, as well as the entire territory, which is actually made up of several smaller islands, many of which are uninhabited.
Puerto Rico is not an independent nation, but it is an unincorporated territory of the United States. That means that although it is not a US state, Puerto Ricans are still US citizens, making for an interesting mix of cultures on the island.
How to Travel to Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport is the territory’s primary gateway. It’s a large airport, located just outside of the capital, San Juan, and there are hundreds of flights a day. The majority of flights are to the US mainland, with Miami being just a short two hour trip for instance, while there are even longer haul flights to Canada and Europe. The international airport is also used increasingly as a bit of a hub by different US-based airlines to allow easy connections to the rest of the Caribbean islands, which are all just a quick flight away.
There are regular ferry trips between Puerto Rico and the nearby Dominican Republic, but the crossings can be quite long. Many cruise ships also call into San Juan through the Caribbean cruising season, as it’s a popular stop on itineraries.
Puerto Rico has the same visa restrictions as the rest of the United States, but for US citizens, it’s an incredibly easy getaway, as no passport is even required to take the flight here if traveling domestically.
The main island’s major cities and towns are all well connected through a highway system, and the easiest method of transport is to rent a car for the duration of your stay. If you’d rather not do this, there is a cheap public transport system, with buses available to most large towns, and even an inner city train system running in San Juan. There are also many regular ferries operating to the smaller surrounding islands, many of which are very close.
Check out this guide if arriving by Cruise Ship: Fodor’s Caribbean Cruise Ports of Call (Travel Guide)
The Best Time to Visit Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico enjoys a lovely, Caribbean climate, resulting in year-round warm temperatures and sunshine. There is a distinct rainy and dry season though, and this will affect most traveler’s plans to the region, as the best time to visit will be the dry season. The rainy season brings torrential downpour, and violent storms, as well the odd destructive hurricane, the most recent hitting hard in 2017.
Although deals to Puerto Rico can be cheap in the wet, offseason which runs from June to November, consider the weather before booking. Prices will be higher in the dry season, between December and May, but the weather is much more predictable and enjoyable.
Things to do in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a large territory, and as such, there really is something for everyone here. There’s more than just the main island to explore, with several smaller islands within easy reach of Puerto Rico itself. There are beaches, caves, and mountains to see, but don’t miss out on San Juan, the capital, as this is where the best cultural experiences and historic sights can be found.
San Juan is the vibrant, colorful and at times chaotic capital and largest city of Puerto Rico. This is the territory’s transport hub, seat of government and most populated and bustling area. This is where you can really see Puerto Rican life, the good and bad, and it’s where you will start your holiday on the island.
- San Juan Catamaran Sunset Sail
- San Juan Bay Day Sail
- San Juan Historic Tour: Fort San Cristobal and Ruin of Caparra
- Coffee Plantation Tour from San Juan
- Taste of San Juan Evening Tour
Old San Juan
San Juan is today comprised of many different districts, but the most interesting area for tourists, or at least for those looking to learn more about the history of the city and the people, is Old San Juan. This is the oldest continually inhabited part of the island and is found separated from the rest of the city, on a small island off the coast. It’s a wonderful, ramshackle place, full of museums and colonial architecture dating back to the early days of Spanish settlement.
Discover the atmospheric streets, amazing architecture and intriguing history of one of the best-preserved Spanish colonial cities in the world:
- Old San Juan Food Tour
- Old San Juan Walking Tour
- Old San Juan Half-Day Sightseeing Tour
- Old San Juan Sunset Walk & Taste Tour
- Old San Juan Segway Tour
El Morro is the most important sight to visit within Old San Juan. It’s a vast, stone fortress, that dates far back to the very early 16th century. It’s the most historically significant building in Puerto Rico and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you see just one historic sight in Puerto Rico, make sure it’s El Morro.
- 1-Hour Guided El Morro Jetski Tour
- Old San Juan Sunset Sail
- Old San Juan Half-Day Sightseeing Tour
- Old San Juan Harbor Sail
- Walking Tour of Old San Juan
El Yunque National Forest
Found in a large area of the island’s northeast, El Yunque is a beautiful area of Caribbean rainforest. In fact, it’s the only area of Caribbean rainforest protected by the US forest service. There are many beautiful hiking trails, walks, waterfalls and scenery to explore within this exceptional area, and many people will travel to Puerto Rico just to see this unique place for themselves.
Spend an adventurous half-day or full day exploring Puerto’s most incredible natural wonders:
- El Yunque Rainforest Half-Day Trip from San Juan
- El Yunque Rainforest and Luquillo Beach
- El Yunque Rain Forest Nature Walk and Bioluminescent Bay Kayaking Combo Tour
- El Yunque Off the Beaten Path Hiking Tour
- Full-Day Rainforest and Waterfall Adventure from San Juan
Camuy River Cave Park
The Camuy River Cave Park showcases to visitors one of the world’s largest subterranean cave networks. This vast underground cavern stretches far beneath the surface of the island, and it’s possible to visit on guided tours that delve deep into this unique environment.
- San Juan Day Trip to Cueva Ventana and Arecibo Observatory
- Rio Camuy Cave Park Tours
- North Coast of Puerto Rico from San Juan: Arecibo Observatory and Cueva del Indio
- Cueva Ventana and Arecibo Observatory from San Juan
Located just a few miles off the eastern coast, Vieques is the Puerto Rico’s second largest island, although it’s still very much a small affair. It’s a spectacular place and the perfect destination for anyone looking for a quiet break. Things here are much less developed, and the scenery and the beaches are raw and rustic. There are plenty of lonely stretches of white sand to explore as well as a large, protected wildlife area.
- Vieques Snorkeling Tour from San Juan
- Transfers between Culebra, Vieques ferry port to SJU airport or San Juan hotels
- Night BioBay Kayak Tour from Vieques
Mosquito Bay is one of the untouched beaches on Vieques Island, but as well as being utterly spectacular, it’s also famous for the rare Bioluminescence that occurs here. This strange, and bright natural phenomenon is caused by organisms in the water, and at night the entire waterfront can be lit up, in a bright shade of blue. It’s a unique experience that’s found in few other places around the world.
No trip to Puerto Rico can be complete without a trip to the local Bacardi Rum factory, which produces thousands of bottles of this internationally famous spirit for export around the world every day.
Raise a glass of Puerto Rico’s finest rum during one of these tasting sessions and distillery tours at San Juan’s world-famous Casa Bacardí:
- Rum Tasting Tour of Casa Bacardí
- Mixology Tour of Casa Bacardí
- Bacardi Rum Distillery and Old San Juan Tour
- Historical Tour of Casa Bacardí
- Small-Group Tour: Old San Juan and Bacardi Factory
Where to Stay in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico has accommodation suited for almost any level of budget or any style of travel, from real budget, backpackers to luxury resorts. The majority of the accommodation can be found in San Juan, generally in the areas overlooking the beaches of the city’s foreshore, giving easy access to both Old San Juan, the beach and transport to other parts of the island. Puerto Rico is a large place though and there are plenty of other options around the territory, and if you prefer a quiet stay, it may be best to look further afield from San Juan.
Top luxury hotels we recommend in Puerto Rico:
Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve **** Traveler’s Choice Rating by TripAdvisor
Royal Isabela ***** Excellent Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Hix Island House **** Excellent Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Top mid-range hotels we recommend in Puerto Rico:
The Wave Hotel Condado **** Excellent Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Malecon House ***** Excellent Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Hacienda Tamarindo **** Excellent Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Top budget hotels we recommend in Puerto Rico:
Hotel Melia Ponce *** Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Hotel Colonial **** Excellent Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Parador Villas Sotomayor **** Excellent Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Top hostels we recommend in Puerto Rico:
Mango Mansion **** Excellent Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
The Lazy Hostel **** Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Grateful Souls Hostel **** Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Language and Currency in Puerto Rico
Being a longstanding Spanish colony for centuries, and only having been passed onto the United States at the turn of the 20th century, the predominant language in Puerto Rico is Spanish and for many residents, this is the sole language they will know. Despite being a US territory, outside of the main tourist areas, it will come in handy to know Spanish, rather than using English.
The territory uses the US Dollar as its main currency, in keeping with the rest of the United States, and there are plenty of ATMs and banks on the island, making it a convenient Caribbean getaway for mainland Americans.
How Safe is Puerto Rico?
The touristy areas of Puerto Rico are very safe and there is always a large police presence patrolling to deter any unwanted crime, however, the island does have a gang problem. This violent crime is mostly confined to the cities and to particular areas in those cities, so as long as you stick to the tourist zones and look out for your belongings, then a trip here should be trouble free.
Be wary of visiting in hurricane season, as there have been dangerous storms, some in very recent years, that have caused extensive damage and loss of life.
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More on the Caribbean:
Resources for Planning Your Trip to Puerto Rico
Recommended Guide Books For Puerto Rico:
- Lonely Planet Puerto Rico (Travel Guide)
- Fodor’s Puerto Rico (Full-color Travel Guide)
- Fodor’s Caribbean Cruise Ports of Call (Travel Guide)
Recommended Map For Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico (Adventure Travel Map) (National Geographic Adventure Map)
Travel Insurance: We use for Allianz for travel insurance and have since our first trip to Mexico in 2003. They’ve been there for us on our adventures – and many friends and readers – multiple times over! If you want to book with Allianz Travel Insurance, simply use this link to get their travel insurance!
Car Rental: Plan your car rental with Priceline and take a road trip around Puerto Rico.