Puerto Rico is a tropical Caribbean island destination that has it all and then some. It has beautiful palm-lined beaches, some with calm warm waters lapping the golden sand and others with huge waves and famous surf breaks, drawing all kinds of beach seekers, from couples and families to hard-core surfers.
Puerto Rico is home to the US Forest System's only tropical rainforest as well as the nighttime wonders of the Bioluminescent Bay. The culture and charm of historic San Juan, with its colonial architecture and old forts, is enough to make the picture of paradise complete.
Looking for a place to stay while in Puerto Rico? See our list of "Top 10 Luxury Hotels in San Juan, Puerto Rico".
The island of Puerto Rico has a Spanish Caribbean culture with an American twist. This is visible around San Juan, with its American chain restaurants and other comforts associated with mainland USA. You will find quaint towns, small villages, beautiful islands, caves and a rugged mountainous interior further away.
1. Old San Juan (San Juan Viejo)
Walking the streets of Old San Juan, with its lovely colonial architecture and imposing forts, is like stepping back in time. This is one of the best places to visit in Puerto Rico, so make sure you allow some time on your itinerary for this city.
Old San Juan, the second oldest city in the Americas, is a mix of Spanish colonial history and current day Puerto Rican life. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage site and contains hundreds of restored Spanish colonial buildings. You can eat, shop, or stay in some of the beautiful old structures.
The main attraction is El Morro Fort, located on a peninsula high above the ocean and a short walk from the city center. El Morro's history, setting, and preservation makes it one of the top tourist attractions in the country.
2. El Yunque National Forest
You can see some of Puerto Rico's beautiful inland beauty at the El Yunque National Forest, home to the only tropical rainforest in the National US Forest System.
Walking trails through the forest allow hikers to get a closer look at some of the hundreds of species of trees and plants, as well as an abundance of smaller animals. The forest covers 43 square miles, including three-quarters of the island's remaining virgin forest, and the peak is 3,500 feet above sea level.
One of the most popular natural attractions in Puerto Rico is the El Yunque National Forest, which can be visited on a tour from San Juan. La Coca Falls, Yokah Tower, Bao Grande, Bao de Oro, and La Mina Falls are some of the main attractions in El Yunque National Forest.
Located beside the highway, La Coca Falls features an 85-foot cascade onto boulder formations and is the first major attraction visitors will come to in El Yunque.
El Portal Tropical Forest Center is a visitors' center for those seeking information about the area. Nearby is Yokahú Tower, a tower built in the 1930's that is open to the public to climb, offering good views out over the rainforest.
The climate here is noticeably cooler than along the coast and at lower elevations, and it is considerably wetter.
NOTE: El Yunque National Forest was severely damaged by the back-to-back hurricanes in 2017. Repair and recovery has been slow, but the park is starting to recover.
3. Culebra Island (Isla Culebra)
Although often mentioned in the same breath as Vieques, the smaller island of Culebra is has beautiful beaches and lush hills with its own unique character. The pace here is slower and the atmosphere more relaxed.
Only 17 miles east of Puerto Rico and 12 miles west of the Caribbean island of Saint Thomas, Culebra is a small island only seven miles long and three miles wide, with 23 offshore islands of its own. This area's coral reefs are considered some of the best in all the Caribbean.
Playa Flamenco is a horseshoe-shaped beach and is the most popular beach on the island and as close to perfect as possible. The water is crystal clear with no surf, making it a good place for swimming or diving, and the amazingly white sand is lined with beautiful palms.
Isla de Culebra National Wildlife Refuge is a well-preserved piece of nature that includes the entire coastline of Culebra and more than 20 of it's offshore cays. More than one third of Culebra is designated as the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge, which includes Cayo Luis Peña, a tiny island just west of Culebra. Here, coves and rugged terrain make for some interesting but challenging hiking.
4. Vieques and Bioluminescent Bay
Vieques, which is only eight miles from mainland Puerto Rico, has become a very popular beach resort with several small, upper-end hotels, restaurants, shops, and art galleries. With the departure of the United States Army from the island in 2003, Vieques turned its focus to tourism.
Pristine beaches attract both mainland Puerto Ricans and foreign travelers alike, who take the time to make their way over to the island. There are no large chain hotels or high-rise condos to distract from the beauty of this island. At 21 miles long and five miles wide, Vieques is the largest of the Spanish Virgin Islands but still offers a small-island feel.
The island is also known for the unique phenomenon found at Mosquito Bay (also known as Bioluminescent Bay), where a large concentration of phosphorescent dinoflagellates light up with movement in the water at night.
Tours are available by boat, canoe, or kayak after dark to experience this natural wonder. While this phenomenon occurs in other areas of Puerto Rico, this is by far the best place to experience it. Vieques can be reached by air or ferry, with ferries departing throughout the day from Fajardo.
5. Whale Watching and Surfing at Rincon
Famously called "Pueblo del Surfing" (Surfing Town) and "Little Malibu," Rincón is known to native Puerto Ricans as "Gringo Paradise." The main language spoken in this area is English, with many foreign surfers and other expats making this town their permanent home.
Rincon became the surfing mecca it is today after the World Surfing Championships in 1968, when images of Rincón and its frequent 15-foot-high waves were broadcast worldwide. Surfing not your thing? Amazing beaches that are perfect for swimming are mostly to the south of town.
Rincón is also one of Puerto Rico's main areas for whale watching excursions. The prime whale watching season is mid-January through to March, when humpback whales are in the area. Tours are easily arranged in town and can be an amazing time for couples and families alike.