When I lived in Puerto Rico, I was always amazed at how little people did on the island. So many people visit the island annually, but completely miss out on what the island has to offer. Puerto Rico might be a strange place, but if offers a dynamic and unique list of things to do. I didn’t do absolutely everything that I had hoped to do while there, but I felt like I had a really good sampling of the island. Being one of the larger of the Caribbean islands, there is seemingly plenty of stuff going on if you look for it. Festivals, islands, beaches, restaurants, and nature galore. In fact, you can see many of those in these pictures of Puerto Rico.
I recently wrote a list of suggestions for what to do while in San Juan, which is the capital city, but I can tell you from experience that if you visit Puerto Rico and only spend time in the capital city, then you will be missing out. So with keeping all that in mind, here is a list of many of the things that I did while on the island as well as some of them that I wish I would have done. Obviously, I could add a lot of small details and/or separate things, but these were some of the best that I did. These are not in any particular order.
Best Things To Do In Puerto Rico
1.) Nature hikes – There are several nature hikes around the island. I’d recommend doing a few of them as Puerto Rico is known for its nature and natural beauty. There are some trails in El Yunque, several along the coasts, on the small eastern islands of Culebra and Vieques, and in many other places around the island. If you can, do it! You won’t regret it and you’ll feel like you are lost in a tropical paradise.
2.) Cueva del Indio – La Cueva del Indio, or the Indian Cave in English, was more impressive because of its historical context rather than its ability to impress, although the surrounding coastline was quite beautiful. I really enjoyed seeing the carvings from the Taino Indians. There legacy lives on even in small ways like this. La cueva del indio is located in Arecibo, not too far from Camuy or the Observatory.
3.) Camuy Caves – I have only been in a few small caves before in my life. One was in Bull Shoals, Alabama, which was nice but I had never been into a really large cave before. Nothing like this or like Carlsbad Caverns. It is amazing seeing these kinds of natural beauties and how impressive forces of nature such as water can be.
4.) Watch a sunset in Rincón – The city of Rincón is located on the West Coast of Puerto Rico. Typically speaking it is a popular destination for surfers. Because of the fact that it is located on the Western side of the island, it also has some of the best sunsets. I’d recommend trying to catch one if you are in the area.
5.) Lighthouse and cliffs of Cabo Rojo – I wasn’t so drawn to the lighthouse in Cabo Rojo, but the surrounding cliffs were breathtaking. You can overlook the coastline and sea while listening and watching as the waves crash into the jagged rocks hundreds of feet away. The reddish-orange color of the cliffs gives them an added aesthetic appeal.
6.) Playa Sucia – Not more than a short walk away from the lighthouse in Cabo Rojo is the famed Playa Sucia. It is located in a cove. Presumably, I would think it is called Playa Sucia either because of the seaweed or the surrounding marshy area behind the beach that seemed to be lifeless due to high salinity. The beach is actually really beautiful. It is a hidden gem in the southwest area of Puerto Rico. Few tourists venture down to this area as it is should be almost the farthest point from San Juan. It had a really nice ‘local’ feel to it.
7.) Salt Flats – Better known in Spanish as Las Salinas de Cabo Rojo, or the salt flats of Cabo Rojo, this salt flat is a unique and was an unexpected find on the way to Playa Sucia. I was just driving along and happened upon these flats. There is a small museum to visit explaining the significance of the salt flats as well as an observatory to overlook the bay. It actually made me reminisce on my time in Deltebre Spain as salt production was a big traditional industry there.
8.) Playa Flamenco – Jumping around some to a small island off of the eastern coast of the ‘mainland’, I found Playa Flamenco or Flamenco Beach to be well worth the visit. I’ve seen few more beautiful places to relax and have a drink in my life. The beach is simply breathtaking. It can be quiet touristy, but if the crowd becomes too much for you, then there is surely another beach in the area with fewer people.
9.) Snorkeling in Culebra – While on the island of Culebra, I’d recommend snorkeling if possible. I got a chance to go snorkeling when I was in Culebra near Tamarindo Beach. It was really neat. That was the first time that I ever saw a sea turtle, or several of them, before. I also saw a few corals, several unique fish, a large star fish, and sting rays. If you have the chance, I recommend it. Especially if you can go on a day when the weather is good so visibility will be high. Swimming with sea turtles was a really serene experience for me.
10.) Bio Bay – The bio bay is supposed to be one of the world’s most incredible things to see. First off, you should know that there are technically 3 bio bays in Puerto Rico. The first is on the island of Vieques. The second is in the Bay of Fajardo and the last one is in the southwest corner of the island near the city of Lajas. Most of the bio bays in Puerto Rico have been destroyed due to pollution. When I went, the luminescence was not very bright and it looked nothing like the pictures. Although, being out on the water in a kayak was a really memorable experience because of the stars and calmness. I think it would have been better if the guides advertised a night kayaking trip rather than a bio bay tour, but that is just my opinion. I did talk to some other people while I was in Puerto Rico who visited the bio bay and said that it was brilliant and glowing. So, I think there is some cycle to the water and biology involved with the dinoflagellates. I’d recommend if it is something that you want to do, don’t go with the thought that it will be like the photo-shopped pictures.
11.) Cañon de San Cristobal – One of the things that I really wanted to do, but didn’t was visit the Cañon de San Cristobal (Saint Christopher’s Canyon). If I go back to Puerto Rico, then it will definitely be high up on my list.
12.) Lechoneria de Guavate – Pork lovers and meat eaters, would definitely enjoy a trip to Guavate or one of the other lechonerías around the island. One weekends most of the places have roasted pig cooking on a spindle. It is typically referred to as perníl (or lechon asado) in Puerto Rico. Guavate is about 40-45 minutes south of San Juan.
13.) Gulligan’s Island – Back on the southwest coast, I enjoyed hanging out on Gulligan’s Island. That is definitely a local way to do it. I couldn’t ever get a straight answer about the name, I conveniently thought it was Gilligan’s Island, but the sign once I arrived said Gulligan’s Island. Perhaps, the name is just a coincidence. It is a small island of mangroves and sand located around one half mile from the shore. I rented a kayak with my mom and we rode out to the island. Once you get there it can be quite relaxing. Tons of locals go there on the weekends to drink and barbecue. There is a ferry to get there, but unfortunately the island has a capacity limit. So, once the capacity is met the ferry stops.
14.) Poblado de Boqueron – One of the last things that I did before leaving Puerto Rico was the Poblado de Boqueron. A poblado, can easily be explained as a place where lots of people hang out. In this case, it is a street. In Boqueron, we found it to be quite lively. They had lots of different types of pinchos ranging from seafood to meat. Out of the few that I tried, they were quite good.
15.) Piñones – If I am in the San Juan area, Piñones is one of my favorite food places to stop mainly because of its authentic feel. Few tourists venture here from the beaches of Condado and Isla Verde even though it is only a short distance by car. Walking or biking is possible, but takes a little longer. There’s even a bus to get there. It is one of the best places in Puerto Rico to get street food. You might even find yourself a fresh coconut!
16.) Aguas termales – There is a place in south central Puerto Rico where you can bath in geothermal pools that have been transformed into mini pools. These pools contain the water from the ground so they are mineral-rich and naturally heated. I wouldn’t say it is worth taking a trip to see, but if in the area it is worth a pit stop. The ticket prices are reasonably inexpensive as well.
17.) Old San Juan (Viejo San Juan in Spanish)- Of course the most marketed thing to see in Puerto Rico would have to be Old San Juan. Old San Juan is beautiful, and in my opinion very New Orleans-esque. Clearly, Old San Juan should be older than New Orleans, but they have that same colonial connection. The streets and buildings are old and seem to tell stories of their own. Crowds from the cruise ships can be frustrating, but most times it isn’t too crowded.
18.) El Yunque Selva tropical – El Yunque is the only tropical rain forest in the United States and her territories. There are other rainforests within the continental US however, they are temperate. El Yunque is a natural beauty with fresh streams and forests of bamboo running wild. Most tourists and visitors never get to see deep into El Yunque. Most tourism companies channel people into a well beaten path that is actually made mostly of a concrete walkway. I was fortunate and got to see both the touristy El Yunque and the non-touristy El Yunque. Both were beautiful. Definitely recommend a trip to the forest if you can.
19.) Street art walk – As you may have seen in some of my other posts, I really enjoy experiencing the street art scene in different places. My recent post on the street art of Puerto Rico shows a lot of why you’ll likely enjoy it if street art is your thing.
20.) Festivals – Puerto Rico actually has several major festivals throughout the year, some of the more famous ones are the Carnival in Ponce and the San Sebasitan Festival in San Juan. I made a video on my experience in the San Sebastian, better known as Sanse, I’d really appreciate it if you would check it out on my YouTube Channel. Video link here.
21.) Gozalandia – Gozalandia was one of the first places that I went outside of San Juan. It was my first big ‘road trip’ in Puerto Rico. Gozalandia is a small waterfall tucked away in the mountains of the west between several small towns. I believe the closest small town was San Sebastian. There is one major waterfall, then you can walk up the path a few minutes to find another. It is quite nice. This could be a good starting ‘cliff’ jump ranging from 10-30 feet. Just be extremely careful and only consider areas where you have seen others jump. If you do, check the depth of the water to be absolutely certain.
By the way if you are planning on visiting Puerto Rico any time soon, be sure to check out my article getting around Puerto Rico. You’ll likely find some useful tips in there to help you with navigating the island.
22.) Luquillo beach and food – On the way to Fajardo, El Yunque, or just driving around the island I recommend taking a stop at Luquillo beach for its tranquility and to try a variety of the Puerto Rican foods. In Luquillo there are about 20-30 kiosks and bars that sell different varieties of Puerto Rican food. It is a pretty local place to stop and enjoy some of the island’s special plates.
23.) Oldest church in San German – San German boasts one of the oldest Catholic churches in the Americas. It was the second built in the ‘New World’ by the Spanish if I am not mistaken. I believe that the first was the church in Old San Juan. You can feel its age when inside of it. This could be a good stopping point on your way to Cabo Rojo or Las Pagueras.
24.) Las Pargueras – Las Pargueras was a personal favorite of mine. It is a great get away spot in the south-western area of the island not too far from Cabo Rojo or Guanica. It is very relaxing and very Puerto Rican.
25.) Yauco – Yauco is an area that I have a personal connection with. It is better known as the coffee plantation area of the island where that industry has thrived for most of the island’s modern history. It is a quaint little town where you can see a glimpse of what traditional life in Puerto Rico was/is like.
26.) Paddle boarding or surf – I am aware that paddle boarding are two different ends of the spectrum when it comes to being in the water with a board, but still many people choose one or the other. In San Juan many people choose paddle boarding although surfing is commonly practiced around the island.
27.) Practice your understanding of Spanish – The language spoken on the island is a curious breed. Spanish, of the Puerto Rican dialect, is still the most widely spoken language on the island. Be sure to separate yourself from the tourists and speak the language! You’ll also have a better experience. Don’t forget reasons to speak another language. I hope to make a post soon about Puerto Rican Spanish, so stay tuned.
28.) Arecibo observatory– The largest satellite in the world is found in Puerto Rico. It is located just outside of the town of Arecibo in the hilly area in the middle of a forest. This was also where part of the movie Jame’s Bond Goldeneye was filmed so you may recognize it.
30.) Rock climbing – I am not a rock climber, yet at least, but I know that many people visit the island to do rock climbing. I know that there is a place in Bayamon just outside of San Juan, but there are many others as well. If you are into rock climbing then you might enjoy some of the places around the island. I met some backpackers who had traveled to Puerto Rico only to
31.) Taíno ceremonial ground – The Taíno ceremonial ground was one of the more interesting places that I visited. I really enjoy native american culture and history so for me it was great to see such well-preserved area where the natives once ‘played’. It was really in the middle of nowhere and took some time to get to it, but it was worth a visit.
32.) Just because I cannot leave an odd number, the last recommendation is to eat! You must try some Puerto Rican food. Please see a good list of suggestions here.
Are you planning a trip to Puerto Rico? If so, what are you looking forward to doing the most? Have you visited before and remembering your favorite things to do? Let me know in the comments below!
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