Why We Love Puerto Rico

One of the oldest outposts of Western Civilization in the New World, Puerto Rico was discovered by Christopher Columbus and the progress of 500 years of history can be seen in the ancient streets of Old San Juan even today. Outside the bustling metropolis, Puerto Rico is a rich land of beautiful beaches, cloud-covered mountainous rainforests, bioluminescent bays and swaying palms ruffled by the ever-present Caribbean trades. Active travelers can find great golf, magnificent underwater reefs for snorkeling or diving, tremendous fishing and boating, great inland hikes, biking trails and zip lines, and much more. This uniquely American island is the gateway to the Caribbean.

Top Destinations in Puerto Rico

Old San Juan

Walking the streets of Old San Juan, with its lovely colonial architecture and imposing forts, is like stepping back into another era but with a number of modern conveniences. More than 500 years old, and the second oldest city in the Americas, Old San Juan offers a lot to see: the El Morro fort guarding the entrance to the harbor, the Fortaleza; the Castillo de San Cristóbal (San Cristóbal Fort); and the San Juan Cathedral, which holds the tomb of Ponce de León.

Culebra Island

Although Culebra is often mentioned in the same breath as Vieques, this smaller island with beautiful beaches and lush hills has its own unique character. The pace here is unhurried and the atmosphere relaxed. The horseshoe-shaped Playa Flamenco is the most popular beach on the island and as close to perfect as possible. Isla de Culebra National Wildlife Refuge is a well-preserved slice of nature that includes the entire coastline of Culebra and more than 20 offshore cays.

Vieques

With the departure of the United States Army from the island in 2003, Vieques turned its focus to tourism. Beautiful beaches are now supported with a quality tourism infrastructure that attracts both Puerto Ricans and foreign travelers, who take the time to make their way over to the island. The island is also known for a unique phenomenon at Mosquito Bay (also known as Bioluminescent Bay), where a large concentration of phosphorescent dinoflagellates light up movement in the water at night.

Rincon

Often called "Pueblo del Surfing" (Surfing Town) and "Little Malibu," Rincón is known to Puerto Ricans as a "Gringo Paradise." Although waves do get quite big here, there are beautiful beaches that are suitable for swimming, mostly to the south of town. Rincón is also one of Puerto Rico's main areas for whale watching excursions, from mid-January to March.

Luquillo Beach

For an easy escape from the busy beaches of San Juan, Luquillo is a terrific option. Luquillo Beach, just a short drive from the city, is a palm-lined stretch of golden sand that offers a fair degree of tranquility, without surrounding high-rise buildings and development. The water is generally calm for swimming and the beach stretches on for almost a mile, making it ideal for walking. A stop at the beach can be combined with a day trip to El Yunque National Forest.

Rio Camuy Caves

The Rio Camuy Cave Park features a huge cave system covering 268 acres and is thought to be the third largest cave system in the world. A trolley bus transports visitors to a 200-foot deep cave, or sinkhole, which is now a preserved area known as Cueva Clara Empalme. The caves feature various rooms, in some cases with extremely high ceilings, stalagmites, and stalactites, and rivers rushing along the base.

Ponce

While Ponce is a large city and generally not on the typical tourist route through Puerto Rico, its historic city center is a delight, with 17th-century architecture and open plazas. The Plaza Las Delicias is a good starting point for visitors, with cafés and park benches for convenient people-watching. Buildings of particular note here are the red- and white-striped Old Ponce Fire Station, the City Hall, and the much more recently built Cathedral (Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Guadalupe). Ponce also has a large number of quality museums, most notably the Ponce Museum of Art.

Isla Verde

For the all-inclusive crowd looking for nice resorts and a decent beach within easy reach of a major airport, Isla Verde is just the answer. Everything an overworked, sun-seeking, beach-loving vacationer could ask for can be found right here. With calm waters lined by a white-sand beach and backed by palm trees and resorts, Isla Verde is a tropical get away with all the comforts. This area is a suburb of San Juan and those who are looking to get off the resort without venturing too far will find the historic streets of Old San Juan just a short taxi ride away.

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Six Great Restaurants in Puerto Rico

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Like most of the Caribbean islands, the indigenous cuisine of Puerto Rico leaned heavily on starchy taro, fruity papaya and mango, fresh seafood and domesticated goat, pig and chicken.... Read More

Six Great Restaurants in Puerto Rico

The Dish
Like most of the Caribbean islands, the indigenous cuisine of Puerto Rico leaned heavily on starchy taro, fruity papaya and mango, fresh seafood and domesticated goat, pig and chicken.... Read More

Full Moon Yoga at El Conquistador

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Nights of the full moon have always been considered a meaningful time to reflect, meditate and harness energy. And there are few better places to contemplate a full moon... Read More

Full Moon Yoga at El Conquistador

Upfront
Nights of the full moon have always been considered a meaningful time to reflect, meditate and harness energy. And there are few better places to contemplate a full moon... Read More

More Golf in Puerto Rico

The Active Life
When Laurance Rockefeller built the first golf courses at his Dorado Beach resort in 1958, they were among the first courses on the entire island (the oldest is an... Read More

More Golf in Puerto Rico

The Active Life
When Laurance Rockefeller built the first golf courses at his Dorado Beach resort in 1958, they were among the first courses on the entire island (the oldest is an... Read More

Overview

When Christopher Columbus arrived on this Caribbean island on his second voyage in 1493, he named the island “San Juan” (St. John) and the large, protected port on its north shore “Puerto Rico” or “rich port.” Somehow, over the intervening centuries, the names got switched around.

No matter. Puerto Rico, the island, offers visitors a rich selection of destinations, activities and events to explore on an island that can traversed by car in less than a day. It is an island ringed with lovely, palm-bedecked beaches, pretty coves and modern seaside resorts. The Cordillera Centrale, or central mountains, runs like a spine across the middle of Puerto Rico, providing some cooler upland vistas, delicious coffee plantations, karst limestone outcroppings and beautiful hiking trails. On the eastern side of the island, the El Yunque National Forest is known as “the lungs of the Caribbean,” as this tall mountainous range scrapes the bottoms off passing clouds and drenches the forest floor with hundreds of inches of rainfall annually.

As far as cities go, San Juan is one of the most exciting metropolises in the Caribbean. With one foot firmly planted in the historic past, San Juan’s Old City cobblestoned streets are made for wandering. Historic Colonial buildings and the old fort on the rocky oceanfront speak of the Spanish past. But San Juan is also the essence of a modern city, with sleek new hotels, fabulous shopping, and wonderful restaurants and nightspots to enjoy.

And San Juan is not the only city on the island. The old southern town of Ponce is nearly as historic as San Juan, just quieter and less crowded. Smaller towns like Fajardo, Rincon, Mayaguez and others are all fun to explore for an hour or two, or even longer. And the popular islands of Vieques and Culebra offer more of the laid-back Caribbean island vibe than is often found on the bustling main island.

Puerto Rico is a sportsman’s dream destination. There are about a dozen fine golf courses on the island, watersports from surfing to paddleboarding, hiking in the rainforests and mountains and cave exploring in the karst regions. And Puerto Rico is filled with cultural events and activities, including music festivals, food events and concerts.

All in all, the rich port has a wealth of experiences to offer today’s traveler.

Quick Facts

Puerto Rico’s official language is Spanish, although English is also spoken and understood everywhere on the island.

The official currency is the U.S. dollar.

The electrical current in Puerto Rico is the same as that in the United States:110-120V AC, 60Hz.

Internet connections and WiFi spots are found throughout the country. Most major hotels provide good accessibility.

U.S. citizens do not need either a passport or a visa to enter Puerto Rico: any government issued photo ID (such as a driver’s license) is sufficient. Residents of other countries require the same immigration documents as for any other entry into the United States.

Public water supplies in Puerto Rico are treated and purified the same as in any other U.S. destination: it is safe to drink tap water, brush teeth or consume ice cubes.

Puerto Rico is in the Atlantic Standard Time zone, which is GMT -4. The island does not observe daylight savings time. When New York is on Eastern Standard Time and it is noon, it is 1 p.m. in San Juan. During daylight savings time, the time in both places is the same.

Although visitors arrive year-round, Puerto Rico’s peak tourist season is in the winter months: November through April.

Average High and Low Temperatures

Things To Do in Puerto Rico

Bioluminescent Bays

Puerto Rico boasts three of the world's bioluminescent bays (also called phosphorescent bays), and all three welcome night-time visitors to see this show of natural lights dancing in the water. Caused by dinoflagellates and a cluster of conditions that make their movement visible, the biobays are located in Fajardo, the town of La Parguera, and at Mosquito Bay on Vieques.

Castillo Serralles

Castillo Serralles sits on a hill overlooking Ponce; the former home of rum magnate Serralles is open to the public for tours. Equally impressive is La Cruceta de la Vigia, an observatory shaped like a cross; from the top, you can see all the way to the Caribbean Sea

El Yunque Rainforest

El Yunque is the only rainforest in the US Forest Service's system. Popular walking trails include La Mina, which leads to a waterfall and natural swimming pool (yes, you can get in!) and the less strenuous Piscina Grande (Big Pool), which you can't take a dip in. On a clear day, climb the look-out tower in the park for a view of mountains and ocean.

Arecibo Observatory

Get starry eyed at Arecibo Observatory, site of one of the largest radio telescopes in the world. Located in the unusual karst country of Puerto Rico, the 8-hectare (20-acre) dish can be seen from an observatory platform at Arecibo's visitors' centre.

Museums

San Juan hosts an array of interesting museums: Casa de los Contrafuertes houses the African Heritage Museum; Casa del Callejón is a traditional Spanish-style home that holds the Museum of Colonial Architecture and the Museum of the Puerto Rican Family; the San Juan Museum of Art and History is in a 19th-century building, and its patio often used for concerts.

Old San Juan

The wonderful colonial Spanish fortresses of El Morro and San Cristobal are both perched on cliffs, and most of the old city remains enclosed by a wall built in the 16th and 17th centuries. The wall follows the peninsula's contour, providing attractive views of Old San Juan and the Atlantic Ocean, and leading, finally, into the only remaining original doors leading into the old city. Blue cobblestone streets, intimate plazas, and colonial-style homes provide many opportunities for memorable photos.

San José Church

See the second-oldest church in the Western hemisphere. This is where Ponce de León's body was interred for almost three centuries before being moved just down the street to St John the Baptist Cathedral. San José has been undergoing restoration since 2002 after being listed on the endangered list of the World Monuments Fund, and is considered by scholars to be one of the best examples of Spanish Gothic architecture in the Americas.

Hotels and Resorts