The Ultimate Guide To Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is an exotic Carribean island and U.S territory, tucked between the Dominican Republic and the Virgin Islands. It is hard to believe that this tropical paradise is a mere 2 hour flight from Miami and you don’t even need a passport to get there!!! When you arrive in Puerto Rico, you’ll discover lush rainforests, world-class surfing, historic Old San Juan and even a bay where you can swim amongst tiny glowing bioluminescent plankton. Now that Puerto Rico has re-built after Hurricane Maria, it is the perfect time to visit as many hotels and resorts have had beautiful renovations, and are so excited to have tourists again!
How much time should you spend in Puerto Rico?
You could spend anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks exploring all this island has to offer. If you have limited time (3-5 days), I’d recommend you stick to the main island and explore the San Juan area and maybe make it over to the west coast, to hit the surf towns of Aguadilla and Rincon. If you have 5 days or more, it is definitely worth hopping over to one of the gorgeous islands of Vieques or Culebra (via puddle jumper plane or ferry).
What Time of Year to Visit
The average year round temps for Puerto Rico are in the 80’s, so it’s a safe bet that you’re going to be enjoying a refreshing dip in the ocean or pool no matter what time of year you’re there. The only time to tread cautiously is during hurricane season, just like the U.S, Puerto Rico experiences the most hurricanes between July and October. The very best weather occurs in the winter months between December and March, just when you’ll be wanting to escape the icy temps up north.
Getting Around Puerto Rico
For freedom and convenience, I would recommend renting a car, especially if you plan on exploring the island a bit on your own. If you are heading straight from the airport to one of Puertos Rico’s 5-star resorts, they will likely set up an airport transfer for you and you can do without the car! Uber is also readily available!
What To Do in Puerto Rico
Bioluminescent Bay Tour (Vieques Island)
You guys may remember my trip to Vieques Island a few years ago. The bioluminescent bay located on Vieques Island is worth the trip there in itself. It is one of the most surreal experiences to paddle a glass-bottom canoe/kayaks through a bay of luminescence plankton, so cool!! With the starry sky above and what looks to be a starry sky below, this is a true bucket list adventure!
Hiking in El Yunque Rainforest
In the mood for some waterfalls and giant fauna? Hit the trails in El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical forest in the U.S National Park System. Start at the visitors center to snag a map and get the lay of the land (I recommend starting early before the tour busses arrive). Head to La Mina Falls first, this has the largest swimming area and tends to get crowded as the day goes on, from there take the Bano de Oro Trail to Mt. Britton Tower for 306 degree views of the surrounding mountains, then top it all off by hiking to Juan Diego Falls. I’ll even let you in on a little secret about Juan Diego Falls, if you continue all the way to the “end” you’ll find a picnic area near the 20 waterfall, but if you continue up the muddy bank to the right there’s an even taller fall beyond that has an incredible swimming hole (which you are likely to have to yourself).
Visit the Old Fort in Old San Juan
Castillo San Felipe Del Morro is a little slice of history, initially used by Spain and then by the U.S. in both world wars, this 500 year old fort transports you to a time where new worlds were still being discovered. You can do a guided or self guided tour, where you’ll have access to one of the most Instagrammable locations in Puerto Rico.
Do A Rum Tour
The home base of Bacardi, Puerto Rico is one of the rum capitals of the world! You can do the general tasting tour, history tour or the longer Mixology Tour, where you will learn how to whip up favorite cocktails from the in-house mixologist, and even perfect your own cuba libra, mojito and daiquiri!
Swim With Sea Turtles at Flamenco Beach (Culebra)
Hop on a short flight (or longer but cheaper ferry from Fajardo) over to the small island of Culebra. This is where the locals vacation so you know it’s worth it! The beaches are pristine and the water as clear as it gets. Swim with sea turtles, hang at the infamous Flamenco beach (rated one of the best beaches in the world) and then be sure to grab Mojitos at Mamacitas.
Learn to Surf in Rincon
The surf capital of the Island, Rincon, is a small town on the west coast of the Island, about a 2.5 hour drive from the San Juan International Airport. Surf bums from all over the world flock here every winter to follow the “swell”, in some areas the waves can get up to 20ft! But if you’re a first timer, head to Maria beach and find the beach surf stand where you can sign up for lessons-you will be in good hands! For the experienced surfers out there, head to Tres Palmas (just make sure not to cut off a local).
Hike to Survival Beach, Aguadilla
This hike takes between 15-20 minutes each way, but you’ll be glad you put the work in when the view finally opens up beneath you. Long stretches of white sand accompanied by unique rock formations similar to that of Bali and Portugal! If you go during mid-week you are likely to have this place to yourself (which feels like you’ve found a hidden paradise).
Black Sand Beach, Vieques
There are very few black sand beaches in the world, many of which are located in Hawaii so this is a real treat! Just a 10 minute hike through the jungle from the main road, this hidden treasure is typically deserted. Once the jungle gives way to sand, make your way down towards the rock cliffs near the water where the black sand is the most abundant. The sand itself is silky smooth but just be careful not to wear your favorite swimsuit because this stuff is hard to get off (I learned the hard way).
Where to Eat in Puerto Rico
The cuisine in Puerto Rico has been influenced by an array of cultures, there is a delicious mingling of Spanish, African, Cuban and American flavors and ingredients! You can’t leave without tasting their signature dish “mofongo”, everyone makes theirs differently of course but you can count on a fried plantain mash in a delicious broth, typically accompanied by assorted seafood like grilled shrimp or the catch of the day.
Marmalade Restaurant and Wine Bar, San Juan
Hands down the best restaurant in Old San Juan, Marmalade offers the best of Puerto Rican Cuisine with a modern twist. With dishes like pan roasted foie gras with warm blackberry sauce and braised rabbit in a black olive-basil pesto, you can’t go wrong! Consider the six-course tasting menu with wine pairings or order à la carte.
Somewhat unassuming from the casual exterior, this restaurant has exquisitely elevated the classic Puerto Rican favorites. The menu changes daily and most of the ingredients are sourced from local family run farms!
The perfect coffee and breakfast spot in Old San Juan, snag you’re espresso and avocado toast before wandering the colorful streets! They also have a location in Dorado.
Chic and tropical, this restaurant boasts sophisticated dishes like ghost cheese quesadillas with honey and white truffle oil, curried beef stew shepherd’s pie with sweet plantains and basil ice cream. The bar gets lively on the weekends (at least during pre-covid times).
This ocean-front restaurant is perfectly picturesque and their tapas pack a punch. Go for their catch of the day served with curry and coconut rice, or their signature tostones! Sip craft cocktails or just go ahead and get a bottle of bubbly table side!
El Queneop is everything you’d want a good restaurant in paradise to be, refined yet relaxed, with the warm sea breeze coming in through the tall open windows. The menu changes seasonally but you can’t go wrong with any of their seafood mainstays like the Ceviche or grilled octopus. If they have their homemade mofongo on the menu (Puerto Rico’s signature dish), GET IT asap!
A fresh and vibrant all vegan cafe in Rincon with locally sourced ingredients.
Upscale dining with a Puerto Rican twist, from local lamb chops to scallops in saffron creme, this spot is on the pricier side but so worth it, especially for my honeymooners!
Where to Stay in Puerto Rico
Whether you want the full service of the resort experience or the seclusion of a private villa, Puerto Rico pulls out all the stops when it comes to accommodation. Personally, I like to have a little of both over the course of a vacation-I love being able to cook my own meals once in a while in an Airbnb and then be waited on hand and foot in a luxury resort! So I’ve compiled a list of both the best Boutique Hotels/Resorts as well as the most luxe villas on the island.
Ritz Carlton Reserve Dorado Beach
There are only 5 locations in the world where the infamous Ritz Carlton Hotel has decided to build a “reserve” location. Once a private plantation, The Ritz Carlton Reserve on Dorado beach is known for its remoteness and refinement. Every aspect of your stay is thought through for you, they even helicoptered in giant boulders to create a “wave free” swimming area within their private beach. You’ll be assigned a bike upon arrival to get around the resort and while you’re on the property, make sure to enjoy the phenomenal food at their many on-site restaurants and of course enjoy their highly acclaimed 5-star Spa Botanico.
St. Regis Bahia Beach
Just 22 miles from the San Juan airport lies the magical St. Regis Bahia Resort. With its proximity to El Yunque Rainforest, you will feel like you are walking through the jungle as you make your way from building to building.
An all vegetarian boutique hotel in the heart of San Juan (don’t worry you don’t have to be veggie to stay there). The dreamy bohemian decor draws you in, but the daily yoga, guided tours, salsa nights and zen lounge make you stay!
Finca Victoria, Vieques Island
The sister hotel to Dreamcatcher, Finca Victoria has multiple different casitas scattered around the property, from jungle treehouses to more traditional hotel rooms. Start your day with morning yoga and complimentary veggie breakfast, and then head for a couples massage at their spa!
Hotel El Blok, Vieques Island
A sleek and modern landmark whose design was inspired by the coral reefs, sits on the main drag of Vieques Island. With the water the restaurants in walking distance, you’ll be perfectly located to explore all the island has to offer. I loved just going to this hotel for drinks, too! It’s super sleek and cool – and adults only!
The Best Airbnbs in Puerto Rico
4 Bedroom villa overlooking golf course and ocean:
Luquillo/ Rio Grande:
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