East of the Dominican Republic and west of the Virgin Islands lies the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Approximately 3,500 sq. miles and about the size of the state of Connecticut, PR is a US territory and US citizens do not need a passport to travel to and from Puerto Rico. With one of the busiest cruise ship ports in the world, many tourists visit Puerto Rico before or after embarking on a cruise.
1. Old San Juan
Founded by Spanish colonists in 1521, the 7 square block area contains a wealth of history, culture, restaurants and shopping. Take time to walk down the streets taking in the colors, the historic buildings and delicious aromas surrounding you. Look to see if you can find the blue cobblestones in old town. The bricks were brought over on Spanish ships in the 1700’s and time and moisture have caused them to have a blue hue, but word has it that they are slowly being replaced due to cracking and unevenness.
2. El Morro and San Cristobal
It’s hard to miss the forts of El Morro and San Cristobal while walking around Old San Juan. Construction on Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) was begun in 1539 as a way to protect the city from an attack by sea, but it not completed until 1787. Castillo San Cristóbal was built to protect the city from attacks by land. The views here are phenomenal and history is always so much more interesting when you’re able to experience it in person.
Read more about exploring El Morro here
Gun turret in El Morro
3. El Yunque
El Yunque National Forest is located approximately 25 miles southeast of San Juan. Receiving over 200 inches of rain a year, this jungle like area is filled with lush flora and fauna (some species only found here), beautiful waterfalls and trails that crisscross the area for easy exploration. Listen to the sounds of 13 species of coqui fill the air and keep your eyes open for the endangered Puerto Rican amazon (parrot) – the only remaining native parrot in Puerto Rico.
Read more about exploring El Yunque here
4. Drink a Piña Colada
Named the national drink of Puerto Rico in 1978, you won’t have a problem finding a bar or restaurant that serves one. In fact, two places in San Juan claim to have originally created the creamy rum drink, Barrachina and Caribe Hilton Hotel’s Beachcomber Bar. If you want to do a bit of “research”, you could try one at each location to see which you prefer.
Piña Coladas at Barrachina’s
Puerto Rican cuisine was not something we were familiar with before we started visiting the islands and now we love it. Not typically spicy – but well spiced, it seems to be a unique and tasty blend of influences from different ethnic groups that settled on the island. Mofongo (mashed plantain filled with steak, chicken, shrimp, pork, etc.), Alcapurria (fritters made of green bananas and filled with seasoned meat), Mallorca (Puerto Rican sweet brean), Bacalaítos (fried codfish fritters), Lechón (roasted pig) and Arroz con gandules (the Puerto Rican style of rice and beans made with pigeon peas and sofrito) are just a few of the succulent delicacies or dishes you might find.
6. Roadside Food Stands
As if there’s not enough good food to choose from in Puerto Rican restaurants, there’s another place to sample great local cuisine with the added bonus of chatting with the cook/owner. On roadways all over Puerto Rico you’ll find roadside food stands selling everything from barbeque chicken to arepas to pinchos. Want to wash it down with smething cold? Try a Coco Frio (coconut water), Medalla Light (the local beer) or another Piña Colada. Our favorite? A row of food kiosks close to Luquillo Beach!
Luquillo Beach Food Kiosk
Called the rum capital of the world, Puerto Rico sells 70% of the rum sold in the US. Bacardi is the best known and has a distillery with tours on island, but if you have the chance, be sure to sample the local favorite Don Q and our favorite – Ron Del Barrilito Three Star, considered the “Cognac of the Caribbean”.
Puerto Rican Rums
8. Check Out the Non-Tourtisty Areas
Sure it’s great to be able to visit the popular tourist attractions in PR – they’re popular for a reason! But there are so many other things to experience on PR if you have the time and some transportation. If you’re staying on-island and can rent a car, check out some of these less touristy, but still cool destinations. Spend some time exploring Crash Boat Beach in Aguadilla – the site of a former military port that still has some of the military pier infrastructure, surf in Rincon, a sleepy town on the west coast that is a favorite of expats, kayak over to Gilligan’s Island (Cayo Aurora) from Guánica and do some snorkeling, visit Café Gran Batey Coffee Farm in Utuado for a tour, a tasting and some coffee beans to bring home, and explore the neoclassical architecture of Ponce, Puerto Rico’s second largest city, founded in 1692 by Ponce de Leon’s great grandson.
Crash Boat Beach
9. Explore Puerto Rico’s Beautiful Out Islands
There are approximately 143 islands, cays, islets and atolls surrounding the island of Puerto Rico and the only inhabited ones – Vieques and Culebra are great for day trips or longer and easy to get to via ferry.
Find many of the places mentioned above on our Puerto Rico Map
To see more posts on Puerto Rico and other islands, check out our Island Blog Directory
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