From Indian heritage sites to colonial gems, and sandy beaches to extraordinary ecological sites — here is a rundown of the best things to do in Puerto Rico.
The information in this article is inspired by the The Rough Guides guidebooks — your essential guides for visiting the world.
1. Visit Old San Juan
There’s a wealth of architectural treasures on the spit of land that is Old San Juan, from sturdy fortresses to pretty pastel-painted houses, with museums, shops, restaurants and bars for all to enjoy.
Old San Juan, walled within the island capital, is the second oldest European settlement in the Americas. Built by Spanish colonists in 1521, it exhibits magnificent colonial fortresses such as El Morro, San Cristóbal and La Fortaleza, superb examples of 16th- and 17th-century colonial architecture with blue cobblestoned streets.
Explore the most popular landmarks of Old San Juan on a guided excursion with a local. Make your way to sites such as the San Juan Cathedral and La Fortaleza, and tour the interior of Fort Morro.
- Best for beaches: Trópica Beach Hotel. Conveniently situated in the Santurce district of San Juan, Trópica Beach Hotel is located 200 m from Ocean Park Beach, 1.2 km from Condado Beach and 2.2 km from Punta Las Marias. This 3-star hotel offers a 24-hour front desk and a concierge service.
Where to stay in San Juan:
- Best for city views: Old San Juan Guest House. Situated in San Juan, Old San Juan Guest House features city views and free WiFi, 2.5 km from Playa Ocho and 2.6 km from Escambrón Beach.
2. Ride a Paso Fino horse
With a history as long as Spanish colonial rule, Paso Fino horses are an amalgam of races producing a proud and elegant demeanour. The lateral gait of a Paso Fino horse is low and smooth, typically described as a taca, taca, taca, taca sound, while the horse’s demeanour is poised, proud and elegant.
Puerto Rico Paso Fino horses have three paces: fino is fully collected with a fast footfall; corto is a faster pace similar to a trot with medium collection and extension; largo is more extended and faster, with horses travelling up to 25 mph. Ride these friendly horses along the beach or through the jungle and experience their exceptionally smooth gait.
Explore the Carabalí Rainforest Park on a horseback riding tour and admire the stunning flora and fauna of a unique ecosystem.
3. Relax at the Playa Flamenco, Culebra
While on Culebra, don't miss this thing to do in Puerto Rico - make a point of seeing Playa Flamenco. A público (bus) can take you there, or you can make the long walk from Dewey. This is the sort of beach you have always heard about – soft white sand, clear blue water, and no one to kick sand in your face. A few hundred yards down the beach rest two archaic US Marine Corps tanks.
Nothing beats waking up on this unspoiled expanse of silky white sand, one of the most dazzling beaches in the world.
Experience an exciting, high speed full-day Culebra islands catamaran tour to the Cordillera Islands just off the coast of Puerto Rico. Departing from Fajardo, you will enjoy a full day of sunbathing in the warm, pristine Caribbean waters.
- Best for privacy and views: Aleli Cottages. Situated 3 km from Melones, Aleli Cottages features accommodation with a garden, a terrace and a shared kitchen for your convenience.
Where to stay near Playa Flamenco:
- Best for location: Island Charm Culebra offers accommodation in Culebra. All rooms are fitted with a flat-screen TV with satellite channels. All rooms include a seating area for your convenience. Enjoy a cup of coffee from your terrace or balcony.
If you are inspired by Puerto Rico, Cuba and its attractions might also be interesting for you.
4. Head to the Observatorio de Arecibo
Hidden among the mountains, where the stars shine undimmed by city lights, sits the most sensitive radio telescope on Earth.
The Arecibo Ionospheric Observatory is so huge that you can spot it from a jumbo jet at 33,000ft (10,000 meters). Yet on the ground, first-time visitors will need a detailed road map to find its guarded entrance.
Located at the end of winding Route 625, in the heart of Puerto Rico’s karst country, the observatory has been the focus of numerous astronomical breakthroughs over the years, ranging from Aleksander Wolszczan’s 1992 discovery of planets outside our own solar system to NASA’s $100 million Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.
5. Enjoy beach hopping in Vieques
If you are looking for beach-related things to do in Puerto Rico - tour the mesmerizing beaches of Vieques, precious slices of untouched Caribbean wilderness.
Much of Vieques looks like Californian cattle country: dry, rolling hills, scattered lazy herds and flocks of white egrets. But the island also enjoys scores of beaches, a small rainforest, exotic wildflowers, and a healthy population of tree frogs, mongoose and horses.
With characteristic imagination, the Navy named three of the island’s beaches Red, Blue, and Green, although the colour designations have now mostly been dropped in favour of local, Spanish names. Merely getting to these places is a small adventure; rocky approach roads wind through thick seagrape overbrush.
Red (Playa Corcho) and Blue (Bahía de la Chiva) beaches are ideal for swimming, snorkelling, and scuba diving. Just 75 meters off Blue Beach lies a cay (Isla Chiva) to swim to and explore for helmet shells and coral. The way to Green Beach (Punta Arena) is long, bumpy, and torturous.
- Best for location: The Vieques Guesthouse. Located in Vieques, within 300 m of Coconut Beach and 500 m of Esperanza, The Vieques Guesthouse provides accommodation with a shared lounge and free WiFi throughout the property as well as free private parking for guests who drive.
Where to stay in Vieques:
- Best for the sea view: Blue Horizon Boutique Resort. This adult-only resort is located on the island of Vieques, just off the coast of Puerto Rico. The historic building features an on-site bar and restaurant, plus an outdoor swimming pool.
6. Enjoy diving and snorkelling
The crystalline waters off Puerto Rico contain some of the best-kept secrets in the Caribbean, making it an underwater paradise ideal for diving and snorkelling.
Puerto Rico is prime scuba territory. Visibility around the main island can sometimes be affected by the outflow from rivers, particularly after heavy rain, but that does not apply around Vieques and Culebra, nor around Mona and Desecheo, where it is excellent.
Vieques and Culebra are easily accessible, but Mona and Desecheo are isolated in the Mona Passage, reached only by charter boat or private yacht.
Take time to escape and discover the island of Vieques on this snorkelling tour. Explore an underwater wonderland, then relax on a sandy beach. Or be amazed by the Aquafari Culebra, one of the most impressive tours with the clearest waters, pristine beaches, and sea life. Paddle your way along Puerto Rico’s kayaking and snorkelling mecca.
7. Explore the historical heart of Puerto Rico - Ponce
Puerto Rico’s second city is a showcase of ebullient architecture, impressive art and poignant museums, including the lavish home of the Don Q rum empire, Castillo Serallés. And all of these makes visiting Ponce one of the best things to do in Puerto Rico.
Ponce has an enviable natural harbour and a busy port away from the inland city centre. Coming from San Juan, a left turn off the Autopista will take you to the interesting outpost at Playa de Ponce – a collection of old brick warehouses and more modern storage areas – and the wharf at Muelle de Ponce.
La Guancha Board Walk is a popular gathering place, where there are plenty of kiosks selling fried food, craft stalls, an open-air stage and live music.
Explore Ponce with a cultural walk in the historic heart of what was once the richest Puerto Rican city. Wander the streets with your guide, and learn about its fascinating history, culture, and food.
- Best for historical decor: Boutique Hotel Belgica. This central Ponce hotel is just 1 km from the Ponce Museum of Art. It features free Wi-Fi and a business centre.
Where to stay in Ponce:
- Best for luxury: Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort. This beachfront hotel is located in Ponce, Puerto Rico. The hotel offers access to a secluded public beach, a 27-hole golf course, a casino and massage services.
8. Take a salsa lesson
Learn to dance, check out a salsa club or just sit back and enjoy the pros on the island that was home to El Cantante, Gran Combo and Ricky Martin. The Spanish word salsa literally translates as “sauce”: in a musical sense, salsa is the hot and spicy sauce that makes parties happen.
Salsa is what happens when Afro-Caribbean music meets big-band jazz. Its roots may be found in the early explorations of the late Puerto Rican Tito Puente and Cuban musicians in New York City clubs following World War II.
Salsa (the centre of which is now thought to have shifted back to Puerto Rico from New York) has firmly placed the island on the map of popular music, with more and more young salseros getting in on the act every day – and not just in Puerto Rico.
Enjoy a fun and entertaining salsa class focused on couples, with a professional instructor. Learn dance moves under the Puerto Rican stars, and begin to salsa like a pro in no time.
9. Taste the Piña colada
This sumptuous blend of rum, pineapple and coconut is served everywhere, from ritzy hotel bars to shacks on the beach.
Caribbean classic. Reputedly invented in Puerto Rico, the piña colada remains a favourite rum libation. It’s made with cream of coconut, white rum, and pineapple juice.
Also, if you are not a coctail-lover - Puerto Rico is the Rolls-Royce of rums. Many rum connoisseurs point to Ron del Barrilito, who only makes premium-aged rums, as a real leader in the field with its unblended three-year-old Two-Star and blended six- to ten-year-old Three-Star – both coming in at 86 percent proof.
10. Admire the art deco in San Germán
Soak up the colonial history in this charming old town, with ornate mansions and delicate churches harking back to the boom days of sugar and coffee.
San Germán, Puerto Rico’s second-oldest town, is a well-preserved and attractive Spanish colonial town known as “the city of the hills,” about halfway between Ponce and Mayagüez.
In the 19th century, it became one of Puerto Rico’s great coffee towns, with magnates building some of the truly unique homes on the island. San Germán’s historic district in the western part of town includes more than 100 significant buildings, most of them domestic properties, although you can visit the Museo de Arte y Casa de Estudio on Calle Esperanza and a couple are now restaurants.
Although you cannot enter private homes, a walking tour of the town reveals a wide variety of architectural styles from Spanish colonial to Victorian and Art Deco.
11. Go surfing at the various beaches
Puerto Rico has almost ideal conditions for surfing – warm water, brilliant sunshine, and heavy but even tubular surf. Many of the most popular spots are convenient to San Juan: Aviones is probably the most renowned, and so-named because of the airplanes that fly over from the nearby international airport.
La Ocho, in Puerta de Tierra’s Escambrón Beach, is also popular and crowded on weekends. The best surfing, however, is in the northwest, with surf spots stretching from Isabela to Rincón is famous, while Jobos Beach proves popular among Aguadilla and Isabela residents. The Rincón Surf Report gives daily reports and forecasts on surf and waves.
12. Take a tour at Casa Bacardi
Learn everything there is to know about the Caribbean’s favourite tipple at the “Cathedral of Rum”.
In the most remote corners of the world, people know the name Bacardi. That they automatically associate it with Puerto Rico is all the more surprising, considering that Bacardi isn’t the island’s only rum, or even its best. Yet few tourists visit Puerto Rico without making a pilgrimage to the sprawling Bacardi Rum Plant.
The distillery has a capacity of 100,000 gallons (454,000 litres) a day and is the largest rum distillery in the world, but you do not get to see inside it. From the entrance, you are taken from the waiting area/outdoor pavilion by trolley to the Bacardi Visitor Center, where you are told about sugar cane, rum manufacture, and the history of the Bacardi family.
Savour the taste of Bacardi rum as you tour San Juan's Casa Bacardi Puerto Rico. Enjoy a tasting and learn all about the history of the world's most famous rum as you explore the iconic distillery.
13. Enjoy authentic Puerto Rican coffee
Puerto Rican coffee once supplied the Vatican, and today the island’s fertile soils and ideal climate are fuelling a resurgence in potent, gourmet brands. Local coffee has become something of a gourmet product, with several boutique coffee producers taking the bean more upmarket.
The best can be found in the Cordillera Central, where it is grown on small farms around Maricao, Las Marías, Lares, Ciales, Jayuya, and Adjuntas. Buying direct from the farmers ensures that you are getting 100 percent Puerto Rican coffee, whereas coffee sold in supermarkets can contain beans from elsewhere to make up the difference if the local harvest has been insufficient for local consumption.
Embark on a day out to a coffee plantation in Puerto Rico. Master the art of making Puerto Rican coffee at a local permaculture Hacienda, and finish the day in historic Ponce for some sightseeing.
Read more information about the rum industry in our research on the world's best rum in Puerto Rico.
14. Hike in El Yunque National Forest
Hiking in Puerto Rico’s most enchanting reserve of pristine rainforest, jungle-covered peaks and bubbling cascades, laced with panoramic trails is one of the best things to do in Puerto Rico.
The only tropical rainforest in the USDA National Forest system, and the only part of Puerto Rico administered by the US Department of Agriculture, the El Yunque National Forest – named after the good Taíno spirit Yukiyú – is home to all the mystery and wonder that comes in the colour green.
These 28,000 acres (11,000 hectares) of bucking mountain at the highest part of the Sierra de Luquillo offer great biodiversity with distinct and varied ecological zones within a comparatively small area.
Explore El Yunque National Forest on a day trip from San Juan. Enjoy natural water slides created by waterfalls running through rocks, and learn about the rainforest's ecosystem from your guide.
- Best for calm stays: Casa Coral. Set in Luquillo, 300 m from La Pared Beach, Casa Coral offers accommodation with a shared lounge, free private parking, a garden and a terrace.
Where to stay near El Yunque National Forest:
- Best for beach location: Ocean Front Apartment. Set in Luquillo, Ocean Front Apartment offers self-catering accommodation. Guests benefit from the balcony. Free private parking is available on site.
15. Explore Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Even Sir Francis Drake couldn’t take this spectacular Spanish fortress, a whopping sledgehammer of stone and cannons that have guarded San Juan Bay for over four hundred years.
El Castillo San Felipe del Morro, simply known as El Morro features a maze of secret access tunnels, dungeons, lookouts, ramps, barracks, and vaults. Declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations, El Morro falls under the auspices of the US National Park Service.
This, the larger of the city’s two forts, commands San Juan Bay with six levels of gun emplacements and walls that tower 140ft (43 meters) over the Atlantic. Its guns were capable of aiming at any ship within El Morro’s field of vision, no matter the distance, and the walls themselves, connected with the system that encircles Old San Juan, are 20ft (6 meters) thick.
Explore the most popular landmarks of Old San Juan on a guided excursion with a local. Make your way to sites such as the San Juan Cathedral and La Fortaleza, and tour the interior of Fort Morro.
16. Hike through La Ruta Panorámica
Explore this winding route along the island’s mountainous spine, a world of misty forests, coffee farms and roadside stalls selling roast pork.
The Ruta Panorámica avoids Cayey, passing several miles to the south, but Cayey is a good place to pick up the Ruta Panorámica from San Juan, little more than 30 minutes’ drive from Condado. Route 1 becomes the Panorámica about 2 miles (3km) past the town. Care should be taken, for the Panorámica shifts to Route 772 after another 3 miles (5km).
The Ruta Panorámica, as its name suggests, is rich with vistas. Remember, though: Cordillera driving is no picnic. Do not forget the essential map for winding road navigation, and pack some motion-sickness pills – you never know.
17. Visiting the Toro Verde Adventure Park - one of the best things to do in Puerto Rico for extreme lovers
There are countless opportunities for adventure tourism in the area around Barranquitas. Head west of Barranquitas on Route 157, then turn north on Route 155 just after Orocovis and you will find Toro Verde Nature Adventure Park.
This forested playground in the mountains has the latest methods of taking you beyond your comfort zone while offering something for everyone in the family, subject to height and weight restrictions.
Ziplining is the core activity, with an added feature of a line where you lie horizontal in a harness and fly like a bird for nearly a mile high across the valley. There is also an 8-mile (13km) mountain bike trail, rappelling and hiking across swaying wooden suspension bridges.
Fly like a bird on one of the world's longest single-run zip lines. Reach speeds up to 60 mph as you soar across the rainforest landscapes of Puerto Rico on this thrill-seeking experience.
18. Explore ancient art in Cueva del Indio
Puerto Rico has inspired its residents to create art for thousands of years. The oldest signs of artistic expression are the petroglyphs found around the island, such as those at La Piedra Escrita near Jayuya, Caguana Indian Park near Utuado, Tibes Indian Park near Ponce, and La Cueva del Indio at Las Piedras near Arecibo.
The standing stones of the Batey, or ballpark, as well as the walls of the tunnels and passages through the boulders and rocks of the “cave” at Las Piedras, are decorated with drawings of the sun, faces, animals, and geometric shapes, showing that their art was varied and not just figurative.
19. Marvel at the Los Morrillos Lighthouse
The Faro de Cabo Rojo is a breathtaking specimen of Spanish colonial architecture, with a low-lying, palesided main building and squat, hexagonal light tower. It perches atop dun-coloured cliffs at the very extremity of the peninsula and commands views of almost 300 degrees of the Caribbean.
The faro was built in 1881 over limestone cliffs that drop 200ft (61 meters) into the sea and is also known as “Faro de Los Morrillos.” This old lighthouse was automated and electrically charged in 1967. The structure is at its most awe-inspiring when given a faint blush of colour by either sunrise or sunset.
A trail leads from the lighthouse to La Playuela, a curve of white sand enclosing perfect blue water. Its high salinity leaves your skin feeling as though you’ve had a spa treatment.
Discover the culture of the West side of Puerto Rice on a leisurely day tour from San Juan. See white-sand beaches and Playa Sucia, the Faro Los Morrillos lighthouse, and natural salt pools in Cabo Rojo.
20. Take a kayak-guided tour of the Mosquito Bay
On Vieques, just off the coast of Fajardo, you can find the Puerto Mosquito Bioluminescent Bay Natural Reserve, considered to be one of the most spectacular in the world for its brightness. You can either take a kayak-guided tour of the bay or opt for an electric pontoon boat.
Vieques’ major attraction is the Reserva Natural Bahía Bioluminiscente (Phosphorescent Bay) in Mosquito Bay, considered to have the best phosphorescent display in the world. Billions of dinoflagellates, the microscopic organisms that inhabit Mosquito Bay, emit a neon blue-green fluorescent light when the water stirs, bright enough to read a book by. The best time to come here is on a moonless night.
Meet your group at Malecon La Esperanza and enjoy a guided cruise to the unique bioluminescent bay on the island of Vieques. Marvel at incredible microscopic organisms that glow in the dark.
21. Go shopping at Plaza Las Americas in San Juan
Most of the money in the Antilles is filtered through a group of banks and financial institutions clustered on a section of Avenida Luis Muñoz Rivera in Hato Rey known as Milla de Oro (The Golden Mile).
A mile west of the business district is Plaza Las Américas the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean. Locals flock here to stroll amid its fountains and flowered walks and to buy everything from guayaberas (traditional Puerto Rican shirts) to guava juice. The mega shopping center includes flagship stores Macy’s, Sears, and JC Penney among over 300 shops.
22. Ride the trolley in Camuy River Cave Park
One of the largest cave systems in the Western world can be found northeast of Lares heading back to Arecibo. The cave system is actually a series of karstic sinkholes connected by the 350ft (106-meter) -deep Río Camuy, which burrows underground through soft limestone for much of its course from the Cordillera to the Atlantic.
The largest of these entrances has been developed as a tourist attraction, with inducements of the “fun for the whole family” variety. Don't miss this thing to do in Puerto Rico while travelling with kids.
The park’s main attraction is the 170ft (52-meter) -high and 695ft (210-meter) -long Cueva Clara, which is specially lit and accessible only by trolley and in guided groups. This is a very popular attraction and can get crowded with school groups and other tour parties. The trolley runs every 30 minutes and there is a short video to entertain you while you wait, as well as a gift shop.
23. Relax at Seven Seas Beach
Seven Seas Beach and Campground on Bahía las Cabezas, is a lovely crescent of sand shaded by almond trees and palms. The Balneario here ensures that in summer the beach is cleaned and the washrooms have water, but at other times of the year services are sometimes lacking.
Northeast of here, the Reserva Natural Las Cabezas de San Juan is a 316-acre (128-hectare) environmental paradise run by the Para La Naturaleza, part of the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico, with some of the Caribbean’s most stunning landscapes.
Puerto Rico is undoubtedly a rather exotic destination. If that's what you're after, check out our guide to the most exotic places to travel in the world.
Visiting Puerto Rico is a truly unforgettable exprrience. For more inspirational travel tips check our Rough Guide books. Also read more about the best time to go to Puerto Rico. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.
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