Despite the fact that most people I know who’ve actually been there rate it among their least favorite places, I’ve long been intrigued by this almost-a-state tropical outpost in the Caribbean.
I’m taking their distaste for the place as evidence that they didn’t go to the right places. Lonely Planet has good things to say about the island, so I’m taking that as a sign that I’m right. To ensure that I get to really experience all the richness Puerto Rico has to offer, I plan to avoid the all-inclusive tourist hotels and instead travel around as much of the island as I can.
This is a culturally, historically, and environmentally rich island with a wide variety of attractions for tourists like me.
Old San Juan
- Old buildings: San Juan is one of the oldest cities in the Western Hemisphere and has the buildings to prove it, including the Spanish fort of El Morro, La Fortaleza (El Palacio de Santa Catalina), Fuerte San Cristóbal, Casa Blanca (built for Juan Ponce de Leon, although he never actually lived there), the Iglesia de San José, and more.
- Museums: While the island’s history is remembered in its structures, a few museums broaden the perspective, including the Museo Felisa Rincón de Gautier (which pays homage to the achievements of San Juan’s beloved mayor, Doña Felisa); Casa del Libro (with its valuable collection of early texts); the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico; and the Museum of anthropology, history and art (which houses Taíno Indian artifacts, revolving art shows, and scholarly perspectives on island history).
- Urban strolling: San Juan sounds perfect for evening strolls through the Plaza de Armas or along the Paseo de la Princesa.
- Gardens: Every tropical city needs a few gardens! San Juan’s include the Moorish garden at La Fortaleza, the gardens of the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, and the Estación Experimental Agrícola de Puerto Rico, with its lotus lagoon, massive orchid garden, and palm plantation.
- Scenic beaches: San Juan has a number of beaches, but the most scenic may be the sands at Piñones and Balneario Escambrón.
Las Cabezas de San Juan Reserva Natural ‘El Faro’ – Located in the far northeast of the island, the reserve includes a historic lighthouse, a bioluminescent bay, rare flora and fauna, and a lush rainforest spread over seven ecological sytems. It sounds like a beautiful hotbed of biodiversity and rare flora and fauna
The bioluminescent bay at Vieques – The beaches are gorgeous, but it’s the bay -which glows when disturbed at night – that puts this on my list!
El Yunque National Forest – A lovely and accessible recovering rainforest waiting to show-off for visitors.
Snorkeling along Desecheo Island – As a former military facility with unexploded ordinance still around, the island (which can’t be visited) draws few visitors, which has helped keep the waters pristine and the coral and fish healthy.
Playa Flamenco on Culebra – Identified as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, it is a great place to relax or snorkel.
The Ruta Panorámica – This network of roads is said to live up to its name, providing great views all along the way.
Note when planning a trip that many websites are not available in English.