For those seeking rich history and culture, pristine white sand beaches, misty rainforests tucked into majestic mountains, and adventure — all without needing a passport — Puerto Rico’s East Coast is the sun-kissed Caribbean paradise that offers up amazing adventures.
A destination of beuno gente (local slang for “kind and friendly”) people and natural relaxation, Puerto Rico’s East Coast is roughly an hour drive from the capital of San Juan and is well worth the journey. I attended a professional conference recently in San Juan, and while the city was spectacular with culture, food, and history, I’m a sucker for the wild places.
While on a hosted trip to the island’s east coast, I did everything from sail upon a catamaran and snorkel the reefs to explore the verdant green of the U.S.’s only rainforest national park by horseback. Staying at the Wyndham Palmas Beach & Golf Resort, located in Humacoa’s posh resort community, gave me a home base that was both luxurious and close to all the adventures that I needed.
If you are headed to Puerto Rico, don’t limit yourself to the city areas. Instead, take the short drive and discover these five amazing adventures on Puerto Rico’s East Coast where you’ll find adrenaline, relaxation, some of the best food on the island, and a laid-back natural vibe that appeals to grandchildren, teens, grandparents, and everyone in between.
1. Snorkel The Reefs
Exploring the crystal blue waters surrounding Puerto Rico was tops on my list of adventures to do, so on the first day of my trip, I headed out to Villa Marina to take the Culebra Power Boat Snorkeling & Beach Tour with Sail Getaways, which offers private and public boat tours and snorkeling trips in Puerto Rico.
On our way to the gem island of Culebra, we enjoyed a fast and sometimes rocky 45-minute boat ride to the area where snorkeling and beach exploration are celebrated. The staff of Sail Getaways provided us with sodas and juice before we reached one of Culebra’s beautiful reefs to snorkel for about an hour and a half over a living coral reef.
Don’t worry if you aren’t an expert at snorkeling; the staff also provides float belts for those who need an easy time of it. During the hour or so of snorkeling, we paddled gently over the living coral reef with its waving fan-like plants to gaze at schools of more than 60 kinds of fish, stingrays, and sea turtles.
After working up an appetite from exploring the reef that few people get to experience, the staff of Sail Getaways fed us a boxed lunch and, thank heavens, started pouring the rum drinks. As we stuffed our faces and sipped at the hearty Pina Coladas, our particular tour made its way to one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world, Flamenco Beach.
Pro Tip: If you are prone to seasickness, take motion sickness pills before the boat ride. Also, sunscreen is an absolute must in Puerto Rico, as I learned the hard way. After a day on the boat and the beach, I turned red as a tomato.
2. Don’t Miss The Beaches
After snorkeling, we spent the next two hours or so at the world-famous Flamenco Beach. It’s easy to see why this beach is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 beaches in the world with its sparkling turquoise waters and blindingly-white sand stretch of beach.
As we moored near the beach, we hopped off the boat to wade in the nearly wave-less waters to play in the sand, soak up the strong Puerto Rico sun, or explore the area. While remote, you’ll have access to amenities like changing rooms and bathrooms, parking and showers, but you can also shop at different kiosks that sell authentic Puerto Rican crafts and food.
If beach bumming gets boring (how could it?), take a walk down the nearly mile-long beach to see one of Flamenco Beach’s most iconic sights — The Tank.
For a greater part of the 20th century, the U.S. Navy used the island of Culebra for training, and in 1936, for bombing practice. The graffiti-covered and rusted tanks on the beach are a vivid reminder of war-time America, but also make for striking photos and history.
Depending on weather and sea conditions other beaches you may visit can include Luis Peña, Carlos Rosario, Melones, or Punta Soldado.
Pro Tip: Take snacks along the way as this day-long trip is roughly 4 to 6 hours. Again, sunscreen and a sun hat are highly recommended.
3. Zipline Through The Rainforest
Puerto Rico’s East Coast is home to El Yunque, the only subtropical rainforest in the United States. Tucked into the towering mountains of the coast, this rainforest is full of hiking trails, vistas of the surrounding forests, waterfalls, and more.
It’s also a great place to soar over the trees by zipline. One morning, we donned our adventurous spirit to fly along eight different ziplines with Rainforest Zipline Park. Home to one of the longest ziplines in the area at 2,300 feet, the park offers up a unique way to experience the rainforest.
However, you’ll need to be able to climb steep steps and be okay with stopping your flight with a leather-clad glove, but the feeling of flying through the air is one of my favorites.
4. Explore The Trails By Horseback
After a hearty lunch at Carabali Bar & Grill at the Carabali Adventure Park in El Yunque, we geared up to explore the 600-acre adventure ranch and surrounding rainforest trails by horseback. My horse was a calm fellow named Manuel who took his slow, sweet time along the rocky trails, allowing me the luxury of relaxing and taking in the streams, towering trees, and views of the peaks in the distance.
Led by local horsemen, the hour-long ride took us along the Mameyes River in the foothills of the El Yunque range, but you can also book a 2-hour option that also takes you for a ride along Puerto Rico’s famous beaches.
If you are in Puerto Rico for an intergenerational trip with everyone from toddlers to grandparents, this adventure park offers a little something for every age and ability.
Pro Tip: Carabalí Bar & Grill Restaurant is a Western-themed outpost that includes the restaurant, a hopping little bar, and a gift shop. If you eat at the restaurant, you must try the Carabali 12-ounce Angus skirt steak, for which the restaurant is famous. Fun fact of the day — this restaurant claims that it “invented” the pina colada. Whether that’s actually true or not, they do make a delicious cocktail.
5. Taste The Culture
For those whose idea of adventure runs more along the culinary theme, Puerto Rico’s East Coast offers up a wide bevy of locally-sourced and culturally-important foods and restaurants to try.
For a more upscale dining experience, you don’t have to go farther than your Palmas Beach and Golf Resort room to Trova Narrative Cuisine. As part of the massive renovations and upgrades being undertaken at Palmas, Trova was designed to “tell a story” with its food. Led by Chef Yia Madina, the menu showcases bold flavors and historic dishes ranging from beef tartare to whole roasted fish.
For a taste of Puerto Rican barbecue, head to Smokey Joe Caribbean Grill, but come hungry because owner Joe Padilla will feed the heck out of you with Angus meat, sausages, smoked pork and birria tacos, marinated grilled chicken tacos, fish tacos, and Joe’s Famous Smoked Pulled Pork Tacos. The eatery is located along a hopping little shopping district, and it’s a local favorite as well. Joe himself is a character and incredibly passionate about barbecue and his culinary creations; in fact, he recently won an international cooking competition for his paella dish in Spain!
For some truly great seafood, you can’t go wrong with La Pasion por el Fogón, which specializes in food the “way grandmothers used to cook” with firewood. Open since 2001, the restaurant excels with its ceviches, shark bites served with homemade tartar sauce, Puerto Rican fried cheese, lobster flutes, and of course, fresh fish. They also specialize in mofongo, a traditional Puerto Rican dish made of mashed plantains and pork or chicken, seasoned with garlic and spices.
Pro Tip: If you aren’t renting a car to get to your adventures on Puerto Rico’s East Coast, then Bespoke Lifestyle Management is a great company to work with for transfers and transportation. You’ll need to confirm your reservations for airport transfers, tour transportation, and trips to the east coast roughly 24-48 hours prior to your service, but it’s an easy way to get around the island.
Bespoke also arranges tours like the El Yunque Rainforest Tour, snorkeling tours, food tours, and even tours out to the bioluminescent bays on Puerto Rico’s west coast. We used them the whole time during our hosted trip to the East Coast, which made getting around super easy.