Puerto Rico has all the benefits of a Caribbean island vacation combined with the comforts of a big city. With 270 miles of coastline, much of it secluded, and dozens of remote towns waiting to be explored, Puerto Rico can definitely provide a quiet, peaceful vacation. At the same time, thanks to the presence of its capital city, San Juan, there are large hotels and resorts, shopping and entertainment districts, and every creature comfort a visitor might need.
Visitors just need to decide which type of experience they want and make reservations accordingly. Puerto Rico makes it easy for visitors from anywhere in the world to have a great time.
1. Americans Won’t Need A Passport (And Other Benefits)
For Americans, one of the top benefits of a vacation in Puerto Rico is not needing a passport. Simply exit the plane, grab your bag, and head to your hotel. No need to wait in additional lines. You’ll feel like you’re in another country, but without any of the hassles.
Other benefits for Americans include using the same currency, the U.S. dollar. No currency exchange needed and one more chore to avoid.
Americans will also appreciate the familiarity of many shops. If you’re in need of a pharmacy, there will likely be a CVS nearby where you’re staying. Walmart can easily be found in the event you forgot to pack something.
Finally, your cell phone service provider will be available on the island and without any additional charges.
2. Both Spanish And English Are Spoken
If you learned Spanish in high school and want a chance to practice it, Puerto Rico is ideal. However, if you don’t know any Spanish, that’s just fine as well. Children learn both languages in school, so most adults are bilingual.
For those that venture beyond San Juan and into smaller towns, locals may not practice their English as often, and therefore, it may be limited. It’s always a good idea to come prepared with a few basic phrases like “hello,” “thank you,” and “where’s the bathroom?”
3. Start In San Juan
Most flights to Puerto Rico arrive in the capital city of San Juan, so this is a great place to start your adventure.
With a population of over 300,000 people, San Juan is a bustling city, much like other American cities. However, as one of the oldest cities part of the U.S., it’s also full of historic sites. In fact, San Juan will celebrate its 500th birthday in June of 2022. To learn more about the city, or to book a special birthday tour, visit the Discover Puerto Rico website.
Most first-time visitors will head to the San Juan National Historic Site which includes Castillo San Felipe del Morro, Castillo Cristobal, and Fort San Juan de la Cruz. Take some time to stroll the grounds and learn about Puerto Rico’s history.
Then explore Old San Juan. Here, you’ll find colorful buildings, brick-lined streets, and loads of great restaurants, bars, and cafes. If you’re interested in learning about traditional Puerto Rican food, book a tour with Spoon. Over the course of three hours, you’ll sample local dishes while learning about the city and the island’s history.
Don’t leave the city before sipping a piña colada at the place where it was invented, the Caribe Hilton. It was here that Ramon “Manchito” Marrero spent 3 months crafting this new cocktail in 1954. However, there is an alternate theory that this sweet pineapple and coconut rum drink was created by Ricardo Garcia at Barrachina in Old San Juan. Better yet, try both and compare.
Explore Beyond San Juan
Allow time to explore beyond the city of San Juan, either on day trips or by locating to a new destination. Once outside the capital city, crowds fade away and life moves at a slower pace. This is a great way to experience all aspects of the island.
Day Trips From San Juan
- Tour the Bacardi factory, the only working rum factory that you can tour on the island. Your tour will include a welcome drink and a sample of reserved rum.
- Hike to the waterfalls at El Yunque, the only rainforest in the United States. Be sure to stop at the visitor center to learn which trails are currently open.
- Go zip lining at Toro Verde Adventure Park in Orocovis. Choose from a series of seven zip lines or opt for “The Monster,” the second longest zip line in the world.
- Make your own cheese at Vaca Negra in Hatillo. Tour the cheese making factory, learn about local agriculture, and then make your own cheese.
If you have more time, consider a few days at one of the following destinations:
Located on the southern coast, Ponce is Puerto Rico’s second largest city and the perfect upscale spot to explore for a few days. Start with a stroll through the beautiful downtown, visit the Museum of Puerto Rican Music, and tour Castillo Serralles.
Home to the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world, the island of Vieques is full of natural beauty. Kayak at night through the bay, ride horses on the beach, and hike the rugged coastline.
4. The Biodiversity On The Island Is Impressive
The collection of islands that comprise Puerto Rico is one of 36 biodiversity hotspots in the world. According to Conservation International, to qualify for this designation, there must be at least 1,500 native plants, most of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. While a visit to the island can be about drinking piña coladas on the beach, it can also be an exploration of nature.
There’s a wide range of ecosystems in Puerto Rico, including rainforests, dry forests, sandy beaches, rocky shores, coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests and lagoons. It’s home to the only tropical rainforest in the United States.
To see all the biodiversity the island has to offer, consider some of these experiences:
- Visit Camuy Caves, one of the largest cave systems in the world.
- Kayak through a bioluminescent bay in Vieques.
- Head out hiking either on the beach or more inland.
- Go bird watching in one of Puerto Rico’s many nature reserves.
5. Puerto Rican Food Is Delicious
While you can find any type of food in Puerto Rico, you’ll definitely want to try the local cuisine. Head to one of the local restaurants, food courts, or book a food tour.
One of the must-try foods is mofongo, a Puerto Rican dish consisting of fried green plantains mashed with pork cracklins, garlic, salt, and olive oil or butter. It is traditionally paired with meat or seafood. It’s believed this dish was brought to the island from Angola, when slaves from that country arrived on the island in the 1500s.
Other popular and tasty dishes include pernil (roast pork), arroz con gandules (rice and beans), and bacalaitos (salted cod fritter). For dessert, don’t pass up the chance to enjoy flan, tres leche cake, or arroz con dulce (a local version of rice pudding).
If you’re hoping to try a variety of Puerto Rican food in one place, head to Lote 23, a food park located in the artsy Santurce district of San Juan. El Cuchifrito specializes in mofongo, Budare creates traditional arepas, and Caneca crafts cocktails using locally-sourced juice.
Puerto Rico is well-known for its pork dishes, so if this is you, set aside time for a drive along the Pork Highway. Start in Pinones, a beachfront town just 10 minutes outside of San Juan, then continue on to Luquillo on the eastern coast. End the day at El Guavate near the mountains of Cayey. Along the way, snack on chicharrones (fried pork cracklings), blood sausage, and pernil.
Pro Tip: While Puerto Rico has plenty of delicious dishes, many of these items cannot be taken off the island. When checking your luggage at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, you’ll be asked to have it cleared with the USDA to insure you have none of these prohibited items.
6. Expect Tropical Weather
Puerto Rico has tropical weather, which often means hot and humid. At lower elevations, daytime weather averages 80 degrees Fahrenheit, though it can reach 100 degrees in the summer. At higher elevations, 70 degrees is common. Rain is common throughout the year, often coming in short bursts. The rainy season is April through November.
Essentially, Puerto Rico has perfect vacation weather. If it gets too hot, head to the pool or beach to cool off. Other activities are best experienced earlier in the day before the heat peaks.
Pro Tip: Summer attire, like shorts and T-shirts, will be perfect for most daytime activities, but Puerto Ricans do like to dress up a bit for their evening activities, so be sure to follow suit.
7. Ideal Times To Visit Puerto Rico
Peak season — and the best weather — is December through April. However, July and August are also busy times for hotels and resorts since this is when many Puerto Ricans vacation. Hotel prices will be higher during these times.
April through mid-June is a nice time to be in Puerto Rico since the weather is not too hot, the crowds have decreased, and typically, hotel prices during this time are better.
Check out some of our past articles on Puerto Rico, including: