With it's amazing food, culture, beaches and vibes, Puerto Rico is a special tropical paradise. You're never too far from the ocean and getting around the island is a short drive. If you want to visit the home of the Mofongo, Churrasco, Piña Colada, and Rum then keep on reading.
One my first friends in America was Puerto Rican and she always talked about her home, but now that I've finally been there (two times just in 2021), I cannot stop talking about this gorgeous place. Most people stay in San Juan, but I'll share why going around the island will help you discover Puerto Rico in the truest sense.
Getting there: It's only a short flight away from east coast United States, and because it is a US territory you do not need a passport or visa to enter the island or enter back in USA. This is a blessing for people like me in the international immigrant community who struggle with visa issues.
Temperature: The island is a tropical heaven with yearly average temperatures around 80F (26C).
Currency: USD ($)
Time: Eastern Time Zone (no daylight savings)
Where to stay in Puerto Rico: There are so many places to stay in Puerto Rico which range from $45/night to $$$/night. My recommendation is to stay at an Airbnb which let's you meet cool hosts, stay in a good location in the heart of the city and spend more time and money exploring the place. This Airbnb was $106/night when we booked it.
If you like to splurge there are also multiple fancy resorts all around the island available. This particular one is Wyndam Rio Del Mar which was $290/night at the time of reservation on Booking.com
Getting around the island: I recommend driving around the island because San Juan is cool, but there are other cities that have some much more to offer. If you plan to drive around the island then I highly recommend renting a car for your entire stay. We used Priceline and Hotwire to compare rates and booked the cheapest car available with Enterprise. The gas is priced in $/liters which can be a little confusing and the driving is on the right side of the road. Always carry some cash despite most places accept card or venmo/paypal
Mofongo: This dish is a Puerto Rican staple made with mashed plantains, garlic and butter then stuffed with meat or vegetables. There are different styles of mofongo and each one is comforting and filling.
Churrasco: Also known as skirt steak, is another staple available all throughout the island.
Piña Colada: The national drink of Puerto Rico, which is again fabulous everywhere, is served with different balances of pineapple flavor, ice cream and alcohol. Try it with and without the alcohol.
Rum: The drink of choice on the island is rum and Don Q rum to be specific. The flavors are crystal, pineapple, lime, gold, coconut, and passionfruit. My personal favorite is passion fruit Don Q as it goes well in many cocktails
Guava: A lot of dessert and sauces made from guava, so if you like that then definitely try the varieties around the island.
Momposteao: A unique Puerto Rican version of yellow rice and beans, which is sometimes includes pork, but is an absolutely must have.
Black Flag vs Blue Flag: The official flag in Puerto Rico is the blue flag with a white star and red and white stripes. However, in recent years a black flag has emerged as a symbol of independence from the United States because of the an act passed by US that is primarily responsible for the island's debt. Read more here
Language: The island is predominantly Spanish speaking, so be courteous and don't assume that everyone speaks English. To ask if a person speaks English in Spanish say, "Tu hablas Inglés?". This phrase will get you a long way.
Rincon is also known as the queen of the coast, it has some amazing surf beaches, gorgeous sunsets, variety of sea life, small town vibes and most important of all things epic food! This is my faourite place to visit in Puerto Rico and I might as well call it my happy place.
Things to do
Snorkel at Steps Beach
Steps Beach is part of the Reserva Marina Tres Palmas, a marine reserve abundant with wildlife. Here you have the highest chance you'll encounter Sea Turtles, Starfishes, Sea Urchins, Star Fishes, Clown Fishes, Blue Tang Baracudas, and Coral Reefs of all Colors. Upon entering to your right you'll see why it's called Steps Beach and a few feet to your left is a nice area to enter the water after which is a 10 foot drop to the coral reef. The coast is rocky so be careful where you step.
Surf at Maria's or Domes Beach
Maria's is a beginner level surfing beach where you can get lessons and rent a board if you'd like. There are also several rental shops all over town that you can rent from. Keep driving you'll reach the Rincon light house where you can see surfers from the area and also go down to the beach if you want to surf yourself. Keep in mind Domes is an intermediate level surf beach.
Explore the Spanish Wall
While you are at Domes keep walking towards the East and you'll come across a secluded area away from the surf crowd with a Spanish wall on the shore. It gets its name after the old railway that used to run along the coast. This is hands down my favourite place in Rincon where I find peace of mind and true joy!
Discover local night market
Every Thursday night Rincon has an Art Walk. This is where is when locals come out to showcase their handmade and unique collection of art that is available to purchase. We saw jewelry made of sea shells, sea glass, and precious stones; along with home décor, paintings, rugs, T-shirts. There is also a music with a live band which calls for great evening vibe. The market starts around 6 and goes till 9 after which you can bar hop.
Check out the I <3 Rincon sign
Almost toward the border of Rincon and Anasco on highway 115 you can see this cool sign.
Take a Yoga Class by the Beach
Barefoot Yoga offers yoga with a view that is to die for while you have your eyes closed and are enjoying the flow in your down dog you can hear and feel the magic of the waves. It's truly a grounding experience that will set you in the right mood for being completely present for your vacation. This also includes a complimentary meditation session after.
Jump and swim in Waterfalls at Gozalandia
This waterfall destination is a 50 minute car ride away from Rincon, but is definitely worth a visit. There are multiple waterfalls that are easily accessible, but the first one is about 70ft tall and wide with a few spots to jump off and even a little cave to the right of the fall. There is another smaller, quieter waterfall, which is great to swim in only a few minutes walk from the first. You can easily spend a whole day here if you like because there are multiple little spots along the way between the first and second waterfall. Parking is $10 cash or you can pay with card at the Sha's restaurant.
Learn about the EarthShip
About 50 minutes from Rincon is a sustainable and hurricane resistant Earthship which was built to be a community center led by the local nonprofit organization Tainasoy Apiario. The hosts will give you a tour and answer all questions you have like are the walls really made of tires? Hint, yes they are.
Chill at Crash Boat Beach
You can spend all day at Crash Boat, where you can relax at the beach, walk out the dock or jump off it. The waters are beautiful and clear everywhere and this beach even has vendors selling food and drinks.
Places to Eat
Guava Cheesecake is all you need to get, don't get one, but get like 15. It's so good we got it home. You can also buy the cake at the San Juan airport, if you don't want to carry it around throughout your trip.
This place has chill surfer vibes and serves great tacos. Try the BBQ Jackfruit Tacos if you are vegetarian or the Fish of the day. This is my favourite place in Rincon.
Our Airbnb host shared this one with us and boy it was delicious. Try their Mofongo with grouper, Churassco (Skirt Steak) and Bolitas de Queso (Cheese Balls)
Super chill vibes with a fantastic view, live music, and refreshing drinks. Try their ceviche with plantain chips, fish tacos, and coconut shrimp.
If you want a break from eating island food this is a good Thai restaurant where you can try their pad thai.
Tip Top Acai Shop
If you're feeling like a light snack or even a healthy meal this place serves bomb acai bowls and ice cream.
The English Rose
You have to check out this brunch place up in the mountains with a stunning view, refreshing passionfruit mint ice tea and breakfast that'll make you say wow. Don't forget to ask for their homemade jams!
A café right in the parking lot of the Gozalandia waterfalls area. They have perfect sweet potato fries, empanadas, and fresh fruit juice. Don't miss out on the Parcha (Passionfruit) and Guanabana (Soursop) — sounds like a weird fruit, but it's a delicious juice!
Cafe To Go
A tiny shop on highway 413 that serves coffee, tea and smoothies.
Another breakfast place in the heart of town that serves French toast on a brioche bread with maple syrup and makes their naan in-house.
Sana Farm to Table
This place is a burst of freshness in every way since all the ingredients are local. The poke bowl was the best either of us had in our lives and the summer rolls with beets gave a delicious crunch. You can't go wrong with wither the red, green or yellow juices.
Rincon Beer Company
If you are thirsty and looking for a brewery right in town you'll find Rincon Beer Company, which has a rotating list of drafts and cocktails. You should try an old fashioned with an island twist of pineapple and bourbon. or any of the daily brews
El Patio de La Jamaca
This place serves piña colada in a pineapple and mofongo with a creamy white sauce, which was delicious
Towards the south of the island you'll find some calmer waters and less sandy beaches, but still gorgeous little towns.
Hike to the lighthouse in Cabo Robo
Built in 1882 and staring at the south end of the Atlantic Ocean that touches the majestic cliffs in the Wildlife Refuge is a 15 minute easy hike from the parking lot to the lighthouse area.
Check out the Pink Waters of Las Salinas
This beautiful destination off PR-301 towards the lighthouse is easy to miss, but make sure you keep an eye for a small opening towards the left at or after you see the watch tower. Make sure you go to this place on a bright sunny day because the combination of blue skies, white clouds, and pink waters is nature painting you a masterpiece. The waters are very very salty so do not touch, swim or drink. This place is open to public and we need to be gentle to the ecosystem that lives here.
La Parguera snorkel and swim in a bioluminescent bay
Truly a hidden gem that no one talks or writes about. We came across this place by pure luck after running into a husky owner and surf instructor during the Rincon night market. There are five bioluminescent bays in the world, three of them are located in Puerto Rico and only one where you can actually dive in and swim in the dark; that one is in La Parguera. Paradise Scuba provides a combo tour that includes sunset snorkeling in a coral reef with equipment, empanadillas, drinks, and bio bay tour after dark all for $80!!! It's an experience that is hard to describe or capture on camera but think silver sparkles in the water every time you make a movement in the water. It's a once in a life time experience that needs to be on everyone's bucket list. For the best experience you need to go on a no moon night when the sky is dark.
The south of the island doesn't have sandy beaches because of the mangrove ecosystems that thrive on the shores. However, the city created a swimming pool in the ocean where people can still enjoy the water on any occasion. Take a swim in one of the most unique pools on the island.
A community that took their love for art to their streets and houses. An experience called Yaucromatic2 born, which painted murals everywhere in efforts to increase tourism in the city to aid hurricane recovery efforts. No cost to visit but make sure you spend some money in the city to help the economy.
Things to do
Walk around the streets of Old San Juan
Old San Juan is not a place it's a story, every building, street, color and gallery tell you a tale of time. Walking this place in the day or night are both truly unique experiences you cannot miss. In the morning you can smell Puerto Rican coffee from different cafes that fill your heart with love. In the nights you can smell piña coladas, Medallas, mojitos and tequila as the party comes alive. There are some places that are iconic along your walk that you should definitely check out.
Callejon de la Puerta Bandera
Located at Calle Imperial
I Love PR sign
Located right next to the dock where cruises come in
Located at C. de la Fortaleza
Puerto Rico Black Flag Door
Located at 51 C. San José
Puerto Rico Wings
Located at C De la Cruz and c. San Sebastian
This is the first plaza you see when you enter old San Juan
Explore the Two Spanish Forts
Castillo se San Cristobal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro are gorgeous Spanish forts that are within walking distance of each other. Both forts are worth exploring and definitely check out the bath room of San Felipe del Morro. Cost is $10 for an adult for both forts and you can get a national parks passport stamp at either one.
Check out the colorful neighborhood of La Perla
If you've watched the video for Luis Fonsi's "Despacito" you've seen La Perla. It's a tiny neighborhood that is a few steps down from the old San Juan town area. It's vibrant and has a pop of color in every direction. There is even a swimming pool along the ocean and a I love Perla sign right next to it.
Food hop at Luquillo Kiosks
Home to the most delicious street food such as empanadillas(turnovers with meat), pastelillos (looks different but like an empanadilla), rellenas de papas (deep fried potato with meat), tostones (double fried mashed plantains), alcapurias (long croquettes), arepas (fried bread with meat), mamposteao (yellow rice with beans), and arroz con frijoles (rice and beans). Fried food is cheap, around $2 for each thing, but you can also have all the different drinks and even a full meal here. It's right off Highway 3 by the beach.
Explore the El Yunque National Forest
El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the national forest system spanning to 29,000 acres and is home to hundreds of native plant species and almost 200 vertebrates and endangered species of birds. With COVID-19 protocols, you do need a reservation to visit the actual forest, but if you don't get one you can drive on Highway 988 and stop at the Angelito Trail for a 15 minute hike to a swimming hole and day by the river.
Kayak in a Bioluminescent Bay
Another bio bay on the island is located in Fajardo, where multiple kayak companies offer tours out into the bay. This place does have a lot of kayak traffic due to that very reason, but nonetheless, if you can't go all the way to Parguera, this place is a must visit. Viator has many options to chose a tour company
Break two Guinness World Records in a day
For thrill seekers, Toro Verde provides some amazing options. It is home to a Guinness World Record zipline with a 2.5km cable, YES, you read right! "The Monster" reaches a flight speed up to 152.8km/h, which is pretty epic. For further thrills you can also bike on a wire above the mountains if you dare to cross the longest "bikeline" in the world.
Rappel down a waterfall
Another fun experience that includes transportation from San Juan to the Caguas rainforests and back. You go on a fun hike through a river and waterfalls to reach the top of a 120ft waterfall and rappel down it with awesome experienced instructors. At the end of the experience eat some home-cooked Puerto Rican food by abuela in the mountains. We met some cool people during this experience. Please take some good water shoes if you go on this one. Book this specific one on Viator
Swim with sea turtles or soak in the sun at Escambron Beach
This place is home to a Sea Turtle Sanctuary and reef ecosystem so you're almost guaranteed to have a lot of wildlife exposure in this small, beginner-friendly snorkel location. There is a rental on site and instructor available if needed. You can also surf or just lay on a nice sandy beach if you wish to just chill close to Old San Juan.
Explore ocean caves and the seven arches of Puerto Rico
Cueva del India where you can explore caves and see the seven arches of Puerto Rico. There is a $5 entry fee per person which is accepted in cash only.
Places to Eat and Drink
In 1963, the Piña Colada was invented at Barachina. Did you know the piña colada is the national drink of Puerto Rico? You should try as many Piña Coladas as possible because everyone has their interesting way of making it and try it with and without the alcohol.
La Garita Yaz
Come for the view and stay for the food, or the other way around. The ceviche and momposteao was spot on to go with the colorful houses and blue ocean on the side
Probably one of the most popular breakfast and coffee shops in Old San Juan. The service is super friendly. Try any of the coffee on the menu and you'll not be disappointed. For brunch, we had sweet potato crepes stuffed with crumbled chicken sausage and goat cheese. These hit the spot like a comfort food on a cold autumn morning. They also have a croissant with guava jam, which is one of the best on the island.
Mr Weenie Waffles
Adults with a sense of humor need to try this place. If you can tell, Mr. Weenie and Mrs. Flower are the two menu items here. Choose your flavor of your waffle, two glazes and toppings and lick your way to eat it out like you've been naughty. Teehee.
Raíces, or "roots" in Spanish, is one of the most famous restaurants in Old San Juan proudly serving authentic Puerto Rican food. Try the piña colada, cod fish croquettes with guava sauce, the meat paella, and the mofongo, but don't forget to get the guava cheese flan for dessert!
This is a chain that serves really good poke, give their mango tuna bowl a shot.
This bakery is known for the presidential visit by Obama while he was on the island, but other than that they have a long history of serving legit coffee, pastries, Cuban sandwiches and desserts.
Another bakery that is similar to Kasalta, but I think has much better guava pastries, so if you're a guava lover you'll love this place.
You cannot leave Puerto Rico without experiencing one of the top 50 bars in the world — La Factoria. It's an interesting vibe with seven different bars in one, each with their own ambience and menu.
Triana Tapas & Flamenco
Do you fancy a dance show ? Then check out this restaurant that has a great show featuring rumba, tango, and flamenco dances on the weekend. Enjoy a nice Spanish risotto, mojito, and display of dances. The guitar artist is freaking epic!
A place that has good food, but an even better passionfruit rum cocktail.
Pinchos al carbon
"Pinchos" are Puerto Rico's version of BBQ kebabs and the best one you can have is on Highway 681 off a food truck. Make sure you have cash
Frida's Mexican Restaurant
A tiny little restaurant between Old San Juan and the airport that serves Mexican food with an island twist. Try the verde enchiladas and the mango chicken!
Thanks for reading till the end
If it seems like there is so much to do and so much to eat then that's an absolutely amazing thing. I hope this article helped you plan your visit to the tropical paradise and if you have any questions or feedback feel free to reach out. Would love to hear from you! Till then vamo' a hacerlo en una playa en Puerto Rico. Despacito!