Best Things to Do in Puerto Rico for an Awesome Holiday

Puerto Rico balances rich culture, vivid history, and natural beauty with dancing the night away. Here are the best things to do in Puerto Rico no matter what your idea of the perfect vacation is!

If you’re thinking of a vacation that combines sun, sand, and surf with some opportunities to soak up culture, there is no better destination than Puerto Rico. As commonwealth of the United States, you won’t need a passport if you’re American. No matter where you’re traveling from, these are the best things to do in Puerto Rico and some important information for traveling to this small commonwealth.

Culture Club

Puerto Rico is a cultural amalgam mixing Caribbean, North American, and Spanish histories into a vibrant society brimming with music, food, and language. No matter how much you think you only want to lie on its beautiful beaches, be sure to check out some of these great spots, too!

Fine Arts Cinema: After a day in the sun, cool down at 654 Ponce de Leon Avenue with a film at Caribbean Cinemas. Host to typical blockbusters, the cinema also offers independent, foreign, and local films. Check out films not showing at your local multiplex. A nice touch is that you can upgrade your usual movie snacks to sandwiches, cheese platters, and sushi. You can even buy a bottle of wine to enjoy during your film.

Flavors of San Juan Food and Culture Tours: What better way to learn about Puerto Rico than by partaking in a three hour food and culture tour?  The signature tour involves strolling around San Juan while learning and tasting for three hours. Want to bring something home with you?  Consider a three hour group cooking class – rather than inviting friends over to view your pictures, or just posting them on facebook, invite friends over for an authentic meal. The company also offers a one hour Boozy Bites rum tour for those looking to imbibe a little while learning about food and culture.

Atlantic San Juan Tours: In addition to food tours, consider checking out this company’s variety of tours from rain forests to underground caves to their tour of historic San Juan and the Bacardi Distillery. With a variety of tours and full day excursions, you can make a great day out of whatever piques your interest.

Puerto Rico  rain forests

Spoon Food Tours: If you’re a foodie or are traveling with one, this is the ultimate food tour. Whether you want to drink, learn to make cheese, go for breakfast, lunch or dinner, there is a tour for you and your group. Highly praised and professionally curated, these are the best food tours in Puerto Rico.  They even offer personalized, private tours perfect for a honeymoon, anniversary, engagement or other special event trip.

Community La Perla: Though it has a bad reputation, La Perla is an interesting neighborhood in San Juan. Originally established to house slaughterhouse workers, because the law required slaughterhouses to be outside of the city limits, La Perla was also home to non-white slaves and farmers. The neighborhood has its own record label and hosts weekly salsa and hip hop concerts. During the year there are also art and craft fairs. Your Spanish should be more than passable if you plan to explore La Perla.

Bespoke Lifestyle Management: Don’t let the name fool you. This is an excellent company offering car service, limos, and private custom tours of Puerto Rico. Consistently rated the highest possible on Trip Advisor and Yelp, Bespoke takes its time to develop the perfect experience for travelers looking for a top notch tour experience. Get in an adventurous mood and plan a “non-touristy” tour for the best experience possible.

Don’t Know Much About History

The history of Puerto Rico is rich and there are many opportunities to learn about it on tours of landmark sites or in several museums. Make sure to make time to learn about the island’s storied past while you are there.

Museo de Las Americas: From the history of slavery to fashion, Museo de Las Americas has it covered.  For only US$3.00, there are several exhibits at this favorite stop in Puerto Rico that appear on many of the “secrets” and “hidden gems” lists. The museum is fairly small and won’t take more than two hours but it’s located across the street from El Morro, so plan it as part of your site seeing. Also not to miss?  The museum’s coffee shop – delicious!

El Morro: Whether or not you’re a history buff, this historic fort, used as a defense for attacks coming from the water, is an awesome spot to learn and explore. The admission is US$3.00 and it is conveniently located right across the street from the Museo de Las Americas.

Castillo San Cristobel: This is the largest fort built by Spain in the New World and where El Morro protected against attacks from the sea, here the Spanish protected themselves from attacks on the land. When scheduling a tour, you might be lucky enough to view one of the monthly reenactments by professional re-enactors.  There are also tours, extensive tunnels, and artillery exhibits. On the third Sunday of the month, artillery firings are offered.

Castillo de San Cristobel

Ghost Tours: A favorite activity for travelers to Puerto Rico is the “Night Tours” historical walking tours. Mixing legend with history, the night tours offer a unique glimpse into the past while sharing stories from locals about ghostly apparitions often reported as seen or felt in the area. Will you encounter something or someone? Maybe if you are open to it!

It’s Only Natural

Puerto Rico is a nature lover’s dream, add to that the dash of adventure some natural attractions add and you have a recipe for the adrenaline junkie in all of us. Here are the best things to do in Puerto Rico if you want to see its natural sights.

Carabali Rainforest Park: From horseback riding tours along the Mameyes River (with a break to swim and snack) to mountain biking to ziplining, this rainforest park offers something for everyone. For those less inclined to do something physical but still in search of excitement, there are also go-karts and ATVs. The beauty of the rainforest surrounds you no matter how you choose to see it!

El Yunque Rainforest Park: While many rainforests are privately owned and operated, El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Parks system and as such is a much more rugged nature experience. There are many opportunities for camping, hiking, swimming, and scenic drives but there are no ziplines or other activities found in the commercial parks.  This is the perfect place for true lovers of nature interested in getting to the heart of the jungle. If you are interested in camping, make sure to plan in advance – most campsites require a permit to be secured two weeks prior to camping.

Falls and pool below La Mina Falls in the El Yunque rainforest in the Caribbean National Forest

Kayaking: If you want to enjoy the beauty of the island while doing something physical, try kayaking. While there are many opportunities for kayaking, consider Kayaking Puerto Rico. This company has a small focus: Kayaking and snorkeling. Their experienced guides and eco-friendly practices guarantee two key things: You will be kept from the crowded beaches and taken to pristine locations, and your trip will have little to no impact on the beautiful ecology of Puerto Rico.

Acampa: More than just ziplining, Acampa provides all day classic or custom adventure tours for viewing the best of nature while taking part in physical activity. Groups must have at least 6 people but can be mixed reservations. In addition to ziplining, they offer hiking, historical coffee tours, boating, and more.  A great option if you want an entire day excursion.

Aventuras Tierra Adentro: Want to turn your excursion up to 11? Call on Aventuras Tierra Adentro for caving excursions. From learning about ropes and rescue classes to caving, you’ll be safe and knowledgeable when it comes to this extreme sport. Be sure to research all requirements prior to booking if you’ve never done this before – there are physical requirements that go along with extreme sports like caving!

EcoQuest Tours: Rather than head to an adventure park on your own, this service will design and provide your entire excursion experience no matter what you want to do: zip lining, rappelling, kayaking, 8×8 vehicles or canopy bridges. EcoQuest prides itself on being eco-friendly and knowing some of the most beautiful spots on the island.

East Island Excursions: Puerto Rico offers accessibility to several area islands and this is the best way to see them, whether on a half or full day excursion. Group, private, and corporate charters are available and include lunch buffets and/or beach barbeques for participants. If you will be in Puerto Rico for a week or more, this is a great way to expand your experience and see some other nearby islands.

Luquillo Beach: Puerto Rico has beautiful beaches and this is one of the best with mild, calm waters and soft sand. Beachgoers often suggest staying south of the busy food kiosks to maximize your experience and heading to the kiosk area at the end of your stay for either lunch or dinner. If you’re bringing the kids, the kiosks are a great way to break up the day as they contain little shops that are fun to stroll through.

The beautiful coconut palm lined Luquillo Beach located on the large island of Puerto Rico

Dance the Night Away

Nuyorican Café: A favorite spot for locals and visitors alike, be sure to check out this nightclub for live music, dancing and drinks while you’re on the island. No matter what night, it’s a guaranteed good time and often has live music. In addition, there are poetry nights and several themed events that keep it interesting on a night-to-night basis. After walking and exploring all day and enjoying a dinner out, there’s no better way to end the night than in an authentic spot like this!

What You Should Know When Traveling to Puerto Rico

San Juan Aerial View

  1. The busy season for tourists is December through April. Keep in mind, though, that while the low season is May through November, the hurricane season is June through October. Puerto Rico hasn’t been hit by a major hurricane in years but expect rain, wind and more rain if you visit during hurricane season.
  2. If you are American, you do not need a passport to travel to Puerto Rico.
  3. Don’t ask why, because no one knows, but distances are posted in kilometers and speed in miles per hours. Gas is sold in liters.
  4. Traffic in Puerto Rico is crazy with driving laws viewed more as guidelines than hard and fast rules.  Be careful, whether driving, cycling or walking.
  5. Speaking of traffic, emergency vehicles always have their lights on – no need to move over or stop unless you hear a siren.
  6. The American dollar is the currency in Puerto Rico but, as with most destinations, plastic is easiest.
  7. Most roads in Puerto Rico require tolls. If you are renting a car be sure to get the auto express pass to get through faster and without the hassle of cash.
  8. Puerto Ricans give driving/walking directions using landmarks. They will not use distances or time so be sure to mapquest or google map any directions prior to going out or use a GPS. While this is endearing, it can be very confusing to drivers not used to the area (especially with the drivers being what they are!).
  9. Puerto Rico is home to many lizards of all sizes. They will be everywhere – in your room, in your shoes and yes, in your bed. While they are more frightened of you than you are of them, it’s still a good idea to shake out shoes and clothing that have been laying out and check the bed before climbing in.
  10. The languages of Puerto Rico are English and Spanish and a working knowledge of either will get you through your stay.

About the author

Nancy K.

When I’m not busy writing my next travel article, you can find me showing America to exchange students, hiking, cycling or planning my next vacation. My favorite destination is anywhere I haven’t been yet! You can follow or, better yet, talk to me on Twitter and G+.

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