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Dubbed the ‘Island of Enchantment,’ Puerto Rico has been captivating the hearts of travelers all over the world for years with its colonial architecture, tropical climate, diverse landscapes, and traditional cuisine. Walk down the cobblestone streets and find multi-colored homes stacked high along the hillsides as locals dance down the street in a weekend parade, or shop the produce being sold along the alleyways; despite its recent economic hardship, Puerto Rico still dazzles all who visit. With just over 3,500 square miles of territory, discover why this little gem is worth the trip.
With moderate temperatures, you can plan a trip here year-round. This is ideal for those snowbirds looking for a new destination to head to when winter arrives. With its Caribbean climate, visitors can expect an average annual temperature of 80 degrees alongside lots of sunshine, blue skies, and a cool ocean breeze.
The landscape on the main island is surprisingly diverse, considering its size. Nevertheless, there are a myriad of wondrous natural features to explore, including the Guánica Dry Forest, one of the largest dry forests in the world; the Parque de las Cavernas del Río Camuy (underground caves); and El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the US National Forest System. From mountains and forests to beaches and waterfalls, Puerto Rico has it all – and most destinations are within an hour’s reach of Old San Juan.
Waterfall climbing in Rocaliza, surfing in Isabela, golfing, and wingsuit flying are some of what’s offered on the island, but it doesn’t stop there. There are several adventure sports, water sports, and adrenaline-focused activities for the taking. Novices should pop over to Vieques Island for mind-blowing snorkeling and check out Toro Verde Adventure Park, where one of the longest zip lines in the world crosses over a magical tropical landscape with panoramic views of the waterfront.
Lit up by blue-colored micro-organisms, the glowing bays here are a magical experience. Called bioluminescent bays, these are some of the most-visited beaches in Puerto Rico, drawing visitors from all over the world to get a vision of this natural wonder, and this small archipelago lays claim to three. First-timers can get a glimpse at Mosquito Bay in Vieques, Bioluminescent Bay in Fajardo, or at La Parguera.
Tropical blue waters, white sand, and palm trees – need we say more? If outdoor adventuring isn’t your thing, no worries – there is plenty of coastline to catch some R&R. For the best beaches, head to Culebra or Vieques – both islands are reachable by boat or plane – each boasting warm waters and picturesque shores. Other popular stops include Flamenco Beach (said to be one of the best beaches in the world), Isla Verde Beach, Condado Beach, Red Beach, La Playuela, and Luquillo Beach.
The country’s old Spanish roots can be felt anywhere, but taking a walk down the streets of Old San Juan will have you feeling as if you’ve stepped into a bygone era. Cobblestone streets, brightly painted homes, and historical architecture are all facets of this charming destination. At the Raices Fountain at La Princesa, one of the most romantic spots in the city, water flows from bronze statues – best seen during sunset when the sun blankets the streets in colors of gold. And a true Puerto Rican experience wouldn’t be complete without walking through the centuries-old Fuerte San Felipe del Morro, an old Spanish fort nestled along the cliffside.
Despite being part of the US, this vibrant country has preserved its rich culture, holding fast to traditional recipes – known to locals as cocina criolla. Dishes like mofongo, a meat or seafood-filled mound of plantains, lechón (roasted pig), and arroz con gandules are what make the region’s cuisine so particularly unique, drawing influences from Europe, Africa, and the native Taíno people. The island even has its own hot sauce, pique, which is best served on pretty much everything. After a night of several chichaitos, a popular island cocktail, grab a cup of Puerto Rican coffee for the ultimate early morning pick-me-up.
Skipping town for a tourist-filled beach is hardly an ideal vacation. Because this destination has flown under the radar (mostly), it has yet to be flooded with camera-holding sightseers; plus, the island caters to both lovers of the ‘never have to leave the resort’ type of vacation and the ‘do it yourself’ kind of stay. There is a whole range of resorts and hotels – some with more amenities than others – to choose from, most of which won’t leave you feeling cramped or overcrowded.
Whether it’s a street parade, neighborhood party, or city-wide festival, the country is known for hosting countless celebrations. Many flock to the streets – usually dressed in vibrant costume – alongside squat drums and circles of singers belting out bomba tunes, coming together to celebrate their Puerto Rican roots. If you’re lucky enough to be in San Juan during January, don’t miss one of the biggest events, the San Sebastián Street Festival, or catch one of the many fiestas patronales (patron saint festivals) celebrated in each neighborhood throughout the year.
Live music can be found at pretty much any local bar or restaurant, but Nuyorican Café in San Juan is a prime spot for Latino tunes. This salsa-haven is the main island’s hottest spot – usually packed with locals moving their hips to the steps of salsa or merengue. There are also poetry readings and small bites. Keep it casual at El Batey, a local dive, and check out one of the best nightclubs at Club Brava. You can also head to La Placita de Santurce, a neighborhood in San Juan, for a massive salsa street party with live music, street vendors, and energetic locals ready to move their feet – held every Thursday and Friday night.