The Caribbean island of Puerto Rico is rich with historic buildings, natural wonders and opportunities for adventurous activities, and it’s relatively small, so it’s possible to see a lot in a day. Take your pick of the following must-see attractions.
The Parque de Bombas de Ponce, also known as the Old Ponce Fire Station, is more than 100 years old. In 1882, the building housed an Exhibition Trade Fair, and was converted into Ponce’s firehouse three years later. Now a museum, it was designed by architect Lieutenant-Colonel Maxino Meana in a gothic style. The building, famed for its red-and-black exterior, has been recognized by the US National Park Service. Visitors can check out this unique structure at the Plaza de las Delicias.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro, at the end of an expansive green lawn by the ocean in Old San Juan, was built by the Spaniards for military and security purposes, and later modified by the US government after Puerto Rico became a US territory. The centuries-old fort is now an entertainment venue and visitors can explore different areas of the attraction, which is probably the most famous in the country.
This natural treasure, in northeast Puerto Rico, is home to notable flora and fauna such as the Puerto Rican parrot, whose existence on the island dates back to pre-Columbian days. The rainforest has a number of beautiful waterfalls as well. Remember to keep the important safety tips in mind when hiking in this magnificent and lush area.
Opened 20 years ago, the Puerto Rico Museum of Art is where you can see the work of many of the island’s most celebrated artists, notably Francisco Oller and Lorenzo Homar. The museum runs a lot of educational activities that you can participate in, including guided tours and workshops.
Toro Verde Adventure Park, in Central Puerto Rico, offers multiple tours and zip ine experiences. The Monster, in particular, claims to be the longest zipline in the world, with a 8,300ft (2,530m) cable, equivalent to the length of 28 football fields. There is also a restaurant that serves mofongo(fried plantains), soups and salads, among other culinary options.
One of the oldest churches in Puerto Rico and all of the Americas, Porta Coeli Church used to be a school and a convent: El Convento de Santo Domingo de Porta Coeli. The most famous landmark in San German, on the west coast of the island, the white church, whose exterior was a peachy-salmon color for many years, is home to a religious museum that features sculptures and paintings as well as other artefacts.
Fort San Cristobal, built under Spanish rule to provide security, is one of the biggest fortresses on the American continent. The three-level structure was built over 150 years, and chief engineer Tomás O’Daly played an important role in its development. Visitors of all ages can walk through the fort – which includes a moat, a plaza and a system of tunnels – and take in the spectacular views.
The letras de Ponce, or Ponce letters, as this sign at the entrance to the town is called, is a popular spot to take pictures and share them on social media. Ponce is one of the largest and most well-known cities in Puerto Rico. Visitors from elsewhere on the island, as well as from other countries, often park next to the letters and take pictures in front of them, or even sitting inside of them.
In the northwest town of Camuy, the Rio Camuy caves are one of the natural wonders in Puerto Rico. Visitors can walk inside parts of the subterranean system that includes an underground river. This spectacular attraction, the third largest cave system in the world, is home to many different species of animals.
The Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian is an annual festival held in January in Old San Juan – in and around San Sebastian Street. Music, artwork and artesania (crafts) for purchase, and delicious food are among the attractions that draw thousands of people here every year.
There are three bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico, which look unreal at night, when they are alive with a glow caused by living organisms in the water. Kayaking and swimming are possible in some of the bays, but not in others in order to protect the environment. Few bioluminescent bays exist in the world, so visitors are lucky to have a couple of options here.
Travel back in time at the Caguana Indigenous Center, which preserves part of the history of the Taino people, Puerto Rico’s indigenous community. The Tainos played an important role in shaping Puerto Rican culture, and there are petroglyphs, artefacts and ceremonial areas on display for visitors. The center is located in Utuado, in central Puerto Rico.
Also known as the Arecibo Observatory, this is the biggest single-dish radio telescope in the world and forms part of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center. It functions all day, every day, and shares information internationally with scientists. The brainchild of Cornell University Professor William E Gordon, the observatory has been an important scientific structure since its opening in 1963. Visitors can explore this one-of-a-kind attraction through the science and visitor center, and can also take a guided tour and have a look from an observation deck.
Lago Dos Bocas is found in Utuado, towards the center of the island. It’s a picturesque location with a restaurant nearby, from which the artificial lake is visible. Ferry rides are sometimes available for visitors.
One of the standout architectural buildings in Old San Juan, El Capitolio was created in a Neoclassical revival style. The building was constructed between 1925 and 1929, has a plaza at the front, and faces the ocean. Prominent features include the dome and columns that are visible from a distance; these are popular features of visitors’ photographs.
Icacos Island, off the coast of the eastern town of Fajardo, is a great location for sunbathing and snorkeling. To arrive at the island, visitors must take a water taxi or ferry for the 20-minute journey. Remember to bring your own food to snack on while having fun in the sun, as there are no facilities here.
The Serralles Castle is located atop a hill in Ponce and was constructed by the Serralles Family, who had had much success in the alcohol business through their brands such as Don Q rum. Visitors can take a guided tour of the castle, see the spectacular views from the building and stop by its museum. There are also fantastic gardens to stroll in.
Isla de Cabras is a small island located at the entrance of the San Juan Bay, across the water from part of El Morro Castle, and is accessible by vehicle. The views are spectacular and there are areas for picnics, swimming and sunbathing, and a snack bar. Many locals love to jet ski in this picturesque area.