An enchanted Caribbean island, Puerto Rico is home to more than just a couple of attractions, and because of the nation’s relatively small size, it’s possible to visit more than one in a day. The island is rich with historic buildings, natural wonders and opportunities for adventurous activities. Take your pick of the following must-see attractions when planning your excursions in scenic Puerto Rico.
1. Old Ponce Fire Station
The Parque de Bombas, also known as the Old Ponce Fire Station, has been a notable building in the southern town of Ponce for more than 100 years. In 1882, the building housed an Exhibition Trade Fair, and was converted into Ponce’s firehouse three years later. Now a firemens’ museum, it was designed by Architect Lieutenant Colonel Maxino Meana in a Gothic style, and is famous for its red and black exterior. The building has been recognized by the U.S. National Park Service. Visitors can check out this unique structure at the Plaza de las Delicias.
2. El Morro Castle
Castillo San Felipe del Morro is found at the end of a expansive green lawn by the ocean in historic Old San Juan. Originally built by the Spaniards for military and security purposes, it was later modified by the U.S. government after Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory. The centuries-old fort is now an entertainment venue and visitors can explore different areas of the attraction, probably the most famous in the country.
3. El Yunque National Rainforest
This natural treasure in northeastern Puerto Rico houses notable flora and fauna, especially the Puerto Rican parrot whose existence on the island dates back to Pre-Columbian days. The rainforest houses a number of beautiful waterfalls as well. Remember to keep safety tips in mind when hiking in this beautiful and lush area.
4. Puerto Rico Museum of Art
Open for almost 20 years, the Puerto Rico Museum of Art is where the artwork of many of Puerto Rico’s most celebrated artists is exhibited. Francisco Oller and Lorenzo Homar are two notable artists whose pieces are in the museum’s collection. There are educational activities for museum visitors to participate in, including guided tours and workshops.
5. Toro Verde Zip Line
Toro Verde Adventure Park in central Puerto Rico offers multiple tours and zip line experiences. The Monster in particular claims to be the longest zip line in the world, with a 8,300ft (2.5 km) cable, equivalent to the length of 28 football fields. There is also a restaurant that serves mofongo, soups and salads, among other culinary options.
6. Porta Coeli Church
One of the oldest churches in Puerto Rico and the Americas, Porta Coeli Church used to be a school and a convent: El Covento de Santo Domingo de Porta Coeli. The white church, whose exterior was a peach-salmon color for many years, currently houses a religious museum that features sculptures and paintings, among others. It is the most famous building in the town of San German on Puerto Rico’s west coast.
7. Fort San Cristobal
Similar to El Morro Castle, Fort San Cristobal was built under Spanish rule to provide security and 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.
8. Entrance to Ponce
The letras de Ponce (Ponce letters), as this sign at the entrance of Ponce is called, is a very popular spot to take pictures perfect for sharing on social media. Visitors from different areas of the island, in addition to tourists from other countries, often park next to the letters and take pictures in front of them, or sitting inside of them. Ponce is one of the largest and most well-known cities in Puerto Rico.
9. Rio Camuy Caves
Located at the northwestern town of Camuy, the Rio Camuy Caves are one of the natural wonders in Puerto Rico. Visitors can walk inside parts of the subterranean cave system that include an underground river. This stunning attraction is one of the largest cave systems in the world and is home to many different species of animals.
10. Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian
The Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian is an annual festival held 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 to this festival every year. The festival, which takes place in January, is a fun way to start off the year.
11. Bioluminescent Bays
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 is possible in some of the bays, but in order to protect the environment, water activities aren’t allowed in some of the bodies of water. Few bioluminescent bays exist internationally, and visitors are lucky enough to have a couple of options in Puerto Rico.
12. Caguana Indigenous Center
Travel back in time at the Caguana Indigenous Center, which preserves part of the history of the Taino people, Puerto Rico’s past indigenous community. The Tainos played an important role in shaping current Puerto Rican culture, and petroglyphs, artifacts and ceremonial areas are on display for visitors. It’s in Utuado, near the center of Puerto Rico.
13. Arecibo Radio Telescope
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.
14. Two Mouths Lake
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.
15. The Capitol Building
One of the standout architectural buildings in Old San Juan, El Capitolio was created in a Neoclassical revival style. The structure 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.
16. The Cascadas Aquatic Park
The Cascadas Aquatic Park in Aguadilla is fun for visitors of all ages. It’s one of the largest aquatic parks in the Caribbean, and has numerous slides, a river and a wave pool.
17. Icacos Island
Icacos Island, off 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.
18. Serralles Castle
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 beautiful gardens to stroll in.
19. Isla de Cabras
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. It’s accessible via vehicle. The views are stunning and there are areas for picnics, swimming and sunbathing, and a snack bar. Many locals love to jet ski in this scenic area.