Puerto Rico is a beach lover’s paradise, and its pristine shores and many attractions make the US territory the biggest tourist destination in the Caribbean. You’ll walk through historic squares lined with Spanish colonial architecture, float in bioluminescent lagoons and take incredible snorkelling trips in the dazzling Caribbean waters. Here are the most beautiful destinations on the island.
Old San Juan
Visiting this historic district is like travelling back in time. Walk the twisting cobblestone streets of Old San Juan to find grand, pastel colonial architecture from the 16th and 17th centuries and old Spanish military forts. Despite its well-preserved history, the more than 500-year-old settlement – the oldest in Puerto Rico – is also home to more modern Puerto Rican culture. Be sure to stop by the 16th-century El Morro citadel, the neoclassical San Juan Cathedral and the Fortaleza. However, the whole district is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site, so you really can’t go wrong.
The pristine white-sand shores and sparkling crystalline waters of Playa Flamenco are regarded as the best on Culebra, a small island about 27km (17mi) off the east coast of Puerto Rico. Indeed, Playa Flamenco is often noted as one of the best beaches in the world. The beach’s name comes from the flamingos that rest in a nearby lagoon in the winter. Visit during the week when the beach is at its least crowded.
El Yunque National Park
Along with its stunning beaches, Puerto Rico’s natural beauty comes from a lush rainforest in the most famous national park on the island. Hike through the mist under giant green canopies in the Sierra de Luquillo, and try to spot as many of the forest’s 240 species of trees and hundreds of plant species as you can. The 111sqkm (43sqmi) park contains El Yunque’s 1,055m (3,461ft) peak, the 26m-tall (85ft) La Coca Falls and much more.
Mosquito Bioluminescent Bay
This incredible, rare sight is not to be missed on a trip to Puerto Rico. The glowing waters of the island’s three bioluminescent bays are the result of many factors, including the water’s shallow depth, high temperature, low circulation and high nutrients. These qualities combine to make an excellent habitat for dinoflagellates, the plankton that creates the stunning star-studded sight of the glowing lagoons. Swim, kayak or watch the glow from the shores. Mosquito Bay is regarded as the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world, though its magic is hard to capture on camera.
This famous surfing town is hugely popular with international travellers, prompting Puerto Ricans to call it “Gringo Paradise”. The waves swell to huge proportions here, but there are also beaches on the south side of town that are great for swimming and relaxing with a piña colada. The area is also popular for humpback whale-watching trips from mid-January to March.
This satellite island off Puerto Rico’s west coast, about 19km (12mi) from Rincón, is a top destination for divers wanting to escape the heavily crowded tourist areas. The water is calm and translucent, with a visibility of around 24m (80ft), perfect for viewing the coral reefs and spotting bright fish in the water. The tiny uninhabited island is a wildlife and marine reserve managed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service.
Ponce is a city that is uniquely Puerto Rican. Take a walk through the Pearl of the South’s historic town centre to see fantastic examples of colonial architecture and well-preserved mansions as well as a dozen or so great museums – including art, history, music and more. You can also walk 5km (3mi) south to the coast to find the Paseo Tablado La Guancha – a boardwalk home to many excellent restaurants and bars.
Río Camuy Cave Park
This cave park is one of the largest cave systems in the world, covering 108ha (268 acres). The limestone caves and waterways were carved out by the Río Camuy, the third-largest underground river in the world. Here, you can ride a trolley bus into the depths of the 61m-deep (200ft) cave. There are numerous rooms featuring stalagmites, stalactites and running rivers. Although the cave system wasn’t rediscovered until 1958, there is evidence that Puerto Rico’s first inhabitants explored them.
La Parguera Natural Reserve
Near La Parguera village and resort is a beautiful area of preserved natural beauty. The reserve houses some of the most extraordinary natural sights in Puerto Rico, including mangroves, salt marshes, coral reefs and a smattering of satellite islands. There is no camping allowed on the reserve, but there are hiking trails, boat rides, and snorkelling and windsurfing opportunities.
Lago dos Bocas
In the centre of Puerto Rico, between Arecibo and Utuado, this human-made lake was constructed in 1942, and it’s one of the island’s drinkable water reserves. Jump on a ferry and take a ride on the lake’s calm waters – the area is full of natural charm and beauty. Enjoy lunch at one of the lakeside, open-air restaurants while you bask in the peacefulness of it all.
In southern Puerto Rico, Guánica is a town that lies in the narrow harbour of the same name. It has stayed connected to its traditional roots, and there are plenty of historical sights to see. Visit the Caprón Fortress, Guánica Lighthouse and the Guánica State Forest. You can also visit a little place called Gilligan’s Island, named after the popular TV show.
This area is popular among native Puerto Ricans and tourists. Fajardo is known for its excellent seafood, high-quality hotels and proximity to Palomino, Icacos and Palominito – all popular islands for day trips. The turquoise sea on Fajardo’s shores is calm and fitting for snorkelling trips, and it houses one of Puerto Rico’s bioluminescent lagoons, Laguna Grande. Visit Las Cabezas de San Juan Lighthouse, one of the oldest in Puerto Rico, and check out Puerto del Rey Marina, one of the largest marinas in the whole Caribbean.
Looking for somewhere different to stay? Book into one of the best boutique hotels in Puerto Rico, or treat yourself to an unforgettable luxury hotel. Inspire your itinerary with the most beautiful beaches in San Juan; don’t miss the must-see attractions. And, when in the Puerto Rican capital, book yourself a table at one of the best restaurants in San Juan. To discover delicious food, check out the best food festivals in Puerto Rico.
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