Wherever you go, go with all your heartConfucius
There aren’t many places on this planet that I’ve traveled to so far that I’ve thought “I could live here.” Puerto Rico is hands down among those places. From the culture to the food to the experiences, I really can’t say enough about this island.
This guide is far from complete as we only explored the Northeast section but everything we visited was well worth seeing more than once. I hope you will find this useful and that it will help you plan your next trip there! Feel free to drop me a message or comment below with any questions!
We stayed in an Airbnb in Rio Grande. Inside the gated community we had access to our own apartment, pool, volleyball courts, and access to a private beach. The condo was insanely cozy, had all the amenities you could ever want, and the hosts were incredible. In case you want to see where we stayed, check it out here or below! If you love a quiet, cozy, home away from home that also happens to have a semi-private beach attached, book your stay here!
Rio Grande is located in the perfect location to explore the eastern half of the island. It’s 45 minutes from the airport, easy to navigate, and close to the major (and minor) attractions the area has to offer. There are also lots of local restaurants and one large location for touristy dining options. You also get the best of any worlds. You’re near to the city, but you can opt to stay in the suburbs or the middle of nowhere. You can stay by the beach but also be in the mountains of the rainforest in under 10 minutes.
Full disclosure: we rented a car and couldn’t have been happier with our choice. If you aren’t used to a bit of free-for-all driving, maybe opt for a taxi or Uber/Lyft which are all readily available. Our rental gave us the freedom we wanted at a price that was extremely affordable at $6 a day. I bet you’re thinking we got the worst car on the planet for that price. Nope. We cruised around the island in a brand new Hyundai Accent. Bargain!
The island is extremely easy to navigate. There were a few turns where we weren’t sure if we were taking the right exit, but we always got where we were going without any issues. There are several major highways and the one without tolls can get you to all of the major attractions. The car rental facility we used tried to get us to pay a lot extra for having a toll pass, but it wasn’t needed at all and I’m glad we opted out of it.
Attractions & Experiences
Puerto Rico has so much to offer. Yes, they were hit very hard with recent hurricanes and then earthquakes. Do not let this deter you from visiting. While we didn’t see the devastation on the other side of the island, the money from tourism does help their economy and recovery efforts, so make sure to shop local when planning your experiences.
There was so much to do on the island as a whole that we, unfortunately, had to limit ourselves to one side of the island due to time constraints. That being said, we never had any shortage of things to do or see. We just have to plan another trip to see more next time!
Old San Juan
This is by far the busiest part of the island. We went in late January so it was relatively off season and not too many cruise ships were in dock. We found a place to park in a garage relatively easily for $21 for the whole day. The architecture was gorgeous and painted in bright colors. There were street vendors selling everything from jewelry to adult fruit smoothies, but I never once felt like I was being bombarded.
The true gem of Old San Juan is the fort and the views from it. There are two forts in the old city and buying a ticket gets you in to see both. We explored the grounds in front of the fort which gives you an impressively imposing view of it as a whole and I ventured inside as well. You can even walk down to the original tower built in the 1500s!
Old San Juan is great for a visit, but we found it a bit touristy for our liking. I love visiting those places, but we were happy with a day trip. The prices for everything there are much higher than in Rio Grande, so be prepared for that, although the prices were never unreasonable. Everyone we met was extremely friendly and helpful, so that was a bright spot to our day there as well.
We found this beach almost by accident. We loved our beach, but we wanted to see what others had to offer. After a quick Google, we decided to drive 15 minutes to Luquillo. Did it look like a day in a luxury spa? No. Was it an unforgettable experience? Yes.
The beach had a wild vibe to it. The red sand beaches were right up against black rocks and palm trees so it was much different than where we were staying. We spent our time there walking along the beach and exploring. Once we crossed over the rocks we were treated of views of the beach on one side of the sandy beach and the Luquillo River on the other side!
The only “bad” thing I have to say about this place would be that the water is rougher and rip tides are common. Don’t let this keep you from visiting since exploring here was so much fun and picturesque.
El Yunque Rainforest
This is an absolute must see. The entrance was down the hill and across the street from our Airbnb condo and I could’ve spent my entire vacation hiking up and down every mountain. We chose to hike the Mount Britton Trail and then headed up the El Yunque Trail to the peak once we reached the tower.
I’ve never been on a hike where the choices were so varied and the park was so well-cared for. The paths were clearly defined and maintained. The drive up to the top was winding but extremely easy. There are several places to stop and park on the side of the road for each trail. However, if you get there past 9-10 AM you will be hard pressed to find parking anywhere near the popular trail heads.
We arrived around 7:30 AM and only saw 5 people on our entire hike and we were there for 4 hours. The hikes weren’t bad at all, but I am a group fitness instructor and LOVE anything to do with exercise. If you’re in moderate shape, you shouldn’t have a problem with any of the shorter or less strenuous hikes. Their website has a great guide on the trail lengths and intensities.
There are facilities on site as well as port-o-johns near the trail heads. These are incredibly clean. Cleaner than some bathroom’s I’ve been in. The park itself is free, so if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option that will give you stunning views of the mountains and coastline, this should be on your list. Be aware that the road near the top does become one way, so you might have to go up before you can come down. Many people were going very quickly around the corners, so be careful on your way up and down, especially if you arrive later.
On an even happier note, there were no bugs. We saw giant snails, but we were expecting to be eaten alive by mosquitoes or something else. It was so pleasant to hike without swatting bugs away the whole time like I do at home.
Bioluminescent Kayaking Tour
Puerto Rico is home to three of the world’s five bioluminescent bays. We decided to take a guided kayak tour of Fajardo Bay, led by Eco Adventures, at night to see this incredible phenomenon. We booked the day before and had no problems getting a spot for the four of us, but we imagine that would be harder to do during peak tourist season.
The guides were fun, knowledgeable, and really went above and beyond to make the experience memorable. The tour had around 20 people and every kayak seated two people. Be prepared to get wet as you’ll have to wade in the water to get to your kayak and if you get beached, one person needs to get out and push, but that added to the fun.
My only issue with this trip was the other people. We were relatively experienced at kayaking and since it was pitch black outside while we kayaked through the rain forest we were careful to listen to instructions and make sure we didn’t bang into other kayaks or the forest. Not everyone followed those rules and made other people frustrated…
Once we arrived at the bay itself we got under a tarp and splashed in the water a bit to see the organisms light up and oh man it did not disappoint. The guides gave us some background on bioluminescence and the bay’s ecosystem which was really interesting to hear. After we paddled around for a little bit we headed back through the forest and to where we started.
Please eat as much as humanly possible when you go to Puerto Rico. You won’t be sorry. You might need to bring some sweatpants and tums, but it’s worth it. Mofongo is a dish featuring fried plantains, chicken, and rice and sometimes has a few other variations, but it’s a must-try there. We tried to eat in as many different restaurants as we could to soak up the deliciousness.
That being said, we decided to get our snacks and breakfast items at the local grocery store. It saved us from having to plan too much and we could start our days casually and whenever we wanted. Definitely give this a try! Plus it’s a great way to try new, local fruits!
This is as touristy as it gets. You want pizza from a New Yorker? You got it. You want empanadas? Yep. How about seafood or just mofongo? It’s there. Los Kioskos features over 69 different kiosks that are mostly restaurants. It’s a great way to spend dinner if no one can decide what to eat.
Don Pepe’s & Dos Panza
I loved both of these restaurants. We ate at Dos Panza our first night and basically fell in love with the food. In all honesty, we could’ve eaten there every night and been happy, but we’re glad we tried other places too. Don Pepe’s was our lunch destination later in the trip and we wish we could’ve taken our leftovers on the plane home with us.
I’m convinced every restaurant in Puerto Rico secretly has chefs who deserve to be running 5 star restaurants somewhere. The service was laid back and you can expect to spend some time wherever you sit down to eat, but that’s part of what makes each place to wonderful.
I’m In Love
With Puerto Rico. I had zero expectations when I arrived and I still had my mind blown every day. There was so much diversity in things to do and that coupled with the out of this world food and views that will leave you in awe makes Puerto Rico the ultimate destination. Everyone was so welcoming and nice. It was so refreshing to visit a place that was so genuine. I really can’t wait to book my next trip.
Have questions? Please ask! If I can help you, I would love to! Let me know what you liked, what you wished I said more about, or just say hi.