Our tropical neighbor to the South, U.S. Territory Puerto Rico, has so much to offer: culture, food, history, scenery, …and those beaches! Ay, Dios Mio! From Old San Juan to Ponce to Vieques Island, it’s a tough decision how best to plan your visit, but here are a few places and things that should be on your must-see list!
Old San Juan
Exploring the architecture and history of Old San Juan, just 20 minutes from Luis Munoz Marin Airport, could easily take several days. One of the things you won’t see in just any foreign city is the charming, yellow Casa Estrecha (the Narrow House). Built between two existing buildings, the house is a mere five feet wide but has all the features of any other home!
Close by is the Calle de la Fortaleza (umbrella street). The colorful umbrellas are changed out to reflect celebrations going on locally and globally. The Puerto Rican flag hangs proudly alongside the canopy of color. The views from the Castillo San Felipe del Morro are spectacular, and the hundreds of kites flying on the massive lawn are an added bonus to the vista.
La Puerta de la Bandera (flag door) is another well-known treasure. Painted by Rosenda Álvarez, the door in an abandoned historic building has become a symbol of national identity.
Intricate woodwork and window boxes full of flowers are charming and bright, and can be found all over the country, not just in Old San Juan.
Plan at least a full day for hiking, Puerto Rican Parrot searching, and picnicking at El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S, National Forest system. If you’re enchanted by waterfalls, El Yunque has many, big and small. Waterfalls can be found throughout the mountainous landscape of Puerto Rico: La Soplaera is on the southern end of the island, near Ponce, and has the iciest blue diving hole at its base, perfect for a cool swim on a warm summer day—and with average winter temps in the high 80s, it’s always summer in Puerto Rico!
Among the numerous beaches of the island, perhaps the most unique is the Playa Negra (black sand beach) on the Isla de Vieques, about a 30-minute ferry ride from the main island. Due to a volcanic explosion offshore many years ago, the sand at this beach ranges from a pure black in some areas to a warm mix of black and gold. And while the beach has become well known, it is still quiet and solitary, and a great place for finding shells!
Nothing beats the street food in Puerto Rico: arepas rellenas, fresh fish tacos, ahi tuna, and coconut shrimp are everywhere. Also be sure to try a couple of the island’s signature dishes: mofongo and tostones, both made with plantains. And when you’re hot and thirsty, a coconut frappe hits the spot!
Cuevas y Artes
The caves found in the northern central region around Arecibo are some of the most stunning you’ll find. The Cueva Ventana is high in a cliff face with an opening that creates a portrait of the Puerto Rican countryside, and the Cueva del Indio showcases dramatic cliffs that tumble into the clear Caribbean water.
As if nature wasn’t providing enough color and texture, everywhere you turn in Puerto Rico, there is art, on the sides of broken down buildings, painted on fallen trees, in quiet corners, and in public parks.