Your Puerto Rico Itinerary

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Puerto Rico was the first Caribbean island we decided to visit together. This was for a number of reasons. Firstly, being a couple on a budget, our first travel tip is always to be geographically savvy. We currently live in Wilmington, North Carolina, which is on the south-east coast of the US, so traveling to the Caribbean was cheaper and faster than if we lived further away. I ended up paying only $75 for my roundtrip ticket (hello miles!) and Christian’s full fare ticket ended up being $300 – one short layover and no waiting standby etc. Not as great as flying Ryanair in Europe of course but good enough for a trip in the US on short notice!

We also chose to visit Puerto Rico as those with a valid US visa do not require an additional entry permit to visit the island, as it is an official territory of the United States. Furthermore, we wanted to visit an island with a rich culture and Puerto Rico definitely delivered.

Do: Visit in the Spring

We recommend visiting in early spring, when the weather is gorgeous but not too hot, and the prices are still not as high as during the summer. Hurricane season in the Caribbean falls around Autumn, so we’d try to avoid this period.

Do: Take a walk around Old San Juan

Walking Old San Juan is a trip back to Spanish colonial times.

Guide to puerto rico

Sure, it’s pretty touristy, but Old San Juan is one of our favorite memories of Puerto Rico. It was also our favorite area to spend time in after visiting Loquillo, Fajardo, Ponce, Isabela, and a host of other cities in the island. With its colorful buildings, lively bars, excellent restaurants, ocean breeze, and gorgeous colonial architecture, we enjoyed every minute of strolling down the city’s cobble-stoned streets.

Guide to puerto rico

Guide to puerto rico

Guide to puerto rico

Guide to puerto rico

Do: Visit El Morro and Castillo San Cristobal

Guide to puerto rico el morro

You cannot miss out on El Morro and Castillo San Cristobal (Castillo San Felipe del Morro) when in Old San Juan. We are of course wary of visiting tourist attractions when in popular areas, but El Morro and Castillo San Cristobal, fortresses built by the Spanish to ward off invaders over centuries, are important visits if you wish to learn more about the history of Puerto Rico. Your ticket bought at either attraction are valid for both fortresses, and we spent a good four hours or so walking the forts, and even watched two short informational films on their construction and use in history.

Guide to puerto rico

The Spanish colonial history and hold over Puerto Rico is fascinating and the presentation of information at the sites was for the most part well done.

Guide to puerto rico el morro

Guide to puerto rico

Guide to puerto rico

Guide to puerto rico

Guide to puerto rico
Views from the fortress

Do: Pack lots of sunscreen and water

We visited in April, and enjoyed sun-filled days and warm weather capping off around 28 degrees Celsius. You will need a lot of sunscreen and water especially when walking the fortresses. Sunscreen in Puerto Rico can be expensive, not to mention difficult to find in the fort gift shops.

Guide to puerto rico
View of Old San Juan from Castillo San Cristobal

Do: Enjoy the food!

Puerto Rico Princesa Gastro Bar
Princesa Gastro Bar: Salmon, Potato, Fried Plantain, Mofongo, Rice

You’re going to get hungry walking the colorful streets of Old San Juan. All the better because the restaurants in Puerto Rico served up some amazing food while we were there!

Puerto Rican Gastronomy

Of particular note are Cafe Berlin (don’t laugh, yes, Christian is German, but this restaurant serves up some fantastic, award-winning Puerto-Rican dishes, and the staff are great!), Caficultura, and Princesa Gastro Bar.

Puerto Rican Gastronomy
Cafe Berlin

We found the wait-staff in Puerto Rico to be amazing – extremely helpful and friendly, going above and beyond their job description. Princesa Gastro Bar had a lovely ambience, and it’s a great place to stop by while taking a walk past La Muralla by the water to the Old San Juan Gate. We recommend taking this path in the evening to avoid the heat and the crowds; perhaps after what promises to be a great dinner in Old San Juan!

Guide to puerto rico

Guide to puerto rico

Guide to puerto rico

Guide to puerto rico

Guide to puerto rico

Guide to puerto rico
The Old San Juan Gate

Puerto Rican Gastronomy

Caficultura (yeah, I’m a fan of salmon!)

There are also some great gastronomic tours of San Juan on offer, and this may be something to consider if you have the time!

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Caficultura
Guide to puerto rico
Cafe Berlin
Guide to puerto rico princesa gastro bar
Princesa Gastro Bar
Guide to puerto rico princesa gastro bar
Inside Princes Gastro Bar. We loved the vibe here and the food and staff were great.

Do: Venture away from the restaurants closest to the beginning of Old San Juan

While the restaurants in Old San Juan all offer fantastic flavor, be wary of the most accessible as they tend to have smaller portion sizes and larger price tags. Those slightly away from the center tend to give you the best bang for your buck.

Discover Puerto Rico
These restaurants have a great ambiance and setting but little bang for your buck.
Guide to puerto rico
Take a walk away from the center of Old San Juan

Do: Visit the Holocaust Memorial (and monument area in general)

Similar to most former Spanish colonies, Puerto Rico has a quarter of the city full of government buildings and monuments dedicated to fallen policemen, prestigious educators, and of special note, an exceptional Holocaust Memorial. As a political psychologist, I can say that this monument is really well done, with a walkway dedicated to those little known individuals who resisted the Nazis during the Third Reich, and a final monument dedicated to the millions of lives lost – whether you were a Jew, homosexual, disabled, or a prisoner of war. It may be worth your time stopping by these monuments (at no cost) on your way from, or to, Old San Juan.

Do: Spend an evening at La Placita

A little south of San Juan, closer to Condado, in Calle Dos Hermanos, is La Placita, which comes alive with music and dancing over the weekend (sometimes Thursdays too!) If you’re looking for some live music and dancing, this is the place to be.

Do: Eat from a food truck

Some food trucks in the Condado and Miramar areas offer great seafood and sandwiches at great prices. This may be a good option if you’re in the area taking in the gorgeous, quaint houses, and are in the mood for some cheap, local food.

Do: Stay close to San Juan

Whether it’s in Old San Juan, Condado, or Miramar, we recommend staying in this area for ease of access to beaches, the airport, El Yunque, restaurants, and culture. You can find great deals on Booking.com or Airbnb for these areas!

Guide to puerto rico
We never got tired to walking the streets of Old San Juan

Do: Visit El Yunque before 9am

Travelers to Puerto Rico usually all plan a trip to El Yunque, the lush rainforest located towards the east of the island. We highly recommend that you do visit – and plan to arrive at the rainforest no later than 9am. There are 2 entrances to the rainforest – a north and south entrance. The south entrance tends to have steeper, muddier trails. Furthermore, when we visited, the connecting road between the north and south entrance was under construction. Entering the rainforest from the south entrance also adds half an hour to your travel time from San Juan. We strongly recommend you enter El Yunque from the north (with no entrance fee). This is also the closer, less frequented entrance to the much-visited La Mina falls.

Guide to puerto rico
The walk down to La Mina Falls
Guide to puerto rico
La Mina Falls when we arrived

We hiked – rather, walked – mostly downhill, to the falls and at 9am, and found only 5 other people in the water, who were kind enough to leave when we got there 😉 So we had the falls to ourselves for a good half hour before a lot more people arrived around 10am. You can watch us enjoy La Mina Falls here.

Visit Puerto Rico El Yunque

Getting to the falls early on assures you an enjoyable swim before you head back on the trail. We also recommend that La Mina be your first stop, before you even do the Watch Tower or the El Toro trail to the highest peak at El Yunque, since fewer people visit the latter in general. Be warned that the views from El Toro may be obscured by clouds once you get there!

Guide to puerto rico

Guide to puerto rico
You will also find smaller waterfalls as you drive to La Mina Falls
Guide to puerto rico el yunque
Gorgeous views from the watch tower

Guide to puerto rico el yunque

Do: Book your Bio-Bay Kayaking Tour from Fajardo ahead of time

East of El Yunque is Fajardo, and we recommend spending the day at El Yunque and driving east to Fajardo for a Bio-Luminescence Bay Kayaking tour in the evening if you are planning to do the latter. Click here for more about the Bio-Bay kayaking experience. Make sure you book this in advance!

Do: Visit Isabela

We recommend renting a car for at least a part of your stay and driving to west towards Isabela. While certain travelers stay exclusively in San Juan and do a day trip to El Yunque, we do recommend leaving these more visited regions to visit the less frequented, more quiet beaches of Isabela.

Guide to puerto rico
Isabela. Renting a car and exploring the beaches in Isabela are a cost-effective way of avoiding the costs and energy related to traveling to Vieques or Flamenco beach.

Isabela has more of a beach café than the restaurant feel of San Juan, and has miles of gorgeous beach, uncrowded as the Loquillo and Flamenco beaches can get.

Guide to puerto rico
Loquillo Beach
Guide to puerto rico
Loquillo Beach can be gorgeous…
Guide to puerto rico
…but crowded, especially in the evenings. So be aware!
Guide to puerto rico
Market festival in Loquillo

Don’t forget to visit the Monumento al Cacique Mabodamaca (Indian Head) by the side of the road on the way to Isabela! It’s on the right side of the road leading to Isabela from San Juan – you can’t miss it!

Guide to puerto rico
Monumento al Cacique Mabodamaca

Note about renting a car in Puerto Rico

We got a fantastic deal on our car, US$70 for a 6 day rental in Puerto Rico. Book ahead, and check prices the day of, to find your own great deal. Check our guide for more information on how you can get your own deal! However, you cannot make changes to your rental over the phone once you leave the airport. Nevertheless the airport is only a few minutes from Old San Juan though so you can drive to your agent’s drop-off booth at the airport if you need to make any changes.

Do: Visit Cava Ventana – but keep in mind the steep entrance fee

There are two interesting detours on the way to Isabela: Cava Ventana and Cueva del Indio. Cueva del Indio was closed for construction when we visited due to a recent landslide, so we only ended up visiting Cava Ventana. This is an area of five caves, two of which are open to the public, via guided tours only. We do recommend taking the tour (while not being big fans of tours ourselves!) as the view from the cave window at the end was very much worth it.

Cueva Ventana window
Window, Cueva Ventana

The tours are handled privately however so be prepared for a steep entrance fee upon arrival. You will also walk through caves filled with bats, so we urge you to be conscious of sound and light pollution during your tour.

Guide to puerto rico

Guide to puerto rico

Don’t: Visit Arecibo

Arecibo is a quaint city on your way west of San Juan. We don’t recommend visiting Arecibo for the sake of visiting the city itself, unless you are interested in visiting the Observatory (check if it’s open before you go by calling ahead) or Camuy caves. This is not to be negative about Arecibo, but to inform travelers of how best to spend their time.

Don’t: Drive all around the island in one day

Yup, we drove all around the island – from San Juan to Isabela to Ponce to Fajardo back to San Juan in a day. Is it worth it? Definitely not, if you factor in the traffic and sometimes reckless driving we came across.

Driving puerto rico
Our route around the island; don’t be fooled, with traffic, it takes much longer than 6 hours to drive around!

We would recommend a drive to the west towards Isabela, taking in the sites mentioned above, and a drive to the west to take in El Yunque and Fajardo but that’s about it. Ponce is great but nothing to write home about, unless you are interested in a specific event in the area. Unless you are spending more than 2 weeks on the island, and have days to spend in each city respectively, we do not recommend a day trip driving all around the island.

Discover Puerto Rico
Gorgeous gems you find on your drive to the east

Don’t: Necessarily buy into the hype about Flamenco Beach

Flamenco beach may be a serious consideration of any traveler to Puerto Rico. Is it the “best beach in the world”? Not if you’ve been to Hapuna Beach in Hawaii, or the Maldives, or Indonesia, or… you get our drift? There is no such thing as the “best beach in the world” – it all depends on your experience! There are two ways to get to Flamenco beach – you can either take a flight (more expensive of course, and in our opinion, not worth it just to see the beach!) or the ferry, for which you have to line up at 4am in the morning on the day of travel. Tickets are not sold in advance to tourists. Tickets are cheap, and usually go for less than $10, roundtrip. Flamenco beach is a gorgeous place to visit if you have the time, but not the must-do if you’re on the island for a few days only.

Do: Go Ziplining!

Puerto Rico really is an island with a little bit of something for everyone! It boasts a gigantic ziplining park with The Monster at Toro Verde Zipline Park – the longest zipline in the world. We recommend you visit Toro Verde, where you can zipline over a lush rainforest. They are suited for zipliners of all experience levels; it was our first time ziplining and we loved it! Book ahead by calling in! Watch our experience here. 

Guide to puerto rico
Ziplining through this forest was amazing

In Summary:

Do: Take a walk around Old San Juan. Don’t forget the Old San Juan Gate and La Muralla

Do: Visit El Morro and Castillo San Cristobal

Do: Pack lots of sunscreen and water

Do: Enjoy the food! Princesa Gastro Bar, Café Berlin, and Caficultura are good options

Do: Venture away from the restaurants closest to the beginning of Old San Juan

Do: Visit the Holocaust Memorial (and monument area in general)

Do: Spend an evening at La Placita

Do: Eat from a food truck

Do: Find accommodation close to San Juan

Do: Visit El Yunque before 9am

Do: Book your Bio-Bay Kayaking Tour from Fajardo ahead of time

Do: Visit Isabela

Do: Visit Cava Ventana – but keep in mind the steep entrance fee

Don’t: Visit Arecibo unless you’re headed to the Observatory (call ahead) Camuy

Don’t: Drive all around the island in one day

Don’t: Necessarily buy into the hype about Flamenco Beach

Do: Go Ziplining!

Do: Enjoy all the great hospitality!

We love the rich history, culture, great food, and hospitality offered in Puerto Rico and would love to go back. This is an island definitely worth a visit when you head over to the Caribbean. Happy traveling!

As always, be a conscious traveler: Take nothing, and leave nothing behind. Be conscious, be welcome! Read more about conscious travel here.

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