When it comes to Caribbean getaways, the Bahamas and Jamaica always come to mind. For some reason, traveling to Puerto Rico never quite makes the list, but there are so many reasons you should consider it for your next island vacation. The beautiful spot was discovered by Christopher Columbus and claimed as a Spanish territory. It wasn’t until the Spanish-American war in the late 1800s that Spain gave it to the Commonwealth to the United States, which is why the U.S. territory still has significant Spanish flair, especially in Old San Juan.
But the question is, do you need a passport for Puerto Rico? Well, since it’s a U.S. territory, that means there’s no need for a passport, you don’t need to exchange currency, and you won’t pay extra to use your cell (amen to that). Lastly, it’s only a short flight—we’re talking two hours from Miami and just over three hours from New York City. Below, we’ve rounded up our top tips and tricks for traveling to Puerto Rico. Scroll through, and then get planning.
OLD SAN JUAN
Most flights from the States get you into San Juan, which is a quick bus or taxi ride away from Old San Juan, Puerto Rico’s historic gem. Although the island is known for its beaches, the old city—with its beautiful colors, rich architecture, and historic sites—is a definite must-see.
First of all, you should stay at El Convento, a renovated convent from the 1600s with four-poster beds and complimentary cocktails every evening in the garden. (Did we also mention it’s centrally located?) Grab some of the island’s famous coffee at Spicy Caribbee, and stock up on some local spices for family and friends while you’re there. Next, explore forts like Castillo San Cristóbal and El Morro (one pass will get you admission to both), visit Catedral de San Juan (it houses Ponce de León’s tomb), and view La Casa Estrecha (the narrowest house in the world).
Most streets are cobblestone, and you're going to be walking up steep inclines, so wear the comfiest shoes you own. Although you can catch free trolleys to take you around the neighborhood, they don’t run on Cristo Street, where most of the main attractions are.
Venture outside of the city via ferry to the tiny Vieques Island off the eastern coast. Stay at the W Retreat & Spa, which offers private pool cabanas, an infinity pool, and breathtaking modern décor. When you venture outside of the hotel, take a chartered boat to Bioluminescent Bay (the microorganisms give it a gorgeous glow when you touch the water). If you like to snorkel or scuba dive, this is the spot to see some amazing things underwater.
Black Beard Sports is your place to go for hiking, biking, boat charters, snorkeling, and scuba. PS: If you’re interested in venturing into the deep, ask to be on one of Cristina’s dives.
If you’re traveling to Puerto Rico, you have to check out El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest located on U.S. territory. (FYI, it’s about a 45-minute drive from San Juan). It’s home to gorgeous waterfalls and exotic wildlife like mongoose, nonvenomous snakes, the Puerto Rican parrot, and the coquí frog (trust us—if you don’t see this creature, you’ll hear its croak). If you’re the adventurous type, zip line through the canopy for a whopping 2800-foot ride among the trees.
If you’re going to hike La Mina Falls, go early in the morning to avoid the tour groups. You’ll get a much better view, and if you’re lucky, even some peace and quiet. Wear your bathing suit so you can take a dip post-hike.
Cueva Ventana is a cave located on top of a limestone cliff in Arecibo (about an hour outside of San Juan), and you’ll have to brave the sometimes slippery walk to the top. Your trek will take you up and down narrow passageways on the mountainside, and you’ll catch a glimpse of bats at one point on your journey. But despite the winding trip, you’ll have the most beautiful view of the Río Grande de Arecibo valley through the window cave at the very top. (So basically, it's worth it).
Entry to the cave includes a local guide, so make sure to take advantage of the opportunity to learn about Cueva Ventana from someone who knows it best.
Rincón translates to "corner" in Spanish, which is fitting considering the surfing capital of the island is pretty much as far removed as you can get from the tourist scene. When traveling to Puerto Rico, you need to give this remote area a go (just remember, if you want it extra quiet, avoid busy season which is October through April). If you want the real Puerto Rican beach experience, head to Sandy Beach where palm trees grow and coconuts fall in the sand. And if you want the real surfing experience, enroll in lessons at Rincón Surf School (to really commit, stay overnight at the Rincón Surf Resort).
Be sure to rent a car because there’s no main drag, and you’ll be tired from all that surfing.