13 Reasons Puerto Rico Should Be Your Next Island Getaway

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Deal Expert, Los Angeles
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While there are 28 island nations in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico stands out as a quick, easy getaway for a few reasons:

• There are nonstop flights from 22 U.S. cities
• You can leave your U.S. passport at home
• No need to go through airport customs (get to the beach quicker)
• U.S. bills are accepted, so there are no currency exchanges or foreign transaction fees

Combine all those things with the fact that Puerto Rico has close to 300 miles of coastline and year-round temperatures in the 80s, and it quickly becomes apparent why Puerto Rico is America’s Caribbean getaway. Explore the cobblestone walkways of Old San Juan (pictured above), sunbathe at the tourist-fueled beaches of Isla Verde and Condado, hike through the El Yunque Rain Forest, kayak in bioluminescent bays or escape to secluded Vieques.

Ready to pack your bags? Here are 13 reasons to make this U.S. territory your next island escape.


1. It’s a quick, easy and cheap beach getaway.

Flights into San Juan Luis Munoz Marin International Airport from the States are consistently amongst the cheapest to the Caribbean. There are plenty of nonstop flights less than four hours from places like New York, Washington D.C., Boston, Miami and Atlanta, just to name a few.

San Juan’s Isla Verde is primed for a quick beach getaway — this nearly three-mile beach is just 10 minutes from the airport. Start your beach trip early. Wear your flip-flops through TSA security in the States and white sand will be between your toes before you know it.

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Isla Verde

2. Think Miami-style beaches, but without the South Beach price tag.

Condado Beach is a modern play area in San Juan, one that mirrors Miami’s South Beach — about 1,000 miles southeast. Most beachfront hotels have free beach chairs, but you can also rent chairs and umbrellas for $5-$10 a day. This hotel-lined stretch of beach backs up to bustling Ashford Avenue, where tourists spill out of bars and restaurants. Don’t worry about being touristy — it’s worth it to order the piña colada served inside a pineapple.

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Condado Beach

3. Old San Juan has aged well.

Follow the blue cobblestone streets through the walled city of Old San Juan and uncover remnants of its Spanish colonial past. A $5 ticket lets you explore two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the 400-year-old El Morro Fort (Castillo de San Felipe del Morro) and the 230-year-old San Cristobal Fort (Castillo San Cristóbal). As an added bonus, their cliffside locations offer up unparalleled ocean views. You’ll want to take a selfie here.

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La Puerta de San Juan, Old San Juan

4. Party all day and all night.

Try your luck at blackjack, craps, roulette and slots at some of the largest casinos in the Caribbean. Play 24 hours a day at the Ritz-Carlton San Juan, home to nearly 300 slot machines and 20 table games. In addition to casinos, San Juan hotels like Condado Hilton Plaza and El San Juan Hotel keep the party going at on-site nightclubs. Casinos require players to be a minimum of 18 or 21 years old.

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Roulette, San Juan

5. Zip-lining, surfing, hiking; need we say more?

Rent a car and set out for adventure beyond San Juan. Trade in white-sand beaches for the remote central mountains. Here, adventurers can mix and match experiences like forest hikes in Utuado, boat rides on Dos Bocas Lake and secluded submersions at Dona Juana Waterfall. Plus, Toro Verde Park just added the Monster — the world’s longest zip line with speeds up to 93 mph.

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Toro Verde Nature Adventure Park, Orocovis

6. See the rain forest for the trees (and the animals)

Nearly 29,000 lush acres await on the eastern edge of Puerto Rico at El Yunque National Rain Forest — the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. national forest system. Hike to the mountaintops along the Mt. Britton Tower trail or take a dip in the La Mina Falls (be sure to wear a swimsuit). There’s more than a dozen well-maintained trails for hiking, so it’s navigable for the whole family.

With more than 70 animal species, you’ll definitely see some exotic fauna here. Keep an eye out for the bright-green tiny Tody; these birds can be seen flying (and heard chirping) in pairs around the trees. You’ll know the Coqui tree frogs are around when their singing fills the evening air.

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El Yunque National Tropical Rain Forest, Rio Grande

7. Plan an island getaway within an island getaway.

Want to really go off the grid? Find postcard-perfect beaches on Vieques and Culebra, Puerto Rico’s very own secluded islands — ideal for a romantic getaway. The palm-tree-lined white-sand beaches and sparkling turquoise waters of Flamenco Beach earned this Culebra spot a nod on TripAdvisor’s Top 20 Beaches in the World List. And Blue Beach on neighboring Vieques, was touted as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world by Conde Nast Traveler, thanks to the ability to find a stretch of sand all to yourself.

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Vieques

8. The food is unlike anywhere else.

Spanish, African and native Taino flavors take center stage in Puerto Rican cuisine. Follow your stomach to a simple seafood shack for that day’s fresh catch, a roadside barbecue stand — try Bebo’s near the airport, on your way in or out — or venture out to Guavate “Pork Road” for a plate of mofongo, mashed plantains topped with pork. More high-end restaurants takes center stage in Condado and Old San Juan, including celebrity-run restaurants by Iron Chef star Roberto Treviño.

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Mofongo

9. Get out for a drink.

Rum, beer, coffee… take your pick. Puerto Rico is well known for Bacardi rum — after all, it is the world’s largest rum distillery. And you can tour the distillery or set up tastings at Casa Bacardi, right outside of San Juan. Rum is a heavy-hitter on cocktail menus from piña coladas to mojitos, but if beer is more your thing, try the local lager Medalla Light.

Have it your way: iced, espresso, latte or black, to really taste the iconic Puerto Rican coffee flavor. Stopping in at Cuatro Sombras in San Juan is a must-do, you might even be lucky enough to meet the owner, whose family farms the beans served in the cafe. Puerto Rico’s volcanic soil and tropical mountains are perfect conditions for growing coffee, and producing beans with less bitterness. Plan a visit to the coffee zone, covering the central and southern regions of Puerto Rico, and tour a working coffee plantation.

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Mojito, made with Puerto Rican rum

10. You can kayak at night in glow-in-the-dark bio bays.

Bioluminescent bays are a phenomenon that occurs when dinoflagellates (barely visible plankton) are disturbed and send out a bright blue-green light which is visible at night. There are only a handful of bio bays in the world, and Puerto Rico has three of them. Guinness World Records even noted Mosquito Bay, on Vieques, as the brightest in the world. It’s a must do. Nighttime boat tours drop adventurers off in bio bays in Fajardo, Lajas and Vieques for an evening kayak through the glowing waters. The colors can best be seen in dark conditions, so avoid visiting during a full moon.

A photo posted by Yana B. (@yanamv) on


11. Not all of the coast is beaches.

Dramatic oceanview cliffs and secret caves line the coast of northern Puerto Rico. You can opt to stay above ground with an easy hike or horseback ride along the Arecibo cliffs. But the more adventurous should head down below. An old wood ladder leads the way down into La Cueva del Indio, where prehistoric petroglyphs adorn the cave walls. At Rio Camuy Cave Park, you can spelunk in the cave or float down the third-largest underground river in the world.

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La Cueva del Indio, Arecibo

12. Visit an Old World city, set in the Caribbean.

Early Spanish settlers came with Juan Ponce de León back in the 1500s to Puerto Rico. Their cultural influence remains in the colonial town of Ponce (pronounced pawn-se), once a bustling port for the sugar-cane trade and today a charming city where Old World and Caribbean architecture intertwine. Visit the Castillo Serralles for stunning views of the city as you walk the gardens, then stop in the museum to learn about how the sugar-cane and rum industries helped shape Puerto Rico’s history. Take a selfie onboard the historic trolley, against the colorful red-and-black Parque de Bombas fire station or with the stunning cathedral in Plaza Las Delicias.

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Plaza Las Delicias, Ponce

13. The west coast is where it’s at — just ask the locals.

The island’s west coast is where the Puerto Ricans like to vacation. It’s easy to find a stretch of sand all to yourself among the 17 towns that stretch from Quebradillas to Guánica, known as Porta del Sol. Nonstop flights from New York and Florida go right into Aguadilla, making it easier to get here than you think, along with four daily flights from San Juan to Mayaguez airport.

Catch a wave or just watch surfers take off on some of the best waves in the Caribbean at Rincon. Head to salt flats at Bahia Sucia, which are overlooked by hiking and biking trails, and the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse. Plan to stay for sunset and you’ll be rewarded with some of the most picturesque sunsets on the island.

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Aguadilla

Plan a Puerto Rico getaway — hotels across Puerto Rico are offering a free fourth night when you book a vacation package.

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Show 24 Comments
  • Ursula Bethoney- Hutchinson

    why is it that NOBODY addresses how cruel this US TERRITORY is to homeless animals, what about DEAD DOG Beach, why not FIX the problem and then talk about how great Puerto Rico is, or how about the fact that the locals still participate in Cock fights, yeah beautiful maybe but they are not getting my tourist dollars !!

    • John Hansen

      Maybe Puerto Rico is addressing these problems while they are promoting how wonderful their country is. DON’T FORGET, when traveling, you are guest in someone else’s country and you must take the good with the bad. And that means accepting their culture and how the country is run. If you disagree or find fault with something, you can always stay home and protest with you dollars & facebook comments.

      • Robert

        It’s part of the United States.

      • Wendy Vigo McCostlin

        Not only is Puerto Rico a territory of the United States (not an independent country) but I think you’re implying that somehow Puerto Rico is the only place that participates in inhumane chicken farming, which is entirely not the case. Tyson is based in the mainland United States and has these chicken plants spread through multiple states: http://www.tysonfoods.com/our-story/locations.
        Additionally, this article is not, as you put it, “promoting how wonderful their country is.” If you take a moment to scroll to the top you can see that the author of this article is located in Los Angeles.

      • Ursula Bethoney- Hutchinson

        I’m saying be deducated and be part of the solution not the problem

    • Wendy Vigo McCostlin

      Judging the entire island of Puerto Rico by the actions of a minority
      group that participate cock fighting is a strange way to determine where
      your tourist dollars go. People all over the mainland United States participate in dog fighting and turn a blind eye to animals going into kill shelters but I’m hoping other countries don’t judge the entire mainland by those people’s actions.

      • Ursula Bethoney- Hutchinson

        I just feel that these big tourism companies making tons of money can help instead of add to the suffering. YES there are homeless animals and animals in awful situation all over the world but instead of turning a blind eye, do something. YES the rescue groups work tirelessly so help them, they are all over worked and could do so much more with financial support and education of tourists

    • OrlandoRican

      Ursula. I will agree with you if you tell me you are pro-life. Cockfighting is part of our culture, just as abortion is part of the American culture. Which one is worse?

      • Ursula Bethoney- Hutchinson

        abortion isn’t a culture orlando I know cock fighting it part of your culture just like not neutering male dogs. But I ask you to please evolve and not let innocent animals suffer for enjoyment. I would rathe see you beat ea other like boxing or MMA, consenting adults.

        I think you are probably smart enough to know you cannot compare abortion to cock fighting. Abortion is an adult human making a choice, those cocks have no choices

    • SaucyOne

      There are plenty of groups in Puerto Rico working tirelessly and doing the best they can to address the homeless pet population situation (Save A Sato, HSUSPR, Island Dog, All Sato, The Sato Project and many small, local groups, to name a few). Sadly homeless animals are a problem everywhere, including in the mainland. I do animal rescue in IL and work with many rescues who pull tons of animals (including puppies & kittens) from high kill shelters throughout the US. There are many shelters in the US where most animals do not make it out alive (and I mean even the highly adoptable ones, so that the elderly, ill, etc., virtually have no shot at making it out alive). I do not think it is fair to condemn a whole island because of some bad eggs or for situations that plague us in the states too.

      As for cockfighting, yes that’s disgusting. But also let’s remember that it was finally just banned in certain states in the US (Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma) within the last decade.

      • Ursula Bethoney- Hutchinson

        I’mont condemning the whole island I’m saying people need to be educated and help to work with the groups toward a solution. I would rather see a dog humanely euthanized that left to suffer and die on dead dog beach. I too am in rescue and am very aware of the issues taking place and so many people are not

  • sugarkisses

    Puerto Rico is on my Bucket List. These photos have moved it up a notch. I wished I had stayed for a few days while vacation in St. Thomas. Thanks for the informative article.

  • Jennifer S

    Isn’t it a little bit irresponsible to push tourism to Puerto Rico when they are in the middle of a Zika epidemic? More than 1000 cases a week are being diagnosed – and now is the height of it because it’s the rainy season. Zika doesn’t just effect pregnant women (or those who hope to become pregnant). More than 50 cases of Guillan Barré syndrome have been diagnosed in Puerto Rico – and a man died from it very recently.

    My heart breaks for this beautiful island. I love this place, and the wonderful people there. But we just cancelled a trip to Dorado beach because of the health risk (and the risk of bringing Zika back to the mainland).

    • OrlandoRican

      “affect”, not “effect”. And I agree with you. A most beautiful place and real friendly people. I loved the Dorado area when I lived there.

  • La Beba

    my country is beaitiful adn it doesnt matter there is a Zika warning it all depends were u go. adn zika is not only in puerto rico its in other places too like brazil, mexico

  • ATL_Pussywillow

    Love my little island ❤️ ??

  • Vikon99

    I lived there for a few years back in the late 70’s. I highly recommend skin diving off Cabo Rojo on the South side of the island!

  • Suzi52

    I have only been to Puerto Rico twice – once off a cruise ship. We have traveled to about 20 Caribbean islands, South America, Central America, and Mexico. Nowhere have we ever encountered an overall population of such rude, inhospitable, crude and offensive people and I hope to never encounter such again. If we do, it will not be in Puerto Rico as we will never waste good money to go there again, no matter how beautiful the beaches are.

    • http://alfredogotay.com Alfredo

      Puerto Rico is known for being one of the friendliest places in the world towards tourists. You were either extremely unlucky or are making things up.

      • Suzi52

        I do not appreciate some rude person who does not know me at all implying I am a liar. Are you Puerto Rican yourself and do not recognize your rudeness for what it is?

        But I will try to explain for others. My husband and I are happy travelers who believe in making the best of whatever problems might arise on a trip whether bad weather or bad hotel. We enjoy learning local customs and history, eating at the restaurants the locals go to, and learning about the people. We have acquaintances and often friends by now in most places we have ever visited. But everywhere we went in Puerto Rico we ran into rude, nasty people – on two trips – whether it was shopping in Old Town or on a trip to El Yunque or visiting the forts and other historical places. Dozens wanted to sell us drugs and some were quite hateful when we said no and walked away. They would run into us on the sidewalk and never even look up or say “sorry” when it was clearly and definitely their fault – we felt often that they were trying to get their hands on our wallets and pick our pockets. The beaches were over run with out of control children running right over you while you were sitting on your towel and never caring what they kicked over or how much sand they threw up into your face, Parents ignored them. Most would act like they did not understand a word of English if we asked for directions – although we would then overhear their foul mouths and you can bet from the little kids to the old ladies all know the “f” word and use it liberally. We did not enjoy our time in Puerto Rico and will not go back. Even if we book a cruise with PR as a stop, I doubt we would get off the ship again simply because we do not want to deal with people who have no manners. Too many other beautiful islands in the Caribbean to put up with them.

  • ovillegator

    It’s a BEAUTIFUL place, beaches are fantastic — even good surfing in the east.

    BUT — I read they have some 20,000 cases of Zika now… that will stop people from going.

  • DanD1

    Love Puerto Rico!! The people, food, culture, sun, sand, ocean….. Vacationing on a Caribbean island and it’s a US Commonwealth! US Dollars make it so much easier, not to mention no need for a passport. If you have lots of kiddos, getting a passport is an expensive proposition!

  • Jen Adamo

    We stayed in a rustic camping cabin on the West side, then at the luxurious Hotel Covento in OSJ for a glorious night to cap off a great week in PR. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

  • Casey Gagliardi

    The colors of the city are so beautiful! I would love to visit and it’s so close to where I am! Thank you for the inspiration! xoxo