13 Reasons Puerto Rico Should Be Your Next Island Getaway
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.