My trip to Puerto Rico was booked unexpectedly on a whim, thanks to an amazing flight deal. I’d never had any real desire to go, but when I saw a flight for a $100 round-trip, my mom and I couldn’t resist.
Although my expectations were initially a bit low, I took the advice of some fellow travel bloggers and opted for a road trip around the island rather than sticking to the well-known tourist spots. A comprehensive day-by-day itinerary is coming soon, but these are the five things not to miss in Puerto Rico!
1. Casa Flamboyant and El Yunque Rainforest
Did I seriously just list a bed and breakfast as the number one thing to “do” in Puerto Rico? Well, the answer is yes, because Casa Flamboyant is not your average bed and breakfast. Not only is it the best BnB I’ve ever stayed in, but its stunning location in (yes, in) the El Yunque Rainforest means that there’s plenty to do both in and around the property.
Paradise does not even begin to describe this place. It is beautiful. The house itself has three rooms and a wraparound veranda. We had a private terrace and our own view of the rainforest. All the water that runs through the property is natural and pure and comes from the forest. The property itself has a pool (with the natural water) overlooking the rainforest AND two private trails that lead to secret waterfalls. So yes, Casa Flamboyant is a must-do.
The hospitality there was superb. Ricky and Florin gave us the royal treatment, with specially made organic and locally sourced breakfast, a large collection of DVDs, and all the amenities we could possibly have needed.
Casa Flamboyant is easily the best place I’ve ever stayed. If you ever come to Puerto Rico, splurge on at least one night here!
As for El Yunque, I don’t think anyone needs convincing to visit the only tropical rainforest in the United States. It has multiple beautiful paths and hiking trails, all sorts of flora and fauna, coqui frogs, and quite a number of rivers and waterfalls. So even if you don’t end up staying at Casa Flamboyant, you can still experience the joy of swimming under a waterfall – although you’ll have to share this experience with other tourists. The best part is that the trails in El Yunque are well-paved, which makes for fairly easy hiking.
2. Old San Juan
Old San Juan is the small and charming part of Puerto Rico’s capital, filled with beautifully colored buildings, looming fortresses, and plazas on every other block. If you didn’t know any better, you’d almost think you were in Havana. Old San Juan is quite small and can easily be seen in a day. While the impressive Campo del Morro Fortress is high on the list of “must-see’s”, the ideal day in this town is one spent wandering through the narrow streets, people-watching, and admiring the multitude of colorful buildings. Don’t forget to check out the San Cristobal Fortress as well. It’s far less impressive than Campo del Morro, but it does include an incredibly cool dungeon. Tip: For those of you who aren’t up for walking, there’s a free trolley that takes tourists around town.
My other favorite part? The fresh and incredibly delicious dinner we had at Jose Enrique in Santurce. There will be a wait, but it’s worth it.
3. La Cueva del Indio and Parque Las Cavernas del Rio Camuy
La Cueva del Indio is a somewhat unmonitored cave in Arecibo. It’s pretty rocky and a bit steep to get to the cave’s entrance (wear sturdy shoes!), but once you get to the ladder it’s an easy climb down. The inside is really cool with indigenous carvings and crevices. If you’re claustrophobic, really out of shape, or a bit fearful of caves in general, I wouldn’t recommend this place. But if you think you can handle it, it’s really cool. If you continue along the rocks, you’ll recognize the double arches where parts of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 were filmed. It’s a pretty spectacular view.
Note: The parking situation here is a bit sketchy. Apparently if you park near the beach and do a long walk, you can visit the caves for free. We paid $10 for private parking and one of the security people hung around the cave area to make sure we were okay, so it was worth it in my book. There are a couple of private parking lots, and we just pulled into the first lot we saw. We went around 10 am and had the whole place to ourselves.
Parque Las Cavernas del Rio Camuy is the other cave I recommend visiting. This cave, unlike the other one, is set up for tourists, complete with an entrance fee, a trolley ride, and a comprehensive audio guide. My mom loved this one since she didn’t have to fear for her (or my) life, and I have to admit that the stalagmites and stalactites were stunning. We even saw a couple of bats!
If you find yourself in Hatillo at around dinnertime, be sure to eat at El Truco de Guin. It’s a local outdoor restaurant with delicious and inexpensive Puerto Rican food – the mofongo with churrasco is to die for!
4. Crash Boat Beach and Pozo de Jacinto
We visited a lot of beaches in Puerto Rico, but Crash Boat Beach in Aguadilla was my absolute favorite. It has just the right amount of swimmers and surfers, and has great views of the neighboring town. It gets its name from the colorful boats parked on the beach, which I’m told can be rented for the day for some ocean exploration.
Pozo de Jacinto is a small cave and blowhole in Isabela. I had actually never visited a blowhole up close before visiting this, and loved watching the aggressive waves crashing against the rock formations. It’s clearly not the best place for swimming, though (duh). If you’re looking to swim or surf, drive down the road to Playa Jobos.
If you’re staying around Aguadilla for the night, don’t miss out on a delicious dinner at Boca Loca.
5. La Parguera
La Parguera is one of three towns in Puerto Rico where you can see a bioluminescent bay. For those of you who are wondering, a bio bay is a body of water where these organisms called dinoflagellates live. When they come in contact with things, they glow. Puerto Rico is home to three bio bays – the one in Vieques is the brightest in the world. Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out how to make it over there with our schedule, so we opted for the bay in La Parguera. Johnny’s Boats takes you on a bay tour in a motorboat for $8 per person. The bio bay is really cool, but just remember that it won’t glow as brightly as it looks like it does in photos on Google. Not even close. But it’s still magical and sparkly. And you can’t capture photos, not even with the best camera, so sit back and enjoy the ride.
The La Parguera area itself is really lively and is a great place for a night out. It’s filled to the brim with people at night (albeit mostly locals), so getting good dinner service here might be a bit of a struggle.
Most people who visit Puerto Rico stay on the east side of the country, sticking to the beaches and nearby islands. Instead, we opted to road trip all around the coast, which resulted in a completely different Puerto Rican experience (but of course, we did see some of the tourist sites as well!). No matter what you do, Puerto Rico is an excellent place to spend a relaxing week. Whether you like beaches, nature, or adventure travel, it certainly has something for everyone.
Have you ever been to Puerto Rico? Which cities are your favorite? Share in the comments below!