I’ve been wanting to write a blog about Puerto Rico for a while. Here’s some information I like to share with friends who decide to visit the island. If you would like help with coordinating a schedule according to the time you will be spending in the island, please let me know and I’ll be glad to help. I enjoy doing that.
This is a lot of information, so just use the info that apply to your interests and focus on the type of trip you would like (relax, adventure, beach, etc).
First and foremost you will need a car in Puerto Rico if you want to explore the island. Public transportation sucks, actually there’s none and taxis are only useful in the San Juan area plus are very expensive. Because of this, there is a high demand on rental cars, so if you decide to go to Puerto Rico, that is probably the first thing I would book, even before the hotel.
Also, driving in Puerto Rico can be an adventure. People are crazy drivers. Is like the traffic lights are a suggestion for some and a few seconds before the light turns green you will have angry drivers honking the horn upset because you are still standing waiting for the light. So just be patient with us
Another thing, Puerto Rico’s economy has been struggling in the past years, and that has caused a massive migration of people to the upper states and crimes have been rising. Please use your good judgment and be cautious on the places you go, especially at night. Like in any other place in the world, just use common sense and do not display valuables (jewelry, etc). Also be careful with staying at the beach at night if there’s no one around. Just to be safe.
I don’t say this to scare you, but just want you to be aware of the reality. That said, I have friends who have visited the island and return with nothing but amazing memories and telling me they can’t wait to go back. I had a co-worker who spent 2 weeks inPuerto Rico for his honeymoon in February 2014. Nor him or his wife spoke a word of Spanish. They rented a car and went to places I never heard of and really had a blast. So I hope your experience will top his.
OK, now back to business. Here’s the information on places I suggest. I only like to suggest places I have been, but will include at the end some places that were recommended to me by others.
Regarding places to stay. I suggest you arrange your itinerary in a way that will allow you to see other parts of it besides San Juan.
If you only have 7 days, then I think 2 nights in San Juan, 1 night in Culebra and 3 nights in the west part of the island may cut it.
SAN JUAN AREA
Old San Juan is worth one to two full days. In San Juan there are plenty of places to stay, but I recommend finding somewhere right in the heart of the old town.
Where to go
Bacardi’s distillery in Cataño (the world’s largest rum distillery), is easy to access from Old San Juan and is open to visitors year-round. A trolley tour takes you through the history of rum-making on the island and Bacardi’s origins. You can do tasting and, of course, you get a complimentary drink. Call ahead before you go. For more information, contact 787-788-8400.
Castillo de San Felipe del Morro
The Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, (known as El Morro) is probably Old San Juan’s most famous landmark. For over 400 years, it has protected San Juan and the shipping route from the New World to the Old. Here you walk through a military history of Puerto Rico from the 1500s to the 20th Century. You’ll see the cannons used to protect the island still facing the ocean, step inside a sentry box (some stinks like pee unfortunately).
Castillo de San Cristóbal
The Castillo de San Cristóbal was the largest military structure built by the Spanish in the Americas. It also has magnificent views of the San Juan Bay and El Morro.
Parque de las Palomas
The Parque de las Palomas (pigeon park) is located at the top of the city wall, this park overlooks the restored La Princesa Jail, now a government office with an attractive art gallery. They call it pigeon park because there are lots of pigeons.
Capilla del Cristo (next to Parque de las Palomas)
The Capilla del Cristo (Christ’s Chapel) was built in the 18th century (1753). The beautiful Campeche paintings and altar inside can be seen through the church’s glass doors. Open Tues. 10am – 4pm.
San Juan Cathedral
The Catedral de San Juan (San Juan Cathedral) is the second oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere; construction began in 1521. This Cathedral is an authentic and rare New World example of medieval architecture. The cathedral contains the marble tomb of the island’s first governor Juan Ponce de León and the relic of San Pio, a Roman martyr. San Juan Cathedral still holds religious services on a regular schedule. Visitors allowed from 8:30am to 4pm daily.
San José Church
The Iglesia de San José (San José Church) began construction in 1523. The section erected in 1532, the Main Chapel or Sanctuary, is an excellent example of 16th century Spanish Gothic architecture. Ponce de León, was buried here for 300 years until his body was moved to the San Juan Cathedral in 1913. Open Mon-Sat 8:30am – 4pm, Sun mass at 12:00pm; (787) 725-7501.
San Juan Gate
The Puerta de San Juan (San Juan Gate) was built in the late 1700s, is one of six heavy wooden doors in the wall which for centuries were closed at sundown to cut off access to the city and protect the city from invaders. The wall is up to 20 feet thick and up to 40 feet tall.
La Princesa (the princess), formerly the local San Juan penitentiary was built in 1837. It is elegantly landscaped with trees, a fountain, and a bronze sculpture. Open Mon-Fri from 9am to 4pm. (787) 721-2400.
San Juan Museum of Art and History was built in 1855 as a market and restored in 1979 as a cultural center, showcases Puerto Rico art and music, including concerts and festivals. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am – 4pm, (787) 724-1875.
Museo de Doña Fela (Felisa Rincón de Gautier Museum) is a colonial building that was once the home of Felisa Rincón de Gautier, the dynamic mayor of San Juan from 1946 to 1968. Memorabilia from the mayor’s life, such as plaques, correspondence and furniture, are on display. Open Mon-Fri: 9am – 4pm; (787) 723-1897.
Where to eat in San Juan:
One of my favorite places to eat in the San Juan area is “Raices”. This place was feature on Travel Channel. Also, Man vs. Food came here and many other. It is very famous, so please expect long waiting times (or make a reservation). Their desserts and piña coladas are delicious.
Small island outside from the main island, access by ferry or plane only. Try really hard to go here.
Beaches in Culebra: Culebra has over 6 beaches, the most famous of course is Flamenco Beach (voted one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world), but there are many others worth to see: Zoni, Melones, Carlos Rosario, etc.
Suggestions to help get your Culebra tour planning started:
1. Rent a moped and drive around the island
2. Go diving or snorkeling
3. Just do nothing but relax
4. Have a cold beer and catch a sunset at Melones Beach
5. Spend a day at one of the top ten beaches in the world: Flamenco Beach
Where to eat in Culebra:
Small island outside from the main island, access by plane only.
If you have time I would try to go to Vieques… even if is just to go to the bioluminescent bay: http://www.biobay.com/. You can get there by small plane from Fajardo or from Culebra. Vieques has gorgeous beaches and amazing food.
El Yunque is home to the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System. A two-hour drive from San Juan, this place is perfect for hiking or dive under a waterfall. El Yunque Trail Map
NORTH (ARECIBO, CAMUY, ISABELA)
This is our territory since Arecibo is our hometown. There are plenty of things to do in this area. You can also stay in Arecibo and then drive to the nearby towns of Camuy and Isabela. If you are looking for a place to stay in Arecibo, my father in law rents a wonderful apartment on Airbnb (Las Arenas Guest House)
Where to go?
Cueva Ventana (Arecibo)
Used to be free, now they charge an entrance fee (cash only) The name “Cueva Ventana” translates into Window Cave, just take a look at the photo and you’ll know why it has that name. The cave is located in Arecibo, just outside the border with Utuado off of Route 10. It is very easy to access.
The entrance is located just next to the Puma (previously Texaco) gas station. Free parking for visitors. At the entrance you will register and pay. Then you start a short hike to the cave. Bring close shoes, it can be slippery.
Cueva del Indio (Arecibo)
Here’s where the movie Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed. Closed shoes are a must. It is dangerous to get to the cave but worth to try. This is a place where the Taino indians held tribal meetings. There are numerous carvings (petroglyphs) in the walls of these natural limestone caves. These petroglyphs pre-date Columbus’ arrival to Puerto Rico in 1493, and were probably made many centuries earlier. $3 to park car, $1 to enter the cave.
La Poza beach (Arecibo)
This was my family’s favorite beach. We used to go there all the time when I was a child. It is very nice, now is kept clean and is close to Arecibo’s light house, another interesting place to visit.
Crash Boat Beach, Aguadilla
A beach located in Aguadilla. Pack a picnic and spend the day soaking in this gorgeous beach. Bring cash to pay for parking
Where to eat in Arecibo?
I love this restaurant. Excellent seafood with a great view. Very popular. Great piña coladas. Reservations highly recommended.
For coffee and brunch, go to Latte Art
Small but cozy with friendly service. Delicious coffee and brunch plates
Camuy Caves & Caverns (2 different parks) (Camuy)
The Camuy cave system is the third largest in the world. The tour through the caves takes you through subterranean ravines to the edge of caves over 600 feet deep, as well as an underground river. The more active and daring can take an eco-excursion out here, which involves rappeling down the mouth of one of the caves, mud-sliding, body rafting, and free jumping through this subterranean world.
The park only allows a certain number of visitors in a day, so to be safe is better to get there before 10:30am and they don’t take reservations.Check the weather because the caves may close if is raining heavily since the river can cause flash floods.
They recommend to not visit the cave if you have asthma, other medical conditions or are pregnant.
Tickets are $15 for adults. All prices include an audio guide for your touring pleasure. Parking is $3 to $4 .
Ponce is known as the “Ciudad Señorial” (majestic city), because of its many beautiful neoclassical buildings and facades. This was Spain’s capital of the southern region until it fell to the U.S. in 1898. The heart of Ponce dates from the late 17th century and has been declared a national treasure.
Where to go?
The Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes is the site of the oldest cemetery yet to be uncovered in the Antilles. The ruins were exposed due to a tropical storm (Eloíse) in 1975. Burial grounds, at least 180 skeletons, seven ball courts, two ceremonial plazas, charms, tools and pottery have been uncovered, of both the Taínos and Igneris Indian cultures. Indian objects are on display in a small museum on site.
The Serrallés Castle is now a museum that displays the lifestyle of the Spanish elite. The castle, which is more like a mansion, has a Moorish architecture. This was built by the Serrallés family in the 1930s. We had our engagement photos taken here (back in 2006!!). The premises are beautiful. Hours Tues-Sun 9:30am-5pm
(Local Name: Paseo Tablado La Guancha). La Guancha (Boardwalk) is a good place to mingle with locals. It was built in the 90’s, overlooking the yacht harbor. Popular location for salsa concerts. There’s is a beach and many restaurants.
If available, from La Guancha you can take a very short boat ride to Isla Caja de Muerto (it’s literal translation is Coffin Case Island)
The Parque de Bombas de Ponce (Old Ponce Fire Station) was built as the main exhibit pavilion for the 1882 Exhibition Trade Fair.
Visitors can climb La Cruz del Vigia, a 100-foot observation tower, to get an incredible view of the mountains and the Caribbean Sea.
Hacienda Buena Vista is well worth a visit. Constructed in the mid-19th century, Hacienda Buena Vista is considered one of Puerto Rico’s best remaining examples of a coffee plantation.
Where to eat in Ponce?
Archipiélago – fine dining and romantic. Located in the penthouse level of the building in front of the Old Fire House (Parque de Bombas). It has a beautiful view of the city.
Rincón Argentino – Argentinian Restaurant in downtown Ponce. They have great sangría and they make a wonderful skirt steak.
If you like ice cream then go to King Ice Cream (better known as “Los chinos”). They make the best ice creams in Ponce. My favorites are the fruit ice creams such as tamarind, lime, passion fruit, orange. To me the best are tamarind and passion fruit. Lines are lo
ng but worth it!
Adventure and more:
If you are not afraid of heights, then one thing I would totally recommend is a visit to the center of the island and go to Toro Verde. The drive there is not the traditional touristy road so you will get a sense on how Puerto Ricans live. Plus you get to experience the longest zip-line in the west hemisphere, La Bestia.
Here’s a video my husband put together: Tours
There are specific tours (eco-adventure tours) you can do around the island.
Otoao Eco Tours is a local company, run by a young man with entrepreneurial spirit who love to share with tourists and locals alike the beauty of the island. Check out their Facebook page.
Also, this company is very popular: http://aventuraspr.com/
If you have any questions or need suggestions, please write us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org