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Bosque de Piñones
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Donna D.

12 awesome things to do in Puerto Rico

Small but perfectly formed and full of fun—the best things to do in Puerto Rico cater to adventurers, foodies and more.

Written by
Suzanne Van Atten

The phrase ‘small but perfectly formed’ might be somewhat overused in travel writing circles, but is there a better way to sum up the delights of Puerto Rico? Well, focusing on the sheer amount of fun that is packed into the borders of this tiny Caribbean island might be the way to go about it, as the excitement that permeates these streets has stretched way beyond the 100 by 35 miles stretch of land from which it originates.

Oh, and the food? As good as it gets, on all fronts. Puerto Rico is an island with an appetite, a place where high-end cuisine rubs shoulders with the character of street food, all accentuated by some of the finest cocktails going. Puerto Rico will change how you approach the entire concept of flavors, so give yourself plenty of seaside serenity to consider that development. You could also forgo the tranquillity for the adrenaline of surfing, diving and the rest. The choice is yours, obviously. These are 12 awesome things to do in phenomenal Puerto Rico.

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Find out more about how Time Out selects the very best things to do all over the world.

Best things to do in Puerto Rico

Vieques’ Bioluminescent Bay
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/matt

1. Vieques’ Bioluminescent Bay

Where is it: Isla de Vieques

What is it: A rare natural phenomenon, Mosquito Bay is populated with harmless microscopic organisms that glow like fireflies when they detect motion.

Why go: Nothing can prepare you for the amazing spectacle of electric blue luminescence that emanates from the water when the bay is at its brightest. The only way to experience it is to take a nighttime kayak tour and watch the dip of the oar and the wake of the boat shine. Brightness and color vary depending on conditions, so go on a new moon for best results. By all means, try to take a photo or two, but no camera can do justice to this.

El Yunque National Forest
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Jeff Gunn

2. El Yunque National Forest

Where is it: Northeastern Puerto Rico

What is it: The only tropical forest in the U.S. National Forest System and one of the world’s most accessible rainforests.

Why go: Being able to drive to a rainforest and admire the stunning beauty of the lush virgin canopy and cool mountain air is reason enough to go. Here you can hear the call of the Coqui frog and see massive ferns, tiny orchids and impressive waterfalls. There are also hiking trails, picnic tables, a viewing tower and, for those willing to hike a few hours, a cloud forest at the top.

Old San Juan
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Mark K.

3. Old San Juan

Where is it: San Juan

What is it: The condensed layout of the historic walled city, along with its plethora of bars, makes Old San Juan a perfect place for a pub crawl.

Why go: Start with the local brew, Medalla, at the dive bar El Batey (if it happens to be open, of course), then move on to Tres Cuernos for some flavored chichaitos, a traditional shot made from rum and anise. When hunger pangs strike, stop by La Factoría for some tapas and a Hijos de Borinquen, an homage to the building’s previous tenant, featuring aged rum and apricot brandy.

La Cueva del Indio
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Alejandro Mallado

4. La Cueva del Indio

Where is it: Arecibo

What is it: Huge, petrified sand dunes hollowed out by the ocean and carved into caves and arches, providing a canvas for pre-Columbian petroglyphs created by the island’s indigenous population.

Why go: The panoramic view of the island’s northern shoreline from the top of the dunes is reason alone to visit this gorgeous, geological wonder. The best time to go is at sunset or high tide, when the waves crash in and spray up through openings in the surface. Access into the caves is not permitted.

Las Paylas
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Adjanie T.

5. Las Paylas

Where is it: Luquillo

What is it: A natural waterslide down a mountain stream way off the beaten path.

Why go: Who needs a waterpark? Here you can mount “the horse,” a saddle shaped rock at the top of the descent, and take a thrill ride down on your rump or belly until you come to rest with a splash in a chest-deep pool. If you’re lucky, you can see local veterans perform some showboating stunts. This is not an official attraction with facilities, but area residents permit parking and access to their bathrooms for a small fee.

Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/jpoet

6. Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes

Where is it: Ponce

What is it: Ancient indigenous ceremonial grounds dating back to 400 A.D. near Ponce.

Why go: The grounds are still being excavated but, so far, nine ball courts and three ceremonial plazas have been discovered, as well as the burial grounds of the remains of 186 people. In addition to stone markers and petroglyphs, visitors can see tools and vessels found on the grounds. History aside, the bucolic grounds make for a lovely place to stroll.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Matt

7. Lechoneras

Where is it: All over the island

What is it: Often called the Pork Highway, Hwy. 184 in Guavate is lined with dozens of lechoneras: casual, open-air restaurants that specialize in whole, flame-kissed pig.

Why go: The appeal of lechoneras is more than just the tasty roast pork and chicharrónes. It’s a place where extended families gather to spend the day eating, drinking, dancing and socializing, especially on Sundays. There are plenty to choose from, just look for the ones with the longest lines. Lechonera El Mojito and Lechonera Los Pinos are trusty options.

Bosque de Piñones
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Donna D.

8. Bosque de Piñones

Where is it: Loíza

What is it: A nature preserve with a gorgeous, six-mile stretch of wilderness beach, mangrove lagoons and a boardwalk that traverses both habitats.

Why go: Although it feels as remote as a desert island, Piñones is just minutes from bustling Isla Verde and the San Juan airport. The natural beauty is breathtaking and all along the route are beach bars, restaurants and food kiosks to keep hunger at bay. Kayak and bike rentals are available.

La Placita
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Al B.

9. La Placita

Where is it: Puerto Rico

What is it: By day it’s Plaza del Mercado, a century-old farmers’ market, but, by night, this is La Placita, a lively gathering place for locals.

Why go: The big attraction is the concentration of popular bars and restaurants that line the streets around the small plaza. From sidewalk vendors serving cocktails in to-go cups to salsa dance halls and Jose Enrique’s fine-dining restaurant, La Placita is a one-stop shop for fun. Most nights the action feels like a festive street party, especially on Thursdays and Fridays.

Cueva Ventana
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/sharkhats

10. Cueva Ventana

Where is it: Arecibo

What is it: A limestone cave with a window that reveals an astonishing, bird’s-eye view of the rolling green hills in the island’s northern region.

Why go: An enjoyable 20-minute hike involving quite a few concrete steps leads into a dark cavern that ends at a gaping hole through which appears a surreal vista of the island’s karst region, a topography of haystack hills, sinkholes and caves carpeted in brilliant green foliage. Guided tours last 45 minutes. Sturdy shoes with good tread are recommended.

Luquillo kiosks
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Michael S.

11. Luquillo kiosks

Where is it: Luquillo

What is it: More than 50 food vendors are lined up cheek-to-jowl, serving some of the island’s best traditional Puerto Rican cuisine.

Why go: A gastronomic adventure not to be missed, the Luquillo kiosks are the place to taste test Puerto Rico’s prolific fritter offerings, including bacalaito, made from dried codfish, and papa rellena, a potato croquette stuffed with meat. Wash it all down with ice-cold coconut water served straight from the husk. Full table service featuring more substantial fare is also available. La Parrilla #2 is a popular stop.

Surfing in Rincón
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Spike Stitch

12. Surfing in Rincón

Where is it: Rincón

What is it: Renowned for its fast, powerful waves and stellar break points, the west coast town of Rincón is a mecca for surfers from around the world.

Why go: Beginners can learn from the pros at one of several surf schools and test their mettle at Sandy Beach or Parking Lots Beach. Experienced surfers looking for a challenge can check out the waves at Maria’s Beach or Domes. If surfing’s not your thing, the snorkeling and diving around Desecheo Island might be a just-as-excellent option.

Hungry for the best restaurants in Puerto Rico?

The 11best restaurants in Puerto Rico
  • Restaurants

From the celebrity chef-run eateries among the resorts and hotels in Condado and Isla Verde to the street food kiosks of Luquillo and Piñones to the craft cocktail bars along Calle Loíza, Puerto Rico’s foodie scene has got it going on. 

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