Its coral reefs host a riot of fantastical fish and the shores shimmer like crushed pearls. On some beaches, you’ll have plenty of company. In other places like Vieques or Cabo Rojo, you might have some of the world’s best stretches of sand entirely to yourself. If the sands that rim the island tempt you to stay, you can opt for sizeable resorts or independent guesthouses for watching those seaside sunsets from your room.
The island’s culture is of the visceral kind. You’ll need to search for it beyond the condo towers and congested roads, and sometimes it seems Puerto Rico does not wish to show outsiders its cultural magnitude. Then, suddenly, you’ll smell it in the smoke arising from lechoneras (eateries specializing in suckling pig), or on the other hand hear it in the inebriating patters of salsa beats. You’ll see it as daylight shines crosswise over espresso estates, or in galleries praising everything from bombed transformation to traditional European painting. Puerto Rican conventions have been formed by ages of social union, festival and mishap, and it develops today as clear and unyielding.
Puerto Rico’s present appears laid-back but its past brims with cannon fire and colonization, repression and revolt. Legend abounds: from San Juan’s fortresses, scoured by siege, to the crumbling South Coast sugar refineries once powering the island’s economy. European settlers built pretty plazas in harbor cities while political revolutionaries schemed rebellion in mountain villages. History enthusiasts can wander precolonial Taíno ruins or coffee haciendas. Even if your interest is scant, it’s hard not to get immersed in Puerto Rico’s tempestuous story in Old San Juan, where enticing echoes of bygone times – of colonists and swashbucklers and smugglers – reverberate still .
Even those who stick to the coast cannot escape the alluring shadow of Puerto Rico’s thick forests, as knotted labyrinths of mangroves create crucial shoreside wildlife reserves and the green glint of the inland forested hills is rarely out of sight.
The island’s dense foliage invites a perpetual mystery to blanket it, as coqui frogs chant among giant tree ferns and roots reduce so-called roads to rubble. The forests here are internationally important, such as El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the US. A journey into them guarantees to awaken the adventurer within.
Puerto Rico’s Top 5
Evocative Old San Juan :
Evocative Old San Juan Even those limited to a quick visit find it easy to fall under the beguiling spell of the cobblestone streets, pastel-painted colonial buildings and grand fortresses of Old San Juan. From the ramparts of El Morro, the allure of this place is evident in every direction, in the maze of crooked lanes and in the endless sparkle of the Atlantic. By day, lose yourself in historical stories of blood and drama; by night, tap in (and tap along) to the condensed cluster of bars and clubs constituting the neighborhood’s nightlife
Glorious Beaches :
The rub of sand between your toes, the dazzling shimmer of turquoise water and the rhythmic shush of cresting waves – Puerto Rico’s beaches possess all the qualities of a daydream. Take your pick from the golden, crescent-shaped heaven of Culebra’s Playa Flamenco (considered among the world’s best beaches); the embarrassment of riches on Vieques; the coconut-oil-scented crowds of Playa Isla Verde, San Juan’s own little slice of Brazil; the secluded, mangroveshaded hideaways in the south; or the roaring surf of the west, culminating in isolated bays like Playa Santa.
El Yunque Tropical Rainforest :
Lush forests, verdant hills and crashing waterfalls attract visitors to El Yunque, the only true rainforest in the US National Forest System. It’s a place to embark on hikes (short and sweet, with information boards and tourist hoards, or long and lonely, with coqui frogs for company) through the oxygen-rich mist and gawks at Jurassic-sized ferns. Bring a raincoat and binoculars, too; of the 26 species found here and nowhere else on Earth, you’ll want to keep a sharp eye out for the Puerto Rican parrot, one of the world’s 10 most endangered birds.
The city is rightly proud of its action-packed past: sample its glory days at ornate Casa Wiechers Villaronga, its grimmer days at poignant Casa de la Masacre de Ponce, and beeline to the Caribbean’s best art museum, Museo de Arte de Ponce. Then absorb the island’s premier indigenous site, Centro Ceremonial Indigena de Tibes, and round off your historical romp in the beautiful Plaza Las Delicias.