With incredible beaches and historic cities, Puerto Rico is a must-visit island destination.
Everyone from reggaetoneros hunting out Bad Bunny's favorite party places to starry-eyed honeymooners drawn by posh beach resorts can agree: Puerto Rico easily lives up to its name as the Isla del Encanto, the Island of Enchantment. A slew of new flights to the island offered by Delta and other major carriers are kicking off this winter, making it easier than ever to enjoy a trip to this tropical paradise — no passport needed.
Part of the joy of a visit to Puerto Rico comes from scouting out its hidden beaches, visiting tiny, white-sand islets, and hiking to the jungle waterfalls that other travelers missed. With the help of locals and insiders from PADI, Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, and Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, we've assembled a list of the best places to visit in Puerto Rico, from the best surf spots to winding cave systems and the best places to chow down on local dishes like alcapurrias and mofongo.
Old San Juan
The historic heart of Puerto Rico's capital, Old San Juan is vibrant beyond its colorful colonial architecture or its iconic "Umbrella Street," Calle de la Fortaleza. Stroll down cobblestone streets lined with centuries-old mansions before arriving at Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a Spanish fortress crowning the western tip of the historic neighborhood and offering spectacular ocean views. End a day of exploring with local bites at one of the neighborhood's countless rooftop restaurants or with a drink at La Factoría, named the best bar in the Caribbean in 2023.
The oceanfront Condado neighborhood is the place to be in San Juan, with upscale apartments, the city's best restaurants, and plenty of fantastic shopping. Visit La Placita de Santurce, a favorite destination with locals and visitors alike, for frequent cultural events, street parties, and Puerto Rican bites at local spots like La Alcapurria Quemá.
Condado is also home to some of our readers' favorite resorts in Puerto Rico. Among them shines the Condado Collection of hotels and resorts, including La Concha Resort, Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, and Condado Ocean Club, nestled along some of the most beautiful beachfront in San Juan.
Those looking to enjoy a retreat from energetic San Juan without traveling far will love the palm-fringed, pristine beaches of swanky Dorado Beach. Stay at Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, perhaps Puerto Rico's most exclusive resort. Known for its championship golf courses and the sanctuary-esque Spa Botánico with treehouse treatment rooms, it offers the bespoke luxury experience you'd expect from a Ritz-Carlton Reserve property.
El Yunque National Forest
The only tropical rainforest within the U.S. National Forest System, El Yunque National Forest is one of the island's natural gems, crisscrossed by hiking trails and home to endless rivers and hidden waterfalls. While El Yunque makes for a popular day trip from San Juan, there's much more to explore than a day trip allows, including natural swimming holes like Charco El Hippie and the over 1,500-foot-tall Yokahú Observation Tower with its panoramic canopy vistas. Finish your visit with a stop for farm-to-table Puerto Rican cuisine at nearby Bacoa Finca + Fogón.
There are no stoplights on the island of Vieques, just untouched beaches and dreamy boutique accommodations on the largest island off the coast of the Puerto Rican mainland. The most popular attraction on Vieques is the bioluminescent Mosquito Bay, which glows blue at night as visitors kayak through its waters filled with phosphorescent plankton. Enjoy a day trip to the island or spend a few nights at Finca Victoria in one of 14 unique cabins, treehouses, or guesthouses amidst the lush vegetation of the island's interior.
Travelers who can't make it to Vieques to experience Puerto Rico's most famous bioluminescent bay should head to La Parguera. Located on the island's southwestern coast, La Parguera is home to the only bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico where visitors can swim through the glimmering waters, so make sure to bring your suit. Drive in for the experience, or spend a night in one of the small guesthouses in town and spend the day visiting nearby keys for snorkeling and paddleboarding among the mangroves.
Located off the eastern shore of the main island of Puerto Rico, the laid-back island of Culebra is tiny but packs a serious travel punch. Home to less than 2,000 permanent residents, it earned a spot on our list of our readers' favorite islands in the Caribbean in 2023. Culebra's famed Flamenco Beach often appears atop lists of the world's most beautiful beaches. The abandoned, graffiti-covered U.S. Navy tank at one end of the shore is simultaneously an Instagram icon and a dark monument to the island's past use for naval gunning and bombing exercises.
From Culebra, jump on a 15-minute water taxi ride to the even more remote islet of Culebrita. Impressive beaches with impossibly clear water are the main draw to this speck of an island. Tortuga Beach, named for the numerous sea turtles that nest here year after year, is considered one of the best beaches in Puerto Rico.
Yet another of the white-sand keys located off the island's eastern coast, Cayo Icacos is an increasingly popular day trip destination in Puerto Rico that beach lovers won't want to miss. Take an excursion from Fajardo to Cayo Icacos by booking a catamaran trip to enjoy the untouched beaches and shallow waters of this uninhabited island for the day.
Río Camuy Caves
Escape the heat of the Caribbean sun at Río Camuy Cave Park in northwestern Puerto Rico. These limestone caverns have been carved out over centuries by the immense underground river, Río Camuy. While geologists have identified at least 220 caves and 17 miles of natural tunnels, much of the area remains unexplored. Reservations are required, so make sure to book in advance with a registered tour company.
"Forget the Maldives, I'll stay in Palomino," muses Bad Bunny in his hit song, "El Apagón." There are no overwater bungalows here, but the white sands and clear seas at Palomino Island certainly warrant a comparison to a Maldivian atoll. The 100-acre, uninhabited island off the eastern coast of the Puerto Rican mainland is for the exclusive use of guests of the El Conquistador Resort, located just a short ferry ride away.
On the island's western shores, the town of Rincón reigns supreme as one of the best destinations for surfing in the Caribbean. Numerous beaches offer waves for surfers of all levels, though Domes Beach is where you'll find the massive swells that host an international surfing competition every year. October through February is the best time to visit Puerto Rico if you're scouting out waves, but Rincón has plenty to offer year-round, even for those who prefer to stay on the shore.
Puerto Rico is home to an impressive array of diving destinations, but few are as famous as the uninhabited Desecheo Island, located just off the island's western coast. With an intricate cave system offering memorable swim-throughs and a dive site so colorful it's known as “Candy Land,” visitors will have plenty to see while enjoying what PADI considers some of the best underwater visibility in all of Puerto Rico.
Surfers and travelers scouting out the best beaches on the island will love Aguadilla, located on the island's western coast. Aguadilla's Crash Boat Beach is one of the most famous beaches on the island, with an intoxicating mix of white sand, water sports, and a party atmosphere fed all day by beach bars and food trucks serving up tropical cocktails and local fare. While the beach offers great visibility for snorkeling, take care when getting in the water; towards the north of the beach is Gas Chambers, one of Puerto Rico's most famous surfing breaks.
Many travelers skip over Mayagüez, the largest city on Puerto Rico's western coast, and head directly for the area's smaller beach towns. However, Mayagüez can be a convenient base for exploring the best of the western side of the island; its charming historic center and booming culinary scene certainly don't hurt. Mayagüez is also known as the "City of Pure Waters" for its proximity to some of Puerto Rico's best diving destinations, including Desecheo Island and Mona Island.
Isabela is Puerto Rico's ultimate laid-back beach town, boasting shores that attract everyone from backpackers and surfers to the San Juan elite looking for a weekend escape. Trace the coastline and visit Isabela's most beautiful beaches by renting a bike and hitting the Paseo Lineal de Isabela, a 4.5-mile oceanfront route perfect for morning jogs or contemplating the sunset. Or, head inland to Guajataca State Forest for miles of lush, forested trails, hidden caves, and camping.
Puerto Rico's second-largest city tends to be overlooked by travelers, but the "Pearl of the South" has the historical charm and cultural weight to warrant a trip. Explore the city's historic plazas and numerous museums, or escape to the countryside for a visit to Hacienda Buena Vista, a coffee hacienda (among countless others) that once brought Ponce both wealth and fame.
It wouldn't be a trip to the Caribbean without sampling some of the best local rums. Puerto Rico is home to a few different distilleries, though Casa Bacardí, located just across the bay from Old San Juan, is the number one destination on the island for visitors curious to learn more about the Caribbean's most famous beverage. An impressive visitors' center and panoramic views of the city make for a great tasting and tour experience, though the unmatched rum selection is the real star of the show.
Related: 5 Best Tours to Take in Puerto Rico
Located just 45 minutes west of San Juan, the coastal town of Manatí feels a world away from the big city. Come here for stunning, less-crowded beaches like the half-moon-shaped crystalline bay at Mar Chiquita or Los Tubos Beach, known for its perfect surfing pipes.
Puerto Rico's Capital del Sol (Capital of the Sun) is fittingly home to some of the island's most beautiful beaches. Luquillo Beach and Balneario Monserrate are the most popular playas in the area for their size and extensive public beach amenities, but there are several beaches in Luquillo to choose from. Head to Luquillo after a day spent exploring neighboring El Yunque National Forest, or use this town as a base for exploring less-visited areas of the rainforest.
For more Travel & Leisure news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!
Read the original article on Travel & Leisure.