One island with two languages, two cultures – two identities. A Caribbean archipelago with gorgeous beaches and a tropical climate, Puerto Rico is a United States territory, uniquely American with a mix of Spanish and indigenous heritage. Its singular blend of diverse cultures has created one of the world’s most popular island destinations.
You’ll find it easy to spend a long weekend stretched under a coconut palm on one of the island’s glittering beaches. But with fresh local cuisine, heart-pumping music, hiking thickly forested mountains, and night kayaking in Vieques Island’s Bioluminescent Bay, chances are you’ll be tempted to leave the sands at least once. As with the best of American destinations, Puerto Rico offers a range of allures. And of course, there’s no passport required!
Puerto Rico is home to gorgeous beaches, lush rainforests, and everything in between. Golden-sand Luquillo Beach is a haven for families near San Juan, ringed by coral reefs that keep the waters calm and clear – perfect for swimming. There are picnic areas, changing rooms, and showers, plus spectacular views. If you’re more interested in action, try Playa del Condado, just east of Old San Juan. This festive beach positively teems with bars, water sports outfitters, and family-friendly activities like fishing, boating, and swimming. Love hanging ten? The site of the World Surfing Championships, Playa Higüero is such a fixture among surfers it’s been nicknamed “Little Malibu.” There are even more excellent beaches gracing the shores around the city of Aguadilla, like El Crashboat (so named for the shipwreck at its far corner) and Wilderness Beach, home to stunning cliffs and old Spanish ruins.
When you can drag yourself away from the sands, trek up into Yunque Rainforest. El Yunque is the only tropical rain forest in the US National Forest System – a natural wonderland of waterfalls, hiking trails, and breathtaking vistas. The enormous forest is home to over 240 species of trees and plants, including at least 26 that can’t be found anywhere else. Most famously, it is home to 13 of the 15 known species of coqui, small frogs native to the island. Be sure to visit the El Portal Rain Forest Center for an introduction to the forest and a walkway set 60 feet above the ground – a view you’ll never forget.
About 8 miles form the Puerto Rican mainland, Vieques is a smaller island, about 21 miles long by four miles wide. And yet this small island is home to a variety of attractions to tempt any traveler. Most famously, it is where you’ll find Bioluminescent Bay. A micro-organism living in the water emits a glow whenever the water is disturbed, leaving a neon blue trail. When the bay was first happened upon by Spanish explorers, they believed the light to be the work of the devil and tried to seal the bay off from the ocean. They succeeded only in preserving and increasing the luminescence of the bay. While swimming isn’t allowed here, you can kayak with a number of licensed companies – try to go on a night with no moon!
Viques is also home to a number of lovely, isolated beaches, particularly on the island’s south coast. Don’t miss the island’s popular fishing adventures and snorkeling, either – this isolated slice of paradise is just waiting to be explored!’
Old San Juan
The oldest settlement in Puerto Rico, Old San Juan technically occupies its own small island at the mouth of San Juan Bay. Spend a day exploring it and you won’t lack for historical sites to take your breath away. Perhaps most famous is the Castillo San Felipe del Morro (or simply el Morro), a fort built to protect the entrance to the bay – allow at least an hour to explore it, and another for Castillo San Cristobal, one of the largest Spanish fortresses in the new world.
After the forts, stroll the centuries-old streets and take in the sights. You’ll see the Alcadia, San Juan’s city hall, which was built in 1602; Casa Blanca, which was once the home of the Ponce de Leon family; La Fortaleza, the oldest governor’s mansion in continuous use in the New World; San Juan Cathedral, a beautiful and imposing church built in 1540; and much more. Visit in January, the weekend before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and you’ll get to enjoy the San Sebastian Festival, when the community of la Calle San Sebastian celebrates with parades, music, art, and lots of parties.
Related: Summer Is Easy in Puerto Rico
Food & Drink
If you’ve never been lucky enough to try Puerto Rican food, you may be in for a surprise – it has little in common with Mexican food, is almost never spicy, and provides so many ways to eat pork and plantains that you may never get tired of them. Perhaps the most archetypal meal to order in Puerto Rico is lechón asado, whole roasted suckling pig, cooked for hours over an open flame. You’ll find it in fine restaurants and roadside stands alike, but perhaps the best way to sample it is to drive Route 184, sometimes known as “the Pork Highway.” Find a lechónero, and relax with a delicious meal as the sun sets over the mountains.
Plantains – a starch similar to a savory banana – are also hugely popular in Puerto Rico, and the ways to prepare them sometimes seem never-ending. Mofongo is plantains mashed, fried, then mashed again – when served with seafood this is one of the island’s most famous dishes. Tostones are plantain chips, you can find excellent plantain soup, and maduros are sweet fried plantains. For an island, seafood is a relatively small percentage of the local diet, but if you are in a seaside community, you’ll be sure to find some incredible samples. As is common when traveling, finding a restaurant that serves mostly locals, rather than tourists, will go a long way towards making your dining experience unforgettable.
Things to See & Do
CANOPY ADVENTURE TOUR
Appreciate Mother Nature and wonderful views not seen from the ground! Experience El Yunque from new heights, with sections of cable, a suspension bridge, and rappel stations, all designed to blend in with the forest. An expert nature/adventure guide leads guests through a treetop canopy learning experience.
EL YUNQUE RAIN FOREST
Venture into the exotic landscape of El Yunque, the only natural tropical rainforest in the United States, home to 240 species of plants and animals – including Puerto Rico’s iconic small tree frog, the coqui – plus waterfalls and hiking trails. Bring your camera!
SAILING AND SNORKELING TOUR
Board a catamaran for a leisurely sail to an uninhabited island, where you enjoy the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean, collect shells, sunbathe, wade or swim offshore. Take advantage of professional snorkeling instruction to fully view the diverse ecology of the area.
Approximate Flight Times
New York/Newark – 4 hours
Philadelphia – 4 hours
Boston – 4 hours
Chicago – 4½ hours
Miami – 2½ hours
Los Angeles – 8½ hours
(some flights may require connections)
U.S. citizens traveling directly to or returning from Puerto Rico do not need a passport or visa. There is no Puerto Rico departure tax.
Puerto Rico has a tropical climate with average annual temperatures ranging from 70-90°F in the lower elevations and 60-80°F in the mountains. Average annual rainfall is 52.9″, though amounts vary widely across the island.
Both parties must appear at the City Court office to purchase a marriage license. Blood tests, photo ID, and divorce/death certificates (if applicable) are required. A medical certificate and VRDL blood test, both from a physician in Puerto Rico, are needed. The couple must visit the Marriage License Bureau to authenticate all documents.
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