Are you planning your next beach getaway but haven't decided on the destination yet? You've come to the right place, and this guide is here to make your life much easier! I recently visited Puerto Rico and rushed over here to tell you all about it. Why? The island is a true Caribbean gem that comes with all the perks of being a United States territory.
If you're a beach bum like me, you'll love to know that there are over 270 miles of pristine coastline in Puerto Rico, for you to soak up the sun the way you can only do in the Caribbean. So read through my travel guide, pack your bags, and head to PR to enjoy some well-deserved island time!
Good To Know
Puerto Rico is a US Territory, which means:
Americans don’t need a passport or visa to get in
Currency: US dollar
Language: Spanish (main) / English
Phone Service: US-based carriers work well on the island
When most people think about a Caribbean vacation, usually places like Cancun, Punta Cana, and The Bahamas come to mind right away. Indeed, these are incredible destinations to spend your hard-earned PTO but I am happy to share this guide with you because the “Island of Enchantment”, as Puerto Rico is known, is often overlooked by many international visitors, as well as American travelers. The island needs financial support from tourism, now more than ever, after hurricane Maria and COVID-19, but honestly, PR offers just as many attractions, beauty and Caribbean vibes as its popular neighbors.
If you’re American, you don’t need a passport nor a visa to travel to Puerto Rico. The currency on the island is the US dollar. Your phone works just like in the mainland, and you can speak English in most places (though Spanish remains the main language spoken on the island). Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Also, there are tons of flights available from different airports in the US, and San Juan is only a 2.5h flight from Miami.
Did You Know? - San Juan is the second-oldest European-founded city in the Americas - The piña colada was invented in Puerto Rico - There are nearly 300 beaches to choose from in the island
Now let's explore some of the best Puerto Rico has to offer:
San Juan is more than the aesthetics!
You will come across many vibrant, warm, and colorful buildings all around San Juan and beyond. These streets tell the story of a culture so rich and enchanting, humble and bright, just as its people. I've touched the walls of fortresses built many centuries ago, I spoke with locals in their language, tasted their food, listened to their music, swam in the most beautiful ocean, and I left Puerto Rico with more unforgettable experiences than I could've hoped for. Open your mind and learn, experience, discover... and the island will cast its spell on you!
Walk around Old San Juan
The best way to explore Old San Juan and its colorful, historic buildings is going for a walk around the narrow cobblestone streets such as Calle San Justo and Calle Fortaleza - where you find the insta-famous, colorful decorations placed ahead of the main gate of the governor’s mansion, La Fortaleza. Stroll the streets of Viejo San Juan (VSJ) and you will come across tons of beautiful pastel-colored Spanish colonial buildings that are protected by 17th-century fortresses.
Historic Old San Juan: La Fortaleza is the oldest governor’s residence in the Western Hemisphere
1. Castillo San Felipe del Morro (also known as El Morro)
One of San Juan's most famous postcards, full of history and breathtaking views. Lots of locals come down in the afternoon to fly kites, it's a sight to see! Entry into El Morro costs USD 7.00.
Tip: Save your entry ticket as it also includes entry to Castillo San Cristobal, San Juan's other fort, within 24 hours of purchase.
2. Paseo de la Princesa / Paseo del Morro
This scenic walkway provides some of the best views of the San Juan Bay, as well as the 17th-century fortresses and walls that surround and protected Old San Juan. To top it off, lots of stray cats live in this area, and Save A Gato (SAG), a non-profit organization dedicated to the welfare of the cats of Old San Juan, does a beautiful job in caring for them. You can find more about SAG as well as donate here.
3. La Puerta de la Bandera
Another popular photo-op in San Juan, located on Calle San José.
4. I love PR sign
Located by the San Juan Cruise Terminal, click here for directions.
The worldwide famous distillery offers three types of tours, and all come with a welcome cocktail, brochure of recipes, and your very own Bacardi cup.
Puerto Rico is an archipelago, meaning it has several cays and islets. If you have enough time, a day trip to one of the surrounding islets, such as Culebra or Vieques, is also a great way to explore around. You can take a ride by boat or plane, from San Juan, and see for yourself some of the world’s best beaches, such as playa Flamenco, in Culebra (named by Discovery Channel as the second-best beach on the planet).
Another idea is to visit the Yunque National Forest, where you can hike and adventure around chasing waterfalls!
Where to Eat and Drink in San Juan
When it comes to food, and this advice is good for everywhere on the island, be prepared to wait a fair amount of time for your order. Puerto Ricans do take their time when cooking, regardless if the restaurant is empty or full. We’ve stayed in for about 1 hour at every restaurant we ate in Puerto Rico.
Breakfast / Coffee
Be here as soon as they open or be ready to wait for a long line. But before you skip this place from your list, know that it is worth the wait. My suggestions for brunch are the Mallorca sweet bread with ham and cheese (Mallorcas francesas con hamon y queso) and the French toast with pineapple and toasted coconut. Also, the cappuccino here is as good as it gets!
We came here on our first day in San Juan because Caficultura had a 1h45min wait time. We were super hungry and jet-lagged, in other words, ready to eat anything. Almost next door to Caficultura, we found this place opening up. Cute little outside patio, we decided to give it a try. I’ve tried some phenomenal food in Puerto Rico - to the point where I consider it not just a beach getaway, but also a gastronomical experience - and Cafe Berlin was my favorite. I’ve had the dulce de leche pancakes, and as I shared on Instagram, I truly wish you guys could smell and taste them! Gift from heaven. Hubby had the eggs Benedict and they were amazing as well.
Absolutely loved the ice cream from Señor Paleta. It is definitely a tourist attraction, so be ready to wait in line. I had the strawberry paleta stuffed with Nutella (fresa con Nutella) and you just can’t go wrong with that!
Bars / Restaurants
Featured in the “Despacito” music video is the one and only La Factoria. This place is very, very famous among locals, to the point it doesn’t even have a sign outside. It’s located where the popular Hijos de Borinquen bar used to be (the original name is still inside, painted on the wall). It is said that behind the hidden back door are other individual spaces, including a wine bar, dance floor, and cellar-type bar.
Barrachina The famous restaurant Barrachina claims that their bartender Don Ramon Portas Mingot invented the pina colada there, in 1963. I’ve ordered it, of course, and it was possibly the best I’ve ever had. We also tried the "Puerto Rican delights" appetizer, and, as good tourists looking to experience the local cuisine, we had mofongo as the main course, and all I can say is: we're hooked.
Other restaurant recommendations from locals that we spoke with during our stay in San Juan:
- El Jibarito - Raices
- Vaca Brava
From San Juan to Isabela
Mar Chiquita Beach, Manati
What a beautiful surprise! Located between San Juan and Isabela, Mar Chiquita features a breathtaking half-moon bay. The beauty of its turquoise waters has made it one of the most popular natural pools on the north coast.
This beach is almost hidden at the end of road #4485 in the town of Quebradillas. I've heard it is a great surfing spot year-round, but when we visited it was choppy and windy. Rip currents seem to be quite dangerous over here, so do exercise caution when surfing or swimming.
Isabela has several natural pools, but Montones is the largest, and definitely a top location to go snorkeling. Park outside El Parador Villas Del Mar Hau, snap a quick photo by the Puerto Rican flag and check out the resort's colorful casitas on your way to the beach (you can walk through the resort, but if you park inside it will cost you $10).
Beautiful boardwalk and viewpoint in Isabela that starts at Playa Jobos and follows along to Montones.
My favorite place in Puerto Rico! We stayed in an Airbnb right across from the beach and we're happy we did it, so we could enjoy the beach almost all to ourselves in the mornings. Jobos really has everything. This beautiful beach is famous among surfers and certain to please all levels, from beginners to experienced surfers. On the same stretch of sand, there are a few restaurants with oceanfront decks, such as Kai and Uma’s. Parking is along the road. If you're going in the water, which you should because it's beautiful, beware of rip currents. I surfed here with my husband and one unforgettable moment was paddling next to a sea turtle!
The first time we stopped at Crashboat, we gave up. It was extremely crowded. I came to find that this place is also known to be the “party” beach of Puerto Rico. The second time we tried, it was later in the day, around 4 pm on a Tuesday, and though it was still crowded, it wasn’t as much as the day before. We were able to find free parking and joined others in jumping from the jetty into the ocean. I need to say that the turquoise water here is probably one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
Crashboat is famous for snorkeling, and while we did see lots of fish, I was deeply saddened by the amount of trash spread all over the place here. There was plastic in the ocean and lots of trash on the sand. As someone who grew up in the ocean and around nature, it was shocking, to say the least, to see what is happening here.
If you're visiting, regardless of where you come from, be respectful. Respect nature, respect the place that so many people call home, the home that they so kindly open up for us, tourists, to enjoy. It is everyone's duty to care and protect it so that we can continue to come back. We're in the 21st century, and especially after everything humankind has been through in the past years, I shouldn't have to tell you that there's no planet B and that protecting the Earth starts with each and every one of us. So, be respectful and pick up your trash.
Where to Eat and Drink around Isabela
The Eclipse Next level beachfront dining! They use farm-to-table ingredients, and the setting is simply my favorite, boho chic. The stuffed french toast and the three-egg omelet were fantastic, as were the coffee and mimosas. I’ve heard they offer brick-oven baked Neapolitan pizzas for lunch - wish I had more time to try it as well.
Jobos Food Stop
Several food trucks offer a varied line-up of dining options, from Puerto Rican cuisine to Italian and beyond. I’ve stopped here twice at El Wagon for the acai bowl, because, you know, I’m Brazilian and can’t live without it. Both service and food were outstanding, and I highly recommend it!
Kai Beach Bar and Restaurant
Kai sits right on Playa Jobos, and is about as close to a toes-in-the-sand experience as it gets.
Uma’s Playa Jobos
A quintessential beachfront surf shack. You'll see surfers coming and going all the time as the restaurant is located next to a surf school and shop.
Locals love it. Super friendly service! We didn't see the full menu and ordered a regular cheese pizza. I've later realized they had gourmet pizzas that looked phenomenal and though it was too late for me, it doesn't have to be for you.
Run Sushi Run (Aguadilla)
We ordered to go, on our way back to Isabela from Rincon, and the fish was fresh and really good! When I called in, they had a 50 min wait, and considering this is one of the few sushi places in the area, I suggest planning your order accordingly.
Rincón & Beyond
Surf vibes, clear water, and more English-speaking places than Isabela.