Puerto Rico Travel Guide
Exploring Puerto Rico, both around its coast and throughout its interior, is a delight. Roads are excellent and there are numerous interesting attractions and unrivalled experiences, from the world's largest radio telescope to the magical experience of swimming at night amongst tiny phosphorescent creatures on the offshore island of Vieques.
Historically Puerto Rico, like many other Caribbean islands, was originally inhabited by Taino Indians until the arrival of Christopher Columbus and the instigation of Spanish rule and settlement. The island's capital and larger towns have preserved their Spanish heritage as 'old quarter' tourist attractions, full of charm and interest. Puerto Rico is a hybrid of old and new which makes it an intriguing cultural destination, rather than just another tropical island paradise.
The water in Mosquito Bay sparkles like stars when disturbed due
to the hundreds of thousands of bioluminescent dinoflagellates
resident there. Of the bioluminescent bays all over the world,
Vieques' Puerto Mosquito has been certified the brightest by the
Guinness Book of World Records.
A trip to 'Bio Bay' (as it's locally known) is one of the best tourist attractions in Puerto Rico, and well worth the excursion from San Juan. Several tour companies offer kayaking and snorkelling in the magical water, often ranked as one of the most romantic places on earth. The bioluminescence is at its brightest during the full or near-full moon, and this is considered the best time to visit.
A historic town with a colourful past, San Germán was the second
city founded in Puerto Rico by the Spanish. Its mountainous
location made it an ideal escape for artists, poets and
revolutionaries, and present-day San Germán still carries that
lively spirit. It has a number of pretty buildings dating back to
the 16th century, including the Porta Coéli (Gate of Heaven)
Church, and the San Germán de Auxerre Church.
Because of these, San Germán is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. There are also a few interesting museums, including the Lola Rodríguez de Tió Museum and the Ramírez de Arrellano y Rossell Museum. San Germán also hosts several religious and cultural festivals throughout the year.
Old San Juan
Address: San Juan
This area, encompassing about seven blocks, dates back about 500
years to the Spanish occupation when it served as a military
stronghold that even withstood Sir Francis Drake's armies. The
original cobbles on the streets are blue-tinged, and were
originally used as ballast on Spanish ships. The ancient stones set
off the more than 400 restored 16th- and 17th-century Spanish
colonial buildings that fill Old San Juan and draw thousands of
tourists to walk the narrow, steep streets every day. The old town
is enclosed in amazingly thick, high walls and features numerous
attractive plazas bearing sculptures and memorials.
Fort San Felipe del Morro
Address: San Juan
The mighty six-level fortress of San Felipe del Morro, built in
1540, towers 140 feet (43m) above the sea on San Juan Bay, its
18-foot thick (5m) walls having proved a worthy defence against
invasion. The largest fortification in the Caribbean, it is a maze
of tunnels, dungeons, barracks, lookouts and ramps, offering
spectacular views from atop its ramparts. Also in Norzagaray
Street, Old San Juan, is El Morro's partner in defending the city,
Castillo San Cristobal, built in the 17th century to a confusing
and intricate modular design.
Address: Fortaleza Street, Old San Juan San Juan
The Fortaleza was built in 1540 as a fortress to guard the
entrance to the San Juan harbour, but later became the official
Governor's residence. During succeeding centuries the original
structure has been remodelled and expanded, with a neoclassical
façade being added in 1846 to leave the building with its palatial
aspect. The current governor of Puerto Rico is in residence - the
170th Governor to live in the Fortaleza.
Museo de Arte
Address: 299 De Diego Avenue, Santurce San Juan
Puerto Rico's showcase art gallery opened just a few years ago
at a cost of millions of dollars. The gallery is housed in a former
city hospital in Santurce and offers a permanent and visiting
exhibition. The aim is to highlight the island's heritage through
the work of local artists, such as Francisco Oller, who studied in
France with Cézanne, and Jose Campeche, a late-18th century
Classical painter. The museum has been described as a 'living
textbook of Puerto Rico', providing on overview of centuries of the
island's history through the medium of art. The museum also hosts
events like concerts and festivals throughout the year.
Caribbean National Forest (El Yunque)
Address: San Juan
The Caribbean National Forest, 35 miles (56km) east of San Juan,
is the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Park
system and was named El Yunque by the Spanish. Its 28,000 acres
contain about 240 different species of tree and numerous other
plants, from tiny, delicate wild orchids to gigantic ferns.
Visitors can start their visit at the El Portal Tropical Forest Centre where there are films, exhibits and interactive displays on the rainforest. Maps are available of the dozens of walking trails through the forest, graded according to difficulty. Nearby is Puerto Rico's best beach, Luquillo Beach, famous for its soft white sand and towering coconut palms.
Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve
Located on three promontories on the extreme northeast corner of
the island, Las Cabezas reserve is one of the most beautiful and
bio-diverse natural areas in Puerto Rico. The reserve is close to
Fajardo, a major marina and diving resort, located about an hour's
drive from San Juan. The area offers pristine beaches ideal for
snorkelling. The reserve contains seven different ecological
systems including coral reefs, sandy beaches, lagoons, mangroves
and dry forest. It is also home to several endangered species.
Boardwalk trails provide easy access to the different natural
sites. A restored 19th-century lighthouse, El Faro, is situated on
one of the headlands and offers an information centre and
Ponce Art Museum
Address: 2325 Avenue Las Americas Ponce
The 'Museo de Arte de Ponce' contains the largest art collection
in the Caribbean, housed in a building designed by Edward Durrell
Stone, who designed the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The
impressive building is comprised of seven interconnected hexagons
topped with glass cupolas. Inside are more than 1,000 paintings and
400 sculptures covering classical, ancient and contemporary works.
Among the prizes of the collection are works by Velasquez, Rubens
and Rodin. Puerto Rican art also features strongly.
On weekends a ferry carries visitors from the pier at La Guancha
on the Ponce waterfront to Coffin Island, a tiny uninhabited island
five miles south of the city. The island, also known as Dead Man's
Chest, is part of the Reserva Natural Caja de Muertos natural
reserve, due to its native turtle traffic. There are five pristine
beaches, including Playa Ensenadita, Playa Larga, Playa Blanca,
Playa Chica, and the blue-flag designated Playa Pelícano. Beaches
on the east side of the island are roped off during turtle-nesting
There are hiking trails throughout the interior of the island, and visitors can also explore the 19th-century Caja de Muerto Lighthouse, that has been restored and now houses a museum. Coffin Island is a great excursion for visitors to Ponce, and ranks as one of Puerto Rico's best tourist attractions for diving enthusiasts.
Museum of Puerto Rico Music
Address: 50 Isabel Street Ponce
This museum is dedicated to documenting the rich tapestry of the
island's music history and pays tribute to Puerto Rican musicians.
It explains the significance of the romantic danza music style, and
the African-inspired popular forms of bomba and plenza. The museum
features displays of Indian, Spanish and African musical
instruments, and memorabilia of local composers and performers, all
housed in the attractive former residence of the Serralles family,
renowned rum producers. Displays are in both English and
Museo Castillo Serralles
Address: 17 El Vigia Ponce
Perched above the city of Ponce on El Vigia Hill is the restored
residence of the Serralles rum-producing family. The multi-level
Spanish-revival hacienda, designed by Pedro de Castro and built in
1930, is a beautiful example of the island's post-World War I
architecture. The house surrounds an elegant courtyard featuring
fountains, and is renowned for its splendidly carved dining-room
ceiling. The mansion is set in magnificent terraced formal gardens
with breathtaking views, and makes for a wonderful day-trip
destination from Ponce.
Culebra and Vieques
Dubbed 'the enchanted isles', Vieques and her smaller sister
Culebra are located off Puerto Rico's east coast, accessible from
San Juan by air and from Fajardo by ferry. Both support a few
thousand friendly, laid-back inhabitants who live life peacefully
and slowly, enriching rather than impacting on the natural beauty
of their environment. Vieques is 20-odd miles long and five miles
wide, and consists largely of the biggest wildlife sanctuary in the
Caribbean, protected by the United States Fish & Wildlife
Service. Some of the world's most beautiful beaches, with azure
clear waters and sugary white sand, are to be found in the
Visitors planning to see Vieques should consider stay overnight to experience its premier attraction, Bio Bay. On a moonless night the bay glows with the bioluminescence radiated by microscopic one-celled organisms called dinoflagellates, providing an unforgettable sight. Smaller Culebra, just seven miles long and three miles wide, is a few miles north of Vieques and is renowned for the clarity of the waters washing its shores. This is caused by the fact that the island has no rivers or streams causing run-off: the arid island has to have water piped from Puerto Rico via Vieques. This quiet, unspoiled island offers unrivalled snorkelling and scuba diving in its magnificent encircling reefs, as well as kayak expeditions and hiking trails for bird-watchers through the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge.
Casa Bacardi Visitor Centre
Address: Bay View Industrial Park San Juan
Undoubtedly one of the top tourist attractions in Puerto Rico, a
trip to the Casa Bacardi Visitor Centre is a must for travellers to
San Juan. Following their exile from Cuba in the 1950s, the Bacardi
family moved to Puerto Rico and set up a small rum distillery on
the outskirts of San Juan. Today, that small distillery has grown
into the largest in the world - producing a jaw-dropping 100,000
gallons of rum per day, and 21 million cases per year.
Tours of the Casa Bacardi Visitor Centre last about an hour, as visitors are shown around a variety of exhibits (including vintage rum stills) and informed about the history of Bacardi rum (including a short movie). The tour culminates in a visit to an on-site, classically-styled bar, where a bartender will show you the 'proper' methods of preparing Cuba libres and mojitos. The best part? All visitors receive two complimentary drink tickets, which they can cash in on ice-cold Bacardi-based drinks. There is also a gift shop located on the premises, a perfect place to pick up some rum or Bacardi apparel for friends back home.
Address: San Juan
Isla Verde ('Green Island') is San Juan's hippest area, and home
to many of its best beach resorts and upmarket hotels. The area's
name is inspired by the colour of the water in its bay: a rich,
green-turquoise shade that will prove irresistible to swimmers and
divers. While the beautiful crescent-shaped beach - with its soft
sand and tall palm trees - is a tourist attraction in its own
right, most visitors to Puerto Rico will seek out Isla Verde for
its excellent beach resorts, plush hotels, international dining
options, world-class spa treatment facilities and vibrant
nightlife. Isla Verde is home to two of the island's best casino
hotels and a wide range of raucous night clubs and bars, where live
local music is often staged. A natural base for well-heeled
travellers to San Juan, Isla Verde makes for a luxurious home away
from home during your holiday in Puerto Rico. A fantastic winter
sun vacation destination, Isla Verde sees most of its tourist
activity between December and January, when days are warm and sunny
and there is no threat of hurricanes or storms.
Address: Mayaguez Ponce
Although located in Mayaguez on the east coast of Puerto Rico -
and so rather off the beaten tourist track in Puerto Rico - the
Mayaguez Zoo (also called the Dr Juan A Rivero Zoo) is a
world-class establishment, and well worth a visit for animal lovers
and for those who are passionate about wildlife conservancy. The
island's only large-scale zoo, since its establishment in 1954 the
Dr Juan A Rivero Zoo has been growing a collection of rare and
exotic animals that now includes lions, tigers, jaguars, hippos,
giraffes and rhinos, as well as many species of tropical birds and
large and varied collections of butterflies, amphibians and
Central to the Zoo's growth has been a focus on conservancy, and several native species - including the Andean condor and the Puerto Rican crested toad - have benefited greatly from this approach. Featuring several recreated 'habitat systems' (including the tropical Spider Monkey Island), as well as numerous recreation areas, the Mayaguez Zoo is a wonderful place to take the kids for the day. Budget at least two or three hours to take it all in.
A links-lover's paradise, Puerto Rico is home to more than 20
golf courses, of which almost all could be considered
championship-level courses. Puerto Rico's luxury resorts offer some
of the best golf courses on the island. The Westin Río Mar Beach
Resort and Country Club near San Juan features two world-class
oceanside courses. Northwest of San Juan is the Hyatt Regency
Cerromar Beach Resort & Casino and Hyatt Dorado Beach Resort
& Casino featuring four Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed courses
and arguably the best golfing to be found on the island. The
Wyndham El Conquistador Resort and Country Club and the Palmas Del
Mar Resort & Villas in Humacao also offer two of the most
breathtaking courses in the Caribbean.
Scuba Diving in Puerto Rico
Scuba diving and snorkelling, for beginners and experts alike,
is the reason why Puerto Rico is often called the Caribbean's
best-kept underwater secret. Off the southwest coast, from the
village of La Parguera to the city of Ponce, lie some of the
island's most extraordinary dive sites, including the Black Wall,
home of the Caribbean's rarely seen black coral. Another noteworthy
spot is Isla Mona, off the west coast of Puerto Rico, known as the
Galapagos of the Caribbean. It is home to sea turtles, dolphins and
various species of rare marine life. Scuba Diving Magazine readers
regularly vote Puerto Rico as one of the top five destinations for
shore diving, and the island is a mainstay in top-20 lists for
overall diving. For visitors looking to get close to the water, but
not necessarily submerged in it, Puerto Rico offers various other
water sports such as world-class surfing, windsurfing, sailing,
kayaking and deep-sea fishing.
Flat blade attachment plug.
Flat blades with a round grounding pin.