Planning a vacation in Puerto Rico? We’re here to help!
Known to its inhabitants as Borinquen (derived from the indigenous Taino name meaning ‘Land of the Valiant Lord’), Puerto Rico, or ‘Rich Port’, has a long and varied history. The Caribbean island and its smaller satellite islets were claimed by the Spanish more than 500 years ago, and in 1898 became a US territory. Spanish and English are both official languages, and it’s an easy, often overlooked vacation destination. Its powder-sand beaches are a big draw of course, but it’s also home to the US Forest System’s only tropical rainforest, its coast is ringed with teeming coral reefs and the Capital of San Juan is centered around a handsome colonial town with plenty to interest history buffs. Oh yeah, and it’s easy to get to – so what are you waiting for?
Old San Juan, with its pretty-in-pastels 16th- and 17th-century Spanish colonial buildings, is a Unesco World Heritage Site that buzzes with present-day Puerto Rican life. The old town is dominated by its two famous forts, built to guard either end of the grid of narrow streets: Castillo San Felipe del Morro, standing watch out to sea, and Castillo San Cristobal, poised to defend it from the land. El Morro, the most-visited of the two, is a hulking six-story fortress built between 1539 and 1589. Inside are barracks, winding tunnels, and prison cells, while a stroll along the fortress walls offers stunning views on this Atlantic side of the island. San Cristobal, at the eastern end of the old walled city, covers 27 acres and is the biggest fort built by the Spanish in the New World. Its old sentry boxes make for atmospheric exploring, although the most famous, the isolated Devil’s Sentry Box, from which, legend has it, soldiers used to disappear mysteriously, can only be viewed from the safety of the main fort. Together the forts make up the San Juan National Historic Site, and you can pay one fee to visit both – try to go early or late in the day to avoid the worst of the crowds and the heat.
Islands and beaches
There are many strips of sun-baked sand close to San Juan, but for something a little special you should stray further afield. About 20 miles east of Puerto Rico lies the island of Culebra, where you’ll find utterly beautiful beaches and coral reefs that are considered some of the best in the Caribbean. More than a third of Culebra, including the entire coastline and more than 20 offshore cays, is designated as the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge, so there are wonderful diving and snorkeling opportunities. The most popular of the island’s beaches is Flamenco: a mile-long horseshoe-shaped strip lined with palm trees and blessed with calm, crystal-clear water. Luxury Retreats can organize snorkel tours and equipment rental for you.
Vieques, an island slightly closer to the mainland, was once a US Army outpost but is now a beach resort – Sun Bay, with its public facilities, is a popular choice. But the island is best known for its after-dark scene, in an area that has become known as Bioluminescent Bay. Take a tour by boat, canoe, or kayak to see Vieques’ Mosquito Bay by night and you’ll be witness to the magical sight of millions of tiny plankton lighting up its waters.
For a beach away from the high rises but without the boat journey, head to Luquillo, a 30-minute drive from San Juan. Family friendly, it’s also pretty tranquil, with calm water for swimming, modern amenities and food sellers just outside the entrance.
Explore the rainforest
Inland from Luquillo Beach, spread along the Luquillo Mountains, lies El Yunque National Forest – the place to go to experience Puerto Rico's lush tropical beauty. Covering 43 square miles, the forest contains three-quarters of the island's remaining virgin rainforest and is home to more than 200 species of tree and 50 species of orchid, as well as an abundance of wildlife including tiny coqui tree frogs that start to serenade as the day wanes. Some 13 well-marked hiking trails wind through the greenery, passing sites carved with Taino Indian petroglyphs and natural highlights such as the 85-foot cascade of La Coca Falls.
To ramp up the jungle thrills, head to Carabali Rainforest Adventure Park. Sitting between the tree-clad slopes of El Yunque and the Atlantic coast, this 600-acre ranch offers a host of thrills and spills, with something suitable for everyone. So saddle up for a horse ride through the rainforest or along the beach, rev your motor along the park’s four-track tails or challenge your family to a go-cart race. There’s also a restaurant and a wine bar if you want to make a day of it.
Experience the luxury of our Puerto Rico vacation rentals
Homes in Rio Grande
A 30-minute drive from San Juan, a 2-minute walk from the beach and right on the doorstep of the natural beauty of El Yunque National Forest, our Rio Grande villas are positioned to give you access to all of Puerto Rico’s many charms. Whether you’re looking for a vacation home to bring the family or are planning your honeymoon in Puerto Rico, our fabulous properties have everything you need. With access to resort facilities such as tennis courts and a wellness center, you and your sweetheart can spend a lazy day in each other’s company then head back to your villa to enjoy an alfresco dinner on your balcony. Kids will enjoy splashing in the pool or taking a family boat ride or a guided nature tour – all available at the luxury Bahia Beach Resort. You can hop in your complimentary golf cart and explore the resort or head out to any of the many attractions close by – the choice is yours.