- Puerto Rico
From island and mountain escapes to must-eat street food, you can’t go wrong with these marquee Puerto Rican experiences.
The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico isn’t short on opportunities to get outside. Much of this Caribbean island’s vibrant culture can be experienced while enjoying a balmy breeze or tropical foliage. Gathered here are a few unique ways to get out and dig into Puerto Rico’s take on the island life, from lesser-known beach escapes to hiking a tropical rainforest to tasting local cuisine. Peruse these three adventures for a little inspiration and a whole lot of fun.
Coastal Escape: Fajardo and Cordillera Nature Reserve
Located on the easternmost tip of Puerto Rico, about an hour’s drive from the island’s capital, San Juan, Fajardo beckons with beautiful blue waters and some pretty wild adventures. One of Puerto Rico’s three bioluminescent bays is located here. With around six marinas, it’s one of the largest launching points in the Caribbean for sailing, parasailing, fishing and more.
While in the area, Cordillera Nature Reserve is a must-visit. Comprised of remote keys and cays (low-elevation sandy islands usually located alongside coral reefs), Cordillera teems with wildlife. The reefs provide excellent snorkeling opportunities, and the islands are great places to unwind and relax. Boating to and around the cays is just as fun as enjoying beach time, and there are plenty of rentals to choose from – including miniature speed boats you can pilot yourself. Not sure which cay to visit in Cordillera Nature Reserve? Try Cayo Icacos. It’s the largest cay in the reserve and one of the most popular for its amazing snorkeling and picture-perfect beauty.
Cruising in personal speed boats through the blue waters of Cordillera Nature Reserve
Lush Mountain Wonder: El Yunque National Forest
There are many ways to describe El Yunque – serene, enchanting, meditative, beautiful – and all are reasons this is a place that must be experienced. About an hour outside San Juan and just west of Fajardo, El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest Service, and at 117 square kilometers, it’s one of the smallest. But don’t let the size fool you; El Yunque has some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the national forest system. Hike the forest to see mountain rivers, waterfalls such as La Coca Falls and Juan Diego Falls, cool natural pools, rainforest trails and stunning vistas.
For some of the park’s best views, visit one of two observation towers: Mt. Britton Tower and Yokahú Observation Tower. Mt. Britton is at a higher elevation and can only be reached via a hike, but it provides immersion into the dense tropical forest and, on some days, even the clouds. Yokahú Observation Tower is more easily accessible, but its verdant mountain vista backed by glimpses of the blue ocean is no less photo-worthy. Other popular park activities include birding (you might catch sight of a Puerto Rican parrot) and swinging on the rope swing at the end of El Angelito trail, where satisfied hikers dive in the refreshing lagoon.
A refreshing dip in Juan Diego Falls, one of El Yunque’s many waterfalls
Good Eats: Piñones Street Food
Puerto Rican food is a savory and fresh mix of flavors combining ingredients and techniques from around the world. No foodie experience here is complete without a tasty tour of the street food in the Piñones neighborhood, a sandy stretch of road filled with vendors cooking up amazing eats. A bonus: It’s almost directly on the beach.
Part of what makes the food here so special is its history and heritage. Piñones is located just east of San Juan in the town of Loíza, a community with rich Afro-Puerto Rican heritage and the largest Black population on the island. The Afro-Caribbean flavors in the food have made this area not only a culinary destination, but also a cultural one, where you can connect with locals and learn about the cuisine. Must-taste dishes include alcapurria, a type of stuffed yuca fritter; bacalaíto, well-seasoned salt cod fritters; and mofongo, mashed plantains flavored with garlic. Along with the famous fried fritters, make sure to try fresh seafood and refreshing fruit frappes. Your taste buds will thank you.