Top 10 Puerto Rico experiences
The consistently clear waters off Puerto Rico’s west coast top any divers’ wish list. (Steve Simonsen/LPI)
It is for good reason that Puerto Rico inspires many a Caribbean daydream: this natural jewellery box can satisfy the lethargic beach lover, the sunrise rainforest explorer and the budding big-wave surfer ¬-- all in a long weekend. Its coral reefs host a riot of tropical fish, its limestone caves in the misty central hills resound with the chirp of coquí frogs, and its unique collection of forests – among the wettest and driest in the Caribbean – harbour some of the rarest birds in the world. Here are our picks for the top 10 experiences across the “Island of Enchantment”:
Old San Juan
Even those limited to a quick visit find it easy to fall under the beguiling spell of Old San Juan’s cobblestone streets, pastel-painted colonial buildings and grand fortresses. From the ramparts of El Morro, the allure of this city is evident in every direction – from the labyrinth of crooked streets to the endless sparkle of the Atlantic. By day, lose yourself in historical stories of blood and bombast; by night, float along in crowds of tourists, rowdy locals and syncopated salsa rhythms.
The rub of sand between the toes, the brilliant sparkle of turquoise water and rhythmic shush of cresting waves – all this endows a visit to Puerto Rico with the qualities of daydream. From the golden, crescent-shaped heaven of Playa Flamenco (considered among the world’s best beaches), to the coconut oil-scented crowds of Puerto Rico’s little slice of Brazil, Playa Isla Verde, and from the secluded, mangrove-shaded hideaways in the south to the roaring surf of the west, Puerto Rico’s unending beaches are dreamy.
Few experiences can inspire the spine-tingling awe of floating into inky waves under a canopy of stars and witnessing one of nature’s most tactile magic tricks: the otherworldly sparkle of bioluminescent waters. Swimming or kayaking into Puerto Rico’s bioluminescent bays and seeing the jewelled flicker of water drip from your hands or illuminate a paddle stroke promises an experience of profound wonder. The bioluminescent waters in the bays of Vieques reveal the phenomenon at its most fantastic.
The bleachers at island béisbol (baseball) stadiums reveal a lot more than nine innings of play – it is a vantage on the fickle Caribbean love affair with baseball. Puerto Rico’s zeal for the sport may never fill the oversized stadiums that dot the island, but the low-key games and dirt cheap tickets get béisbol fans right up in the action.
Rum cocktails at sunset
If there is an elixir to imprint those sunsets in your memory forever, it likely comes in a tall, cold glass. From piña coladas with toy umbrellas to the everyman’s Cuba libre (rum and Coke with a wedge of lime) you would be remiss to leave without savouring a rum cocktail during a spectacular sunset. Find a comfortable perch in the west – maybe Rincón’s ultra-chill surfer hang, Tamboo Tavern – and sip a taste of paradise.
Swimming and snorkelling
Many of the island’s best places for snorkelling and swimming can be found on satellite islands off Puerto Rico’s east or south coast and around coral reefs in the southwest. In the morning, waters off these areas are crystal clear and usually calm enough to paddle around for hours enjoying visibility up to 75ft. Expect a riot of brightly coloured fish, coral formations and -- if you are lucky -- a lazy ray. The consistently clear waters of Isla Desecheo, off Puerto Rico’s west coast, also top any divers’ wish list.
Ponce, the so-called “Pearl of the South”, boasts enough museums to satisfy the most intellectually rapacious museum hunter. Those interested in the distinctive rhythms of the island should start with Museo de la Música Puertorriqueña before touring the lovingly restored plantation at Hacienda Buena Vista or the best art museum in the Caribbean, the Museo de Arte de Ponce.