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
de la Música Puertorriqueña before touring the lovingly restored plantation
Buena Vista or the best art museum in the Caribbean, the Museo
de Arte de Ponce.
Cuisine in San Juan’s SoFo district
When cruise ships shimmer like floating cities at the docks, the world-class restaurants
of SoFo (short for “South of Fortaleza”, naturally) rise to the occasion,
impressing international audiences with the most inventive plates of fine
dining in the Caribbean. Recent years have seen a revolving door of hot
restaurants in this corner of Old San Juan, but only the most creative survive.
Expect the traditional, elemental essence of Puerto Rican flavours fused with
preparations from across the globe. Try the classic Parrot
Club where the concept of SoFo started, or Dragonfly
to eat Latin-Asian fusion with the beautiful people.
If you tried to savour
every single example of colonial grandeur – all the fountains and historic squares,
every dignified plantation house or buttressed 19th-century town hall – Puerto
Rico’s architectural gems would demand a month-long stay. Even if nothing else
outside of Old San Juan earns time on your agenda, make sure you take a stroll around
Las Delicias in Ponce, a place downright littered with statues, lined by
colonial edifices, and crowned by the regal Fuente de los Leones (a rescued
relic from the 1939 New York world’s fair).
The lush forests, verdant hills and crashing waterfalls of El
Yunque are part of the only true rainforest in the US, and are the perfect place
to take a short hike through the oxygen-rich mist, explore waterfalls and gawk
at Jurassic-sized ferns. Make sure you bring binoculars; of the 26 species
found here and nowhere else in the world, you will want to keep a sharp eye out
for the Puerto Rican parrot, one of the 10 most endangered birds on earth.
The article 'Top 10 Puerto Rico experiences' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.