Best of Puerto Rico
It would take at least a month to fully explore Puerto Rico, but this two-week tour gives visitors a little taste of everything Puerto Rico has to offer: beaches, nature preserves, colonial cities, surf and dive spots, indigenous culture, and golf.
Catch an early flight into San Juan and spend the day wandering Old San Juan’s cobblestone streets and checking out some shops, such as Puerto Rican Arts and Crafts on Calle Fortaleza. Enjoy a hearty traditional Puerto Rican lunch of mofongo or arroz con pollo at Restaurante Raices on Calle Recinto Sur. That afternoon, tour El Morro, a huge Spanish fort overlooking San Juan Bay. At night, do like the locals do and dine late on seviche and oysters at Aguaviva on Calle Fortaleza. End the day at Nuyorican Café for some live salsa music.
In the morning, tour Museo de Las Americas, a museum in Old San Juan containing an extensive collection of folk art from countries throughout Latin America. It’s located in Cuartel de Ballajá, a former Spanish military barracks. For lunch, head to Kasalta Bakery on Calle McLeary in Ocean Park for the best Cuban sandwich, and you’re just a few blocks from the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico in Santurce, which has an extensive collection of local artwork on exhibition that spans five centuries. That evening, dine in elegance inside the clamshell-shaped Perla at La Concha Renaissance Resort in Condado. Enjoy an after-dinner drink at Wet, a glamorous rooftop lounge at the Water Club, or go to the casino for some gambling action at the InterContinental San Juan hotel, both in Isla Verde.
In San Juan, rent a car and drive 25 miles east to Luquillo to spend the day at Balneario La Monserrate, one of the island’s most beautiful government-maintained beaches. Stop along the way at Luquillo Kioskos and lunch on fritters and meat pies and wash it down with a cold beer. No need to stock up before hitting the sand and surf: There are more vendors selling snacks and beverages at the beach. Use the public showers to freshen up before heading back to your hotel in San Juan, but stop in Río Grande on your way for a traditional Puerto Rican meal at Antojitos Puertorriqueños.
Eat a hearty breakfast at La Bombonera on Calle San Francisco in Old San Juan, then put on your hiking shoes and drive 30 miles east to El Yunque Caribbean National Forest. Spend the day hiking the trails, bird-watching, and swimming in the rivers and pools that dot the area. Return to San Juan and enjoy a meal of creative Caribbean cuisine in the courtyard of The Parrot Club on Calle Fortaleza in Old San Juan. That night, join the perennial pub crawl along Calle San Sebastian.
Drive 33 miles east to Ceiba (allow an hour) and catch a plane to Vieques (be sure to reserve a car ahead of time). Spend the morning soaking in the sun at Balneario Sun Bay. That afternoon, visit the Vieques Museum of Art and History, located in El Fortín Conde de Mirasol, Spain’s last fort in the New World. In the evening, dine at one of several restaurants that line the main strip in Esperanza. If it’s a moonless night, be sure to take a tour of bioluminescent Mosquito Bay. Spend the night on Vieques.
Catch an early flight back to Ceiba and drive 89 miles southwest to Ponce. The halfway point is Cayey, a great place to stop and have a roast-pork lunch at one of this mountain town’s many lechoneras. Spend the afternoon on a walking tour of central Ponce to see its lovely European architecture. That evening, have dinner overlooking the water at Paseo Tablado La Guancha and stroll off the calories along the boardwalk. Stay the night in Ponce, preferably in one of the hotels overlooking Plaza de Las Delicias.
In the morning, tour Museo de Arte de Ponce, featuring an impressive collection of European and Puerto Rican art from the 18th through 21st centuries. Pick up picnic supplies at Classic Delights Bakery & Café on Calle Marina in Ponce and drive 24 miles west to Guánica. Put your hiking shoes on and explore the subtropical dry forest at Bosque Estatal de Guánica. That evening, drive 10 miles west to La Parguera for a seafood dinner and spend the night.
Take a boat tour of the Los Canales Manglares mangrove channels in La Parguera. That night, take a tour of the Bahía Fosforescente bioluminescent bay. Spend another night in La Parguera.
Drive 15 miles west into the Cabo Rojo Peninsula and check into Bahía Salinas Beach Hotel, a lovely, sprawling hotel tucked far away from everything on the farthest southwestern point of the island. Relax on its many porches or verandas on hammocks or chaise lounges surrounded by tangles of tropical plants. Or perhaps you’d rather soak in an outdoor mineral bath. Nearby are the Cabo Rojo salt flats, a 1,200-acre reserve where salt is mined and excellent bird-watching is to be found.
Get an early start and drive 30 miles north to Rincón. From Black Eagle Marina take a dive or snorkeling tour to Desecheo Island, a 45-minute boat ride off the coast where divers and snorkelers can skirt around the fringes of this uninhabited island and see a variety of marine life. Spend the evening checking out some of the funky bars in Rincón and meet some expatriates who’ve made this happening town their home.
From Rincón, drive 35 miles inland to Las Cavernas del Río Camuy and spend the morning exploring the island’s magical subterranean world. In the afternoon, drive 8 miles east to Observatorio de Arecibo and see the world’s largest radio telescope. Drive 17 miles north to Hatillo and spend the night.
Drive 10 miles east to Cueva del Indio and scramble (carefully!) over the petrified sand dunes where the coastline is drop-dead gorgeous and you can see natural arches, blow holes, and Taíno petroglyphs. Head 30 miles east to Dorado for an afternoon of sunbathing and spend the night in the lap of luxury at the Dorado Beach Club.
Get in a round of golf at one of two courses designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. at the Dorado Beach Club followed by a massage in the afternoon. For dinner, go into Dorado and dine on local cuisine at El Ladrillo. Spend the night in Dorado.
© Suzanne Van Atten from Moon Puerto Rico, 2nd Edition