Moon Puerto Rico


By Suzanne Van Atten

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Relax beneath palm trees, kayak through bioluminescent bays, or dance the night away to the sounds of salsa: Experience the Island of Enchantment with Moon Puerto Rico. Inside you’ll find:
  • Flexible itineraries ranging from a few days on the East Coast to two weeks exploring the best of Puerto Rico, including day trips from San Juan
  • Strategic advice for beach-lovers, adventure travelers, honeymooners, wellness-seekers, and more, with the best beaches for surfing, swimming, snorkeling, and diving
  • The best spots for eco-friendly outdoor adventures like hiking, kayaking, and spelunking. Zipline over the lush jungle, hike through cloud forests, explore vast underground caves, learn how to surf, or spot iguanas on the wild island of Mona
  • Unique and authentic experiences: Visit a historic coffee hacienda, shop for hand-rolled cigars along San Juan’s cobblestone streets, and savor a traditional lunch of mofongo. Visit ancient ceremonial bateyes, and learn about Puerto Rico’s indigenous Taíno communities. Enjoy an al fresco dinner in the warm tropical breeze, and dance to bomba as the sun sets over the ocean
  • Insider insight from Suzanne Van Atten on how to experience the island like a local, respectfully engage with the culture, and support local businesses, including opportunities to help with hurricane relief efforts
  • Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
  • Up-to-date information on Puerto Rico’s landscape, history, customs, and environmental changes
  • Handy tools including a Spanish phrasebook, driving directions, and travel tips for disability access, solo travelers, seniors, and LGBTQ travelers
Experience the best of Puerto Rico with Moon’s practical tips and local know-how.

Exploring the Caribbean? Check out Moon Dominican Republic, Moon Bahamas, or Moon Jamaica.


DISCOVER Puerto Rico

Planning Your Time


The Best of Puerto Rico


Best Day Trips




Touring the Cordillera Central


Sun and Surf

Puerto Rico’s nickname, Island of Enchantment, is a fitting sobriquet. Sandy beaches, palm trees, and tropical breezes make it a favorite getaway for the sun and surf crowd. Rugged mountains and a verdant rainforest attract adventure travelers, and lavish hotels with oceanside golf courses embrace vacationers who crave luxury.

But Puerto Rico is much more than a picture postcard. Four hundred years of Spanish heritage has left its mark on the island, giving it an Old World elegance. Its vibrant cultural life reflects not only the island’s European history, but also its indigenous origins and African influences.

An added bonus is the hip, bustling metropolis of San Juan, which boasts world-class restaurants, nightclubs, and casinos that keep the party-hardy set up until dawn. Yet, a simple stroll through the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan steeps visitors in a concentrated dose of the island’s history and cultural life.

Just 111 miles long and 36 miles wide, Puerto Rico has a population of 3.7 million people, making it one of the most densely populated places in the world. Despite the traffic jams and overdevelopment in some areas, natural beauty abounds in the many protected coves, mangrove lagoons, caves, and mountain streams. They provide the perfect backdrop for an immersion into the sensual pleasures of the tropics.

Flamboyan tree

Less than an hour’s drive from San Juan is one of the island’s most popular sights, El Yunque Caribbean National Forest, which contains a semitropical rainforest. In the northwest karst country, there are limestone caves, easily explored at Las Cavernas del Río Camuy park, and several bioluminescent bays where kayakers can commune with the tiny luminescent organisms that turn the water a glittery green- or blue-specked sea on moonless nights.

Puerto Rico’s central mountain region is one of the most dramatically beautiful areas of the island, where high mountain peaks, canyons, lush vegetation, orchids, streams, and cooler temperatures prevail. The indigenous Taíno culture was once a stronghold here, and their ancient ruins and petroglyphs can be found throughout the area.

All that is to say, there is a lot more to Puerto Rico than beaches. But if it is spectacular beaches one wants, there are plenty to be found, as is a bounty of water sports from surfing and diving to fishing and sailing.

Life is vivid in Puerto Rico. The sun shines brightly, rainbow-hued buildings pop with color, and tropical music fills the air. Prepare to have your senses awakened.

San Geronimo in Condado

Step Street in San Juan

Ocean Park

Planning Your Time

Where to Go
San Juan

Situated on the northeast coast, sophisticated, fast-paced San Juan is Puerto Rico’s capital and largest city. Its heart is Old San Juan, the original walled city founded by Spanish settlers in 1521, home to two fortresses: Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo de San Cristóbal. Other significant neighborhoods include Isla Verde, with the city’s best beaches and most exclusive hotels, and Condado, considered the tourist district, where you’ll find high-rise hotels, high-end shops, and casinos. In nearby Santurce is a burgeoning arts district, home to galleries, studios, and Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico.


Land-and-air vacation packages are available at resorts and hotels in Condado and Isla Verde. Because the island is only 111 miles by 36 miles, you can take a day trip to anywhere in Puerto Rico from San Juan; popular ones include El Yunque Caribbean National Forest in Río Grande, the beach and kioskos in Luquillo, and the colonial city of Ponce.

East Coast

The east coast contains Puerto Rico’s most popular tourist sight, El Yunque Caribbean National Forest, a 28,000-acre nature preserve in the Sierra de Luquillo. The second most popular sight on the island is Balneario La Monserrate, a beautiful beach in Luquillo. Fajardo is the boating center of Puerto Rico, where you can go diving, snorkeling, fishing, sailing, and kayaking. It is also home to the small but ecologically diverse Reserva Natural Las Cabezas de San Juan, which contains a bioluminescent bay. The southern part of the east coast is the least touristy part of the island and features several nice beaches and good seafood restaurants. Land-and-air packages and all-inclusive meal plans are available at resorts in Río Grande. All-inclusive meal plans are offered by some hotels in the southeastern part of the island.

South Coast

Ponce, the island’s second-largest city outside of metropolitan San Juan, was once a wealthy international port and a major player in the sugar and coffee industries. The city boasts gorgeous neoclassical and Spanish Revival architecture, a thriving plaza, and a strong cultural heritage preserved in its many museums. Just north of town is one of the island’s two major indigenous cultural sites. Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes was once home to two indigenous tribes, the Igneri and the Pre-Taínos. Also north of town is Hacienda Buena Vista, a former 19th-century coffee plantation that has been restored.

West Coast

Within the west coast region are the fun-loving surf towns of Isabela, Rincón, and Aguadilla; the colonial cities of Mayagüez and San Germán; the fishing village of Boquerón; the bioluminescent bay in La Parguera; and the salt flats of Cabo Rojo. In addition to being a major destination for surfing and diving, the west coast has one of the island’s loveliest public beaches, Balneario de Boquerón. And it is also home to two major forests, Bosque Estatal de Guajataca, a 2,357-acre subtropical wet forest in the north, and Bosque Estatal de Guánica, a 10,000-acre subtropical dry forest in the south.

North Coast

Much of the north coast is karst country, distinguished by limestone hills and caves, which makes for lots of rocky beaches and seaside cliffs. But there are two terrific sandy beaches—Balneario Cerro Gordo in Vega Alta and Playa Mar Chiquita in Manatí. Perhaps the biggest draw on this coast is Las Cavernas del Río Camuy, a gorgeous cave park featuring hikes through enormous caverns by a subterranean river. Another popular site is Observatorio de Arecibo, the world’s largest radio telescope. And a bit off the beaten path is Cueva del Indio, huge petrified sand dunes where you can see natural arches, blow holes, and ancient Taíno petroglyphs.

Cordillera Central

The central mountain region is a wonderland of natural beauty and Taíno Indian culture. La Ruta Panorámica is a well-marked route that takes visitors on a scenic tour through the region. Bosque Estatal de Toro Negro, in the center of the region, contains the island’s highest peak. Jayuya is the site of Museo del Cemí, an amulet-shaped museum containing indigenous artifacts, and La Piedra Escrita, a boulder covered with Taíno petroglyphs. But probably the most significant site is Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Caguana, a Taíno archaeological site dating to AD 1100 in Utuado. Also in Utuado is Bosque Estatal de Río Abajo, a 5,000-acre subtropical humid forest.

La Piedra Escrita in Jayuya

Calle Cristo in Old San Juan

Vieques and Culebra

Vieques and Culebra are two small islands off the main island’s east coast. Both offer some of the best wilderness beaches to be found in Puerto Rico—if not the entire Caribbean. Balneario Sun Bay in Vieques is a mile-long sandy crescent on crystal-blue waters. Playa Flamenco on Culebra is considered one of the best beaches in the United States. Both islands are renowned for their spectacular diving and snorkeling. Vieques is also the site of Mosquito Bay, Puerto Rico’s most outstanding bioluminescent bay, where the water glows an electric blue at night. If you need a history fix, Vieques is home to El Fortín Conde de Mirasol, the last fort built by colonial Spain, which now holds the Vieques Museum of Art and History.

When to Go

The climate in Puerto Rico is classified as tropical marine, which means it is sunny, hot, and humid year-round. The average year-round temperature ranges from 80°F on the coast to 68°F in the mountains.

Puerto Rico has two seasons. Dry season is January-April. This is when humidity is the lowest, and temperatures hit an average high of 84°F and an average low of 71°F. It should be noted that rain does occur during dry season, but at a much lower rate than in summer and fall. Airline tickets and hotel room rates tend to be higher during dry season. From December through the end of dry season is high season for the tourist industry throughout much of the island, including San Juan, Vieques, Rincón, and resort areas, such as Dorado and Río Grande.

Rainy season is May-November, when an average of 4-6 inches of rain falls each month. The island’s hottest months are June-September, when temperatures average 89°F, but it can spike as high as 97°F on the coast. The rainy season is also hurricane season. Airline ticket prices and hotel room rates are often reduced during rainy season.

In some parts of the island, particularly areas such as Cabo Rojo and La Parguera that cater primarily to Puerto Rican tourists, high season coincides with summer, when children are out of school.

The Best of Puerto Rico

It would take at least a month to fully explore Puerto Rico, but this one-week tour gives visitors a little taste of everything Puerto Rico has to offer: beaches, nature preserves, colonial cities, surf and dive spots, and golf.

Day 1

Catch an early flight into San Juan and spend the day wandering Old San Juan’s cobblestone streets. Shop for hand-rolled cigars at El Galpón and The Cigar House or vejigante masks at Puerto Rican Arts and Crafts. Enjoy a traditional Puerto Rican lunch of mofongo or arroz con pollo at Restaurante Raíces. That afternoon, tour the Spanish forts of Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo de San Cristóbal. At night, do like the locals do and dine late on grilled lobster at Casa Lola Criolla Kitchen in Condado and return to Old San Juan to dance the night away to live salsa music at Nuyorican Café.

Day 2

In San Juan, rent a car and drive 35 miles east to El Yunque Caribbean National Forest. Enter at El Portal Tropical Forest Center and drive south, stopping at La Coca Falls and Yokahu Tower along the way. If you packed a lunch, take a break at Caimitillo Picnic Area and then spend the afternoon hiking the Mount Britton Trail. Or drive 11 miles to the Luquillo Kioskos and lunch on fritters and meat pies, then head next door to Balneario La Monserrate, one of the island’s most celebrated beaches, and spend the afternoon swimming and sunning. Afterwards, shower and change at the public facilities and head back to San Juan, stopping at Kasalta Bakery on Avenida McLeary in Ocean Park for a casual dinner of cubano sandwiches and flan.

Day 3

In San Juan, get up early and eat a light breakfast at historic Cafeteria Mallorca in Old San Juan and drive 62 miles to Las Cavernas del Río Camuy. Spend the day exploring the subterranean world of the island’s underground cave system. Have lunch at the snack bar. If it’s not too late, drive eight miles east to Observatorio de Arecibo and see the world’s largest radio telescope. But watch your time—it closes at 4pm. Drive 33 miles north to Isabela’s Playa de Jobos and dine alfresco overlooking the beach at Ocean Deck Beach Bar Bistro. Stay the night at nearby Parador Villas del Mar Hau.

the beach at Parador Villas del Mar Hau

Day 4

In Hatillo, have breakfast at the hotel and take a dip in the ocean. Drive 20 miles southwest to Rincón and check out El Faro lighthouse. Have a light lunch of empanadas and alcapurrias from a kiosk. Check into your hotel at La Rosa Inglesa and head to the patio at La Copa Llena at the Black Eagle and watch the sunset over craft cocktails. Stay for dinner and then have a nightcap at cozy Sea Glass Bar at the Lazy Parrot Inn.

Day 5

Wake up early and head to Black Eagle Marina for a snorkel or dive tour of Desecheo Island. Eat lunch on the boat. After you dock, drive 13 miles south to Mayagüez. Stroll around Plaza de Colón and tour Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria. Dine on traditional Puerto Rican cuisine at Costa and stay the night at Holiday Inn El Tropical Casino Hotel and try your luck at the casino.

Day 6

In Mayagüez, eat breakfast at Ricomini Panadería and drive 15 miles southeast to San Germán. Stop by the tourist office in Casa Alcaldía Antiqua on Plaza Francisco Mariano Quiñones and pick up a map for a self-guided walking tour of the town’s lovely 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century homes, plazas, and churches, including Porta Coéli Chapel and Museum of Religious Art. Drive 35 miles southeast to Ponce. Dine at one of the many seafood restaurants along La Guancha, the waterfront development overlooking the Caribbean. Stay the night at Ponce Plaza Hotel & Casino on Plaza de las Delicias.

Day 7

In Ponce, tour the Museo de Arte de Ponce, the island’s finest art museum, and then drive 43 miles northeast to Cayey, stopping for a roast-pork lunch at one of the lechoneras. Drive 34 miles north to San Juan and catch a late flight home.


If you have another week to spare, drive to Caguas and tour Jardín Botánico y Cultural de Caguas. Head west into the mountainous Cordillera Central to Jayuya, where you can tour Museo del Cemí, Casa Museo Canales, and La Piedra Escrita. Hop a flight to Vieques and go for a swim at Balneario Sun Bay during the day and tour the bioluminescent waters of Mosquito Bay at night. Then hop another flight to the smaller island of Culebra and sunbathe on Playa Flamenco, one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean.

Best Day Trips

Do yourself a favor. Rent a car, get out of San Juan, and explore some of the island. Puerto Rico is filled with so many surprising and delightful charms that are just a short drive away, it would be a shame to miss them.


Spend the day exploring miles of primitive beach, riding bikes along Paseo Piñones Bike Path, kayaking in Laguna de Piñones or Laguna la Torrecilla, and dining on freshly made fritters at Boca de Cangrejos. Be sure to pack bug spray. Sand fleas are ferocious here in the afternoons. Piñones is 12 miles east of San Juan, just past the international airport. Traffic can be excruciatingly slow and congested on weekends and holidays, so go early.

Río Grande

Give the sun and sand a break and spend the day exploring the rainforest at El Yunque Caribbean National Forest. First, grab picnic supplies from Kasalta Bakery in Ocean Park and then head to El Portal Tropical Forest Center for a briefing on the area. Drive into the forest, stopping at La Coca Falls and Yokahu Tower along the way. Put on your hiking shoes and hit one of the trails, like La Mina Trail, a moderate, 0.5-mile hike ending at La Mina waterfall, or El Yunque Trail, a strenuous 2.5-mile trail through the cloud forest ending at the top of El Yunque. Afterwards, stop at Coqui International in Palmer and shop for locally made arts and crafts. Río Grande is 27 miles east of San Juan along roadways that are often heavy with traffic.


Work on your tan and go for a dip in the tranquil waters of one of Puerto Rico’s finest public beaches, Balneario La Monserrate, commonly called Playa Luquillo. If that’s too tame, rent a surfboard and ride the waves at La Pared. When hunger pangs strike, hit a couple of vendors at Luquillo Kioskos and dine on a wide variety of fritters and traditional Puerto Rican dishes, or try one of the new upscale kiosks serving creative Caribbean cuisine. Luquillo is 33 miles east of San Juan along roadways typically thick with traffic, especially on weekends.


Prepare to spend the day at sea, sailing and snorkeling around the small islands that make up Reserva Natural La Cordillera. Dine on charcoal-grilled fish and shrimp at La Estación, and then take a nighttime kayak tour of Laguna Grande, the bioluminescent bay in Reserva Natural Las Cabezas de San Juan. Fajardo is 40 miles east of San Juan along congested roadways.

Caguas and Cayey

Spend the morning strolling through the lovely landscaped grounds of Jardín Botánico y Cultural de Caguas. Then head south into the foothills of the Cordillera Central to the Guavate neighborhood of Cayey to chow down on moist, flavor-packed pork, cooked whole over open fire pits at any number of the lechoneras that line the streets. Afterwards, you can walk it off along the wooded trails at Reserva Forestal de Carite. Caguas is 20 miles south and Cayey is 33 miles south of San Juan, and it’s highway all the way.


On Sale
Nov 17, 2020
Page Count
400 pages
Moon Travel

Suzanne Van Atten

About the Author

Suzanne Van Atten has written about destinations throughout the United States, Mexico, South America, the Caribbean, and Europe. She has barhopped in Barcelona, slept in a Jesuit monastery on the Amalfi coast, crewed a hot air balloon in New Mexico, gone white-water rafting in Tennessee, and gotten lost too many times to count.

Amidst all these travels, she always returns to Puerto Rico, a place she fell in love with when she lived there as a teenager. The country’s rich culture, postcard-perfect beaches, lush tropical jungle, cobblestone streets, pastel colors, lively music, and the joie de vivre of its people colluded to seduce her. No matter how many times she returns, she always discovers something new and delightful.

Suzanne is a creative writing instructor, an editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and a Pushcart Prize-nominated essayist who’s been published in the Gettysburg Review, The Chattahoochee Review, and Full Grown People.

Learn more about this author