Puerto Rico’s 9 Sightseeing Attractions

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a Caribbean country, formerly one of the Spanish colonies, but today a Free Associated State but located in U.S. controlled territory. Despite formal independence, the American influence is still quite tangible: people here learn English, practice Catholicism, pay with dollars – in general, they do everything to please their stronger neighbor. Puerto Rico is an island nation, with most of its population living on the island of the same name. Less significant pieces of land that make up the country include the islands of Vieques, Desecheo, Caja de Muertos, Culebra, and Mona.

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Most travelers associate this sultry slice of Central America primarily with cozy beaches, the ultramarine hue of the sea, pina coladas and groovy salsa rhythms. Despite the fact that Puerto Rico is still inferior in popularity to neighboring Dominican Republic, you can rest here just as good. And the proverbial exoticism, which usually attracts tourists to the Caribbean, in this country has plenty, whether it be the local nature or national cuisine. Add to that the architectural heritage of its colonial past, the obligatory Latin American carnivals and the best rum in the world and you understand why most of the downhikers seek exactly Puerto Rico.

History of Puerto Rico

The country’s history is not much different from that of other Caribbean colonies. With the advent of the European conquerors on the islands, the local Taino Indian culture was practically destroyed. The Spanish conquistadors, who declared Puerto Rico their own colony and brought in black slaves, and with them new diseases, exacerbated the unenviable situation of the indigenous population. As a result, most of the Indians died as a result of epidemics and hard labor in the cane plantations. Gradually the tiny remnants of the Taino culture mingled with Europeans and African slaves, thus giving rise to a new nation, the Puerto Ricans.

The name “Puerto Rico” itself translates as “rich port”. At first it was the administrative center of the colony, but gradually the sonorous phrase stuck with the whole island. In 1898, after a military armed conflict, Spain ceded this part of the Caribbean islands to the United States. Since then, Puerto Rico began an active process of emigration of the local population to the Land of Freedom, topped off with a very sluggish struggle for independence. In 1952 an assassination attempt on the US president by Puerto Rican separatists gave the country the opportunity to get its own constitution and the status of associated territory, with which it still exists today.


Economists often refer to Puerto Rico as “America’s poorest state. At the same time, the modern state is no longer exclusively an agrarian country with nothing to put on the world market except sugar cane and rum. In the early twentieth century Puerto Rico began to actively develop pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries, which were later joined by tourism, which today is the main income of the state. However, the standard of living of the islanders is still far from matching the American reality. Moreover, Puerto Rico is on the list of debtor nations, which almost never manage to pay back the money borrowed, so defaults for this state are a common occurrence. Completely drown in debt “rich port” is not allowed by the United States, which from time to time extends a hand of financial assistance to a hapless neighbor.

Nature and climate

For fashionable today direction of eco-tourism in Puerto Rico, if not a paradise, then something very much resembling it. Covered with impenetrable tropical thickets, riddled with turbulent rivers and washed by the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea, the local islands have an incredible magic of attraction. Moreover, some of them remain uninhabited to this day, which attracts downhikers and all seekers of seclusion.

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If you’ve watched all the National Geographic documentaries and are firmly convinced that you know all the animals of the planet “by sight”, Puerto Rico will dispel your arrogance. Some 239 species of animals, 16 species of birds, and 39 species of reptiles and amphibians found in this small state are not found anywhere else in the world. By the way, the best place to get acquainted with the local biosphere – protected areas and national parks, of which there are seven in tiny Puerto Rico. And this is not only the traditional tropical jungle, often glimpsed in the brochures of travel agencies, but whole islands with their unique flora and fauna, as well as entangled in a network of underground mazes karst areas.

Puerto Rico belongs to the maritime mild tropical climate zone, which is characterized by small fluctuations in temperature. The average annual thermometer in this part of the Caribbean does not drop below +28 °C. From June to November, weather conditions slightly deteriorate due to the traditional arrival of Atlantic hurricanes.

Population and peculiarities of the national mentality

Puerto Rico is home to about 3,700,000 people. In the second half of the XIX century an influx of immigrants from Latin America, which added a unique South American flavor to the colorful mix of Indian rituals, Spanish religiosity and African superstition. Today’s islanders are a cheerful, open-minded people who, despite their poor living conditions, are never discouraged.

We could write an entire treatise about the love of Puerto Ricans for all kinds of festivities. Carnivals, parades, concerts are not ostentatious and adapted for tourists, but the real thing. Love the music here, Puerto Rico is considered the birthplace of musical style and mesmerizing rhythms of reggaeton salsa. Another distinguishing feature of the local population – the desire to feel part of something big and important, perhaps because of this when you meet 90% of the islanders will call themselves Americans, while not forgetting to specify that they are “Puerto Ricanos”. However, considering the situation with the recent referendum (the majority of citizens voted for joining the United States as a state, but did not show up for the voting procedure itself), it becomes clear that the obligation and responsibility are not the most common concepts here.

Interesting fact: natives of Puerto Rico are Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Mark Anthony, Don Omar, and Daddy Yankee.

Beach Vacation.

The absolute champion for the number of picturesque beaches is Vieques Island, well, the title of the best place to swim in all of Puerto Rico still goes to San Bay Beach. This area is beloved by Puerto Ricans themselves, so often come here to relax in a noisy company. It’s not a wilderness area, so changing rooms, showers, and toilets are never hard to find on Sun Bay. A more romantic and picturesque option is Media Moon. The beach is in an enclosed bay, so there are almost no big waves. In addition, the sea here is shallow, which will especially please children.

For those who do not look for the easy way, Esperanza is the town beach of Vieques. A more or less suitable area for swimming is just behind the pier. The shore and the bottom are stony, so the extreme will appreciate it. You can roll on the snow-white hot sand in Navio, although you can’t enjoy swimming here – the sea is always stirring. Playa Flamenco on the island of Culebra has enough fans. The place is crowded (there’s a campsite nearby), so it’s unlikely you’ll get much privacy, but you won’t get bored.

If you don’t want to leave San Juan, head to Ocean Park, near the only beach in the capital that hasn’t been altered by ubiquitous high-rise construction. Enjoy the generous Caribbean sun while sipping a cocktail in the shade of palm trees at Playa Escambron. There is a minimum set of amenities (shower + toilet). You can also check in on Isla Verde – it’s certainly not ideal, but it’s certainly not the worst of San Juan’s beaches.

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Attractions and attractions

All the attractions and iconic places of Puerto Rico can be divided into historical monuments left here since the Spanish colonization, and the creations of the local nature. The best place to start discovering the history of this piece of land is the old San Juan, or Viejo San Juan as the Puerto Ricans call it. In fact, this quarter is already a museum in itself: the narrow paved streets in the best traditions of the European Middle Ages, colorful houses, painted in pastel in all the colors of the rainbow spectrum, climbing plants, climbing on the cast-iron bars … If you do not know that you are in the Caribbean, you might think that the eyes resurface before the views of an old Spanish town. The wall is the remnant of the architectural heritage of the Spanish conquistadors, and it encircles all this splendor.

In the northwestern part of the capital, in the vicinity of Cape Punta del Moro, is the main gathering place for tourist groups, the maritime fortress of Fuerte San Felipe del Morro. The fortification, for many years considered almost the most significant in the Caribbean Sea, was founded in 1539. At one time, the citadel withstood the mightiest set of attacks by the pirate fleet commanded by Francis Drake. On the northeast side of the island is another ancient fortress, Fuerte San Cristobal. Today, anyone can walk its intricate underground labyrinths.

Of the architectural monuments of the past preserved in the territory of Viejo San Juan, we can mention the oldest church on the island – Iglesia San Jose, built in an unconventional for Central America Gothic style. The Casa Blanca (former home of Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon), the Dominican Convento de los Dominicos, the former fortress and now the residence of Puerto Rican governors of La Fortaleza and the Capilla Del Libro Chapel also look colorful.

To get a glimpse of the colonial churches, you’ll have to drive to San Herman, Puerto Rico’s oldest city after the capital. The second largest and most important city, Ponce, is famous for its Cathedral of Catedral de La Guadalupe, built in 1660. There are also plenty of pompous villas inherited from the former “cane” and “coffee kings” of the Caribbean.

As for the natural wealth of the “rich port”, it is better to give preference to the National Park El Yunque. In this rain forest, which never dries up from the daily rainstorms of just over 11,000 hectares grows about 400 species of unique plants and is home to a huge number of animals. Here you can also listen to the legendary “infernal chanting” of the dwarf coca frogs, which have become the national symbol of Puerto Rico.

Near the country’s highest mountain peak, Cerro de Punta, is another reserve called Togo Negro. If you want to see the 60-meter waterfalls and swim in the highest lake in the country, Lake Lago Guineo, you should go there.

In the northeast of Puerto Rico is the dream of all speleologists of the world – the protected karst area Río Camay. About 200 enormous caves and a full-fledged underground river, on which the local extremists regularly rafting, welcomes visitors all year round.

Not far from the Rio Camay is another Puerto Rican wonder, though, this time man-made – Arecibo Observatory. The object is interesting primarily because it is the largest telescope in the world, through which U.S. scientists are trying to find signs of extraterrestrial civilizations. In his time here was filmed the famous “Contact” with Jodie Foster and the seventeenth Bond film “GoldenEye”.

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To see exotic lizards and turtle colonies, and at the same time to get closer to the wonderful world of coral reefs, visit the island of Mona, often referred to as the “Galapagos of the Caribbean Sea”. The place is completely wild, but protected, so the flora and fauna here is the richest. By the way, if you want to go scuba diving, Mona is the perfect place. The water off its coast is very clean and retains its transparency, even at great depths. Scuba diving is also possible on the island of Culebra. Infrastructure here is so-so, but diving centers are available.

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As a tourist destination in the tropical Caribbean, Puerto Rico has it all and then some. Beautiful palm-fringed beaches, some with calm warm waters lapping the golden sand, and others with huge waves and famous breaks attract all kinds of beach seekers, from couples and families to surfers. Home only to the rainforest of the U.S. Forest System and the nighttime wonders of Bioluminescent Bay , Puerto Rico also delights nature lovers. Add to that the culture and charm of historic San Juan, with its beautiful colonial architecture and old forts, and the picture is almost complete.

Puerto Rico is a complex island with a Spanish Caribbean culture and an obvious American twist. This is especially noticeable around San Juan, with some American chain restaurants and other amenities associated with the U.S. mainland. Going further out, visitors will find quaint towns, small villages, beautiful islands, caves and rough mountain interiors.

1 Old San Juan (San Juan Viejo)

Old San Juan (San Juan Viejo) | Photo by: Lana Law

Walking through the streets of Old San Juan, with its beautiful colonial architecture and imposing forts, is like stepping back into another era, but with a number of modern conveniences. More than 500 years old, and the second largest city in the Americas, Old San Juan is a blend of Spanish colonial history and modern Puerto Rican life. The entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with hundreds of restored colonial buildings from the 16th and 17th centuries. Today, visitors can dine, eat or even stay in some of these beautiful old structures.

The main attraction is Fort El Morro (Fuerte San Felipe del Morro), standing on a peninsula high above the ocean, just a short walk from the city center. Built in 1539, El Morro’s history, location, and preservation make it one of the country’s top tourist attractions. Although there is much to see in Old San Juan, some of the outstanding sites are Tiri; Castillo de San Cristobal (Fort San Cristobal); and San Juan Cathedral, which houses the tomb of Ponce de Leon.

Accommodation: Where to stay in San Juan

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2 El Yunque National Forest

El Yunque National Forest | Photo by: Lana Law

To experience the lush interior beauty of Puerto Rico, this is the place to visit. Spreading along the Luquillo Mountains, including Pico El Yunque, El Yunque National Forest is home to the only rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System. The climate here is much cooler than along the coast and at lower elevations, and it is noticeably wet. Walking

trails wind through the forest, allowing hikers a closer look at some of the 240 tree species and hundreds of plant species (only 50 species of orchids), as well as an abundance of smaller wildlife. El Yunque Peak reaches 3,500 feet above sea level, and the forest covers 43 square miles, including three-quarters of the island’s remaining virgin forests.

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El Yunque National Forest is one of Puerto Rico’s most popular natural attractions and is often visited on tour from San Juan. Some of the highlights in El Yunque National Forest include La Coca Falls , Yokahú Tower , Baño Grande , Baño de Oro , and La Mina Falls , Located just off the highway, La Coca Falls has an 85-foot cascade on boulder formations and is the first major attraction to visit in El Yunque.

The El Port Rainforest Center is a visitor center for those looking for information about the area. Nearby is the Yokahú Tower, a 1930s tower open to the public to climb, which offers a beautiful view of the rainforest.

3 Culebra Island (Isla Culebra)

Isla Culebra (Isla Culebra).

Although Culebra is often mentioned in the same breath as Vieques, this little island with its beautiful beaches and lush hills has its own unique character. The pace here is leisurely and the atmosphere relaxed. Eco-tourism is big on the island, and many of the tourist establishments are run by expatriates. About 17 miles east of Puerto Rico and 12 miles west of the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, Culebra is only seven miles long and three miles wide with 23 offshore islands. The area’s coral reefs are considered some of the best in the entire Caribbean.

Horseshoe Playa Flamenco is the most popular beach on the island and as close to perfect as possible. The water is clear with no surf, making it a good place to swim or dive, and the sparkling white sand is palm-lined. The Isla de Culebra National Wildlife Refuge is a well-preserved slice of nature that includes the entire Culebra coastline and more than 20 seashores. More than one-third of Culebra is designated as Culebra National Wildlife Refuge, which includes: Cayo Luis Peña , a small island just west of Culebra. Here the bays and rugged landscape make for interesting but challenging tourist opportunities.

Accommodations: Where to stay on Culebra Island

4 Vieques.

Vieques, eight miles from the mainland of Puerto Rico, has become a popular beach resort with small, upscale hotels, restaurants, stores and galleries. With the U.S. Army’s departure from the island in 2003, Vieques turned its attention to tourism. The beautiful beaches are now supported by a quality tourism infrastructure that attracts Puerto Ricans and foreign travelers alike who take the time to get to the island.There are no big hotels or upscale condo complexes. At 21 miles long and five miles, Vieques is the largest of the Spanish Virgin Islands but still offers a small island feel.

The island is also known for the unique phenomenon of Mosquito Bay (also known as Bioluminescent Bay ), where large concentrations of phosphorescent dinoflagellates light up the water at night. Visitors can take an excursion in a boat, canoe or kayak after dark to experience this natural wonder. Although there are other areas in Puerto Rico where this phenomenon occurs, this is the best place to explore it. Vieques can be reached by air or by ferry from Fajardo.

Accommodations: Where to stay in Vieques

5 Surf and whale watching in Rincon

Surf and whale watching in Rincon | Photo by: Lana Law

Often called “Pueblo del Surfing” (“Surf Town”) and “Little Malibu,” Rincon is known to Puerto Ricans as “Gringo Paradise. The dominant language in the area is English, with many foreign surfers and other immigrants making the town their home. It became a surfing mecca after the Surf World Cup in 1968, when images of Rincon and frequent 15-foot waves were broadcast around the world. Although the waves here are pretty big, there are beautiful beaches that are suitable for swimming, mostly south of town.

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Rincon is also one of Puerto Rico’s main areas for whale-watching excursions. Whale-watching season is from mid-January through March, when humpback whales are in the area. Tours are easily located in town.

Accommodations: Where to Stay in Rincon

6 Luquillo Beach

Luquillo Beach | Photo by: Lana Law

For an easy escape from San Juan’s busy beaches, Luquillo is a terrific option. Just a short drive from the city, Luquillo Beach is a palm of golden sand that offers quiet tranquility without the surrounding high-rise buildings and development. The water is generally calm for swimming, and the beach stretches for nearly one mile, making it ideal for walking. The area, shaded by coconut palms, has modern restrooms, showers and locker rooms with lockers, and there are food vendors near the entrance. A stop at the beach can be combined with a day trip to El Yunque National Forest .

Accommodations: Where to stay in Luquillo

7 Arecibo Radio Telescope (Observatorio de Arecibo)

Radio Telescope Arecibo (Observatorio de Arecibo)

The Radio Telescope Arecibo has a 20-acre dish mounted in a hub. Here astronomers have proved the “music of the stars” (pulsars and quasars) and explored the Moon, Earth’s ionosphere and other planets. There is also a search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) at this site. Scenes from Jody Foster’s movie Contact, and others, were filmed at the observatory. It is amazing, and the complexity of Observatorio de Arecibo is so impressive that it is worth driving up the winding road to visit.

8 Caves of the Rio Camuy (Parque de las Cavernas del Rio Camuy)

The Caves of Rio Camuy (Parque de las Cavernas del Río Camuy) by Tyler S. Miller / photo modified

Rio Camuy Cave Park has a huge 268-hectare cave system and is considered the third largest cave system in the world. A trolley takes visitors to a 200-foot-deep cave, or sinkhole, that is now a protected area known as the Cueva Clara Empalme. The caves have various rooms, in some cases with extremely high ceilings, stalagmites and stalactites, and rivers rushing along the base. The tour leads visitors through Cueva Clara Empalme. In addition to the natural wonders represented by the cave system, it is also interesting to note that the caves have long been used by the indigenous population.

9 Historic Center of Ponce

Historic Center of Ponce | Photo by: Lana Law

Although Ponce is a large city and not usually on the typical tourist route through Puerto Rico, its historic downtown is a delight, with 17th-century architecture and open plazas. Plaza Las Delicias is a good starting point for visitors, with cafes and park benches for comfortable people watching. The red-and-white-striped Old Ponce Fire Station , the town hall , and the much more recently built cathedral (Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Guadalupe) have a special place here. Ponce also has a large number of quality museums, the Ponce Art Museum .

Accommodation: Where to stay in Ponce

10 Isla Verde.

An exceptional crowd looking for great resorts and a decent beach within easy reach of a major airport, Isla Verde is just the answer. Here you’ll find everything you need for an overworked, sun-appealing, beach-going vacationer who can demand – minus the Puerto Rican culture. With calm waters lined with a white-sand beach and backed by palm trees and resorts, Isla Verde is a tropical garden with all the amenities.

The area is a suburb of San Juan, and those who want to escape the resort without getting too far away will find the historic streets of Old San Juan just a short cab ride away. By analogy, the El Yunque National Rainforest can also be done as a quick getaway excursion from the beach.

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