SD › Best Places to Stay in Puerto Rico
Updated: January 11, 2023
Our Favorite Puerto Rico Hotels
• 5-Star Hotel: Dorado Beach
• Boutique Hotel: 352 Guest House
• Cheap Hotel: Casa Aramana
• Family Hotel: Wyndham Grand Rio Mar
• Adults-Only: El Colonial
• Best Pool: Royal Sonesta San Juan
• Near Airport: Courtyard Isla Verde
The Best Area to Stay in Puerto Rico
One of the Caribbean’s largest and most developed islands, Puerto Rico is best known for its sensational beaches, year-round sun, deep-sea fishing and world-class surfing. Its Spanish heritage (it was a Spanish colony until 1898) adds cultural allure, with Old San Juan especially rich in colonial architecture, mansions, and castles. Puerto Rico also boasts great coffee, excellent rum, and some of the best music in the region, from salsa to reggaeton. One of the big advantages for mainland American tourists is that you don’t need a passport to visit (a government-issued photo ID is sufficient); though Puerto Rico is not a state but rather a “Commonwealth” of the USA, the island is considered US territory and all Puerto Ricans are US citizens.
Most visits start in Puerto Rico’s dynamic political and cultural capital, San Juan – with so much to do here, plenty of tourists end up spending their whole time in this vibrant city. There are three principal locations when it comes to choosing a hotel here: Old San Juan, the colonial gem loaded with character, sights, restaurants, shops and bars, but lacking beaches; the older beach resort zone of Condado, and newer Isla Verde, which is the closest to the airport and has the best beach, but the least character.
To the east of the city, El Yunque National Forest is a major draw. It is the only rainforest in the US forest system, its jungle-smothered peaks laced with hiking trails and refreshing swimming holes and waterfalls. Further east and offshore lie the islands of Culebra and Vieques, home to some of the Caribbean’s best – and least developed – beaches. Back on the main island, the capital of the southern Caribbean coast is Ponce, a gracious old Spanish city full of colonial mansions, museums, and an excellent art gallery. The Southwest coast, dubbed the “Porta del Sol”, is an intriguing region of white-sand beaches, wetlands, mangroves, and the wave-battered cliffs of Cabo Rojo, though the area is more popular with locals than with foreign visitors. Northwest Puerto Rico is anchored by Rincón, the celebrated surfing hub, and the beaches of the North Coast between here and San Juan are also worth exploring.
Costa Rica Travel Tips
- While it’s relatively easy to see the San Juan neighborhoods and smaller cities on foot, you’ll need a rental car to really explore the island. Almost every major car rental firm operates from San Juan airport (and also some of the smaller ones), most with 24-hour desks. If you intend to simply sit on a beach your whole stay, there’s no need to rent a car, as taxis can deliver you back and forth from the airport.
- Rules of the road follow US standards, though distances on signs are given in kilometers, not miles (1km = 0.62 miles). Confusingly, though, speed limits are set in miles per hour. Fueling also follows US standards, with unleaded gasoline the most common option, though gas is sold by the liter here, not the gallon.
- Most international flights are served by Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, 9 miles (14km) east of Old San Juan, and just a short drive from the beach at Isla Verde. Some hotels arrange pick-ups for guests, but otherwise a taxi is the most convenient way into the city. Rafael Hernández Airport in Aguadilla also handles a few flights from the US mainland, and is more convenient for travelers heading to Rincónor the Southwest. Mercedita International Airport in Ponce also receives a handful of US flights. To get to Vieques or Culebra, you’ll need to take a ferry or fly from San Juan (or the US Virgin Islands). The smaller San Juan Isla Grande Airport, closer to Old San Juan, serves the islands (though you can also catch flights to the islands from the main international airport).
- Weather-wise, you can expect hot and sunny tropical conditions year-round in Puerto Rico, with an average yearly temperature of 26–27°C (80°F). There are no dry and wet seasons as such, though rainfall is usually heavier between May and October – major hurricanes are possible anytime between June and November.
- There are roughly two peak travel seasons in Puerto Rico; December to April, when North Americans flock south to escape the winter, and July and August, when most Puerto Ricans are on holiday. Christmas, New Year, and Easter are especially busy times to be on the island, which is also popular during the US Spring Break period of February through April.
We’ve covered our favorite places to visit and stay in Puerto Rico in more detail below, but with more time these areas are also worth checking out:
- Culebra: This tiny offshore island between Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, is delightfully undeveloped, ringed by a series of beautiful coves, islets, and bays. Playa Flamenco in particular is one of the world’s best beaches. Like Vieques, you’ll need to fly to Culebra from San Juan or take a ferry from Ceiba. Our favorite places to stay here are the Aleli Cottages, Casita Tropical, Club Seabourne, Mamacitas Guest House, El Navegante de Culebra, and Ulala Culebra.
- The East Coast and Dorado: The two sections of coastline east and west of San Juan respectively are lined with the most luxurious resorts in Puerto Rico – if budget is not an issue, and you just want to stay in a resort rather than explore the island, you might consider staying here. To the west, the small community of Dorado is known for its world-class golf courses designed by Robert Trent Jones and Chi Chi Rodríguez. The best hotels here are the Dorado Beach and Embassy Suites. To the east, the wilder coastline is anchored by the town of Luquillo, famed for its beaches but also its kioscos, local food stalls that line the main highway. Near here are the exclusive El Conquistador Resort, Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve, St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, and Wyndham Grand Rio Mar. In Luquillo itself are excellent budget options Casa Coral, Luquillo Sunrise Beach Inn, and The Surfing Turtle.
- The Cordillera Central: This steep range of jungle-smothered mountains covers the heart of Puerto Rico, offering a radically different view of the island with small towns and coffee farms, roadside barbecues, and untouched forest reserves. The Ruta Panorámica follows the highest ridges for some 165 miles (266km) east to west – you’ll need to rent a car to traverse this scenic highway, ideally spending a few days to take in the main sights. Highlights include the Bosque Estatal de Carite, the dizzying Cañón de San Cristóbal, the Bosque Estatal de Toro Negro (a high altitude forest park), the historic towns of Barranquitas, Jayuya, and Adjuntas; and Maricao, home to some of the world’s finest coffee farms. Our favorite hotels up here are the Canyon Boutique Hotel, Casa Grande Mountain Retreat, Hacienda Juanita, and Pomarrosa Coffee Lodge.
The Best Places to Stay in Puerto Rico
- Best Luxury Hotels in Puerto Rico
AC San Juan Condado • La Concha Renaissance • Condado Vanderbilt • Dorado Beach • El Convento • St. Regis Bahia Beach • Wyndham Grand Rio Mar • Wyndham Palmas • Caribe Hilton
- Best Boutique Hotels in Puerto Rico
352 Guest House • Casa Botánica • Casa Wilson • Dream Inn • El Colonial • Hacienda Tamarindo • Hix Island House • Malecón House • O:Live Boutique Hotel • Palacio Provincial • Villa Herencia • Yuquiyú Treehouses
- Best B&Bs in Puerto Rico
Casa Isabel • Casa Sol • Dos Aguas • Finca Victoria • Rainforest Inn
- Best Cheap & Midrange Hotels in Puerto Rico
Andalucia Guest House • Casa Aramana • Casa Coral • Esperanza Inn • Hacienda Juanita • Isla Hermosa Guesthouse • Luquillo Sunrise Beach Inn • Vieques Guesthouse
- Best Hostels in Puerto Rico
Conturce • Fortel • Lazy Hostel & Guesthouse • Mango Mansion • Nomada Urban Beach Hostel • Santurcia Hostel
Where to Stay in Puerto Rico for…
- Best Place to Stay for First Timers/Sightseeing: San Juan or Vieques
Staying in the capital San Juan makes sense for most first-time visitors to Puerto Rico – pretty much everything is here, from some decent tropical beaches and the biggest range of accommodation, to the best restaurants, bars, and museums. If access to a beach is a priority, we recommend Condado or Ocean Park over Isla Verde as the latter doesn’t have much character, and the former is more central for exploring the city. If Puerto Rico’s Spanish heritage and cultural traditions are more your focus, or you just want to stay in a gorgeous old neighborhood, opt for Old San Juan. However, if you are aiming to enjoy a classic Caribbean beach holiday, skip the main island altogether and go straight to Vieques – this beautiful offshore island is ringed by undeveloped, wonderfully raw swathes of sand, coves, and reefs.
- Most Romantic Destination: Old San Juan or El Yunque
Though there are several old towns in Puerto Rico, none have been so immaculately restored as Old San Juan. It’s easy to lose yourself strolling the enchanting streets here, lined with elegant colonial architecture, flower-filled verandas, and charming restaurants.The walk up Caleta de San Juan to the cathedral is one of the prettiest stretches. Other romantic highlights might be an evening promenade along the sea wall (Paseo del Morro) or artisan-filled Paseo de la Princesa, or a visit to the beautiful old cemetery by the sea, the Cementerio Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis. Great places to enjoy dinner for two include Marmalade and Trois Cent Onze, while you can spend the night at one of the neighborhood’s chic boutique hotels; Decanter and El Colonial are favorites.
For a quieter break amongst more natural surroundings, opt for one of the hotels near the El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico’s premier rainforest preserve. Opt for something unusual like the Yuquiyú Treehouses, or a relaxed B&B like the Rainforest Inn. During the day you’ll be able to hike the trails and splash in the swimming holes of the forest, while being serenaded by little more than the distinctive call of the coquí frog at night.
- Best Place for Nightlife: Old San Juan and Rincón
As Puerto Rico’s capital and biggest city by a long margin, it’s no surprise that San Juan boasts the best nightlife on the island, with the action especially crazy on weekends. There are several nightlife hubs, with Old San Juan’s Calle de San Sebastián one of the most convenient for visitors, jam-packed with party-goers most Friday and Saturday nights. Highlights include the cocktails at La Factoría, La Taberna Lúpulo, and Monostereo at 150 Callede San Sebastián. To experience a classic Puerto Rican dive bar, head to El Batey, a San Juan institution. An alternative hub, more popular with locals, is in the Santurce neighborhood (a short drive or walk away from Condado), home to the buzzing bar and restaurant area known as La Placita, at the Plaza del Mercado. Highlights here include El Techo Rooftop Bar, JungleBird, the Aguardiente Bar and many others.
Beyond the capital, the laid-back surfer resort of Rincón probably has the best nightlife, especially in the winter peak season. Iconic beach bars like Tamboo offer waterfront drinking and dining, and there’s even a local craft brewer, Rincón Beer Company. Most restaurants in Rincón also double as bars.
• Note that the legal drinking age in Puerto Rico is 18,n ot 21 as in the rest of the USA (though clubs can set their own entry policy and often insist on 21 and over only). It is strictly forbidden to drink on the streets, but the beach is OK.
• The LGBTQ+ scene in San Juan is the most sophisticated in the Caribbean. See discoverpuertorico.com for more details.
- Best Place for Food and Restaurants: Old San Juan and Condado
San Juan is justly regarded as the culinary capital of the Caribbean – Old San Juan and Condado contain the best restaurants overall. Highlights in Old San Juan include the Puerto Rican-international fusion tasting menus at Marmalade and the home-style “comida criolla” Puerto Rican dishes at El Jibarito. Fine French dining is on offer at Trois Cent Onze, while St Germain Bistro & Café is the best choice for vegetarians. La Bombonera (Calle San Francisco 259) is one of the city’s oldest and most atmospheric and cafés – established in 1902; Cafetería Mallorca (Calle San Francisco 300) is another old-school diner offering cheap breakfasts. The oldest restaurant in the city is graceful Puerto Rican stalwart, La Mallorquina, founded in 1848.
Condado also boasts some heavy-hitters in the culinary world: José Enrique’s eponymous restaurant (1021 Ashford Ave) is here, as is the lauded 1919 Restaurant in the plush Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, and Chef Mario Pagán’s Sage Steak Loft in the O:Live Boutique Hotel (his Raya Asian restaurant here is also wonderful). Bodegas Compostela is a top Spanish restaurant.
• When it comes to fresh seafood, the restaurants, kioscos, and shellfish stalls of Boquerón in Southwest Puerto Rico are the best. For typical Puerto Rican snack food, make for the Kioscos de Luquillo on the east coast.
- Best Place for Shopping: Old San Juan
Though it’s possible to find gifts and local crafts all over the island, the biggest concentration of craft stores, art galleries and souvenir shops lie in Old San Juan. A good place to start is Calle Fortaleza, where you’ll find The Handcraft Store, Puerto Rican Arts & Crafts, and Mi Pequeño San Juan. For panama hats, check out Ole or El Galpón. Concalma on Calle San Francisco specializes in handmade purses and bags, while contemporary art is sold at Galería Éxodo and Galería Botello. You should also peruse the open-air weekend arts and crafts market that runs along Paseo de la Princesa.
• Popular locally made souvenirs include vejigante masks, the spiky, multi-colored headdresses used in Puerto Rican religious parades and festivals (meant to represent Spain’s traditional enemies, the Moors). You can buy the Loíza-style coconut masks and the Ponce papier-mâché versions in Old San Juan. Locally woven hammocks, lace, ceramics, and paintings are also popular gifts.
• For a standard American mall type experience, aim for the Plaza Las Américas in Hato Rey (the business district of San Juan), which is the largest mall in the Caribbean, with over 300 stores. Mall of San Juan on the other side of Hato Rey includes more luxury boutiques such as Louis Vuitton, Carolina Herrera, and Gucci (as well as Banana Republic and Pottery Barn). Puerto Rico Premium Outlets offers discounted fashions in Barceloneta, one hour or so west of San Juan.
- Best Place for Local Vibe: Ponce
To escape most of the tourists, spend time in Puerto Rico’s elegant second city. Ponce is graced with beautiful colonial architecture, historic mansions, churches, and languid plazas but sees a fraction of San Juan’s visitors. There are a handful of comfortable hotels around the central square, Plaza Las Delicias, and several no-frills canteens selling classic Puerto Rican food. Check out the beer garden at Papa Rupe Brewing Co, the cocktails at Chango Bar, and the coffee and breakfasts at Club Los Amigos De Freddy (Calle Guadalupe 106).
- Best Place for Beaches: Vieques and the North Coast
There are at least 300 named beaches in Puerto Rico and to be honest, most of them are pretty good. All of them are public; private properties can sometimes restrict land access to beaches, but the beaches themselves can never be privately owned. Culebra’s Playa Flamenco is often judged the best beach in Puerto Rico (and one of the best anywhere), but Vieques is better value for a vacation – there are so many excellent, untouched strips of sand here, you’ll be spoiled for choice, and the range of accommodation and eating options is a bit better than Culebra. The beaches of the North Coast are also excellent, and rarely busy during the week – the main issue here is that they are spread out on a long section of coast, from Playa Jobos in the west to Balneario Cerro Gordo in the east, and accommodation isn’t so conveniently located. You’ll also find wonderfully unspoiled beaches in the Southwest (notably La Playuela, Playa Buyé, and Boquerón).
- Safety in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is generally safe for tourists, though the usual precautions should be taken at night, especially in San Juan. It’s a good idea to avoid driving in rural areas at night, for the potholes or animals (cows, horses) you might encounter – and erratic drivers. Most of the island is extremely safe for visitors, though petty theft (especially around the beaches) is an occasional problem – never leave anything of value in your car or unattended on the beach. Though crime stats often seem high, most gang activity is concentrated in housing projects well away from tourist zones (which are in any case heavily policed).
The 9 Best Places in Puerto Rico for Tourists
1. Old San Juan
Even if you’re not staying here, you should aim to spend at least a day in Old San Juan, one of the most beautifully preserved colonial Spanish enclaves in the Caribbean. Its narrow streets and cobbled lanes are lined with blossom-draped homes, many converted into shops, restaurants, and bars. History buffs will also find loads to see here: highlights include Casa Blanca, 16th-century residence of the descendants of Juan Ponce de León, the first governor of Puerto Rico; El Morro, the vast Spanish stone fortress guarding the bay; the Museo de las Américas, with its exceptional Latin American art collection; Plaza de Armas, the historic square at the heart of town; the grand 16th-century Catedral de San Juan Bautista; and the massive Castillo de San Cristóbal on the eastern side of the neighborhood. You should also zip across the bay by ferry to Cataño, where the Casa Bacardi Visitor Center introduces the art of rum-making at one of Bacardi’s largest distilleries.
• Staying in Old San Juan is extremely rewarding; there’s a wonderful selection of boutique hotels here (and cheap hostels), and the whole area is loaded with historic character. The culinary scene is excellent, as are the nightlife and shopping opportunities. It’s also the safest part of Greater San Juan, and English is spoken everywhere.
• The main downside here is the lack of beach access; though there are some tiny, lesser visited beaches nearby, you’ll need a taxi (or local bus) to hit the sands in Condado or Isla Verde. In addition, parts of Old San Juan can sometimes be overrun by cruise ship day-trippers.
- The Best Hotels in Old San Juan
352 Guest House • Hotel phone: +1 787 367 0636
Decanter • Hotel phone: +1 787 463 9989
CasaBlanca • Hotel phone: +1 844 468 3577
El Colonial • Hotel phone: +1 787 610 5182
El Convento • Hotel phone: +1 787 723 9020
Palacio Provincial • Hotel phone: +1 787 425 0164
Sheraton Old San Juan • Hotel phone: +1 787 721 5100
Villa Herencia • Hotel phone: +1 844 468 3577
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels
Casa Sol B&B • Hotel phone: +1 787 980 9700
Navrona Studios • Hotel phone: +1 787 721 7573
- Best Hostels
Fortel Hostel • Hotel phone: +1 787 675 2193
Santurcia Hostel • Hotel phone: +1 787 385 3588
East of Old San Juan, resorts and posh condos line the Atlantic coast for miles as it passes through a series of similar beach-oriented neighborhoods. Staying here is all about access to the water – there’s not a lot to see otherwise. Condado is San Juan’s oldest resort neighborhood, anchored by Avenida Ashford, the main drag. The beach is pretty good, a swathe of thick golden sand, though there’s little shade and it can get crowded. There are some good hotels on the beach, and a better choice of restaurants here than in Isla Verde. It’s also worth considering the adjacent neighborhood of Ocean Park, a quieter residential community with a wilder but prettier stretch of beachfront backed by palm trees – there are some good quality boutique hotels here also.
• The workaday neighborhood of Santurce lies behind Condado, a still gritty barrio that contains a couple of must-see attractions for art lovers: the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, which displays post-1940 art from Puerto Rico and the Caribbean; and the Museo de Arte, containing the best collection of fine art on the island.
• Though Condado and Ocean Park do contain several major resorts and hip boutique hotels, this area is also the best place to find budget accommodation near the beach – it’s much cheaper than Isla Verde.
• Nightlife and dining in Condado are better than in Isla Verde, but not as good as Old San Juan. It’s not far to the nightlife hub in Santurce, however (by taxi).
- The Best Hotels in Condado (and Ocean Park)
Caribe Hilton • Hotel phone: +1 787 721 0303
La Concha Renaissance • Hotel phone: +1 787 721 7500
Condado Vanderbilt • Hotel phone: +1 787 721 5500
San Juan Marriott • Hotel phone: +1 787 722 7000
- Best Boutique Hotels
AC San Juan Condado • Hotel phone: +1 787 827 7280
Casa Botánica • Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Casa Wilson • Hotel phone: +1 939 336 5555
Dream Inn • Hotel phone: +1 787 200 6340
O:Live Boutique Hotel • Hotel phone: +1 787 705 9994
- Best B&B
Casa Isabel • Hotel phone: +1 787 630 5974
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels
Andalucia Guest House • Hotel phone: +1 787 309 3373
El Canario by the Lagoon • Hotel phone: +1 787 722 5058
- Best Hostels
Conturce Hostel • Hotel phone: +1 787 520 8855
Mango Mansion • Hotel phone: +1 787 339 2113
Nomada Urban Beach Hostel • Hotel phone: +1 787 470 2328
3. Isla Verde
Isla Verde is San Juan’s most international beach neighborhood, lined with mini-malls, self-contained resorts, and US chain restaurants. Visitors stay here for two main reasons: the beach, either side of the headland in the middle, is the best in the Greater San Juan area, with smooth sand that’s usually very clean and well-maintained; and convenience. It’s just a few minutes taxi ride from the airport, and everything you might need is right here: pharmacies, grocery stores, US-style bars and restaurants, and plush resorts. You barely have to leave your entire vacation. There’s plenty of nightlife to be had (in the resorts primarily), though little in the way of Puerto Rican food or culture. Further east, the beach merges into the Balneario de Carolina, a popular public beach for local families, and beyond that the weekend playground of Piñones, with wilder beaches, bike trails, salsa bars and kioscos, food stalls selling traditional snacks. It’s worth checking out the Piñones scene on Saturdays and Sundays – it’s a real contrast to Isla Verde.
- The Best Hotels in Isla Verde
Courtyard Isla Verde • Hotel phone: +1 787 791 0404
Embassy Suites San Juan • Hotel phone: +1 787 791 0505
Fairmont El San Juan • Hotel phone: +1 787 791 1000
Hampton Inn & Suites • Hotel phone: +1 787 791 8777
Royal Sonesta San Juan • Hotel phone: +1 787 791 6100
TRYP by Wyndham • Hotel phone: +1 787 728 1300
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels
Casa Aramana • Hotel phone: +1 787 966 3442
Though the big resorts line the beaches in and around San Juan, you’ll find some of the Caribbean’s best beaches offshore on the islands of Vieques and Culebra. The former especially is home to some exceptional, untouched stretches of sand. Development is low-key, with large-scale resort and condo development virtually absent. Though you miss out on the big city vibe and nightlife of the capital here, the island boasts some great boutique hotels and restaurants – if you are looking for a typically languid Caribbean holiday, Vieques is ideal.
The main reason Vieques is so pristine is that it was occupied and sealed off by the US Navy in 1941. The military was forced out 60 years later, but most of the coast was left wild and untouched – the downside to this is that large sections of the island remain off limits due to unexploded munitions (the open beaches are very safe). Isabel Segunda (aka “Isabel II”) is the capital of the island, with a handful of shops and sights including the old Spanish fortress, Museo Fortín Conde de Mirasol. The village of Esperanza on the south coast is more set up for tourists, with a good choice of hotels, restaurants, and bars. From here you can explore the enticing south coast beaches by rental car, via a series of paved and dirt tracks. They each have their own character; Sun Bay is a gorgeous crescent of sugary white sand that’s perfect for swimming, while Media Luna Beach is a small cove with sandy and shallow water ideal for kids. There’s also a dazzling natural wonder, La Reserva Natural de La Bahía Bioluminiscente, a “bio bay” that glows in the dark.
• Puerto Rico Ferry operates ferries between Ceiba on the mainland and Vieques, only taking 30 minutes. Drive or take a taxi (US$80+) from San Juan to the docks at Ceiba.
• Vieques has no public transport, so you’ll need to use local públicos (like taxis) or ideally rent a car to get around.
• There’s lots of accommodation on Vieques, ranging from basic budget guesthouses to upscale boutique hotels. Apartment and villa rentals can be a good deal for groups. Advance reservations are essential for high season (Dec–April).
- The Best Hotels in Vieques
Blue Horizon • Hotel phone: +1 787 741 3318
Bravo Beach Hotel • Hotel phone: +1 939 260 0110
Casa de Amistad • Hotel phone: +1 787 247 1017
Casa La Lanchita • Hotel phone: +1 845 891 1502
Casa de Tortuga • Hotel phone: +1 787 741 2852
Seagate Hotel • Hotel phone: +1 201 450 8238
- Best Boutique Hotels
El Blok • Hotel phone: +1 787 741 6020
Hacienda Tamarindo • Hotel phone: +1 787 741 8525
Hix Island House • Hotel phone: +1 787 435 4590
Malecón House • Hotel phone: +1 939 239 7113
- Best B&Bs
Finca Victoria • Email: email@example.com
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels
Coco Loco Guesthouse • Hotel phone: +1 917 455 8952
Esperanza Inn • Hotel phone: +1 787 741 2225
Flamboyan Guesthouse • Hotel phone: +1 787 435 6585
Isla Hermosa Guesthouse • Hotel phone: +1 787 370 3321
Trade Winds Guest House • Hotel phone: +1 787 710 7440
Tropical Guest House • Hotel phone: +1 917 951 3324
Vieques Guesthouse • Hotel phone: +1 787 435 1513
Villa Coral Guesthouse • Hotel phone: +1 787 981 6335
- Best Hostel
Lazy Hostel & Guesthouse • Hotel phone: +1 787 741 5555
5. El Yunque
For a break from the beach, it’s worth spending time in El Yunque National Forest in eastern Puerto Rico, a wild preserve of rainforest-smothered mountains that’s managed by the US Forest Service. It’s the best place to experience the island’s mountainous hinterland, with well-maintained access roads, visitor centers, and hiking trails, as well as several waterfalls and swimming holes. Most visitors concentrate on El Yunque Recreation Area in the northern half of the reserve. Highlights include the 85-foot Coca Falls, the stellar views from Yokahu Tower, the refreshing pools at La Mina Falls, and the hike up the Taíno holy mountain of El Yunque itself (3461ft). With more time, you can explore the quieter southern section, near Cubuy.
• Assuming you have car, you can visit El Yunque on a day trip from the coast, but to really make the most out of it consider staying atone of the guesthouses nearby – these are a lot more atmospheric than anything on the coast, and you’ll be able to see a lot more of the reserve free from tourist crowds.
• You can normally camp in the forest at designated campsites – camping is slowly being restored in the wake of the COVID pandemic (and Hurricane Maria in 2017). Generally, all that is required is to apply for a free permit online.
- The Best Hotels around El Yunque
Casa Cubuy Ecolodge • Hotel phone: +1 787 291 9507
Hacienda Siesta Alegre • Hotel phone: +1 787 887 7500
Yuquiyú Treehouses • Hotel phone: +1 212 787 0500
- Best B&Bs
Dos Aguas • Hotel phone: +1 787 585 7010
Rainforest Inn • Hotel phone: +1 800 672 4992
Puerto Rico’s second largest city, Ponce, is known as La Perla de Sud (“the pearl of the south”), and is a must-see for anyone interested in the island’s history and especially its Spanish heritage. The city boomed in the late 19th century thanks to rum and sugarcane exports, a legacy highlighted by its famed “criollo architecture”, Spanish influenced mansions and townhouses. Though there’s lots to see here, Ponce remains a little off the main tourist trail – it’s a two-hour drive across the mountains from San Juan, and with no major beaches nearby, only dedicated tourists come for the day from the north coast. It’s much more enjoyable to stay a couple of nights, soaking up the atmosphere. Though you wouldn’t base a whole trip to Puerto Rico on Ponce, anyone exploring the island by car should make a stop here. The city center is anchored by Plaza Las Delicias, the mainsquare, home to the whimsical Museo Parque de Bombas, a bright red-and-white striped Moorish structure constructed for the 1882 trade fair, and the elegant cathedral. Other highlights include the collection of fine artwork at the Museo de Arte, which includes Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June; the Museo Castillo Serallés on the outskirts, home of the Don Q sugar and rum dynasty; and the Panteón Nacional Román Baldorioty de Castro, the city’s historic cemetery.
• Just north of Ponce are two more historic attractions worth seeking out, though you’ll need a car. The Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes is an incredibly important Pre-Taíno archeological site, an ancient ceremonial center in use between 400 and 1000 AD. A little further north, Hacienda Buena Vista is a beautifully restored 19th-century coffee plantation.
• Flights to Ponce arrive at Aeropuerto Mercedita, 3.5 miles (6km) east of downtown. All the main car rental companies have desks here. You can explore central Ponce easily on foot, but you’ll need a car to get any further.
• The Carnaval de Ponce (held annually one week before Ash Wednesday) is one of the biggest festivals in Puerto Rico. There are family-friendly parades, floats, and lots of food and music.
• You have two principal choices when it comes to staying in Ponce: hotels in the historic center, which has a lot more character and is convenient for sightseeing; or hotels on the outskirts, which include a couple of larger, more luxurious resort-style places that are more easily accessed by car.
- The Best Hotels in Ponce
Aloft • Hotel phone: +1 787 861 7080
Hilton Ponce • Hotel phone: +1 787 259 7676
Hotel Bélgica • Hotel phone: +1 787 844 3255
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels
Fox Hotel • Hotel phone: +1 787 429 8385
Holiday Inn Ponce • Hotel phone: +1 787 844 1200
Ponce Plaza • Hotel phone: +1 787 813 5050
7. The Southwest (Porta del Sol)
Southwest Puerto Rico (known as the “Porta del Sol” for its hot, sunny weather) is another area more popular with Puerto Ricans than foreign tourists, despite boasting low-key resorts with exceptional beaches, seafood, and wildlife. South of the city of Mayagüez, Playa Joyuda is best known for its cheap and cheerful seafood restaurants, while Playa Buyé and Boquerón feature idyllic white-sand beaches (and fresh shellfish at the latter). The narrow limestone promontory of Cabo Rojo is topped by a 19th-century Spanish lighthouse and is surrounded by salt flats and nature reserves rich in bird life. Just east of the lighthouse, Playa La Playuela is one of the most attractive beaches on the island. Finally, the old fishing community of La Parguera on the south coast is at the heart of patchwork of mangrove swamps, lagoons, coral reefs, and tiny Caribbean cays, perfect for exploring by boat or kayak. A massive drop-off dubbed “La Pared” (the wall) runs just off shore, making for exciting diving. La Parguera is also known for its seafood restaurants and bars, Puerto Rican snack food, and especially its local “sangría marca coño”, a blend of red wine and fruit juices.
- Best Hotels in Boquerón
Boho Beach Club • Hotel phone: +1 787 851 7110
Aquarius Boquerón • Hotel phone: +1 787 999 6330
Cofresi Beach Hotel • Hotel phone: +1 787 254 3000
Vistas De La Bahia • Hotel phone: +1 787 662 7067
- Best Hotels in Cabo Rojo
Combate Beach Resort • Hotel phone: +1 787 254 2358
Luichy’s Guest House • Hotel phone: +1 787 688 7827
Pitahaya Glamping • Hotel phone: +1 787 565 9895
- Best Hotels in La Parguera
La Jamaca • Hotel phone: +1 787 899 6162
Nautilus Hotel • Hotel phone: +1 787 899 4565
Turtle Bay Inn • Hotel phone: +1 787 899 6633
Villa Parguera Hotel • Hotel phone: +1 787 899 7777
8. Rincón and Punta Borinquen
The northwest coast of Puerto Rico, between the booming resort community of Rincón and Punta Borinquen, is best known for surfing – some of the best breaks in North America can be found here, and much of the local tourist industry is geared towards the sport. But the beaches here are fun for everyone, and the mesmerizing sunsets – “bellos atardeceres” – are famous across the island. It’s possible to sample a variety of water-sports and outdoor activities here year-round, thanks to numerous tour operators and adventure sports outfits. Winter is the best time for surf, while summer is calmer and better for snorkeling and swimming. There’s not much in terms of sightseeing – the focus of visits here is the ocean and the great outdoors. Further north, beyond the fairly non-descript town of Aguadilla, Punta Borinquen was occupied by Ramey Air Force Base between 1939 and 1973. Today it’s another section of rocky coast peppered with excellent surf breaks and beaches.
• The nearest airport to Rincón is at Aguadilla, about 16 miles (25km) and 30 minutes drive to the northeast (you can rent cars here). San Juan lies 93 miles (150km) and around two and a half hours east by car. Most visitors drive here, though note that in high season the narrow roads into Rincón can get very congested.
• When it comes to staying in Rincón itself, the main choice is between the northern Puntas neighborhood, which features surfer-oriented guesthouses, boutiques, bars, and cafés tucked away on narrow lanes on steep slopes; and the southern beaches of what’s known as the “Caribbean Coast” area. Here you’ll find more conventional beach resorts, condos, and hotels.
- The Best Hotels in and aroound Rincón
Casa Isleña • Hotel phone: +1 787 823 1525
Casa Verde Hotel • Hotel phone: +1 787 823 5600
Coconut Palms Inn • Hotel phone: +17 874 314 313
Lazy Parrot Inn • Hotel phone: +1 787 823 5654
Rincon Beach Resort • Hotel phone: +1 787 589 9000
Rincon of the Seas • Hotel phone: +1 787 823 7500
Sunset Paradise Villas • Hotel phone: +1 787 945 3022
Villa Cofresí • Hotel phone: +1 787 823 2450
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels
Dos Angeles Del Mar • Hotel phone: +1 787 823 1378
The English Rose • Hotel phone: +1 787 823 4032
Qué Chévere • Hotel phone: +1 787 600 7706
Rincon Inn • Hotel phone: +1 787 823 7070
9. North Coast Beaches
West of Dorado and San Juan, the north coast of Puerto Rico is largely undeveloped, with beaches attracting primarily day-tripping locals from nearby industrial towns. Nevertheless, there are some exceptional targets here – anyone exploring the island by car should make time for Balneario Cerro Gordo, Playa Los Tubos, and Playa Mar Chiquita in particular, all stunning beaches. It’s possible to visit on day-trips (by car) from San Juan, but staying a couple of nights is also worthwhile; some visitors end up basing themselves here for their entire vacation, soaking up the local scene and avoiding the big crowds further east. Playa Mar Chiquitais truly stunning, aperfect horseshoe cove protected by coral cliffs and lined with a silky arc of sand.
• There are no major beach resorts on the North Coast – accommodation options, like the beaches themselves, are more spread out. Villa rentals are another possibility.
- The Best Hotels along the North Coast Beaches
Parador El Buen Cafe • Hotel phone: +1 787 898 1000
Hotel El Guajataca • Hotel phone: +1 787 895 3070
Hyatt Hacienda del Mar • Hotel phone: +1 787 796 3000
Hyatt Place Manati • Hotel phone: +1 787 854 1000
Parador Villas Del Mar Hau • Hotel phone: +1 787 872 2045
The Perch Hotel • Hotel phone: +1 787 291 4675
Royal Isabela • Hotel phone: +1 787 609 5888
Villa Montana Beach Resort • Hotel phone:+1 787 609 3047
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