Puerto Rico is one of those places whose name alone is enough to make you want to pack your bags and book the next flight out. With its picture-perfect beaches, to world-renowned celebrations, down to the friendly natives. However, more than just its beaches and parties, there are virtually limitless things to do in Puerto Rico.
Before you go planning your next trip to the Land of Enchantment, check out these top places to visit as recommended by the locals themselves.
1. Take a slice of Puerto Rican history at the Old San Juan neighborhood
Filled with colonial-inspired buildings dating back from the 16th and 17th centuries, the Old San Juan is often featured in publications and blogs as a definite must-see when visiting Puerto Rico. Its massive stone fortresses, Castillo de San Cristobal and El Morro, are among the towering witnesses to the city’s rich history with most of the battlements and equipment still intact.
Aside from the steep history embedded in its walls, this part of the town also offers a breathtaking view perfect for your next Instagrammable shots. Gaze around as enduring works of Spanish colonial architecture lined up as you walk through Old San Juan’s cobblestone streets paved with the city’s own and unique blue stones. These historic roads are home to hundreds of restaurants, taverns, bars, and cafes – another perfect reason for a visit.
As you walk through the streets of Old San Juan, another noteworthy activity is to learn about the past of its indigenous people, the Tainos. They have settled and built their civilization before the Spanish conquistadores made it into what we now know and love as Puerto Rico. Lastly, make sure to pass through Fortaleza street and witness an array of different colored umbrellas offer shade to its visitors. More than the colorful shades atop the streets is a deeper significance – a proud testament to the Puerto Ricans’ indomitable spirit as they remained strong even after Hurricane Maria when the artwork was installed.
2. Bask in the pristine beauty of Vieques
La Isla de Vieques is an island-municipality about eight miles east of the main island. Take the ferry and enjoy the free cultural and historical session as well as the savings since this is the most cost-efficient transport option available.
The island of Vieques is home to some of the best beaches in the entire Caribbean region. Also, here is where the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge is located. The refuge itself contains multiple ecological systems such as beaches, lagoons, and forests which serve as home to multiple species of endangered species of flora and fauna.
Another must-see spot in what is known as Puerto Rico’s little sister is the Mosquito Bay, also locally called Caño Hondo. The bay glows blue thanks to microscopic bioluminescent creatures that fill the nearby waters. While Puerto Rico boasts two other bioluminescent waters at La Parguera and Laguna Grande, the bright blue glow in Mosquito Bay is still considered the brightest. This surreal beauty is only made possible with the continuous conservation efforts by the local community. Additional advice, try to plan your visit during the new moon to make sure that only natural lighting is present and to enjoy the bay’s full beauty.
3. Embark on a culinary adventure at the Route of the Pork.
It has been said countless times that the best way to understand local culture is by trying out local cuisines. And for those planning to visit Puerto Rico soon, there is no better way to get the culinary signature than to visit The Pork Highway – La Ruta del Lechon. A little outside the town of Guavate, straight up their Highway 184, is more than three miles of winding mountainside road filled with restaurants, diners, and eateries- all serving up their own spin in the world-famous lechon.
Taste countless varieties of slow-roasted pig usually cooked over burning coals on a pit. Among the diners you will find along the road, locals say that among the best lechon spots include Lechonera Rincon boricua with their lechon asado and the Lechonera Los Pinos, famous for their jamon and chicharrones.
Both tourists and locals also flock this mountainous area not just because of the succulent pork treat and native cuisine, but also because of the festive and lively atmosphere in the area. Most restaurants also offer dance performances and live music, which are often heard even from across the street.
4. Enjoy the vibrant colors at the Jewel of the South, Ponce
Some 16 kilometers south of the capital, San Juan, lies the state’s second-largest city which is Ponce. Its vast cultural value, being home to nine important Puerto Rican museums and generally filled with buildings of contemporary architectural styles, has led both the local and international community to recognize this city as well as to baptize it as the “Jewel of the South.”
Understand the inspirations and roots which helped shape Puerto Rican music into what it is today at the Museum of Puerto Rican Music. This visually stunning pink villa houses memorabilia, antiques, and replicas of musical instruments, scores, and other documents pertaining to the local music as well as musicians hailing from different ancestries.
Another pride in the city of Ponce is the Hacienda Buena Vista in Barrio Magueyes. The plantation traces its roots back to 1833 and still captures the feel of the period with its Spanish colonial style. From the colonial-era furniture to the pieces of equipment once used in the bustling Puerto Rican coffee trade of the 19th and early 20th centuries, most displays one would find at the Hacienda Buena Vista is a testament to what was once a main industry in the former Spanish colony.
Lastly, complete your tour around Ponce by visiting the Parque de Bombas. It is a historic fire station turned into a bright-red landmark and is among the city’s most recognizable buildings. If you visit the Parque on a Sunday evening, you can even chance upon the Banda Municipal de Ponce, or Ponce Municipal Band, performing on one of their weekly sets called retretas as a part of both a local tradition and the local community’s cultural program.