Great Itineraries in Puerto Rico
Great Itineraries in Puerto Rico
Life's a Beach
This itinerary takes you to the best beaches of the Porta del Sol, along the island's west coast, and it will get you home in a week. You can easily combine this with one of the other itineraries if you want to see more of the island.
Day 1: Dorado
From San Juan, head west to Dorado, one of the north coast's most stunning stretches of sand. This is a favorite weekend destination for sanjuaneros, so you won't have a problem finding a place to stay. One good choice is the Embassy Suites Dorado del Mar Beach & Golf Resort. There's a string of restaurants along the town's main drag, including El Ladrillo, a longtime favorite serving zarzuela (seafood stew) and other traditional Spanish dishes.
Logistics: After arriving at San Juan's Aeropuerto Internacional Luis Muñoz Marín, pick up the rental car that you have arranged in advance. Take Route 165 west of San Juan; then head west on Route 693.
Day 2: Isabela and Rincón
Your destination is Rincón, on the western coast. There's no need to hurry, however. If it's a weekend, take a detour to Lago Dos Bocas, where you can have lunch at one of the waterfront restaurants. You'll have to take a boat across the lake, but we think that adds to the appeal. If it isn't a weekend, stop for a bite in Isabela, a small town that overlooks the rocky shoreline. Ocean Front Restaurant, a seaside eatery that overlooks a stretch of shoreline called Playa Jobos, has a varied menu of great seafood and steak. You'll probably arrive in Rincón in early afternoon, giving you plenty of time to hit the beach. If you've just received a large inheritance, you'll want to stay at the Horned Dorset Primavera. Otherwise, there are any number of inexpensive lodgings on or near the beach.
Logistics: From Dorado, drive south on 165, then west on Route 2. If you're in a hurry, save a bit of time by taking Route 22, a toll road that runs parallel to Route 2 until they meet near Arecibo. From Route 2, Route 115 takes you to Rincón.
Day 3: Cabo Rojo
The term Cabo Rojo is confusing, as "Red Cape" refers to a region, a town, and the tiny peninsula that juts off the southwestern tip of the island. The last is where you are headed on your third day. Stop en route at Joyuda, known as the "Golden Mile" because of its string of seafood shacks. Make sure to stop at one for lunch. We like the food best at Tino's, even though it is one of the few places that doesn't have a view. Joyuda has no beachfront, so if you want to walk on the sand you'll have to head south to Boquerón. An even better idea is to continue on to El Combate. Here you'll find a less crowded beach near the neoclassical Cabo Rojo Lighthouse. (Be aware, though, that the rough road to the lighthouse is rocky.) Stay overnight in El Combate, perhaps at the recently expanded Bahía Salinas Beach Hotel.
Logistics: From Rincón, Route 115 takes you back to Route 2. Head south on Route 2 until you reach the turnoff for Route 100, which leads to all the coastal communities in Cabo Rojo.
Day 4: Bosque Estatal de Guánica
From Cabo Rojo it's an easy drive to the coastal town of Guánica. Drop your stuff off at your hotel—we recommend the expansive Copamarina Beach Resort—and head to the Bosque Estatal de Guánica. There are several entrances to the state park, but take Route 334, because it takes you past the park's ranger station, where you can pick up trail maps and park your car more securely. This is a dry forest, so the scenery is unlike that of any other part of the island. You'll see more than 700 species of plants, ranging from the prickly-pear cactus to the gumbo limbo tree. In the afternoon, head back to the hotel for some much-needed rest and relaxation. The beaches along the coast are beautiful, but you can also take a ferry to Gilligan's Island. The name may be a bit hokey, but the scenery is gorgeous. There's no better choice for dinner than Copamarina's elegant dining room, Alexandra.
Logistics: From El Combate, head north on Route 100 until you reach the turnoff for Route 2. Follow it east until you reach Route 116, which leads south to Guánica. You can take a more direct route to Guánica, but the narrow roads won't save you any time.
Day 5: San Juan
If you have a flight home today, don't despair. The drive back to San Juan should take you less than two hours (except on a weekend or holidays), so you can probably spend the entire morning by the beach or beside the pool.
Logistics: Route 2 takes you to Ponce, and then Route 52 whisks you directly back to San Juan, or take Route 1 for a more leisurely journey.
Book your hotels in advance. There are long stretches along the island's northern and western coasts that don't have any lodgings.
This drive is especially nice with a convertible. Ask your rental company about rates—you may be surprised to find they cost only $20 or $30 more a day than a compact.
The only traffic you're likely to encounter is in San Juan. If you're going to be driving through the city on a weekday morning or afternoon, add a half hour or more to your estimated time of arrival.
More than almost any other island in the Caribbean except Cuba, Puerto Rico has a trove of well-preserved colonial cities. Old San Juan is the best known, and it's a must-see for anyone interested in the region's rich history. But the southern coast also has some gems, from the graceful square in Coamo to the churches of San Germán to the heady mix of neoclassical and art deco masterpieces in Ponce.
Day 1: Old San Juan
If you truly want to experience Old San Juan, make sure you stay within the city walls. El Convento, once a Carmelite convent, is Old San Juan's most luxurious lodging. Gallery Inn, whose mascot is a cockatoo named Campeche, has the most personality; while Da House is cheap and funky. After you drop off your suitcases, hit the cobblestone streets. Make sure to stroll along the city walls and visit one of the forts—most people pick Castillo San Felipe del Morro, but the nearby Castillo San Cristóbal is equally impressive. Old San Juan isn't just for historical sightseeing, though. When the sun goes down, the streets of the historic district light up, becoming one of the city's nightlife centers. For dinner, head to Calle Fortaleza, where you'll find some of the city's best restaurants. Then you can while the night away at one of the happening bars or clubs.
Logistics: Believe us when we tell you that you don't want the headache of parking in Old San Juan. At San Juan's Aeropuerto Internacional Luis Muñoz Marín, take a taxi turístico (tourist taxi) to your hotel. The streets here were made for walking, and that's just what you'll do. Wait and pick up your car when you're ready to leave town for the countryside.
Day 2: Coamo
Head south from San Juan, and if you get an early enough start, take a short detour to Guayama, where you'll find the gorgeous Casa Cautiño. This 19th-century manor house, transformed into a museum, is one of Puerto Rico's most beautifully restored colonial-era structures. Continue west to Coamo, best known for its thermal springs. The best place to stay is the Parador Baños de Coamo, a rustic retreat with hot and cold pools. On Coamo's lovely main square is the gleaming white Iglesia Católica San Blás, one of the island's oldest churches. In terms of distance, Coamo isn't so far from San Juan—only about 60 mi km (96 km)—so you don't have to leave at the crack of dawn to have most of a day to explore the town.
Logistics: Ponce is reached by Route 52, a modern highway that heads south of San Juan. This is a toll road, so keep your change handy. Exit Route 52 and follow Route 15 to Guayama. Then take Route 3 west to Santa Isable; turn north on Route 53 for Coamo.
Day 3: Ponce
Your destination on your third day is Ponce, the "Pearl of the South." You'll know you've arrived when you drive through the massive letters spelling the name of the city. The main square, the Plaza de las Delicias, is a delight. Here you'll find the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, a church dating from 1835, and the Parque de Bombas, a firehouse from 1882 that is painted in bold red and black stripes. There are several museums around the city, but the most interesting is the small Casa Wiechers-Villaronga, a house built in 1911. In a city filled with neoclassical confections, this is one of the most elaborate. Strolling the downtown streets, you'll also marvel at neoclassical and art deco architecture. Don't miss the Museo de Arte de Ponce, one of the Caribbean's best art museums.
Logistics: Ponce is reached by Route 14 from Coamo. To get downtown, take Route 1.
Day 4: San Germán
Less than an hour west of Ponce is San Germán, a must-see for anyone interested in the colonial era. The best place to start a tour of San Germán is Plazuela Santo Domingo, the small park in the center of the historic district. At the eastern edge of the park is the Capilla de Porta Coeli. This chapel, at the top of some steep stone steps, is now a museum of religious art. Stroll west past the delightful assemblage of buildings of every architectural style from mission to Victorian. Make sure to see the other gorgeous church, the Iglesia de San Germán de Auxerre, a few blocks north. The best lodging in the area is the simple Villa del Rey, a few miles outside of town.
Logistics: San Germán is easy to reach—simply take Route 2 west of Ponce. When you reach Route 122, head south.
Day 5: San Juan
If you have time on your way back to San Juan, stop for lunch at one of the open-air eateries near Guavate, off Route 52. You can try lechón, whole suckling pig roasted on a spit.
Logistics: From San Germán, take Route 2 until you reach Ponce. Exit onto Route 52; a toll road takes you all the way to San Juan.
If you're staying in Old San Juan, pick up your rental car at one of the hotel desks. You'll avoid an expensive taxi ride to the airport.
Bring comfortable shoes for exploring these colonial-era cities. You'll be glad you brought sneakers after a few hours traipsing around on the cobblestone streets.
Old San Juan is hillier than it first appears, and in Ponce avoid walking to Castillo Serallé—a stiff hike through an unsavory area. Take advantage of the free public transportation to the most popular tourist sites in both cities.
If you have a week for your trip, this itinerary will give you a taste of each of eastern Puerto Rico's highlights. However, if you are short on time, Puerto Rico is still the perfect destination. Nonstop flights from many U.S. cities mean that even a long weekend is a possibility, though after you see the beaches, you may not want to limit yourself to just a night or two on Vieques or Culebra.
Day 1: El Yunque
East of San Juan is El Yunque, the undulating rain forest that covers much of the eastern edge of the island. It's a highlight of any trip to Puerto Rico, and you can still have a memorable time if you have only one day to spend there. Several of the trails can be done in an hour or less, including one leading to the spectacular waterfalls called the Cascada La Mina. Spend the night in Río Grande; our favorite hotel along this stretch of shoreline is Wyndham's upscale Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa, known for its seaside golf courses, lovely beach, and first-class restaurants.
Logistics: Take Route 3 east of San Juan; then head south on Route 191, which leads through El Yunque.
Day 2: Reserva Natural Las Cabezas de San Juan
Head to Fajardo, on the northeastern tip of the island. Drop your stuff off at your hotel—we prefer the smaller ones like the Fajardo Inn—and then head out for a prearranged tour of the mangrove forests of the Reserva Natural Las Cabezas de San Juan. However, exploring this area isn't just a daytime experience. You may also want to head out at night to get a very different view of Las Cabezas; you can paddle through the bioluminescent bay here in a kayak. Companies offer the trips nightly, though your experience will be heightened if there is no moon. In the afternoon, take a boat excursion from Fajardo to the Islas Palominos.
Logistics: Take Route 3, which leads all the way to Fajardo, from where Route 987 leads to Cabeza de San Juan.
Days 3 and 4: Culebra
Culebra has some of the most beautiful, powdery soft beaches that you'll find in all of Puerto Rico. It's a small, quiet island, so you won't find much to do except relax. But then, that's the draw. There are no big hotels or fancy restaurants, only small guesthouses and some villas. If this sounds like too much of a get-away-from-it-all experience for your tastes, then skip Culebra and spend more time on Vieques, which has more resorts and better restaurants, and plenty of eco-focused activities. If you visit both islands, you can fly between Culebra and Vieques, but note that there's no ferry link.
Logistics: Drop off your rental car in Fajardo—you'll want to rent a sturdier four-wheel-drive vehicle once you get to Culebra. Take a 90-minute ferry trip or 10-minute puddle-jumper flight to the island. We recommend taking the plane, as the views are spectacular.
Days 5 and 6: Vieques
Close—both in terms of atmosphere and geography—to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Vieques has an entirely different feel from the rest of Puerto Rico. If you've never been to Vieques, we strongly recommend you spend at least one night there. The beaches are endless, the snorkeling is remarkable, and the bioluminescent bay is one of nature's best shows. A great way to explore the island is on a bicycle tour arranged by a local operator.
Logistics: You'll want to fly between Culebra and Vieques—there are scheduled direct flights between the islands. Otherwise you'll need to return to Fajardo, then take the ferry or fly to Vieques.
Day 7: San Juan
From Vieques, take a puddle-jumper flight back to San Juan (or to Fajardo's Ceiba airport to pick up your rental car). If you want to spend a day in Old San Juan, take a flight into Aeropuerto Fernando L. Rivas Dominici, which is a short taxi ride from San Juan's colonial heart. If you are connecting to a flight back home, then all you have to do is switch planes and you'll be on your way.
Logistics: If you are connecting to a flight back home, make sure your flight to San Juan is headed to Aeropuerto Internacional Luis Muñoz Marín. If it is going to San Juan's regional airport, Aeropuerto Fernando L. Rivas Dominici, you'll have to shuttle between the airports.
Don't even think about taking your rental car to Vieques or Culebra—it's not allowed!
Check to see if you have to reserve in advance for certain tours, such as the daily trip to Fajardo's Reserva Natural Las Cabezas de San Juan.
Vieques and Culebra are both popular weekend destinations for Puerto Ricans, so the ferries become very crowded, and it's sometimes difficult to get on. If possible, plan your travel for a weekday.
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