Puerto Rico Holiday Planning Guide
A U.S. territory encompassing one big island and several smaller ones, Puerto Rico appeals to visitors from around the globe with its rich history, pleasant climate, natural beauty, and renowned local cuisine. Most tourists take a vacation in Puerto Rico for that classic seaside experience, though the island offers much more than just sun and sand. Tours of Puerto Rico usually start in the city of San Juan, which boasts a trendy bar scene and plenty of art museums for visitors looking to add a bit of culture to their vacation. A short drive from the island's urban centers, pristine rainforests serve as peaceful retreats from the city bustle and ensure plenty of chances to spot wildlife and take exhilarating nature walks.
Places to Visit in Puerto Rico
Cities in Puerto RicoSan Juan
: Serving as the island's cultural and historical center and its most important seaport, the capital makes a good first stop on your Puerto Rico itinerary.Culebra
: This pristine tropical nature reserve lets you freely enjoy its sandy shores, green sea, and traditional Puerto Rican cuisine accompanied by the sounds of calypso music.Rincon
: Set against a backdrop of emerald hills, this picture-perfect surfer's paradise offers an abundance of boutique hotels, hip fusion eateries, and surf shops.Fajardo
: Home to the largest marina for recreational boats in the Caribbean, Fajardo serves as a great base for island-hopping on your Puerto Rico holiday.Isla de Vieques
: Closed to the public until 2003, this former military testing area remains unspoiled by industry and overdevelopment, making it an ecotourism destination of choice.Ponce
: The second-largest city on the island attracts visitors with Puerto Rico's version of Mardi Gras, the Ponce Carnival.
Popular Puerto Rico Tourist AttractionsOld San Juan
: Boasting some of the most popular Puerto Rico attractions--including World Heritage-listed fortifications--Old San Juan gives insight into the country's colonial past.San Juan National Historic Site
: This World Heritage Site encompasses the city's most important historical buildings, including citadels and walls, plus expansive grassy areas perfect for a seaside picnic.The El Yunque Rain Forest
: Noted for its remarkable biological diversity, the only tropical rainforest under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service offers numerous hiking trails and picnic pavilions.Casa Bacardi
: One of the world's most prolific rum distilleries, this "Cathedral of Rum" reveals the secrets behind famed cocktails and sheds light on the country's rum-producing history.Flamenco Beach
: Sitting within a sheltered, horseshoe-shaped bay, this pristine beach offers outstanding swimming, diving, and sport fishing opportunities.Bioluminescent Bay
: This beautiful lagoon hidden behind mangrove swamps serves as a stage for one of the natural world's most magical spectacles.Cathedral of San Juan Bautista
: One of the oldest churches in the Americas, the small but charming San Juan Cathedral shelters the tomb of Juan Ponce de Leon, the first governor of Puerto Rico.Toro Verde Nature Adventure Park
: A top family attraction in Puerto Rico, this adventure park allows you to rappel down gushing waterfalls and soar over the lush, green rainforest on its extensive system of ziplines.
Planning a Puerto Rico Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Puerto Rico with Kids
With its paradisal beaches, tropical rainforest, and rich colonial history, Puerto Rico has plenty to offer families traveling with kids. You can anticipate a plethora of outdoor activities and water sports on your Puerto Rico vacation, such as scuba diving and snorkeling in Fajardo
, kayaking in Culebra
, and horseback riding on Isla de Vieques
. Enroll your little ones in one of the surf schools in Rincon
, or take them on climbing tours on the hills of San Juan
. Show them the glowing organisms at one of the two magical bioluminescent bays either in Fajardo or on Isla de Vieques.
To add a bit of history to your Puerto Rico holiday, be sure to visit San Juan, with its World Heritage-listed castles and fortifications. Children will love "crawling" through tunnels and peeking into old prison cells. They will also be excited to observe the capital's major sights on a Segway tour or from the seat of a bicycle.
Things to Do in Puerto Rico with Kids
Puerto Rico's major draws for families are its crystal clear waters and tropical beaches, but not all of them are suitable for children. Crescent-shaped Media Luna Beach
and Luquillo Beach
, protected by a nearby coral reef, offer ideal swimming conditions for young kids as the soft white sand gently slopes into the calm water. Likewise, soft sand, clear water, and a horseshoe shape make Flamenco Beach
perfect for snorkeling.
School-age kids will appreciate meeting rare and endangered animals and exploring the vibrant ecosystem of Vieques National Wildlife Refuge
on their Puerto Rico holiday (though this activity can be strenuous for smaller children). Children of all ages will enjoy watching tiny life forms erupt with light before their eyes while touring Bioluminescent Bay
. For a lesson in history, explore the bewildering maze of tunnels underneath the 16th-century Castillo San Felipe del Morro or the dark dungeons of the 18th-century Castillo de San Cristobal. The whole family will love the diverse and interactive displays at Carolina Children's Museum
Tips for a Family Vacation in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico abounds in kid-friendly places and the islanders are quite welcoming toward children, so expect lots of interactions with locals when touring Puerto Rico with little ones. Bigger hotels offer a full-on resort experience with kids' clubs, water sports, and other onsite activities. Even though your kids might appear happy enough frolicking by the pool, don't miss the opportunity to show them the local culture and scenery. Make sure they wear sneakers instead of sport sandals when hiking, and for kid-friendly treats on the go, keep an eye out for bakery trucks and tropical ice carts.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Puerto Rico
Cuisine of Puerto Rico
Puerto Rican cuisine, called by the locals "cocina criolla," is a tasty mixture of Spanish, American, British, African, and indigenous Taíno influences. Apart from looks, Puerto Rican dishes have little in common with Mexican food. The Cuban influence dates back to the late 1960s, when many Cubans came to the island fleeing Fidel Castro's regime.
The two staples of Puerto Rican diet are plantains (savory bananas) and pork: they meet in the spicy starter dish "mofongo," which ranks among the best culinary treats on the island. Chicken and mutton also feature prominently, and seafood is abundant even though Puerto Rican waters provide scarce fishing opportunities. Budget travelers on holiday in Puerto Rico can get a mouthwatering meal for very little money, while you can expect to spend more on a dinner at a high-end restaurant.
Shopping in Puerto Rico
Your trip to Puerto Rico will be filled with shopping opportunities ranging from luxury malls and outlets to artisan fairs and farmers markets. Apart from one of the largest shopping malls in the Caribbean, San Juan boasts some of the island's top places for souvenir and gift shopping. Look for Panama hats, ceramics, handmade carvings, and other authentic traditional and contemporary Puerto Rican handicrafts. Gourmands will appreciate the wide variety of spices, hot sauces, marinades, and jams at Spicy Caribbee
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Puerto Rico
Interesting Facts About Puerto Rico
● In 1493, just a year after he discovered the Americas, Christopher Columbus discovered this island.
● After the Spanish-American War in 1898, the USA gained the territory of Puerto Rico, which it administers to this day.
● The coquí, a 2.5 cm (1 in) long tree frog with a powerful and melodic voice, is the country's much-loved unofficial mascot.
● Five winners of the Miss Universe pageant have hailed from Puerto Rico.
● Puerto Rico is home to the world's largest telescope.
Things You Should NOT Do in Puerto Rico
If invited to a local home during your Puerto Rico holiday, don't refuse food or drinks offered to you, as this may offend your host. Always leave a tip, no matter what you think of the service: most workers in the hospitality business receive below minimum wage. Think twice before discussing politics, or you might end up in a heated argument. Homosexuality is no longer a taboo as it was just a generation ago, but LGBT visitors should probably restrain from public displays of affection in more traditional areas.
Holidays & Festivals in Puerto Rico
Incorporating local festivities into your Puerto Rico itinerary gives you close contact with the island's rich cultural, religious, and historical heritage. The first official holiday of the year is Año Nuevo (New Year), marked by fireworks and partying on the streets. Every February Ponce
hosts the Ponce Carnival, Puerto Rico's version of Mardi Gras, and the island's oldest and most colorful festival. In April, foodies will enjoy Saborea, a huge culinary festival that draws renowned chefs from all over the globe. One of most popular holidays on the island is Las Fiestas de San Juan (June 24), when Puerto Ricans celebrate the birth of their patron saint with religious processions, parades, and street dancing to the rhythms of bomba and plena music.
Useful Puerto Rico Travel Tips
Common Greetings in Puerto Rico
Not all Puerto Ricans speak English as you might expect. The majority of locals speak Spanish or Spanglish, a local slang that can be difficult to understand. Picking up a few Spanish phrases and expressions--such as "hola" when saying hello, "hasta luego" or "adios" when parting, "perdón" (excuse me), "por favor" (please), and "gracias" (thank you)--will certainly help you find your way around while sightseeing in Puerto Rico.
When addressing people, refer to men as "señor" and women as "señora," and feel free to apply professional titles when you see fit. It is common and well-mannered for women to greet either sex with a kiss on the cheek. The North American "personal space" rule doesn't apply on the island, so be prepared to stand within arm's length of the person you're speaking with, and understand that interrupting one another is common and not considered rude at all.
Climate of Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico boasts a beautiful and mild climate throughout the entire year, with the temperatures varying between 21-27 C (70-80 F). Its only downside is the hurricane season, which reaches its peak in the late summer and early fall (September). During the winter and early spring (from December to March), hurricanes are less likely to occur, but beaches get covered in algae. With that in mind, consider planning your trip to Puerto Rico between March and August.
Transportation in Puerto Rico
Getting around the island might be one of the biggest challenges on your tour of Puerto Rico, unless your resort provides shuttles that will take you wherever you want to go. Public transportation is neither very comfortable nor reliable. Ferries commute between the islands, while the island's single rail line connects San Juan to its suburban areas and is mostly used by locals. When in the capital, a free trolley will take you to every major sight within the confines of Old San Juan. You can always rent a car, but you'll need to read signs in Spanish and drive carefully, since locals don't. Taxi services cost quite a bit, so use them only as the last resort. If you're looking for an interesting way to explore the island, consider renting a bicycle.
Tipping in Puerto Rico
Tipping is not only an important part of the local culture, but also of the service economy. As in most of the USA, workers on the lowest end of the hospitality industry earn less than the minimum wage. The only reason not to leave a tip is if you're outright offended with the service, which rarely happens. Apply the North American tipping etiquette on your Puerto Rico vacation and you can't go wrong: 10-20 percent of a bill in bars, restaurants, and taxis; 1-2 US dollars per bag to reward a porter, driver, or anyone else helping you with luggage; and 2-3 US dollars per night for housekeeping.