Puerto Rico was the first stop on my big trip, and I absolutely loved it there. I’m positive I’ll be back. For those who live in the U.S, it’s a great place to go if you want to feel like you’re traveling internationally but don’t have a passport to do so! (Puerto Rico is an a territory of the United States if you didn’t know!)
I spent nine days staying in Ocean Park in San Juan, and I loved the location. That being said, I did rent a car for my time there and I would recommend doing so too. There’s a lot of the island to explore, though I barely scratched the surface. I spent my time on the Northern coast exploring both the east and west side of the island.
The beaches actually do vary a bit depending on where you go! I tried out a number of beaches, all with slightly different feels and activities to partake in.
Ocean Park beach was just a few quick steps from where I stayed! I visited this beach for morning walks, a glass of wine with sunset, and some afternoon tanning.
What I will say about this beach is that by afternoon, it is particularly windy, making it a very popular place for wind surfing and kite boarding. However, a lot of wind also means more waves and sand blowing around. It all depends on what you’re looking for, but in my opinion it wasn’t the best beach I visited for laying out and tanning.
Instead I’d say this is a rather sporty beach, from the previously mentioned wind sports to skim boarding and body boarding to games on the sand like tennis, soccer, and volleyball.
Located near Old San Juan, this is the best beach for snorkeling! You can pay for snorkeling excursions that will bring you right to this spot. It costs only $5 to park, and that money is going towards keeping the beach area clean!
Personally, I brought my own snorkel gear and am comfortable enough in the water to explore on my own. I don’t believe snorkel gear rentals were available on sight, so if you plan to do a self-guided snorkel session make sure you have your own gear or perhaps rent it elsewhere before checking out this location.
I would recommend to go early as this beach gets pretty busy. The beach doesn’t offer a ton of shade, so if you want a prime spot under a palm tree you won’t want to arrive too late in the day. Plus, sea turtle spotting is far more likely in the mornings! But even in the afternoon there are schools of bright, beautiful tropical fish to see.
For surfers, this also seemed to be a popular spot to catch a few waves.
Isla Verde is certainly the most tourist-y beach we went to, but it was a ton of fun! This is where you should visit if you’re looking for a standard vacation beach day. Bars with fruity drinks and fish tacos right on the beach, a rather calm beach for swimming, and plenty of sunshine for tanning.
You will have to pay for parking, we parked in a lot across the street from the Royal Sonesta that is safe and not too expensive. We cut through the hotel to get to the beach, and posted up for the day not far from the beach-facing bar, Akua, associated with the Sonesta.
We ended up here in the afternoon, so keep in mind their may be other/better parking options available earlier in the day!
Luquillo beach was the furthest away from San Juan, about an hour drive. On the east side of the island, the perk of this beach is it’s much less windy leading to calmer waters for swimming. This beach also had the most local feel. The beach boasts umbrella and chair rentals as well as a small snack shack that serves up frozen drinks and hot empanadas.
El Yunque National Forest
El Yunque National Forest is under the jurisdiction of the U.S Forest Service, and since our visit fell under the times of lingering COVID restrictions, we needed to plan ahead and pay in advance for the day at the forest (this is presumably to keep occupancy under control). You can make a reservation at recreation.gov, but unfortunately we didn’t learn this until we arrived. Reservations were already at capacity for the day.
Aside from reserving your day at the national forest via recreation.gov, you can also book excursions that will include pre-made reservations, guided hikes, and transport to and from San Juan.
We didn’t book anything or make reservations. We did, however, find a trail within the forest area that didn’t require entry through the main park area.
El Yunque National Forest – Angelito Trail
We came upon Angelito trail as we rather desperately searched for some kind of hiking to do since we had driven all the way out to the forest. Luck would have it, we stumbled upon a perfect morning hike, it wasn’t too long and only had moderate incline, that ended at the edge of a cool river.
We hung out in and around the river for the morning before hiking back to our car. It ended up being a successful and satisfying day at el Yunque for us!
La Cueva del Indio
This is a place that will forever be special in my heart, one of the locations I will be sure to visit again when I’m back in Puerto Rico one day. On the north western side of the island is Arecibo, home of La Cueva del Indio.
Before I get into that, this hike should come with a warning, it is definitely not family friendly! I wouldn’t bring young kids or dogs here, as there are large holes that drop directly to the bottom of the cave and can be hard to see as you come up to them. The terrain is also rather jagged, I wore hiking boots and didn’t regret it.
All that being said, the hike itself is very short and the views are so incredibly worth the small amount of risk. If you’re feeling adventurous you can try to go down into the cave, where there are petroglyphs made long ago by the native people (this is where La Cueva del Indio gets its name, Cave of the Indians). In reading about the cave, I found that there once was a latter to access the caves, but it’s no longer there.
If you’ve read about the reason behind all my travels, you may already have an idea of why this particular spot is, and always will be, so special to me.
Here, at el Cueva del Indio, is the first location where I chose to spread my mom’s ashes. Standing overlooking the ocean mist mix with the minuscule particles left of my mother, in the mix of emotions that come with grief I felt, for the first time, grateful. Gratitude and grief don’t often mix, in fact there were times when I felt that was little to nothing left to be grateful for. But standing in the sunlight in the moments I had to myself with my mother as part of her returned back to the Earth, I knew my life has been, and will continue to be, blessed.
Old San Juan
This is a must-do for anyone visiting Puerto Rico. This was certainly the most populated area we visited (cruise ships dock at the port here), but also the most colorful! Old San Juan is known for the multicolored buildings it boasts, including the home of the first Pina Colada.
Visiting Puerto Rico in late March, the weather is already pretty hot, so ultimately walking around wasn’t the best day time activity. If I could do it again, I would schedule a walking tour in the morning; both to learn more about the history of Old San Juan and to take advantage of the cooler A.M temperatures.
If Puerto Rico is a destination that’s accessible to you, I would highly recommend checking out the island! As I mentioned in the beginning, I barely scratched the surface in the 10 days I spent here, so there is so much more to explore. I’ve heard so many good things about other areas, from Rincon in the east coast to Ponce on the island’s southern side!
One of my biggest pieces of advice is to make the most of your days, try to get up and out early! Temperatures are better for physical activities and parking & places on the beach are more readily available. Not to mention, you just won’t want to waste a minute once you’re in Puerto Rico and see for yourself all there is to experience!