San Juan is easily the best-known city in Puerto Rico, and although it offers plenty of exciting things to do, it's worth venturing outside the city to get a taste of what life is like in the rest of the country. Some of the country's most beautiful beaches are only a stone's throw away, but if you'd rather hike than sunbathe, you can also head to the majestic El Yunque rainforest. Of course, there are plenty of historically significant sites to visit as well, with highlights including the El Morro Fort and the Castillo de San Cristóbal.
The Arecibo Observatory is home to one of the largest radio telescopes in the world, and it's a fascinating destination for anyone with an interest in space or science. The telescope can be seen and photographed from a spacious observation deck, and the center also has a 3,500-square-foot exhibition space where you can learn about distant galaxies and stars and how the telescope is used. Visitors who want a more in-depth experience can also participate in a VIP tour, which leads past the control room and other behind-the-scenes building before ending up right next to the observatory's 1,000-foot reflector.
PR-625, Arecibo, 00612, Puerto Rico
Constructed in 1521, Casa Blanca was the first fortification built on the San Juan Islet, and it was also used as the private residence for Juan Ponce de Leon, Puerto Rico's first governor. The former governor's family lived here until the mid-18th century, and the building has now been converted into a museum full of artifacts from the 16th and 17th centuries. There are also some beautiful gardens to stroll through. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, and if you have enough time, it can easily be combined with a visit to the nearby El Morro Fort.
1 Calle San Sebastian Old San Juan, San Juan 00926-7354 Puerto Rico, Phone: 787-725-1454
3.Castillo de San Cristobal
Sprawling across a hill on the eastern edge of the San Juan Islet, Castillo de San Cristóbal was built by the Spanish to protect the city from being attacked by land, and it remains the largest fortification ever built in the New World. It consists of three different levels, and visitors are welcome to take a self-guided tour with the help of a brochure and the many signs dotted throughout the grounds. The site is open every day between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., and admission is free for visitors under the age of 15.
501 Calle Norzagaray, San Juan, 00901, Puerto Rico, Phone: 787-449-4049
Perched on top of a cliff in Arecibo, Cueva Ventana is a beautiful limestone cave known in English as 'Window Cave'. It offers incredible views of the Río Grande de Arecibo valley below, and tours are led by trained biologists who provide plenty of information about the plants on the site, the history of the area, and the animals that call the cave home. The cave is open for tours seven days a week, and as the tour schedule changes according to the season, it's best to check the schedule on their website before you go.
PR 10 Km. 75, 00612, Puerto Rico, Phone: 787-322-3554
© Jeramey Lende/stock.adobe.com
Sitting approximately 18 miles off Puerto Rico's mainland coast, Culebra is a tiny island with a slow-as-molasses atmosphere and some truly incredible beaches. The white sand Flamenco Beach doesn't have any big hotels or casinos on it, but it's widely recognized as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and there's usually plenty of space to lay out a towel and enjoy the views of the turquoise blue water. If you'd rather snorkel than sunbathe, you can also head to Tamarindo Beach, where you're almost guaranteed to spot a sea turtle or two.
6.El Arsenal de la Marina
© Puerto Rico Historic Building Drawings Society
Originally the home of the Spanish Navy, El Arsenal de la Marina was used to store patrol boats, but it's now been converted into a small museum. Some of the exhibits tell the story of the country's Spanish influence, but the majority of the museum is dedicated to displaying beautiful pieces of fine art. The exhibits are spread throughout three galleries, and the pieces on display are rotated constantly, so you can never be quite sure what you'll find. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, and you can enjoy some beautiful views of the water right outside the building.
Calle La Puntilla, San Juan, 00901, Puerto Rico, Phone: 787-724-5932
7.El Morro Fort
© Victor Moussa/stock.adobe.com
Also known as Castillo San Felipe del Morro, the El Morro Fort is a spectacular citadel set on a promontory overlooking the San Juan Bay. It's a six-level marvel of engineering that was built by the Spanish between the 16th and 18th centuries, and it's one of the country's most recognizable icons. Guided tours are available in both English and Spanish, but visitors are also welcome to explore the fort on their own. A small admission fee is charged to enter to fort itself, but if there's no charge if you simply want to come relax on the lawn and watch locals flying their kites.
501 Calle Norzagaray, San Juan, 00901, Puerto Rico
8.El Yunque Rainforest
Encompassing almost 29,000 acres, the El Yunque Rainforest is a peaceful oasis on the eastern side of Puerto Rico. It's the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. national forest system, and it's home to an incredibly diverse range of plant and animal species that can't be found anywhere else in the United States. The forest is laced with hiking trails, many of which lead to lush waterfalls and historic observation towers that provide wonderful views of the surrounding trees. Admission to the forest itself is free, but a small fee is charged to visit some of the sites.
Also known as the Robles Waterfall, the Gozalandia Waterfall stands almost 60 feet tall, and it's popular with both tourists and locals who want to cool off on hot summer days. The main falls can be reached by following a short walking trail from the parking lot, and if you want to get to the upper falls, it's only 1/4 mile further along the same trail. Both sections have swimming areas, and the upper falls also has a rope swing for visitors to enjoy. If you're feeling especially brave, you can also swim into the small cave behind the main falls.
Sec Lechuza, San Sebastián 00685, Puerto Rico
, Michigan beaches
Located just outside the El Yunque National Forest, Luquillo Beach is a beautiful crescent-shaped beach known for its fine white sand and its calm waters. There's plenty of space to spread out towels and beach chairs, and the beach is fringed with waving palm trees that provide some much-needed shade on hot days. The water is usually calm enough for even young children to swim, but lifeguards are sometimes on duty, and lockers are available for a small fee if you want to swim without worrying about your belongings. Other amenities include outdoor showers, change rooms, and restrooms that can be used for a fee.
Puerto Rico 992, Luquillo, 00773, Puerto Rico
11.Mangrove National Forest
Officially called the Piñones State Forest, the Mangrove National Forest is located right on the coast, and it's a wonderfully relaxing place to spend the day. A 7-mile-long boardwalk runs through the forest and along the water, offering plenty of places to stop and explore tide pools or enjoy the views, and bikes can be rented if you'd rather cycle than explore the area on foot. Live music often takes place on the beach during the weekends, and there are plenty of places to get food, including both casual roadside shacks and more upscale waterfront restaurants.
12.The Guanica State Forest
One of the largest subtropical dry forests in the Caribbean, the Guánica State Forest has been designated a United Nations International Biosphere Reserve, and it's home to a large assortment of wildlife, particularly birds. There are approximately a dozen different hiking trails to choose from, with options for almost every fitness level, and bicycles are permitted on some trails. One of the most popular walks is the 2.5-mile trail that leads down to Ballena Bay, but if you want more of a challenge, there's also a 10-mile trail that leads past every different type of vegetation in the forest.
Guanica, 00653, Puerto Rico, Phone: 787-821-5706
Found on the island of Vieques just off the coast of the mainland, Vieques Bay is known for being the world's brightest bioluminescent bay. During the day, there's not much to set it apart from the hundreds of other beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, but at night, the water starts emitting a magical blue glow thanks to the tiny bioluminescent organisms that call the bay home. Visitors are welcome to tour the bay on their own, but the best way to see the bioliminescence is to join one of the glass-bottom kayak tours offered by the local tour operators.
12 Best Day Trips from San Juan, Puerto Rico
- Arecibo Observatory, Photo: PhotoSpirit/stock.adobe.com
- Casa Blanca, Photo: ParinPIX/stock.adobe.com
- Castillo de San Cristobal, Photo: jiawangkun/stock.adobe.com
- Cueva Ventana, Photo: PhotoSpirit/stock.adobe.com
- Culebra, Photo: Jeramey Lende/stock.adobe.com
- El Arsenal de la Marina, Photo: Puerto Rico Historic Building Drawings Society
- El Morro Fort, Photo: Victor Moussa/stock.adobe.com
- El Yunque Rainforest, Photo: PhotoSpirit/stock.adobe.com
- Gozalandia Waterfall, Photo: PhotoSpirit/stock.adobe.com
- Luquillo Beach, Photo: jedphoto/stock.adobe.com
- Mangrove National Forest, Photo: Julio/stock.adobe.com
- The Guanica State Forest, Photo: PhotoSpirit/stock.adobe.com
- Vieques Bay, Photo: Diana/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: dennisvdwater/stock.adobe.com