Puerto Rico

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History and culture, shopping and gambling, beaches and water sports – Puerto Rico delivers the goods. If you’re heading out to the rest of the island from San Juan, renting a car is necessary, as public and private transportation between cities is neither widely available nor particularly reliable. Major highways are comparable to those in the mainland U.S., and the furthest point on the island can be reached in about three hours.

Things to do in Puerto Rico

Bioluminescent Bays

When it’s pitch dark, paddle out to one of these bioluminescent inlets (in Fajardo, La Parguera, and Vieques) and jump into the water. Your entire body will glow, caused by the defense mechanism of the dinoflagellates that swim in the water. Vieques is said to have the best “bio-bay” in the world; note that visits during the full moon aren't ideal, as the light interferes with the visibility of the luminescence.

Fajardo, La Parguera, and Vieques, www.biobay.com
Tags: family | editor pick | things to do | outdoors | adventure

Convention Center District

The area around the new Puerto Rico Convention Center, not far from Condado and Old San Juan, houses a growing number of shops and restaurants, such as the Ficus Café.  The Sheraton also has several restaurants and bars worth visiting if you happen to be in this not-so-accessible part of San Juan.

100 Convention Blvd., 800-214-0420, www.prconvention.com
Tags: shopping | things to do | culinary | walk

El Yunque

The 28,000-acre preserve is almost as much mountain as it is rain forest, so get ready for some serious hiking, where you’ll see wildlife against a natural backdrop of waterfalls, ponds, and 240-plus species of tropical trees. You’ll also hear the coqui (pronounced co-KEE), a tree frog named after its squeaking mating call.

, 787-888-1880, www.fs.fed.us/r8/caribbean
Tags: family | hiking | editor pick | things to do | outdoors | wildlife | adventure

Fideicomiso (Conservation Trust) Nature Tours

The Fideicomiso, Puerto Rico's Conservation Trust, is quite possibly the island's best kept secret. Well-educated and highly professional staff offer a variety of tours at several properties around the island; each property is acquired by the Trust for both its historical and ecological value. Favorites include the Hacienda Buena Vista, a coffee plantation just north of Ponce. Reservations must be made in advance.

Rte. 52, Km. 16.8, 787-722-5882, www.fideicomiso.org
Tags: hiking | editor pick | off the path | things to do | culture | history | tour | wildlife | walk

Local Music

Given that Puerto Ricans are a blend of European, Afro-Caribbean, and Taíno Indian ancestry, it only makes sense that their music – salsa, bomba, and plena – is drawn from all those cultures. Dance to salsa music at The Nuyorican Cafe or hear local guitar trios on Paseo La Princesa (both in Old San Juan), Sunday evenings before sunset. Given that Puerto Ricans are a blend of European, Afro-Caribbean, and Taíno Indian ancestry, it only makes sense that their music – salsa, bomba, and plena – is drawn from all those cultures. Dance to salsa music at The Nuyorican Cafe or hear local guitar trios on Paseo La Princesa (both in Old San Juan), Sunday evenings before sunset.

Nuyorican Cafe, 312 San Francisco St., 787-365-1418, www.nuyoricancafepr.com
Tags: dancing | local favorite | things to do | open late | dive bar

Luis Muñoz Marín Park

This popular park three miles south of Condado has a nice children’s playground within its lush, lake-dotted grounds. Take to a paddleboat at the Marina Pedaeróbicos or go on a funicular ride ($2). The park is equally popular among locals and visitors and is best reached by car.

Piñero Ave. at Hato Rey, 787-751-3353
Tags: family | things to do | outdoors | park

Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico

The permanent collection of this elegant, comprehensive museum, opened in 2000; not surprisingly, the collection's strength is Puerto Rican artists, and works range from the 18th century to the present. You'll also find a five-acre sculpture garden, children's interactive gallery, and smart gift shop here. Also nearby is the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, a collection showcasing modern works from Latin artists throughout the Americas. 

Ave. de Diego 299, 787-977-6277, www.mapr.org (Spanish only)
Tags: family | editor pick | art | things to do | culture

Museo Pablo Casals

This intimate museum is a tribute to the Catalonian cellist who founded the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra and lived his last two decades in San Juan, until his passing in 1973. The museum contains Casals’ cellos, awards, photos, and recordings (played on request).

101 San Sebastián St., 787-723-9185
Tags: things to do | culture | history | museum

Ocean Park

Located between Old San Juan and the airport, this two-mile-long neighborhood beach is less noteworthy for its swimming conditions than its refreshingly local bent. On weekends watch for Leo, a beach vendor, to show up with a box full of hot crab and chicken empanadas. Or pull up a chair at Pamela’s for tasty sandwiches and salads served at tables in the sand (787-726-5010; 1 Santa Ana St.). At the far eastern side of the beach, you can find outfitters renting all manner of water sport craft, including kiteboards.

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Tags: beach | family | water sports | things to do | swimming | best beach

Parque de Bombas

This eccentric red-and-black striped structure is one of Puerto Rico’s most idiosyncratic buildings. Originally built to house an agricultural fair in 1882 and converted into a firehouse a year later, Parque de Bombas today holds a museum devoted to Ponce’s fascinating fire-fighting history (ask about the street lined with red and black houses), with a collection of antique fire trucks and free tours (conducted in English and Spanish).

Plaza de las Delicias, 787-284-3338
Tags: family | historic | things to do | architecture | museum

Rio Camuy Caves

Ride a trolley into these majestic caves, carved out eons ago by the Camuy River, which still runs through them. The sound-of-body can sign up for spelunking trips through adventure-tour operators; the weak-of-heart will be more than impressed with the trolley tour. The total number of visitors each day is limited, so book early.

, 787-898-3100, www.parquesnacionalespr.com (Spanish only)
Tags: hiking | things to do | adventure

San Juan National Historic Site

Explore the vestiges of iconic El Morro and, a half-mile east, San Cristóbal, two massive forts dating from 1539 – and used by the U.S. army until 1951 – at this protected Old San Juan site. Hiding behind the battlements is a maze of tunnels, barracks, and spiral staircases, while a blanket of green grass dotted with kite flyers extends toward the city. Both sites host guided tours and special events, such as dance and music performances; check the website for the current schedule.

Old San Juan, PR, 787-729-6960, www.nps.gov/saju
Tags: family | editor pick | landmark | things to do | culture | architecture | history | world heritage site

Shopping in Old San Juan

In addition to the name brands and jewelry chains that pop up in other Caribbean ports, Old San Juan has a trove of specialty stores and galleries worth discovering. Keep an eye out for Puerto Rico's famed vejigantes – Carnival masks with demonic horns and wild expressions; depending on the region they're from, they'll be made of coconuts or of papier-mâché. Puerto Rico Arts and Crafts (204 Fortaleza St.; 787-725-5596; www.puertoricanart-crafts.com) is the perfect place for these and other island crafts, unique jewelry, and food products like coffee, rum, and hot sauces. Notable shopping avenues include San Francisco St. and Cristo St., the former catering to the t-shirt and jewelry crowd, the latter hosting a concentration of duty-free designer names like Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Guess. 

Old San Juan,
Tags: shopping | art | things to do | crafts

Toro Verde Nature Park

This ecotourism park, opened in 2010, is – perhaps surprisingly – one of the few places on the island where extreme adventure sports are offered. Ziplining, rock rapelling, and mountain biking are three of the sports permitted here; individuals of all ages (as long as they meet the height and weight requirements) and families are welcome.

Rte. 155, Km. 32.9, 787-867-7020, www.toroverdepr.com (Spanish only)
Tags: family | off the path | things to do | adventure

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