A brief introduction to Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is an archipelago consisting of the main island of the same name and a number of smaller islands such as Mona, Vieques and Culebra. San Juan is the capital and English and Spanish are the official languages, with the latter dominating. No wonder if you know that Christopher Columbus, in person, claimed the island in 1493 on behalf of the Spanish Crown. Despite frantic efforts by the French, Dutch and British, the Spaniards have reigned here for four centuries and more than just put their mark on the country. In 1898, it was the Americans who finally managed to conquer the country, and as a result, Puerto Ricans are by law residents of the United States.
The six most beautiful places to visit in Puerto Rico
Old San Juan
Old San Juan is in a way atypical for Puerto Rico because you won’t find any beaches, no resorts and no wonderful natural beauty. This place is all about history. This settlement was established in 1509, making it the oldest in the country. It’s therefore not surprising that Old San Juan is included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. This walled city combines tropical colors with an almost timeless magic, making this place one of the most enchanting in the Caribbean. You can easily stroll around for hours within the city walls. In terms of history, there are certainly no better sights in Puerto Rico.
What you shouldn’t miss in Old San Juan:
- The forts El Morro, Castillo de San Cristobal and La Fortaleza
- Paseo La Princesa, a walk from the harbor docks to the charming Raices fountain
- The house of Ponce de Leon (La Casa Blanca)
- The Cathedral of San Juan Bautista
- The different cemeteries spread out across the capital
And after all this history you can dine in one of the many restaurants and then enjoy swirling cocktails in one of the cozy bars. Once the evening kicks in, salsa is danced almost non-stop in one of the many discotheques.
Castle San Felipe del Morro
Although the foundations for this fort were already laid in 1539, the six-storey fortification was only completed in 1787. El Morro looks down from the promontory at the entrance to San Juan Bay and is one of the largest forts that the Spaniards ever built in the Caribbean. In this gorgeous building you’ll find dungeons, barracks, narrow corridors and sentry houses that have become a symbol of Puerto Rico.
When you walk on the ramparts you’ll discover that the original guns are still focussed on the ocean, ready to send any intruder back home. From here you can also enjoy an overwhelming panoramic view of the coast from Old San Juan to Condado and even further. It’s no wonder that the castle San Felipe del Morro is also on the list of UNESCO World Heritage.
Ponce is the second largest city in Puerto Rico and was named after Juan Ponce de León y Loayza, the great-grandson of Juan Ponce de Leon, the Spanish conquistador. The city is also known as La Perla del Sur (the Pearl of the South) and that would definitely not be a lie.
The most fun attraction here is the Paseo Tablado la Guancha (the promenade of La Guancha). This promenade cost no less than 2.6 million dollars, but in return it attracts more than 750,000 visitors per year. These come here not only for the view but also for the many nice eateries that mainly sell “bacalaitos”, or fried cod. The empanadillas (small empanadas) are also incredibly tasty. From Ponce you can also take a boat to Caja de Muertos (Coffin Island). Don’t be fooled by this gruesome name because you’ll find fantastic sandy beaches here. Another thing you can’t miss in Ponce is the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Phenomenal!
The name Vieques doesn’t ring a bell to most people, except for die-hard film fanatics who know that this island was used as the location for the film Lord of the Flies. Fortunately, you don’t really find a colony of children trying to kill each other out here, but instead you’ll get to see enchanting beaches. Once Vieques was also home to an airport of the US Navy, but it was dismantled in 2003. Project developers immediately understood the potential of this paradise island and saw the dollar signs multiply in their heads.
Fortunately, environmental authorities quickly intervened and all the former military land (no less than 70% of the area of Vieques) was named fish and game reserve. As a result, the largest part of the island remains untouched and everyone can enjoy this natural beauty. Vieques is undoubtedly one of the most fun things to do in Puerto Rico.
If you have enough time, I recommend to stay overnight on Vieques. In the evening and at night you can take a trip to the Bioluminescent Bay. A part of the beach where special micro-organisms provide a light spectacle because of the waves that create energy.
El Yunque is a subtropical and mountainous rainforest that lies in the east of Puerto Rico and is located just 45 minutes from Old San Juan. In El Yunque you’ll find huge waterfalls and with Mt. Britton there’s even a mountain that you can climb. You won’t be bored here for a minute because you can go caving, snorkeling, kayaking and explore the mangroves. Perhaps you’ll even see one of the famous carnivorous snails!
La Cueva del Indio
I didn’t see this ‘cave of the Indian’ in any travel guide, and that surprises me to this day. This cave complex isn’t close to the other sights of Puerto Rico, but it is so damn beautiful that I have to recommend it to you!
Gigantic rocks and cliffs characterize this unique highlight, and it all starts from a mossy beach… Once you have climbed the steep rocks you can enjoy the phenomenal view before you descend into ‘La Cueva del Indio’. In these caves you can see beautiful drawings made hundreds of years ago by the native population; the Indians.
Puerto Rico has more to offer than you think and is therefore an extremely versatile holiday destination. It’s easy to understand why so many countries wanted to conquer this paradise.
Excursions in Puerto Rico
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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.