What do you do in Puerto Rico when you want to do it all? 4 locals share their top 5 PR must-sees. Welcome to 5×5…er, 4×5.
Puerto Rico. I’ve never been but, after talking to this latest group of 5×5 contributors and Puerto Rico locals, it’s now on my “must visit” list. White sand beaches, vibrant colors, fresh food and breathtaking scenery…well, it doesn’t get much better than that. In the midst of the late January chill and foot upon foot of fresh snowfall, a sun-drenched beach is sounding pretty appealing right about now. And with our upcoming #FPLetsMove event taking place this Saturday, January 30th in San Juan, there’s no better time to throw a couple of swimsuits in your suitcase and hop a plane. If you’re planning your own trip to PR, check out the recommendations below from a few of our favorite locals, then be sure to add your own in the comments!
MAPR, Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico
299 Ave De Diego, San Juan, 00909, Puerto Rico
I visit Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico as often as I can. It’s great for gathering inspiration from both past and contemporary artists. It also has a garden in the back with a koi fish pond that is extra soothing. Great for some reading time!
Hacienda San Pedro
Road 144 Km. 8.4, Bo. Coabey, Jayuya, PR 00664
The second spot on my favorites list has to be all about coffee. This place is about a 5-minute drive away from my house and has some of the best Puerto Rican coffee! It’s called Hacienda San Pedro and it’s a must if you’re in town. Since it’s near the museum, I’ve been known to pop by here first and then walk down to the museum. Gotta get my coffee fix!
Street, Santurce Arts District
Another spot on my faves list is Calle Cerra. It’s a street in the Santurce Neighborhood, home to some great workshops and warehouses of local artists. I love it because, every year, it hosts a Festival called “Santurce Es Ley.” In this festival, artists paint murals all over the walls of this street and in nearby locations. For three days, everyone comes out to see some love, painting and music. With that said, every year the walls change. So I always look forward to snapping some photos so I can keep the artwork before it becomes something new!
2021 Calle Loíza, San Juan, 00911, Puerto Rico
A favorites list can never be complete without tacos, and this specific taco joint is beyond words. Acapulco Taqueria is in Santurce, a neighborhood in San Juan, and they hold the key to my heart and belly. Their Huevos Rancheros are what make me wake up on a lazy Sunday! They also made a pie believer out of me. Their lemon pie is indescribable. This, coming from someone who is not fond of pie! But, be quick! They close at 3pm or when their “carne al pastor” is sold out.
La Laguna de Condado
La Laguna de Condado is my fifth spot. Right in the middle of the lagoon, next to the runner’s pathway, there are some tall stairs that end with the water of the lagoon. I love to visit this spot when the sun is about to set and people-watch. The water glistens and you can see people kayaking or paddle boarding, catching those last sun rays. It’s a great way to tune out for a couple of hours.
Las Paylas/Natural Waterslide in Luquillo
PR-983, Luquillo, 00773, Puerto Rico
I’m sure that you’ve already heard that Puerto Rico has the only rainforest in the US National Park system. El Yunque is definitely worth exploring, but don’t speed by Las Paylas on your way out! The entrance to Las Paylas is through a family’s yard. You pay $5, park in their backyard, hike down to the 2 rock waterslides (warning for the girls, don’t slide belly down, but rather head-first… just trust me on that). The 1st waterslide is the larger of the two, but the 2nd one has a small natural hot tub at the top and a few great boulders to jump off of as well. You can hike right through the river to find other little swimming spots and the smooth boulders that line the water are great for lounging.
Coamo Thermal Hot Springs
End of Route 546, 00769, Puerto Rico
When the Spanish came to Puerto Rico, the Taino Indians told them about the magical hot springs. They are located over a dormant volcano which still produces super hot magma that makes its way to to the top through cracks and crevices and heats the two pools. The pools are small and have been modernized to look more like pools than the healing natural hot springs that led Ponce deLeon on a search to find the “fountain of youth” but people still swear they are healing. And even if they aren’t, it feels pretty good to heat up in the hot springs and get an outdoor massage right after!
La Guancha Boardwalk
If you want to experience Puerto Rico like a boriqua, a.k.a. a native, this is the weekend day trip you have to take. Start with a ferry ride over to Coffin Island. This tiny island is a natural reserve, so bring everything you might need. Pack snorkel gear, look out for sea turtle nests as you hike to the cave. Walk up the lighthouse for a great view of the party at La Gauncha. And when you make it back, join in! La Gauncha is a great boardwalk area in the Ponce Marina, full of kiosks. The kiosks have great local food and drinks, and about every third kiosk has live music on the weekend. And about every third Boriqua breaks out in dance at some time during the night. And you know what they say, when in Rome….
In this small fishing village you can do some world-class diving, ride a boat through a drop dead beautiful mangrove system and then jump into one of the only natural bioluminescent bays in the world; by the way, Puerto Rico has 3…what!? For around $60 you can rent a small fishing boat with a driver. They will take your group for a tour through the mangroves where you can stop and snorkel but, somehow, no matter what boat you take, they all end up at the party stop. Are you seeing a theme here? Nature + party spot. That’s why Puerto Rico does it better. Most of the boats stop here for 2 reasons: 1. There are some swings in the mangroves that you can get to only by climbing a tree and shimmying out on the limb, if only to get your best Tarzan or Jane on! It’s so much fun. And if you’re hungry you can swim over to the pizza boat (yes, you read that right). And 2. For pure natural fun, sign up with a dive operator and explore “La Pared”. The wall is 22 miles of coral reef that starts at 55′ and goes all the way down to 1500 feet. And when the sun goes down, get out to the bioluminescent bay where millions of teeny tiny, microscopic organisms and dinoflagellates sparkle and glow to create a great underwater light show. The moon needs to be at 20% or less to see it best.
The surf capital of the Caribbean, and home to Samatahiti
So here is the thing about Rincon — we don’t have a lot of shopping. There is really never a reason to get dressed up, there are no 5-star resorts, Michelin-rated restaurants…if you see someone driving a Porsche, they are visiting. But that’s what makes us great! That and our world class waves. Between October and April you can pretty much surf every day, except for the days when the waves are 25′ or bigger (leave those waves for the pros). From April to October you can paddleboard with sea turtles, or snorkel the reef right from the beach! We have the largest collection of Elk Horn Reef in the entire Caribbean! And we have yoga! When you come to Rincon, stay at Samatahiti, our eco retreat center and the only glamping facility on the entire island. Nestled in a little jungle garden, and less than a mile to several surf breaks, you will be sung to sleep at night by the coqui frogs, and wake up to the crashing waves. Practice yoga on our treetop yoga deck, and get surf lessons from our team of instructors/competitive surfers!
Cenit Nadir, @cenitch
Language student and model
Yunque National Forest
Multiple entry points — see website for details
El Yunque National Forest is a subtropical forest located on the Eastern part of Puerto Rico. It’s a perfect place to explore, hike up the trails and swim in the most beautiful waterfalls. There are hundreds of plants and animal species many of which you can only find in the forest, like for example “El coquí” our little native frog. You can hike up the trail and listen closely to the beautiful sounds they make. You can also take so many beautiful pictures, from the scenery of the mountains, to the fantastic Mina Falls. The best thing about this place is that there are no entrance fees, so the visit is completely free and of course gratifying.
El Verde BBQ, Rio Grande
Rio Grande, Río Grande, Puerto Rico
After a long hike at el Yunque there is nothing better then to enjoy a nice Puerto Rican meal. At BBQ Verde in Rio Grande, they serve everything from chicken, rice, “tostones”, beans, pork, ribs, “mofongo”, yuca, and other traditional Puerto Rican plates. You can also order a nice local beer called “Medalla” to wash down the delicious food. Best part? It’s super inexpensive.
Culebra Island, Flamenco Beach
Culebra is a small island located on the east side of Puerto Rico. I love to visit this little island for various reasons, one of them being that it has one of the best beaches in the world. The water is crystal clear which is perfect for snorkeling and the sand is perfectly white. If you are looking for a quick visit then Flamenco Beach is the one — just hop on a ferry at Fajardo, which only costs around $4 or pay a quick trip on a small plane. Once you get there you can either stay and camp at the beach, rent a villa, or stay at a hotel; either way, you can also leave the same day. My favorite thing to do is camp at Flamenco Beach — you get to enjoy the beach all day, the stars at night and the sunrise the next day. It’s completely breathtaking.
Old San Juan
Section of San Juan
Old San Juan is one of my favorite places of all Puerto Rico. It has over 500 years of history, amazing colonial architecture and elegant colored facades. Its narrow streets and colonial architecture gives you a feeling of being transported back in time. You can visit the historical fortress called El Morro and La Fortaleza or just walk around and photograph the different plazas and buildings. Old San Juan also boasts the best restaurants, from local Puerto Rican cuisine to nice Italian pizzas. The nightlife in Old San Juan would have to be my favorite — you can enjoy live salsa music at Nuyorican Café or go to a nice bar like La Factoria. Day or night, I would have to say that Old San Juan is magical.
Rincón, Puerto Rico
If you are into a more adventurous approach I definitely recommend staying at the Tropical Treehouse in Rincón. Not only is the treehouse equipped with basic needs such as solar hot water, shower, kitchenette, flush toilet and a queen-size bed, but it also has a killer view of the sunset. It’s definitely one of the best getaways on the island and it’s only around $135/night depending on the treehouse you want. Make sure to book ahead, and get ready to enjoy nature at its fullest.
Fernando Samalot, @simonebirch, www.facebook.com/oneislandonejourney
Full Time Adventurer currently on a one-year trip around Puerto Rico with his girlfriend Bárbara, in support of a photography and video project called #OneIslandOneJourney
Casa Grande Mountain Retreat, Utuado
Road 612, Barrio Caonillas, Utuado, 00641, Puerto Rico
If you’re looking for a more peaceful and relaxing time in the mountains, Casa Grande’s cozy cabins offer exactly that. Utuado is by far one of my favorite municipalities in Puerto Rico. From there you can enjoy a vast diversity of experiences in nature, from taking a boat ride across Dos Bocas lake and swimming in one of hundreds of swimming holes to simply driving around and getting lost in the beautiful mountainous roads. This last one is particularly my favorite since Puerto Rico is so small that you are never truly lost.
Cocobana Cafe, San Juan
PR-37, San Juan, 00911, Puerto Rico
By far one of my favorite restaurants in the metropolitan area, as well one of the few local, organic and vegetarian options in the city. Cocobana Cafe offers varied lunch specials daily as well as their regular menu. I highly recommend trying one of their milkshakes made with fresh coconut milk every morning. The “coco-ginger” will change your life!
30 PR-5516, Adjuntas, 00601, Puerto Rico
After spending a week in the mountain town of Adjuntas and connecting with the people at Casa Pueblo, there’s no way I can’t recommend it. Casa Pueblo is a community organized project that has been protecting, sharing and educating about the importance of our natural resources for over 30 years. They take care of and manage two different forests in Adjuntas, Bosque del Pueblo and Bosque Escuela La Olimpia, which is also an outdoor school where children come to take nature-related workshops. By connecting with Casa Pueblo, you’ll be able to go on beautiful hikes on their forest trails as well as get a local Adjunteño’s expert advice about all the best spots in Adjuntas. Some of these include: El Ataúd, Charco Esmeralda, El Mangó, Monte Guilarte and Cerro Novillo. I highly recommend this if you’re a nature lover.
El Campo es Leña
Carr 521 km 7.8, Adjuntas, Puerto Rico
If you’re into delicious wood oven pizza, make sure to check out El Campo es Leña, one of the best pizza places on the island. They’re open Thursday to Sunday. If you’re going at night, make sure to bring a sweater — it gets nice and cold up in the mountains!
Caja de Muerto en Ponce
One of my favorite things about living in Puerto Rico is that all you have to do is drive an hour and you’re somewhere incredible. You can wake up with a sunrise in the mountains and be getting a tan in a pristine beach before noon. Caja de Muerto is a small island off the south coast of Ponce. It has shining turquoise blue waters to swim in, a nice hike up to a lighthouse with a spectacular view and beautiful reefs to snorkel in. A single boat ride goes out on weekends from 9am and returns at 3pm, so plan your day out right to make the best of your time. Tickets sell out quickly so I recommend making a reservation at least a week beforehand. Definitely a great day trip!
+ Be sure to leave your own Puerto Rico recs in the comments!
Lead image by Fernando Samalot, @simonebirch