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The “Island of Enchantment” as Puerto Rico is often called, offers a ton of things to see and do. And, with nearly constant 80-degree temps, sunshine, blue skies and a gentle ocean breeze, there are few days in any given year that it can’t be enjoyed. The food is to-die-for, the people incredibly friendly and the landscape surprisingly diverse. Visitors will find everything from tropical rainforest and caves to pristine white sandy beaches and waterfalls, not to mention the alluring cobblestone streets of Old San Juan.
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Flamenco Beach is often found among Top 10 lists of the world’s most beautiful beaches and is considered one of the best places to visit in Puerto Rico. Located on Culebra Island, which sits about 20 miles off the northeast coast of Puerto Rico, there are no luxury resorts, casinos or fine dining restaurants here, but it’s the perfect place to relax without the crowds, traffic or crime. The soft, white sands of stretch along a turquoise bay with calm, shallow waters ideal for snorkeling and swimming. In fact, you might think that you’ve stepped into an ad for Corona. As the U.S. military used it for decades, it kept developers at bay, leaving the beach with abandoned tanks that are now artfully decorated in colorful Caribbean patterns.
Bioluminescent Mosquito Bay on Vieques is one of the most popular attractions in all of n Puerto Rico. After dark, the water emits an ethereal blue glow from the half-plant, half-animal microorganisms that inhabit the bay. More than 700,000 bioluminescent dinoflagellates live in every gallon of bay water. The best way to experience it is to join a kayak tour, available most nights (under a full moon the effect can’t be seen), rather than a motorboat.
Puerto Rico is famous for its mouthwatering cuisine, with its combination of Spanish, American and First Nations influences. Many dishes feature pork and pepper ingredients, such as lechon asado, commonly served everywhere from roadside stands to 5-star restaurants to roadside stalls. Tostones con ropa vieja, made with fried plantains, stuffed with beef is also popular, as is Mofongo, a dish with fried plantain mashed into a bowl with broth.
Fort San Cristobal, or Castillo San Cristobal, was built as a defense to protect the city from land attacks. It not only offers an interesting look at the island’s history but gorgeous views. History buffs won’t want to miss visiting the dungeon, walking through the tunnels, or simply standing in the courtyard, imagining what it might have been like to be there during its peak. It was the largest military structure built by the Spanish in the Americas, rising nearly 150 feet above sea level. The vast structure was built over two decades, between 1765 and 1785, and is made up of several layers, each walled, fortified to frustrate and slow all invaders.
At one point during your trip, you’ll have to make time to stroll the cobblestone streets lined with grand fortresses and pastel-painted colonial buildings in Old San Juan. With 500 years of Spanish history leaving their mark, it oozes with historic charm and character. Visit Fortaleza Street to take advantage of “Restaurant Row,” known for housing some of the city’s very best eateries. For a fabulous sunset view take a stroll along Paseo la Princes, a wide promenade stretching from the docks at the foot of the city to the pretty Raices Fountain, just before dusk.
This small beach town nestled on the western coast of the island is considered Puerto Rico’s surfing capital as one of the best places to catch a wave in the northern hemisphere. In 1968 when it hosted the Surfing World Championships, it became a haven for surfers, and many never left. Even if you don’t surf, you can enjoy some of the world’s best sunsets strolling the waterfront, sipping pina coladas a the popular surfer hangout, Tamboo Tavern, and a wealth of other activities. Just a few include scuba diving “The Wall,” hiking, zip line rides and beach yoga.
Cueva Ventana translates into Window Cave, and one look explains why. This little-known, large natural cave can be found in Arecibo atop a limestone cliff overlooking the impressive Rio Grande de Arecibo Valley. Peering from the window, the view is sure to take your breath away. The cave is filled with stalactites and stalagmites as well as a number of other smaller caves, tunnels and hiding spots too.
The El Yunque National Rainforest is the only tropical forest in the U.S. National Forest System. It’s a favorite for hiking with 13 well-marked trails ranging in difficulty, including the two most popular, La Mina & Big Tree Trail, a combined two-hour hike winding by the La Mina River leading to La Mina Falls. While hiking through the misty, forest-covered hills, you’ll discover many beautiful falls, picturesque canyons and probably more exotic animal and plant life you’ve ever seen in one spot. The area hosts 150 native fern species, 240 tree species, including 23 of which are only found in this forest, as well as small animals that can’t be seen anywhere else on Earth, like the pygmy anole, the Puerto Rican parrot and the coqui tree frog.
Los Morillos in Cabo Rojo, situated on the southwest corner of the island, is considered the finest lighthouse in Puerto Rico. Perched atop 200-foot limestone cliffs, it towers over the glistening Caribbean and offers awe-inspiring views of the sea and surrounding coastline. Inside, you can walk up the spiral staircase which leads to an observation deck on the roof, where you can enjoy panoramic vistas. One of the best beaches in the Caribbean, Playa Sucia, can be seen from the top of the lighthouse. Walk down the trail to this magical stretch of sand where the aquamarine waters invite you to jump in.
Caja de Muertos is an uninhabited island off the southern coast from the city of Ponce. Easily reached by ferry or charter boat, even most Puerto Ricans have never stepped foot on it though it’s home to Playa Pelicano, a stunning blue flag beach where you can enjoy a full day enjoy the sun and the sand as well as snorkeling strikingly clear blue waters. If you want to explore more, there are multiple scenic hiking trails too.