There are lots of things to do in Puerto Rico. Too many to list. In fact, you probably won’t be able to squeeze in everything on my list (you’ll need at least a few days to just sit on the beach), but I bet you’ll discover something new that I didn’t get to do. If you do find something amazing not listed here, please come back and leave a comment to let me know. Maybe I’ll add it to this list in your honor.
Anyway, have fun on your trip.
Here’s everything you won’t want to miss when you visit Puerto Rico…
Water Activities and Experiences in Puerto Rico
When you think of Puerto Rico, what comes to mind? For me, it’s white sand beaches and piña coladas. Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island ringed by beautiful beaches, so it makes sense that most people’s first idea of things to do in Puerto Rico revolves around the ocean.
And while there are tons of fun things to do in Puerto Rico, you should always start and end your trip laying on white sand. There’s no better way to begin a vacation, and to unwind before heading home.
1. Swim with sea turtles
Firstly, when you’re visiting Puerto Rico, book a snorkel tour to swim with sea turtles. We snorkeled on Vieques, the popular island off the east coast of the mainland Puerto Rico. We saw a stingray, octopus, underwater ruins, and sea turtles. It was one of my favorite experiences of our 2 weeks in Puerto Rico. Even booking a private tour-for-two we didn’t spend much and saw a side of Vieques we never would have.
Look for small tour companies that allow private tours. Preferably, do it in Vieques with Salty Spirit. Ask for Chewy.
2. Take a bio bay tour
Puerto Rico is home to three of five bioluminescent bays in the world! In these bodies of water, microscopic organisms called dinoflagellates make the water glow in the dark. You can take kayak tours into the bays on moonless nights to see the phenomenon.
Mosquito Bay on Vieques has been recognized as the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world, and it’s the one you’ll most often see recommended. But getting to Vieques isn’t as easy as the other two bio bays, so Fajardo has the most popular bio bay: Laguna Grande.
If you’re spending much time on the west side of Puerto Rico (in Rincón or at Playa Buye) and want to take a bio bay tour, check out La Parguera.
Sea Glass Beach in Vieques, Puerto Rico. A beautiful little beach on the northern coast. (5/31/23)
3. Look for treasure at Sea Glass Beach
Sea Glass Beach is in Isabel II, on the island Vieques. Due to naturally occurring ocean conditions, tons of sea glass washes up on the shore each day. It’s a fun place to hang out on the north side of Vieques (the beach is right here).
We went in the afternoon and found lots of sea glass, but I bet morning is even better. Parking can be a little tricky in the area, but in the late afternoon or early morning you should be able to find a spot.
4. Learn to surf in Rincón
Rincón, Puerto Rico is the surfing capital of the island. If you’re heading to the west coast of Puerto Rico, stop in Rincón. You can take surfing lessons, catch the best sunsets in Puerto Rico, and eat at the many restaurants in this beach town.
Rincón has great snorkeling, amazing sunsets, and a historic lighthouse in a manicured park that overlooks the sea. We’ll definitely be returning to Rincón!
An evening in Rincón capped by an amazing sunset. (6/10/23)
5. Rent a Jeep in Vieques and explore remote beaches
Renting a Jeep in Vieques is a great way to spend 3-5 days in Puerto Rico. You can’t bring your own car on the ferry, anyway, so why not rent a 4×4 vehicle? You’ll be able to drive down many dirt roads to beaches like Playa La Plata and Green Beach (where we swam with sea turtles).
The few car rental companies on Vieques run out of Jeeps before any other vehicle, so plan ahead and book early. I’ve got a guide to visiting Vieques written, too.
6. Take a sunset boat ride
Speaking of Rincón’s great sunsets, there are endless places in Puerto Rico to take sunset boat tours, especially on the west coast, and on islands like Vieques and Culebra.
Kick your feet up and drift under the setting sun.
If you’re in Rincón, check out Katarina Sail Charters.
Sunset is Creation’s crescendo
building and building
to the pinnacle of awe
Grey clouds lit purple and pink
golden light without flaw
and the sea foam champagne
I toast the sea and all her wonder
every perfect oil canvas
a seaside sunset puts asunder
7. Scuba diving
There’s tons of info about scuba diving in Puerto Rico on this page, but anywhere you visit in Puerto Rico will have opportunities. I’ve never gone scuba diving, but there are amazing reefs all around the Caribbean for prime scuba diving and snorkeling.
Sunset at Playa Buye, Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. 6/12/23 at 6:47pm from The Red Door beach house.
8. Stay right on the water at Buye Beach
Buye Beach (aka Playa Buye) is a famous white-sand, sunset-soaked west coast Puerto Rico beach. I wrote a post about our Playa Buye Airbnb, which was our favorite place to stay throughout our whole 2 week trip. After being able to jump into the ocean from our backdoor for a few days, we were not ready to leave.
Read all about our amazing Buye Beach house right here.
9. Laying on the beach
Enough said. I think Vieques is the best place in Puerto Rico for beach bums. However, no matter where you visit on any coast, you’ll have plenty of places to soak up the sun and salt water. I actually wish we’d done a bit more beach lounging and just a touch less exploring on our first trip to Puerto Rico. But there’s just so much to do…
Make sure you bring a freshly picked, ripe mango to the beach with you. Our snorkel guide, Chewy, picked us some on our way to his favorite snorkel spot. Eating mangos after a couple hours in saltwater was AMAZING. I can’t stress this enough. Bring mangos to the beach.
Mountain Activities and Experiences Around Puerto Rico
When I visited Puerto Rico, I was surprised at how mountainous it is. From El Yunque near the east coast all through central Puerto Rico, there are big mountains with hiking, rafting, waterfalls, and agriculture (like coffee and cacao). I love living in North Carolina because we’re close to both beaches and mountains, but Puerto Rico is all beaches and mountains. You’re not just close to them, you’re in them.
Driving through central Puerto Rico down to Cabo Rojo, I felt like I was in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee.
So if you’re a mountain lover like me, Puerto Rico might surprise you. After all, it’s not all beaches and piña coladas.
We should all try
to imitate mountains.
A tall task, I’m sure.
10. Visit El Yunque
This one is a no-brainer. Go hike, climb towers, and plunge in waterfalls in El Yunque. I put together a guide on visiting El Yunque right here. You’ll see cloud forest, views all the way to the coast, and maybe some famous coqui frogs (you’ll at least hear them).
El Yunque is a rainforest treasure you can spend all day exploring. Wear Teva sandals so you can hike and dunk yourself under waterfalls. We hardly took ours off for 2 weeks while visiting Puerto Rico.
My three favorite places in El Yunque were Juan Diego Falls, Yokahu Tower, and Los Picachos. Get yourself a park map and see them all!
11. Spend a day at Charco El Hippie
Popularly known as “El Hippie,” this is a system of waterfalls in Naguabo, Puerto Rico, just on the southern edge of El Yunque. You’ll want to block off a whole day for El Hippie. Swim, cliff jump, plunge into rapids, swing beneath Flamboyan…just don’t skip El Hippie.
You can find the falls right here. Get there before 9am and you’ll have some privacy to explore for awhile. There is a $5 fee to park at a local’s home. It was easy to find and an amazing experience.
El Hippie was our absolute favorite part of our 2 week visit to Puerto Rico.
12. Drink local coffee in Yauco
Yauco is a town just inland of the Caribbean Sea on Puerto Rico’s southern coast. We passed by on our way to Buye Beach, and further research made me wish we would have stopped. Yauco is known as “Coffee Town,” as it’s situated in the foothills of lush mountains where coffee is grown (along with tropical fruits).
Start here to learn about coffee culture, mountain adventures, and art in this old, unique Puerto Rican town.
13. Visit a cacao farm
Finca Hekiti near Rincón offers education and experiences in sustainable agroforestry and cacao farming. We had booked an experience on their farm but got stuck in Rincon because of triathlon traffic. The owners of the sustainable farm were great and understanding and we’ll definitely be visiting them on our next trip.
14. Rappel 250 feet in the caves and mountains of central Puerto Rico
Tanama River Adventures is one of multiple outfitters offering hiking, caving, rafting, and rappelling inside the caves and canyons around central Puerto Rico. Participants must be in good physical shape and ready for lots of hiking and wading in and out of rivers and streams.
If you love caves, tropical forests, cliff jumping, and rappelling…book a tour!
Tanama is less than 2 hours from San Juan. How about a day trip?
15. Zipline at a mountain adventure park
I’m afraid of heights, and I didn’t get a chance to visit ToroVerde on our first visit to Puerto Rico, but I’m going to test my nerves on my next trip to the Caribbean. ToroVerde has the longest zipline in America, with a 1.57 mile cable that reaches heights up to 380 meters.
You’ll fly over the forest at 95 miles per hour in a horizontal flight position, the closest you and I will ever get to being a bird.
The park is located right here, about an hour and fifteen minutes from San Juan.
16. Hike to Cañón de San Cristóbal’s famous waterfall
Cristóbal Canyon has dazzling waterfalls and craggy rock formations that make hiking and exploring challenging, but very rewarding. The best hiking (you can see all your options on AllTrails right here) is a short, hard 1.7 mile trail to a large waterfall, La Niebla Waterfall.
The pictures never do these massive waterfalls justice, so you’ll need to check it out yourself.
Things to do in Puerto Rico: History
History is one of the most enriching parts of traveling. If you spend all your trips just lounging on the beach or exploring restaurants and bars, you’re missing some of the most magical experiences of traveling.
Puerto Rico is so rich in history. I knew I’d see some amazing places and sites, but I was floored by the historically significant people, buildings, and places everywhere we visited.
17. Visit lighthouses all over Puerto Rico
We visited four impressive lighthouses in Puerto Rico, two on the island of Vieques. The others were on the west coast in Rincón and Cabo Rojo. Each of the four is worth visiting, if your itinerary takes you nearby.
- Puerto Ferro Lighthouse, Vieques. I was stunned by the cliffs and scenery at this rugged beach on Vieques’ south shore. Massive cliffs and tropical foliage run right up to the sea. Boulders are covered in hermit crabs and the water is rougher here than most of Puerto Rico. Otherworldly and beautiful.
- Punta Mulas Lighthouse, Vieques. This one is on Vieques’ north coast. It’s fenced in and closed, but a local pointed us to a gap in the fence. The lighthouse itself is shuttered, but there are open windows where you can climb in and explore the spooky, dark lighthouse. You can even climb to the top! Though I did not…it was a bit too reminiscent of I Am Legend. This lighthouse is perched on huge cliffs and gives you a beautiful view of the ferry that takes people to and from Vieques each day.
- The Rincón Lighthouse. El Faro de Punta Higuero is situated on bluffs surrounded by a lovely, westward facing park in the surfing town of Rincón. It’s where we watched the sunset on June 10th, pictured earlier in this post. There was a place to eat, lots of parking, and an amazing sort of boardwalk above the sea.
- Faro Los Morrillos de Cabo Rojo. Last but certainly not least is El Faro Lighthouse on the southwest corner of Puerto Rico. This lighthouse sits on 200 foot cliffs overlooking a crashing sea. We saw iguanas scurrying about the rocks and pelicans riding the breeze. There is a beach at El Faro, too, called La Playuela. We were too transfixed by the cliff views to venture down to the beach, though. I could spend all day hanging out at El Faro. Note: there is a mile or so walk to the lighthouse from a blocked off road. Parking wasn’t super straightforward, but easy enough to figure out when you reach the end of the road.
18. Take a historic architecture tour of Old San Juan
If you’re going to stay in San Juan, make sure you’re in preserved, historic Old San Juan. And while you’re there, take a walking tour of the history of architecture in the city. This amazing tour (with thousands of positive reviews) was a highlight of our trip. We learned about Old San Juan’s blue cobblestones, cisterns beneath the city, religion, and the historical influences that made Old San Juan what it is today.
Andy was an amazing guide who is doing great work to preserve the history of Old San Juan. Take his tour! You’ll learn so much!
19. Visit Spanish Forts
The most famous Spanish forts are in Old San Juan: Castillo San Cristobal (the oldest fort in the Americas) and El Morro. These are National Historic Sites with gift shops, staff, and bathrooms, so your in good hands while roaming the old fortifications of Spain’s colonial era. You’ll climb into sentry towers, peek into dungeons, and see bunkers that were built during WWII.
From the National Park’s Service website: “Castillo de San Cristóbal is massive and imposing; a masterpiece of 18th century military engineering and innovation. Modern military strategists and history buffs enjoy learning of the ingeniousness of its design; all visitors are inspired by the beauty of the architecture and the setting.”
History enthusiasts will have a good time at Castillo de San Cristóbal. (6/5/23)
20. Learn about the U.S. Navy’s occupation of Vieques
Driving to the remote beaches on Vieques, you’ll see lots of signs warning you to stay on roads and trails. More signs remind you to report any metal or anything strange in the ground.
The United States Navy dropped hundreds of thousands of bombs (5 million pounds each yearfor many years) on the island of Vieques. It was a test range for all sorts of military weapons, and the islands ecology and residents suffered miserably.
The Fortín Conde de Mirasol was the last small fort built by the Spanish in Puerto Rico, and it now houses an art and history museum that pays some homage to the fight to liberate Vieques from the U.S. Navy. It sits atop a hill with amazing views of Vieques and should be on everyone’s Vieques itinerary.
Catedral de San Juan Bautista in Old San Juan, the oldest church built on American soil and the place where Juan Ponce de León is entombed. (6/4/23)
21. Visit old churches
Visiting old churches brings me such joy. It’s history, architecture, and art all wrapped up. Plus they’re usually free to visit. Puerto Rico has a plethora of old Catholic cathedrals to explore. These churches are living testaments to the past, a culture and life of many generations past.
Because the church was such a central, wealthy part of Spanish colonialism, these churches also house artifacts and historical marvels. For example, Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Saint John the Baptist in Old San Juan (the second oldest church in the Western hemisphere) contains the tomb of Juan Ponce de León.
Everywhere you go, find the closest cathedral and check it out. You might see amazing stain glass windows, art, and artifacts you won’t see anywhere else.
22. Visit archaeological sites
Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center near Ponce is one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the Antilles. It contains…
- the largest indigenous cemetery discovered to date in the region (186 human skeletons were discovered here)
- what is assumed to be the oldest astronomical observatory in the Antilles
- seven ceremonial sports courts
- a plaza bordered by stones with petroglyphs
It’s a gem for those interested in history and archaeology. Check it out if you spend some time in or near Ponce.
23. Visit the castle of rum royalty 🍹
Also near Ponce is Serralles Castle, a museum which used to be owned by the Don Q Rum family, the Serralles family. You can book a tour here. You’ll see the castle, learn some rum history, and perhaps taste some of Puerto Rico’s most famous spirit.
24. El Convento Hotel
In Old San Juan is a luxury, boutique hotel that was once a Catholic convent: El Convento Hotel. It was built in 1646 and boasts Spanish architecture and accents that give it old-world charm. It’s a beautiful, large, historic building you can’t miss wandering through Old San Juan.
By the way, if you stay near San Juan, make sure you stay in Old San Juan. It’s so beautiful, walkable, and full of history you wouldn’t want to stay anywhere else. You can book El Convento right here on Booking.com (where it has 1,000+ positive reviews). Also check out Palicio Provincial in Old San Juan. We spent some time here and it’s on our list of places to stay in OSJ.
Puerto Rico Food & Drink: Our Favorites
It’s not surprising that food and drink experiences made my list of things to do in Puerto Rico. Everywhere you go, you’ll find delicious places to eat and drink. I can’t possibly name them all, so I’ve listed a few notable bars and restaurants we visited. Of course, while you’re visiting Puerto Rico, make sure you have at least one piña colada. They were invented here, after all.
25. Eating and Drinking Good on Vieques
Vieques is tropical beach bum paradise. I recommend staying in Esperanza because there are multiple beach bars with all kinds of food on El Malecón (the boardwalk).
- Vieques Food Park (located here). Check out Rincon Del Sabor. We came to this food park three or four times during our stay in Vieques. Saw some big iguanas too!
- Crab Island Rum Distillery (located here). Taste some rum, enjoy a snack, and pick mangos in the big field outside the distillery. Just go where the horses gather!
- Duffy’s Bar and Restaurant (located here). We stayed above Duffy’s at the Flamboyan Guesthouse, so we ate a few times at Duffy’s. Good vegan burger and great cocktails.
- El Quenepo (located here). An upscale Puerto Rican restaurant with a good wine list. Vegan friendly with a pretty swanky menu. Make reservations here.
- Bili (located here) was on our radar for a few days before we stopped in because they advertise vegan and vegetarian options. It was memorable and delicious. Check out their menu here and see if it’s up your alley. If you’re a veggie lover, the vegetarian paella was bomb.
- Café Del Mar (located here) serves breakfast on El Malecón with (you guessed it!) vegan and vegetarian options. Seems like a lot of locals stop here for their morning coffee, perhaps before walking across the street to stroll the beach.
- Anita La Mamma del Gelato (located here). This place had a line out the door each of the three times we visited. It was 10/10. Just go. It’s famous. And they’ve got options for everyone (even vegans).
- Barrachina (located here). It’s said the piña colada was invented here, though apparently a few places claim that title. Barrachina seems most sure of it, though, and I believe them. Anyway, it’s a popular restaurant with a charming interior courtyard dining room. If you love Puerto Rican food and classic tropical cocktails, stop here.
- St. Germain (located here) is on the corner of Calle Sol and Calle de La Cruz. It’s a charming corner bistro and café with some cool history: the widely loved president of the Puerto Rico Nationalist Party, Pedro Albizu Campos, was arrested there in 1950 for fighting for the freedom of Puerto Rico. The food was delicious, too.
- Bacaro (located here). If you stay in San Juan long enough to crave Italian food (we did), Bacaro is a cozy restaurant with cool art, friendly staff, and great food. You’ll need a reservation to get in: (787) 977-5638.
- Pirilo (located here is an upstairs pizza bar serving Italian food in Old San Juan. They’ve got a nice wine list and lots of pizza options in an upscale setting. We had a hard time getting in (it’s very popular), so make a reservation before you go. Great for pizza and/or wine lovers!
- Café Berlin (located here) is a Puerto Rican restaurant that was pretty pricey, but it was a favorite of ours for Puerto Rican food in the old city. It’s a stones throw from Castillo San Cristóbal, and we stopped on our way to the fort. We didn’t plan on eating, but it looked like a cool place. And it was!
- Snorkeling with sea turtles
- Exploring Old San Juan
- Chartering a boat
- Visiting El Yunque National Forest
- Bio bay tours
- Touring forts like Castillo San Felipe del Morro
- Going to Vieques or Culebra
- Visiting art museums
- Finding their new favorite Puerto Rican dish
- Drinking piña coladas at the beach
The sign noting where the piña colada was invented and the inside of Bacaro. (June 2023)
26. Old San Juan Dining Experiences
Old San Juan is pretty touristy, and the food (and prices) reflects that. That’s not a bad thing though. There are plenty amazing traditional Puerto Rican restaurants to try. Here’s a tip: the closer you are to the cruise ship docks, the more touristy the food will be. That means more chain eateries and less nuance.
Each night we’d leave our Airbnb without a solid plan, wandering the historic streets and poking our heads into places that looked good. Even as vegans we had plenty of options.
Old San Juan is a cool place to walk around and see where you end up. You don’t have to make plans to find good restaurants, though sometimes you’ll wish you had a reservation. You’ll have a great time just walking the pretty streets and seeing what looks good as you explore.
Art and Wellness: Refreshing the Soul in Puerto Rico
I’m putting art and wellness together because they’re both relaxing and good for the soul. And in this modern age, we all need to prioritize things that are good for the soul. Do you love art? How about wellness and restoration? Here are a few things in Puerto Rico you’ll want to…
27. Visit an art museum
Two art museums you shouldn’t miss are Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico in San Juan and Museo de Arte de Ponce in Ponce. During the summer of 2023, Ponce’s famous art museum was still closed from hurricane and earthquake damage (and perhaps delayed by COVID?). So we only saw a tiny portion of the collection.
28. Take a spa day
My only spa-like experience in Puerto Rico was laying on white sand and soaking up the sun. However, if you love spas and wellness centers, this page has some good information for you. I’m no spa expert, but that list looks pretty good!
29. Walk around Santurce
Just outside Old San Juan is an artsy neighborhood called Santurce. You’ll see loads of street art, restaurants, shops, and galleries. This is where the aforementioned Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico lives, too.
30. Explore Old San Juan
Old San Juan has tons of art galleries and beautiful architecture. It truly is a well-preserved, urban scape of color and expression. If you’re an art aficionado, spend a few days in Old San Juan. There are affordable places to stay just a few minutes walk to amazing cathedrals, galleries, and plazas. Wander a bit. That’s how I often find my favorite places.
31. Recharge at a mountain retreat
Casa Grande Mountain Retreat boasts 105 acres of tropical waterfalls, hiking trails, and rooms with private porches and hammocks. There’s no Wifi, but they do have a saltwater swimming pool, yoga center, and farm-to-table cuisine. If you want to unwind in paradise to start or finish your Puerto Rico trip, this is the place to do it.
Visiting Puerto Rico: Rapid Fire FAQs
What activities do people do in Puerto Rico?
Here are the top 10 activities people do in Puerto Rico…
Is 3 days enough time to spend in Puerto Rico?
Respectfully, no. Three days is not enough time to spend in Puerto Rico. It’s a diverse place with museums, rainforests, beaches, and culture. The most amazing pieces of Puerto Rico can’t be found in an all-inclusive resort. I recommend spending at least a week in Puerto Rico. If you’re constrained by time (and must keep it to 3 days), plan your trip well and visit everything that looks best for you.
Do I need cash in Puerto Rico?
You can use a debit card almost everywhere in Puerto Rico. It’s a developed, modern island and everywhere we went, cards were accepted. However, bring a bit of cash. We met a lady near El Yunque who sold delicious frozen limbers out of her home. She could only take cash. Plus, if you take any sort of tour, you may want to tip your guide.
Do you need a car in Puerto Rico?
You might not need a car in Puerto Rico, and it can save you money to not rent one. Everything in Old San Juan is walkable, there are Ubers for transportation to and from the airport, and many guide companies will arrange transportation to a variety of places around the island. A car will make it easier to get to the west coast of Puerto Rico, but you don’t necessarily need one.
What is the most touristy part of Puerto Rico?
Old San Juan is the most touristy part of Puerto Rico and you should absolutely visit it, and stay for a few days. It’s an iconic, old city with beautiful architecture, impressive cathedrals, and lots of good food.