Puerto Rico – practical guide

Puerto Rico brings together elements of Latin and American culture. It is one of the centers where salsa was developed and it is the birthplace of reggaeton music popular in Latin American countries, but not only. Puerto Rico is a place of beautiful beaches, a tropical climate, and colonial architecture that provides many opportunities to spend time actively.

Puerto Rico – the most important information


Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island – part of the Greater Antilles archipelago – situated between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Geographically, it is part of North America and its region – Central America, the Caribbean. Culturally, it is part of Latin America. When it comes to the political affiliation of the island it is quite complicated – it is an unincorporated organized territory of the United States with the status of the commonwealth. Long story short, Puerto Rico is under the jurisdiction of the United States, but only selected elements of the American constitution are valid here. The official languages of the island are English and Spanish.

The territory of Puerto Rico is 9104 km² with a population of approx. 3.35 million people. The capital and largest city of the island is San Juan, with a population of about 381,000 people, with a beautiful old town and colonial architecture. Other important cities include Bayamón, Carolina, Ponce, Caguas, Guaynabo, Mayagüez, Trujillo Alto, Arecibo. The territory of Puerto Rico also includes smaller islands, such as Culebra, Vieques, and Mona.

In 1493 Christopher Columbus discovered the island for Europe. At the beginning of the 16th century, that is, the year 1508 – the Spanish settlement began. At the end of the 19th century, the independence movement was established. In 1897, the island received extensive autonomy from Spain, but a year later, as a result of the American-Spanish war, it was taken over by the United States. In 1917, the island was granted autonomy, and its inhabitants – American citizenship. Puerto Rico in Spanish means rich port. The islanders call themselves Boricua.

The shoreline is uniform and poorly developed. Only on the western and southern coasts, you can find small peninsulas and bays. On the coast, there are picturesque beaches, and in the south – lagoons. The ‘inside’ of the island is mountainous and upland. The most important mountain range is the Cordillera Central and the highest peak of these mountains and the whole island is the Cerro de Punta (1,388 m above sea level). In the north-eastern part is the Sierra de Luquillo range with the highest peak, El Yunque (1,065 m above sea level). Another range is the Sierra de Cayey. The lowlands are located mainly in the coastal zone.

The natural vegetation on the island includes tropical, subtropical, and palm forests. A lot of vegetation on the island was destroyed, and a large part of the island was dedicated to agriculture. On the southern shores, there are also savannah areas and coral reefs. Mangrove vegetation can also be found on the coast. The animal world is rich here. Among mammals, there are bats, and off the coast, you can see dolphins and whales. The island is inhabited by 349 species of birds, 18 of which are endemic. Reptiles and crustaceans are also common.

Read how to prepare before going to Puerto Rico: What you need to know before visiting Puerto Rico

What is the best time to visit Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is located in the humid equatorial climate zone. The island is flooded with warm sea currents, which means that the temperature is high all year round, but without extremes. There are northeastern trade winds, which bring heavy rainfall. Metaphorically speaking, Puerto Rico is on the route of the tropical cyclones. There are two seasons here – dry and rainy. The average annual temperature is 26°C, so Puerto Rico can be visited practically all year round. However, the best months to travel to Puerto Rico are December, January, February, March, April, June, and July – due to less rainfall than in other months.

How to get to Puerto Rico

The island is easily accessible by airplane from the continental United States. Many US cities (and major European ports) have ongoing connections to San Juan International Airport (SJU), also known as Luis Muñoz Marín International.

If you’re in Miami, consider a weekend trip to Puerto Rico. Flights from Florida are cheap and take approx. 2.5 hours one way, so the destination is perfect for a short trip.

Another popular way to get to Puerto Rico is the cruise ship, which is the slower – but more scenic – way of reaching the island. Cruise ships depart from Florida and the southeast coast of the United States on regular basis.

Transport in Puerto Rico

Despite the fact that Puerto Rico has an extensive road network, bus connections between the cities are unfortunately barely existing. In San Juan, public transport works well – there are buses and a subway. To get to other parts of the island it’s best to rent a car. There are many options because there are branches of all major car rental companies on the island such as Hertz, Avis, and Charlie Car, etc.

Another option is to fly between major cities such as San Juan, Ponce, Mayagüez, and Arecibo. When deciding on a taxi, it’s best to ask for the price first.

Puerto Rico – where to stay

I spent the first few days in San Juan at the flagship San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. It is definitely a hotel for people who like comfort, space, and access to all amenities within the reach of a hand.

If you are looking for a romantic, relaxing, or comfortable base to explore San Juan and its surroundings, the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino has it all. A stay in a resort can be intimate, focused on chilling and luxurious relaxation, but also active and full of entertainment. The hotel offers a little bit of everything therefore is perfect for both families and couples.

Read more about this place here: Weekend getaway in Puerto Rico and Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino experience

What to eat in Puerto Rico? Puerto Rican cuisine

Puerto Rican cuisine was influenced by other cultures and culinary traditions including the Caribbean, Latin American, and also from the United States, Europe, mainly Spain, as well as African and indigenous Taínos. The islanders call their cuisine cocina criolla, which means Creole cuisine. Puerto Rico is called the gastronomic capital of the Caribbean.

Dishes most often contain ingredients such as grains and legumes (for example, black, red, and white beans, chickpeas, peas, corn, rice). Coffee, sesame, tropical fruits, herbs, and vegetables (chokeberry, asparagus, cabbage, gourd, carrot, cauliflower, eggplant) are also popular. Puerto Ricans use potatoes, sweet potatoes, yucca for many dishes. Meat, fish, and seafood are also often served.

The most popular traditional dishes in Puerto Rico include:

  • rice prepared in many different ways: Arroz con dulce – sweet boiled rice in spices, ginger, milk, coconut milk, raisins, and rum. Arroz con leche – rice with milk, sugar, and cinnamon, served with fruit. Arroz con gandules y lechón – yellow rice with peas and roasted pork. Arroz y habichuelas – rice with beans; it is the most popular combincation not only in Puerto Rico but also in other Latin American countries,
  • pastele – dough made from broth, green banana, pumpkin, bananas, and potatoes, stuffed with meat and other ingredients,
  • asopao – a soup with rice, seafood, chicken, chorizo, and other ingredients,
  • tembleque – coconut pudding made from cornstarch,
  • almojábana – a falt-cake/pancake made of rice flour, baking soda, cheese, milk, and eggs,
  • croquetas de panapén con bacalao – fried balls made of codfish with bread puree, roasted garlic, eggs, butter, and spices,
  • macabeos – green banana flat-cake/pancake stuffed with meat,
  • pátanos Maduros – slices of deep-fried sweet bananas – platanos,
  • farina – wheat cream boiled with milk, sugar, spices, ginger, lemon peels, and coconut milk,
  • tortilla de huevos – omelet with tomatoes, coriander, onion, pepper, garlic, oregano, and cheese,
  • bistec encebollao – thinly sliced, mashed steak with pickled onions,
  • albondigón – Puerto Rican roast with beans, potatoes, and hard-boiled egg,
  • chicharrón de pollo – chicken thighs cut in half and marinated in lemon, rum, and garlic, coated with flour and deep-fried,
  • fricasé – spicy meat stewed in butter and olive oil with the addition of wine, raisins, bay leaves, cloves, garlic, onion, pepper, tomato sauce, olives, capers, peas, and carrots,
  • pastelón – Puerto Rican version of lasagne, with sweet bananas (platanos or cassava) instead of pasta,
  • sandwiches, e.g. tripleta – made with pan de agua. Jíbartia – A sandwich with ripe sweet platanos instead of bread. Mixto – from cooked sofrito,
  • gandinga – pork organ stew: heart, liver and kidney, tomato sauce and capers,
  • caldo gallego – soup with white beans, chicken broth, chorizo, smoked ham, turnips, kale, and potatoes,
  • sancocho – a dish of various meats, corn, and pumpkin,
  • salmorejo – soup with garlic, tomato, and crab served cold.

In Puerto Rican cuisine, spicy sauces are served, including:

  • coco loco – hot sauce based on coconut, lime, molasses, chili, and other ingredients,
  • kookoo – grilled mango and habanero with smoked paprika, cumin, and other ingredients,
  • parcha apasionada – hot peppers: habanero, caballero, Thai and cayenne, passion fruit, vinegar, onion, garlic, olive oil, orange juice, lemon juice, and spices.

Traditional Puerto Rican drinks include:

  • piña colada – the national drink of Puerto Rico,
  • coquito – coconut milk and rum eggnog.

Puerto Rico – things to do?

Visiting San Juan and its historical center

San Juan has a charming colonial center with colorful buildings typical of the Caribbean. Walking through the cobblestone streets and picturesque squares, you will discover beautiful baroque churches and the fortresses of El Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal. Also, consider visiting La Placita in the Santurce neighborhood which is the center of nightlife with lots of bars and people dancing in the streets. There are beaches in the eastern part of the city, among them one of the most beautiful – Playa Isla Verde. La Perla is a breathtaking district, about which band Calle 13 had a song and which appeared in the “Despacito” music video.

Read more about what to do in San Juan: The best things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Swimming in the bioluminescent bay near La Parguera at night

La Parguera is a small seaside town located near Cabo Rojo. From here, you can get to the bioluminescent bay, a place where the water, thanks to the plankton it contains, glows at night. This is one of the most exciting places in Puerto Rico and visiting this place at night is an unforgettable experience.

Swimming among the mangroves of Cayo Caracoles and Cayo Enrique

The small islands of Cayo Caracoles and Cayo Enrique are slightly far off the coast. Their most important attractions are the mangrove vegetation with characteristic corridors between which you can swim and watch various species of colorful fish.

Visit Cape Cabo Rojo and Playa Combate beach

Cape Cabo Rojo is located in the south-west of the island. Cabo Rojo in Spanish means the ”red cape” and comes from shimmering red salt pools. On the Bahia Sucia bay (contrary to the name, it is not dirty – it has crystal clear water) there is a beautiful Puente de Piedra beach with perfectly turquoise water, monumental cliffs, and rock formations. Further north there are other paradise beaches, such as Playa Combate.

Visiting colonial cities and towns

San Juan is not the only city in Puerto Rico with a beautiful colonial old town. San German is the second oldest city after San Juan. You can also consider visiting Ponce, although many buildings are unfortunately quite damaged here. Other interesting breathtaking colonial towns include Lajas, Juana Diaz, and Coamo.

Beaches to see when visiting Puerto Rico
  • Vieques Island – local beaches here beautiful, with white sand, small coves, and crystal clear water, and most importantly – they are almost empty. However, one of the most beautiful is Playa Negra with black sand and the neighboring cliffs.
  • Culebra Island – the most beautiful on the island is Playa Flamenco with white sand, it is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Culebrita is the hidden gem of the island – a beach accessible only by boat, and the cove with white sand is home and a feeding ground for green turtles.
  • Cabo Rojo – on the south-west coast, the most beautiful beach in this area is La Playuela.
  • Aguadilla – place where you can go swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, and surfing; there is a coral reef.
  • Fajardo – located on the east coast, the water here is incredibly clear, at the abandoned pier you can admire long ranges of reefs.
  • Domes – a paradise for surfers, located between the lighthouse and the inactive Puerto Rico nuclear reactor; a great place for observing whales in winter.
  • Jobos – vibrant beach is a favorite place for locals.
  • Guánica – a bay with the clearest water in Puerto Rico, part of the Guánica Biosphere Reserve.
  • La Monserrate – often visited by families and large groups,
  • Combate – sparkling waters, large reefs, unspoiled coast, scuba diving paradise; a place where you can admire the best sunsets in Puerto Rico.
  • Isla Verde – located in Carolina, it is considered one of the best city beaches on the island.
  • El Escambron – located between Old San Juan and its modern part.
Ship and catamaran cruises and fishing

Something that you must do when visiting Puerto Rico is a ship, boat, yacht, or scooter trip. This way, you can reach one of the nearby islets, admire the sunset or visit San Juan. There are also cruises dedicated to fishing, for example, in the waters of the Torrecella lagoon and among the mangroves


Puerto Rico has some of the best surfing spots in the Caribbean for both professionals and beginners. The best places to go surfing include:

  • Rincón – there is a statue of a surfer in the town. It is situated at the westernmost point of the island. The most popular surfing beaches are Domes, María’s, Tres Palmas, and Sandy Beach.
  • Aguadilla – Punta Borinquen is a coastline stretching from Crash Boat to Surfer’s Beach in the town of Aguadilla situated in the northwest. It was recognized by Save the Waves in 2018 as the first world surfing reserve in the Caribbean; surfing spots include Surfer’s Beach, Table Tops, Survival Beach, Wilderness, Wishing Well, Manglito, Gas Chambers, and Crash Boat.
  • Isabela – with the Middles Beach – the site of the annual Corona Pro Surf Circuit, another place to surf is the Jobos Beach.
  • La Ocho – surfing place located in San Juan, accessible from Escambrón beach.
  • La Pared – located in the town of Luquillo in the northeastern part of the island, a good beach for beginners of surfing.
  • Los Tubos – the beach is located in the city of Manatí on the north coast, it is one of the few with tall waves.
Diving, snorkeling

Puerto Rico is a great place for diving. There are places for both snorkelers and scuba diving enthusiasts. The best places to go diving include:

  • Fajardo – many operators go to the atolls to snorkel among reefs and tropical fish.
  • La Parguera – part of the city of Lajas in the south of the island. The La Parguera Nature Reserve is full of small coves with mangroves and shallow tranquil canals and a bioluminescent bay.
  • Rincón – a place for diving is available right on Steps Beach in the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve.
  • San Juan – the place for diving in San Juan is Escambrón beach, it has several rock formations that protect it from the raging waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Vieques – a place where you can dive among coral reefs, fish, turtles, rays, and even sharks, the best beaches are Blue Beach with the small island of Isla Chiva, as well as Esperanza Beach, Mosquito Bay, and Playa Pata Prieta.
  • Culebra – the coves around Culebra Island are one of the best places for snorkeling in Puerto Rico The most interesting places are the beaches of Tamarindo, Flamenco, and Carlos Rosario and the bays of Luis Peña and Culebrita surrounded by coral reefs teeming with fish, sea turtles, and rays.

When visiting Puerto Rico, you should definitely go mountain hiking:

  • El Yunque National Forest in Río Grande it is one of the most biologically diverse places on the island. In this rainforest there are over 240 species of plants, you can watch birds, swim in natural pools under waterfalls, or go on a demanding hike. Most exciting hikes include La Coca Trail, Baño Grande, Angelito and Puente Roto, El Toro, Mt. Britton, and El Yunque Peak.
  • The Guánica Dry Forest Reserve in the southern part of the island is the opposite of the El Yunque rainforest. Cactus and other plants adapted to desert conditions grow here. There are hawks and vultures. The most popular hikes include Ballena, La Cueva to the limestone caves, and Fuerte Caprón.
  • Guajataca Forest located in the town of Isabela offers about 50 km of hiking trails, the most popular being the Interpretative Trail and the Cueva del Viento Trail. Both are one-day hikes.
  • Toro Negro State Forest with four types of forests, the three highest peaks of the island – Cerro de Punta, Cerro Jayuya, and Cerro Rosa, a lake, two natural pools, nine rivers, and numerous waterfalls, the most popular hikes include El Bolo and Charco La Confesora
  • Cambalache State Forest in Arecibo is a place with gentle slopes, ideal for a leisurely hike, mountain biking, birdwatching.
  • Árbol Solitario Hike leads to the top of the Cerro de los Cielos mountain.
  • The Cabo Rojo Nature Reserve protects the subtropical dry forest, a popular birdwatching place with hiking and biking trails.
Dance lessons, music workshops

Music and dance are integral parts of Puerto Rican culture. Consider signing up for salsa classes or participating in music workshops.

Horse Riding

When visiting Puerto Rico, you can give a chance to horseback riding combined with admiring the mountains, coast, and cliffs

Quad riding

One of the unusual ways to explore Puerto Rico and spend time actively on the island is quad bike riding. This vehicle allows you to reach even the most inaccessible places and admire the coast, mountains, mangroves, limestone rocks, and cliffs.

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Author picture

Welcome on my blog about traveling, active lifestyle and chasing all the crazy dreams. I have been on 6 continents and in more than 100 countries so far, but I still have so much to explore :)

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Author picture

Welcome on my blog about traveling, active lifestyle and chasing all the crazy dreams. I have been on 6 continents and in more than 100 countries so far, but I still have so much to explore :)

< read more >