Thinking About a Caribbean Vacation? Think Puerto Rico

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When you think about a vacation in the Caribbean, which destinations immediately come to mind? Maybe the Bahamas or Jamaica or the Virgin Islands? Maybe a resort in the Dominican Republic, or a beach escape to the Cayman Islands?

But what about Puerto Rico?

Flamenco Beach, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

If you're like me, you may not have really considered Puerto Rico as a Caribbean destination before. Maybe it's because you've heard that Puerto Rico is technically part of the United States and figured it's not “different” enough. Or maybe you know of the territory's recent financial struggles. Or maybe it's just because you don't always hear a lot about Puerto Rico from travelers.

But let me tell you this: Puerto Rico has just about everything you could want in a Caribbean destination – and then some.

After spending some time on the island in early March, here are just a few of the reasons to add Puerto Rico to your must-visit list.

1. You don't have to leave the U.S.

Even though Puerto Rico sits by itself out in the Greater Antilles, it's actually a U.S. territory. For Americans, this is great news. It means you don't have to have a passport to visit, and don't have to worry about exchanging currency once you get there. You don't even have to worry about your phone, since your U.S. phone plan will work just fine in Puerto Rico.

And, even though Spanish is the dominant language on the island, most people (and especially people who work in tourism) also speak excellent English.

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
This could be straight out of New Orleans – but it's actually San Juan.

2. The Spanish culture and history is nevertheless strong

But, having said that, going to Puerto Rico FEELS like visiting another country. The Spanish culture is still strong in Puerto Rico, from the salsa tunes played in bars to the Latin dishes you can find in just about every restaurant (tip: try the mofongo!!). If you're looking to ease yourself into Latin America, Puerto Rico would make a great introduction.

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Mofongo in Puerto Rico
Cassava mofongo
Ponce, Puerto Rico
Carnaval masks in Ponce

The Spanish footprint can perhaps best be seen in Old San Juan and its UNESCO-recognized colonial forts. The forts offer great views out over the city and sea, and you can easily spend hours wandering up and down the colorful streets of Old San Juan.

San Juan, Puerto Rico
Castillo San Cristóbal
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Old San Juan colors

Puerto Rico is another fantastic example of how truly diverse the United States is.

Street scene in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Coffee Shop in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico also makes great coffee!

RELATED: Photos to Make You Want to Go to Puerto Rico

3. You can go on adventures

Puerto Rico isn't very big, but its landscapes are nevertheless diverse. Beaches, rainforest, mountains… it has it all. And you can reach all these different features in about an hour from San Juan.

Toro Verde Adventure Park in Puerto Rico

My main adventure in Puerto Rico was trying out the breathtaking zip lining courses at Toro Verde Adventure Park in Orocovis, which is in the heart of Puerto Rico's mountainous center. Not only were the zip lines epic and adrenaline-inducing, but Toro Verde also has some of the best zip lining views I've ever seen.

Me on “The Beast” zip line.

Zip lining at Toro Verde in Puerto Rico

If you go to Toro Verde, you have to make sure to brave The Monster, which is officially the longest zip line in the world at 7,234 feet.

4. Or you can just lounge on the beach

Adventure sports not really your thing? Don't worry – Puerto Rico has its fair share of beautiful beaches, too. One of the most-visited beaches is the Bioluminescent Bay in Fajardo, where are night you can sometimes see glowing plankton in the water. San Juan has some nice city beaches, too, where you'll often find locals every day of the week.

But to find the best beaches in Puerto Rico, you have to go to other nearby islands. Culebra and Vieques islands, both reachable by boat or short flight from the main island, have arguably the best beaches in Puerto Rico.

Culebra Island, Puerto Rico
Culebra Island

I was lucky enough to take a catamaran trip out to Culebra Island with East Island Excursions, which included snorkeling stops and a little more than an hour at Flamenco Beach.

Flamenco Beach often appears on lists of the best beaches in the world. And, while I was skeptical at first (because, how often do those “best” lists let you down?), I have to admit that Flamenco IS indeed one of the prettiest beaches I've ever been to. The sand was fine and almost pure white. The water was turquoise and warm. And the beach was surprisingly uncrowded.

Flamenco Beach on Culebra Island

Flamenco Beach on Culebra Island

Best beach? Possibly.

Tank on Flameco Beach in Puerto Rico
Complete with old tank left behind from when the U.S. military used to conduct drills here.

Caribbean waters in Puerto Rico

Others seem to agree with my assessment, considering that this video has been shared more than 58,000 times on Facebook.

5. There are also resorts, if that's your thing

Puerto Rico is easy to explore by car (though watch out for those aggressive drivers in San Juan), but also caters to the crowd who usually turns to the Caribbean for resort vacations. There are some full-on never-have-to-leave-the-resort type properties, as well as plenty of hotels with resort-like amenities.

I stayed at two Hilton properties in San Juan during my trip. The first was the Caribe Hilton, which is closer to your average resort. With a few restaurants on site and a beautiful pool and beach area, I could have easily hung out here for a day or two.

Sunrise at Caribe Hilton
Sunrise from my balcony at the Caribe Hilton.
Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico
Caribe Hilton pool/beach.

I also stayed at the Condado Plaza Hilton, which is a more contemporary, “urban” resort. The rooms were super nice, but the beach/pool area wasn't as exciting – if you stayed here, you would probably want to venture out into San Juan more.

Condado Plaza in Puerto Rico
Funky bar at the Condado Plaza.

On my next trip to Puerto Rico (because there will definitely be a next trip), I plan on staying at the El Conquistador Resort. It's a Waldorf-owned property about 40 minutes from San Juan, and is the largest resort in Puerto Rico. It boasts a huge pool area, a water park, a golf course, more than 25 restaurants on site, and its very own private island that guests have access to. THIS is the sort of resort that you might never want to leave.

I've never done a resort vacation, but visiting the El Conquistador has me inspired to give it a try the next time I'm in Puerto Rico.

El Conquistador Resort in Puerto Rico
El Conquistador Resort pool

6. It's easy to get to

Lastly, Puerto Rico is easy to get to, especially from the U.S. There are direct flights from cities all along the East Coast, and you won't have to sacrifice a full day to travel. San Juan is just a little over 2 hours from Miami, and less than 3.5 hours from New York.

Flight prices aren't outrageous, either – from where I live in Ohio, you can fly to Puerto Rico for cheaper than you can fly to the West Coast.

San Juan, Puerto Rico
You could be sitting here in just a few hours.

So are you convinced? When are you booking your trip to Puerto Rico?

 

Pin it for later:

Puerto Rico: Your next Caribbean vacation

 

*Note: Thanks to the Puerto Rico Tourism Company for hosting me on this trip. As always, all opinions, tips, and photos are 100% my own. I would never recommend something to you guys that I didn't love myself!

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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54 Comments on “Thinking About a Caribbean Vacation? Think Puerto Rico

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  1. Seriously though, I need the El Conquistador Resort in my life…

      Haha, same here! It was a gorgeous property – I’m already plotting my return!

    Love this post and love your pictures. I’ve been once and have been itching to go back!

      I loved Puerto Rico so much – I already can’t wait to go back!

    I just got back in January. PR is blowing up this year! I cannot get over how amazing my time there was! I only picked in because I was travelling with a friend who didn’t have a passport, and not I’m so in love with the place.

    Here are my pics: http://gothreetwentyfour.com/2016/02/05/unesco-world-heritage-site-20-la-fortaleza-and-san-juan-national-historic-site-in-puerto-rico/

    Your photos are gorgeous! Thanks for the great writeup!

      PR has definitely been getting more attention this year – but I think that’s great! It’s such a cool destination, and more Americans should consider it!

    I’ve met a lot of people who moved to the US from Puerto Rico and they’ve often mentioned the poverty on the island. Is that something that you witnessed as a tourist in Puerto Rico?

      Not a whole lot, no. But, then again, I stuck to most of the touristy parts of the island. There definitely are some rougher neighborhoods in San Juan (some of which I DID see), however that’s true of any large city in any country.

    Yeah! Puerto Rico is so underrated! I went back in December for 2.5 weeks and knew next to nothing about it when I got there. When I left I had explored a lot of the tiny island, but by no means everything! I agree with you that Culebra is just gorgeous. I wish I had spent more than a day there! Beautiful photos!

      Underrated, indeed! I’m now telling everyone I know that they have to go to Puerto Rico! My first trip was very short, but it was long enough to convince me that I loved it and definitely need to go back.

    I’m considering Puerto Rico as a place to drag along my friends who express interest in traveling but don’t have a passport. It seems like a super easy place to visit! Would you say that it would definitely be beneficial to rent a car during a Puerto Rico trip? Or would it be possible to use buses/local transport?

      It’s a great place to take non-passport-holders, while still feeling like you’re leaving the US. As for renting a car, I would definitely recommend it if you want to see a bit of the island.

    Great post! My boyfriend is visiting Puerto Rico this summer and now I’m a bit jealous. Though I’ll be in Italy at the time, so I guess I can’t really complain. I’m going to email this post to him right now. Thanks for sharing 🙂

      Italy sounds pretty great, too! I hope your boyfriend enjoys PR as much as I did.

    I was convinced the moment I saw the colourful houses and the bright blue sea! When it comes to the Caribbean vibe I’m a pretty easy customer! I’m daunted by the vast amount of island in the Caribbean but I’m determined to visit as many as possible 🙂

      I’m definitely inspired to see more of the Caribbean! The culture is so interesting, and every island looks so gorgeous. Puerto Rico is a great introduction.

    Hello Amanda.
    Such a lovely blog. Thanks for your experiences you shared 🙂
    Puerto Rico, Just heard such a wonderful place or seeing on images never been there but now after your blog, I am seriously thinking to be there.

      It’s a great destination for a lot of reasons!

    Oh wow, Puerto Rico looks gorgeous! Will definitely put it on my bucket list!

      I had such a good time – it’s definitely bucket list-worthy!

    Great reasons to visit Puerto Rico! Puerto Rico seems to be a touch of a foreign land that visitors can experience without leaving U.S. territory. Flamenco Beach looks so lovely!

      That’s exactly what it is! Like visiting another country, but without actually leaving or needing a passport (if you’re American). And Flamenco Beach was amazing!!

    What would you say someone could expect to spend airfare from the east coast plus hotel and/or resort?

      I’ve seen airfare as low as $250 roundtrip, but anywhere from $300-$500 I’d say would be fair for flights. And most of the big hotels/resorts start either a little below or a little over $200 per night (the Caribe Hilton I stayed at starts at about $175; the El Conquistador starts closer to $225).

        Plus damn resort fees! Totally unnecessary money grab!

    I can’t wait to visit Puerte Rico next week to experience that crazy zipline, also adopt another culture. Loving it!

    Hi Amanda! I’m from Puerto Rico (I live in Ponce), and came across your article today. I’m happy you enjoyed your time here! There are way more than 6 good reasons to visit. It’s true what you say, it is way underrated! There are tons of places to visit, things to see and do. Most of the turist tend to stay at San Juan or the east coast, but personally, I LOVE the south and west coast! Most of the beaches in the north coast have strong currents and can be a little dangerous. The are hundreds of secrets spots and and other more popular, magazine worthy beaches. All the way from Guanica, to Cabo Rojo, Rincon and Aguadilla. You have to go to Cabo Rojo and take a trip to it’s Lighthouse, then, on your way down, you can relax and cool down in the beautiful beach next to it call “Playa Sucia o Playuela”. Rincon has the best sunsets! Peña Blanca en Aguadilla. “La cueva del indio” or “Tunel Guajataca” in Isabela. “El Yunque” wich is a national rain forest and has a beautiful river. Oh, and did you like the food?! You need to visit Piñones.. You can visit Camuy and see the caverns with and underground river, or take an excursion across a mountain and body draft in a river. I can go on and on, but you get the point! ? Hope you enjoy the next trip as well! ✌

      Thanks for all the great suggestions, Rosa! Sounds like I’ll have to spend a lot more time there on my next trip to even scratch the surface!

    This is excellent stuff here. Using photographs in the post makes it 1000 of times better. well caribbean is the lovely place to be visit, But you for the Indian as i am its very far from us.. But sure to love to visit one day..

      Glad you like the photos! Thanks for checking it out.

    Amazing photos and inspirational post as always. I have been to Cuba before but not to any other Caribbean Country. I think I know where to go next. This is a great country. Thank you for this professionally written post Amanda. Cheers!

      Ah, see I’ve never been to Cuba! But Puerto Rico is definitely a great Caribbean destination!

    Oh yes! Will hopefully go there this year as I am based in Cancun now and it’s so easy to get there thanks to a new direct flight with Volaris. I already love the architecture and want to explore the nature!

      You definitely need to go since you’re so close!

    The Caribbean sold me on beaches! I’ve only had long layovers in Puerto Rico – enough to sample the food and shopping in old San Juan, but I would definitely consider it as a destination if the price were right!

      It’s a lot more affordable than many people realize! Hotels/resorts aren’t really exorbitant, and you can also find great deals on flight prices.

    I so need to get back to Puerto Rico and stay longer. We only had a few hours on a cruise in October, would love to spend an entire week there!

      It definitely deserves more than just a few hours! I only had one afternoon in Old San Juan, and it wasn’t nearly enough!

    All are more than welcome! I live where you vacation ???

    Awesome post. The pictures are stunning! I’m also in Ohio and have noticed the prices are pretty low to fly to Puerto Rico! I think it would be a fantastic destination.

      Yes, it’s quite affordable to fly to! And it IS a great destination – I’m planning to go back this winter!

    Hi Amanda,
    Marvelous article about our Island. Perhaps next time you visit, instead of the World Class hotels we have, you may wish to visit some of the Island’s great short term rentals available especially in the Historic Area if the second oldest city in the New World. San Juan.
    I enjoyed your candid and interesting writing and photography style.
    Best
    Ralph.

      Thanks, Ralph! And I do love a good vacation rental – and I also loved Old San Juan! I’ll definitely keep this in mind if/when I return to PR!

    Go for the birdwatching. In December 2015 we hired a local guide and had a great adventure. He did the driving, arranged for meals, and had excellent places for us to stay as we moved around the island. So glad we got out of San Juan and got to see so much more of the island.

      That definitely sounds like a great way to see more of Puerto Rico!

    I’m considering PR for an October vacation. I am a member of Wyndham so am looking at staying at the Rio Mar, but will want to get out and see the island. What are your thoughts of PR for the solo traveler?

      I wasn’t in PR solo, but I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be a great solo destination! I’m sure Rio Mar could set you up with some tours around the island – or you could even look into renting a car. Looks like you’d be close to El Yunque, too. I didn’t make it there on my trip, but it’s on my “next time” list!

    You didn’t even mention the Puerto Rican Tody!! One of the cutest birds on earth or the Lizard Cuckoo!! Birds are cool on Puerto Rico!

      I unfortunately don’t think I saw them! I’ll definitely pay better attention next time.

    […] You’ve earned that tax refund and now its time to treat yo’self. Take a week or so to relax on the beach and explore Puerto Rico.  Relaxing sea air. Rejuvenating sunshine. Beautiful beaches and rain forest adventures. Puerto Rico is just a short flight from the US and (bonus feature!) you don’t need a passport to go there! Here is Amanda’s take on why you should visit Puerto Rico. […]

    […] You’ve earned that tax refund and now its time to treat yo’self. Take a week or so to relax on the beach and explore Puerto Rico.  Relaxing sea air. Rejuvenating sunshine. Beautiful beaches and rain forest adventures. Puerto Rico is just a short flight from the US and (bonus feature!) you don’t need a passport to go there! Here is Amanda’s take on why you should visit Puerto Rico. […]

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