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
Flamenco Beach on Culebra Island

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 natural disasters and 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.

Check out my latest Puerto Rico video:

Sunset in Old San Juan

Reasons to visit Puerto Rico

After spending some time on the island for the first time in March 2016, and again in February 2020, 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. There's a complicated political relationship there, but for the average American who wants to visit, 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 fortresses. The forts – Castillo San Cristóbal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro – offer a unique glimpse into Puerto Rico's past, and also offer great views out over the city and sea.

Sentry box at Castillo San Cristóbal
View from Castillo San Cristóbal
Sentry box at Castillo San Cristóbal

And, of course, there are the colorful streets of Old San Juan to explore, too, which definitely feel like they've been plucked from somewhere else.

Street in Old San Juan

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: 15+ Memorable Things to Do in San Juan, 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
Toro Verde Adventure Park in Orocovis

My main adventure in Puerto Rico on my first trip 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 was the longest zip line in the world (7,234 feet) when it opened. (It's since been knocked out of that top spot, but it's still epic!)

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.

You can head to one of Puerto Rico's bioluminescent bays like the one in Fajardo, or Mosquito Bay on Vieques if you're up for a unique experience on the water. Or, San Juan has some nice city beaches, too, where you'll 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
Coconut Beach Vieques
Looking down at a beach on Vieques

I was lucky enough to take a catamaran trip out to Culebra Island with East Island Excursions on my first trip, 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
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 viewed nearly 3 million times on Facebook.

And traveling to Vieques is also another great option if you want a laid-back beach getaway.

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 first 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.

7. Yes, it's open for business

After suffering everything from hurricanes to earthquakes in recent years, many people are under the impression that Puerto Rico is completely destroyed and that they can't visit.

This isn't the case at all. On my second visit in 2020, there was little to no evidence of natural disasters in the parts of the island that tourists tend to visit. Not everything is how it was pre-Hurricane Maria, but you can still do most of the things you'd want to on a visit to Puerto Rico.

So don't let hurricanes from years ago stop you from planning a trip to Puerto Rico!

READ NEXT: 5 Days in San Juan, Puerto Rico: The Perfect Itinerary

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

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

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  1. Where would be a good place for family?? My husband and I would love to take our grandkids here,is there any all inclusive hotel/ resorts that you would suggest they are 13 we would like something with a beach and a pool.spring break 2021.

      I don’t have any experience with all-inclusives or traveling to Puerto Rico with kids, so any recommendations I would give would literally be just from me doing a Google search for “best family resorts Puerto Rico.” It looks like the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar is highly rated, and you could see whether the El Conquistador Resort is expected to be fully open by then (it was damaged in the 2017 hurricanes).

    […] 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. […]

    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.

    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!

    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!

    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.

      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!

    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!

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

    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!

    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.

    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!

    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!

    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.

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