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. 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!

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

    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!

    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!!

    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!

    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!

    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.

    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’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.

    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’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.

    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:

    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!

    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!

    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!

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