Choose from 32 Fun Things to Do in Puerto Rico
Ponce is Puerto Rico’s second city and a complete change of pace from the capital San Juan. Ponce's low key charm speaks louder to architecture buffs than it does to party animals. Starting at the central Plaza Las Delicicas you’ll find two defining landmarks of the city, the twin-towered cathedral and the vivid scarlet and black stripes of the whimsical Parque de Bombas, once a fire station, now a museum of fire-fighting.
In the streets near the square you’ll soon come across the lemon-yellow Teatro La Perla and the delightful candy pink Museum of Architecture. Head north for the Castillo Serrallés, a Spanish Colonial Revival mansion which houses a museum relating to the island’s all-important sugar and rum industries. It’s just one of the imposing residences you’ll see throughout the city.
After all that visual richness cleanse your palate with the tropical Modernism of the highly-recommended Ponce Museum of Art.
Ponce is on Puerto Rico’s south coast, over an hour by car from the capital San Juan. Many of the city’s sights are in the compact old town centered on Plaza Las Delicias.
- Cayo Icacos is a must-see for nature lovers.
- Aside from palm trees, there is no shade on the island; visitors should bring sun protection.
- Booking a tour ensures you’ll have access to restrooms and water on board the tour boat, as there are no amenities on the island.
- Visitors who book a simple water-taxi excursion will need to bring their own snorkeling gear; on guided tours, gear is typically included.
- Since La Fortaleza is a functioning government building, it’s subject to closures without warning; additionally, interior tours aren’t available while government is in session.
- The gardens surrounding the palace are a great place for kids to burn off some energy.
- Like many buildings constructed centuries ago, La Fortaleza is not fully handicap accessible.
- Wear hiking boots and comfortable clothing; flip flops are not recommended.
- Consider bringing a bathing suit for a dip in the falls.
- Hiking trails are not handicap accessible.
- Popular combination tours include a kayaking trip on the nearby bioluminescent bay and a visit to Luquillo Beach.
The El Yunque National Forest (formerly Caribbean National Forest) is in the northeast of Puerto Rico, less than an hour's drive from San Juan. Driving time from Fajardo is under half an hour.
When to Get There
It is a World Heritage-listed site on the northwestern tip of the islet of San Juan – a perfect spot to keep watch over the Atlantic Ocean and protect Old San Juan and the Bay of San Juan from incoming enemies. Its more recent history includes the American military, which occupied the site from 1898 to 1961.
The citadel, surrounded like it is by an expansive green lawn and the dramatic rocky coast, sits on quite a beautiful spot; the imposing fortress walls create an interesting contrast to the sparkling blue sea. When the wind blows, the lawn that connects the citadel to the town is a popular kite-flying spot.
- The neighborhood is a must-see for history buffs and those seeking postcard-worthy views.
- Visitors flock to Old San Juan year-round, so be prepared for crowds, especially in the busy summer season.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes to help navigate the cobblestones, and pack lightweight clothing and sun protection for the near constant warm weather.
- The Bacardi Factory is open daily with shorter Sunday hours.
- The tour is a must-do for history buffs and those seeking insight into Caribbean culture.
- Bring your photo ID if you plan to drink and are 18 years or older.
- You may be buzzed by the end of the visit—be sure to arrange safe transportation to your next destination.
- Park entrance is limited and often capped by 10am; ensure your entry by booking ahead.
- The cave has a cement walkway with handrails, but it is usually wet and slippery so be sure to wear closed-toe shoes with a good tread.
- On-site amenities include a restroom, gift shop, and cafeteria.
- Camping is permitted in summer.
- Dress in layers, as the cave can get chilly, and bring an extra shirt in case yours gets wet.
By daylight, Fajardo's bioluminescent lagoon appears just as scenic as any other bay on the tropical Puerto Rican coastline. But come nightfall, the Laguna Grande bio bay glows fluorescent with every movement and splash, thanks to the presence of microscopic plankton that thrive in the shallow Caribbean waters. Read on to learn how to take your own memorable Bio Bay tour.
Bio bay tours allow visitors the chance to set the water aglow and create a trail of light with every stroke of a kayak paddle. To see the bioluminescence, night trips are offered around the cycles of the moon, with ideal timing on the darkest nights. These guided kayak tours are available departing from San Juan or Luquillo, which is only nine miles (15 kilometers) away. It’s common to couple kayaking with an afternoon nature walk to La Mina Falls in the nearby El Yunque National Forest.
What to Expect When Visiting the Bioluminescent Bay
Bio bay kayaking trips frequently set out in the early evening around sunset, launching from Las Croabas with a tour guide or instructor. These kayak tours travel through a dense collection of mangrove trees under a total canopy of darkness, and once you’re out of the mangrove tunnel, the stars above provide the only light by which to view the glowing waters, where the tips of your paddles will slowly begin to glow as they strike the liquid surface. There’s no swimming in the bay during this popular Puerto Rico vacation activity, but it’s easy to pass your hand through the water over the side of your kayak.
How to Get There
Laguna Grande is located in the Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve just off the shores of Fajardo, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) or an hour’s drive east of Old San Juan, a major tour departure point.
Why Does the Bio Bay Glow?
Although the glowing water often gives visitors a magical feeling, this spectacular natural wonder is actually caused by pyrodinium bahamense, single-celled organisms that glow when disturbed. The bay is surrounded by red mangrove trees, native to the surrounding El Yunque rainforest, that provide vitamin B12 to the marine plankton and create the perfect environment for their survival. There are only a handful of places in the world where this natural phenomenon is consistently found, two others of which are also on Puerto Rico, the Island of Enchantment: at Mosquito Bay on Vieques Island and the bay at La Parguera.
Forested white-sand beaches and sapphire-blue water make Flamenco Beach (Playa Flamenco) as picturesque as a Caribbean postcard. Hidden away on the island of Culebra, just off the coast of Puerto Rico, Flamenco is a hot spot for water adventures. With its colorful aquatic life, beachside bars serving up cocktails, and flamingo-filled lagoons, this strip of sand provides an ideal day trip for those looking to go beyond the bustle of San Juan.
Beach bums can spend a day at Flamenco Beach sinking their toes into sugar-like sand and splashing in the waves, taking breaks to order smoothies or piña coladas from waterfront food stands. Those looking for more adventure can rent snorkel gear to explore Flamenco’s highly regarded coral reefs and observe underwater creatures such as parrot fish and sea turtles. High-speed catamaran cruises run from Fajardo, Isla Verde, and San Juan, often stopping at nearby Culebrita Beach, Playa Tortuga, or the other La Cordillera Islands. Guided tours make it easy to access the gear needed for a good time, while ensuring access to Culebra’s picture-perfect sights.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Facilities at the beach include showers, restrooms, lockers, and picnic tables, as well as a selection of kiosks and beach bars.
- Beach chairs and umbrellas are available for rent.
How to Get There
Flamenco Beach is located on the northwestern shore of Culebra Island, about 17 miles (27 kilometers) east of mainland Puerto Rico. Ferries leave Fajardo (about a 90-minute drive from San Juan) for Culebra several times a day and take about 90 minutes; plan to arrive several hours before your desired departure. For a smoother trip, take a 30-minute flight from Isle Grande Airport just outside San Juan. If visiting Playa Flamenco directly from Culebra Harbor or the airport, take a taxi or rent a car to access the beach. Book a guided tour to have all the logistics handled for you.
When to Get There
Flamenco Beach is busiest in winter and spring, when it’s best to visit on a weekday or arrive early to avoid crowds. The Caribbean waters are warm year-round, and although low season visitors can enjoy fewer crowds and cheaper prices, visiting during hurricane season (June through November) means boats might be canceled due to weather.
The US Navy used Flamenco Beach as a practice ground from just before World War II until the 1970s. A pair of old US army tanks remain, abandoned on the northern edge of the beach. A reminder of Puerto Rico's military past, the rusted tanks have become something of a local landmark, spruced up with colorful graffiti, most notably a swirling green and yellow design painted by local artist Jorge Acevedo.