Puerto Rico is packed with hidden gems - music fills San Juan’s streets, rare endemic species await discovery in the El Yunque rainforest, thrill seekers can enjoy epic adventures surfing and ziplining, and luxury hotels line the stunning beach fronts. As an archipelago, Puerto Rico also offers a plethora of island escapes offshore for guests to visit tropical beaches and wildlife wonders. Below are the top experiences that make Puerto Rico the best kept secret in the Caribbean and highlight why it's the ultimate Island destination to visit in 2021…
Adventure in El Yunque rainforest
Located on the east side of Puerto Rico, El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest Service and is a rugged heart of adventure in Puerto Rico. The abundant natural area is extremely biodiverse with 240 species of lush trees and bushes, along with bountiful waterfalls, rivers, creeks, and streams. A multitude of hiking routes guide adventurers through the rainforest, with dips in cooling natural pools along the way. El Angelito is a popular action-packed route, with a 4km hike that rewards visitors with a lagoon rope-swing at the end. Ziplining amongst the green canopies and chirpy parrots is also highly recommended for nature loving, thrill seekers!
Blissful beaches to suit any taste
With nearly 300 beaches and 270 miles of Caribbean coastline, sunseekers are spoilt for choice in Puerto Rico. A world-renowned beach heralded as one of the best in the Caribbean, Flamenco Beach on Culebra Island extends for a mile and is framed by dramatic hills and tropical palm trees, with peaceful turquoise waters ideal for snorkelling. Domes Beach, on the northwest tip of Puerto Rico, is a surfer’s paradise and welcomes a number of international surf competitions throughout the year. Famed for its waves, Domes Beach offers thrilling surfs in winter when waves are at their biggest. For sheer beauty, Mar Chiquita, which translates to Little Sea, is unquestionably unmissable. The awe-inspiring spot is a natural pool with azure waters and intimate beach, protected from the Atlantic sea by two limestone outcroppings. A firm favourite on the Island, Mar Chiquita is an Instagrammer’s paradise.
A Caribbean hotbed of culture, art and history in San Juan
Puerto Rico’s charming capital, San Juan, is one of the Caribbean’s most exciting and historic cities, celebrating its 500th anniversary this year. Few landmarks represent Puerto Rico's legacy within the Caribbean and the Americas quite as well as El Morro, an epic fortress built in 1533, that transports visitors back in time. Seamlessly balancing the old with the new, San Juan’s Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico, is one of the largest art institutions in the Caribbean, housing contemporary art from Caribbean and Latin American and is a must-visit for culture vultures. Music lovers will also be drawn to the capital, where the streets come alive to the sounds of bomba, reggaeton, salsa, merengue, and Latin pop. La Placita is a local hotspot for dancing and socialising, with bars and restaurants that spill into a lively main square, creating a melting pot of live music beats.
Wildlife in abundance in Guanica Dry Forest and El Yunque
Although small in size, Puerto Rico’s wildlife offering is anything but! The tropical climate makes it a hive of activity for endemic birds, singing frogs and rare reptiles. In the remote Guanica Dry Forest, near-extinct plants thrive in the forest’s dry conditions and attract over 130 different species of birds. Nine of Puerto Rico’s endemic bird species can be found here, including the prehistoric Puerto Rican nightjar. With as little as 1,500 in existence, to spot a nightjar is the ultimate twitchers prize. The El Yunque rainforest is another wildlife hotspot, welcoming hundreds of species who prefer wetter environments. Thirteen different species of coquí frog, the characteristically vocal tree frog, can be seen clambering up trees or taking shelter on the forest floor, whilst fascinating reptiles such as worm lizards, skinks and galliwasps dart across the jungle.
Golf courses galore
Home to several award-winning courses each set against a stunning backdrop, Puerto Rico is the perfect place for golf aficionados. Golfers can take their pick from just shy of 30 golf courses across the Island including greens with cliffside ocean views on the west coast, or bunkers with the backdrop of El Yunque rainforest at the Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve's Championship Course. Coco Beach, where the 2019 PGA TOUR Puerto Rico Open was hosted, is also an Island hotspot, and Bahia Beach Resort’s 18-hole fairway is renowned for its perfectly nuanced layout designed by expert architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. The variety of courses on offer cater to every type of player, from novice to pros, and a range of prince points. Combined with expert design and unparalleled picturesque views, it's no surprise the Island is known as the golf capital of the Caribbean.
Luxury Caribbean coastal escapes
To unwind after a day on the golf course, travellers can head back to one of the island’s sumptuous hotels and relax in laidback luxury. Isla Verde is Puerto Rico’s premier beach destination, and with close proximity to the heart of San Juan and crystal clear Caribbean sea views, the palm tree lined haven is home to many luxury hotel hideaways. In particular, the Ritz-Carlton San Juan is one of the most incomparable luxury resorts on the Island. The hotel boasts a two-mile stretch of golden sand, pools aplenty, exquisite dining options and a soothing spa. Also in San Juan, the Caribe Hilton is another iconic hotel, famously known as the home of the Piña Colada, Puerto Rico’s national drink. In 1954 the hotel’s barman, Ramón ‘Monchito’ Marrero, created the cocktail to capture the essence of the Island in a glass, and the original recipe is still served at the property today.
Island hop to discover hidden gems
When most people think of Puerto Rico, they think of a singular tropical island. However, Puerto Rico is actually an archipelago, made up of many islands, cays and islets. While there is no shortage of adventure and discovery to be had on the eponymously named Island of Puerto Rico, by island hopping offshore, visitors will enjoy some of the country’s incredible hidden gems. Vieques is the peaceful, unexplored island, where wild horses roam and the world’s brightest bioluminescent bay can be found. Mosquito Bay’s neon blue waters glow in the dark as millions of microorganisms, called dinoflagellates, light up at night when motion is detected. Heading out on a glass-bottomed kayak once the sun has set is the best way to experience the natural phenomena. Alternatively, Culebra Island is surrounded by barrier reefs, and the exquisite Carlos Rosario and Tamarindo beaches are an idyll for swimmers and snorkelers.
Sustainable initiatives and cultural immersion for all
With such a diverse landscape, it’s only natural that Puerto Rican locals take care of the destination’s delicate ecosystems, which visitors can support through local sustainable initiatives whilst on their trip. In San Juan, where beaches nestle against a vibrant cityscape, travellers can help protect the habitats of endangered sea turtles by working to repair and preserve natural nesting areas on the city’s beaches. Of course, Puerto Rico’s local communities are also at the heart of the destination, and Loíza, a town just 20 minutes from San Juan, is a historic hub of Afro-Puerto Rican culture. Since Loíza is the birthplace of bomba, visitors can join locally-led dance workshops that not only provide fascinating insights into the area’s rich history, but provide locals with the income needed to preserve and protect the town’s cultural identity.