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  • Puerto-Rico-San-Juan-moon - The glistening streets of Old San Juan bathed in moonlight.
  • governors-mansion-Old-San-Juan - The New World's oldest governor's mansion is still in use. Some 150 consecutive governors have served over the past 300 years. It's at the west end of Calle Fortaleza in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
  • Catedral-Santiago-Apostol-Puerto-Rico - Catedral Santiago Apóstol in Fajardo, along the northeast coast of Puerto Rico.
  • balconies-Calle-San-Sebastian-San-Juan - Balconies on Calle San Sebastian in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Puerto-Rico-Isla-Verde1 - Isla Verde Beach, Puerto Rico.
  • Puerto-Rico-Condado2 - A swimming cove in the Condado neighborhood of Puerto Rico.
  • Puerto-Rico-San-Cristobal3 - Historic San Cristobal Fort sits on a promontory. It once guarded San Juan, Puerto Rico.
  • Puerto-Rico-San-Cristobal2 - The Garita, or sentry lookout at Castillo de San Cristobal in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
  • Puerto-Rico-Isla-Verde4 - Visitors flock to Isla Verde Beach in Puerto Rico.
  • Puerto-Rico-Isla-Verde2 - Hotels line the beachfront of Isla Verde Beach in Puerto Rico.
  • Puerto-Rico-San-Felipe - San Felipe del Morro Fort in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Construction of the citadel and its surrounding walls began in 1539.
  • Puerto-Rico-Ballaja - Ballajá Barracks in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
  • outdoor-dining-Old-San-Juan - Colorful al fresco dining in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
  • La-Perla-San-Juan-Antiguo - West of San Cristóbal along the coastline is the neighborhood of La Perla in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. It's part of the area's UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Raices-fountain-San-Juan-Antiguo - This bronze fountain "Raíces" (for "Roots") in Old San Juan celebrates Puerto Rico’s rich cultural diversity and historical heritage.
  • Puerto-Rico-Condado1 - Condado, an oceanfront, tree-lined pedestrian-oriented community in the heart of Puerto Rico.
  • Puerto-Rico-Isla-Verde3 - Visitors flock to Isla Verde Beach in Puerto Rico.
  • Puerto-Rico-San-Cristobal-fort - Historic San Cristobal Fort overlooks San Juan, Puerto Rico.
  • Castillo-de-San-Cristobal - Guard bunks at historic Castillo de San Cristóbal in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Completed by Spanish forces in 1783, it was the largest fortification built by Spain in the New World.
  • gazpacho-Toro-Salao-Old-San-Juan - Avocado gazpacho at Toro Salao on Calle Tetuan in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
  • Fort-San-Felipe-del-Morro-Old-San-Juan - Fort San Felipe del Morro in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Puerto-Rico-Old-San-Juan - The Ballajá Barracks light up in the twilight in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
  • Puerto-Rico-San-Cristobal-kites - Kite flying at Castillo de San Cristobal in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
  • Old-San-Juan-blue-brick-roads - Old San Juan's Blue Brick Roads, made of cobalt. All of San Juan Viejo (Old San Juan) was designated a World Cultural Heritage Site in 1983.
  • San-Juan-coastline - The beautiful coastline of San Juan as a cruise ship approaches Castillo de San Cristobal.
  • Castillo-de-San-Cristobal-Garita - The Garita, or sentry lookout, at Castillo de San Cristobal in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
  • fountain-Old-San-Juan-at-night - A fountain in Old San Juan at night.
  • Castillo-San-Felipe-del-Morro - A monumental 16th-century Spanish citadel, Castillo San Felipe del Morro sits atop a cliffside promontory in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
  • San-Cristobal-Fort-pathway - The path along the waterfront along historic San Cristobal Fort.
  • Castillo-de-San-Cristobal - Guard bunks at historic Castillo de San Cristóbal in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Completed by Spanish forces in 1783, it was the largest fortification built by Spain in the New World.
  • governors-mansion-Old-San-Juan - The New World's oldest governor's mansion is still in use. Some 150 consecutive governors have served over the past 300 years. It's at the west end of Calle Fortaleza in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
  • Catedral-Santiago-Apostol-Puerto-Rico - Catedral Santiago Apóstol in Fajardo, along the northeast coast of Puerto Rico.
  • La-Perla-San-Juan-Antiguo - West of San Cristóbal along the coastline is the neighborhood of La Perla in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. It's part of the area's UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • outdoor-dining-Old-San-Juan - Colorful al fresco dining in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
  • Raices-fountain-San-Juan-Antiguo - This bronze fountain "Raíces" (for "Roots") in Old San Juan celebrates Puerto Rico’s rich cultural diversity and historical heritage.
  • Fort-San-Felipe-del-Morro-Old-San-Juan - Fort San Felipe del Morro in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • fountain-Fajardo-Puerto-Rico - A fountain in Fajardo in northeast Puerto Rico.
  • gazpacho-Toro-Salao-Old-San-Juan - Avocado gazpacho at Toro Salao on Calle Tetuan in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
  • balconies-Calle-San-Sebastian-San-Juan - Balconies on Calle San Sebastian in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • vieques-island-at-sunset.jpg - A pretty beach at sunset on Vieques Island in Puerto Rico.
  • walking-an-isolated-beach-Vieques-Island.jpg - Walking an isolated beach on Vieques Island in Puerto Rico.
  • culebra-aerial.jpg - An aerial of beautiful Isla de Culebra in Puerto Rico.
  • fish_in_corals_Culebra_Puerto_Rico.jpg - Tropical fish in a coral reef on Culebra Island in Puerto Rico.
  • sea-turtle-Tamarindo-Beach-Isla-de-Culebra.jpg - A sea turtle at Tamarindo Beach on Isla de Culebra in Puerto Rico.
  • culebra-beach.jpg - An isolated beach at Culebra Island in Puerto Rico.
  • sea-fans-culebra.jpg - Sea fans in a reef on Culebra Island in Puerto Rico.
  • dive-site-in-culebra.jpg - Culebra, with its history of army bombing range has a lot of ruined reefs. The good news is that it has even more undisturbed, pristine and remote dive sites.

Puerto Rico travel guide: What to do & see

our guide

The vibe

Puerto Rico was severely damaged by Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Power on the island may be out for as long as six months. Be sure to check into the current state of services if you're planning to visit the island in the near term.
 

Puerto Rico (Spanish for "rich port") is an archipelago that includes the main island of Puerto Rico and a number of smaller islands, the largest of which are Vieques, Culebra, and Mona. Puerto Ricans often call the island Borinquen, from Borikén, its indigenous Taino name. The island is  frequently referred to in Spanish as "La Isla del Encanto," which means "The Island of Enchantment.”

 
 
  CRUISEABLE TRAVEL GUIDES
 
 
 

Puerto Rico is 100 miles long by 35 miles wide and, due to its geographic location at the center of the Antilles,  a crossroads of cultures. Puerto Rico has been a commonwealth  of the United States since 1898 and Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917.

Far more than resorts and beaches, Puerto Rico brims with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, fine dining, vibrant nightlife and excellent art museums. That being said, it’s also a great place to hike through a rainforest, explore underground caverns, snorkel, kayak or just relax on a beach.

Cruise ships that call on Puerto Rico

Cruise ship companies, such as Carnival Cruises and Royal Caribbean prefer this setting, and have made the San Juan one of their ports of call. Some of the other cruise lines that stop in Puerto Rico include Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Cunard, Princess and Azamara Club Cruises.

  • Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity Constellation, Celebrity Reflection, Celebrity Silhouette, Celebrity Summit
  • Holland America: Eurodam, Maasdam, Nieuw Amsterdam, Prinsendam, Rydnam, Veendam, Westerdam, Zuiderdam
  • Royal Caribbean: Anthem of the Seas, Grandeur of the Seas, Independence of the Seas, Jewel of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, Quantum of the Seas, Vision of the Seas
  • SeaDream Yacht Club: SeaDream I, SeaDream II
  • MSC Cruises: MSC Divina
  • Carnival Cruise Line: Carnival Breeze, Carnival Conquest, Carnival Dream, Carnival Freedom, Carnival Glory, Carnival Liberty, Carnival Pride, Carnival Splendor, Carnival Sunshine, Carnival Triumph, Carnival Valor

Top reasons to go

  • One of the oldest and best preserved Spanish Colonial districts in the Americas, just steps away from your ship
  • Scenic wonders, including cloud forests and bioluminescent bays
  • Distinctive local cuisine drawn from African, Latin and Taino Indian flavors
  • There are more than 15 championship courses in the San Juan area, including two 18-hole, Tom Kite-designed courses at Trump International Golf Club.
  • Definitely plan to snorkel or dive, reefs, caverns and islets offer prime viewing
  • Pig out on suckling pig, plantain dishes and rum!
Balconies on Calle San Sebastian in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
vxla / Creative Commons BYBalconies on Calle San Sebastian in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Top things to do & see

Old San Juan

Take at least a half-day to explore the cobbled streets of the Spanish Colonial district with its massive fortresses that have guarded the island (even repelling a fleet led by Sir Francis Drake) for centuries. They include El Morro, San Cristobal and San Juan de la Cruz, all of them UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Among its many other charms are Plaza de Armas, a picturesque square dotted with historic statues, and Casa Blanca, a gracious 16th-century home built for Juan Ponce de Leon.

A swimming cove in the Condado neighborhood of Puerto Rico.
Courtesy of Puerto Rico Tourism CompanyA swimming cove in the Condado neighborhood of Puerto Rico.

Beaches

Puerto Rico features a temperate climate, averaging 83 degrees F in the winter and 85 degrees F in the summer. Trade winds cool the coastal towns and temperatures fall in the higher mountains. San Juan’s beaches are concentrated in the hotel districts of Candado and Isla Verde, about a 10-minute taxi ride from the cruise piers. Or take a ferry out to the isle of Culebra to Playa Flamenco, with its broad span of white sands, turquoise waters and offshore reef that is a favorite among snorkelers. The beach town of Rincon on the west coast is the prime spot for surfing.

Shopping

Old San Juan is the place to browse for everything from fine art to kitschy souvenirs. Local items to look for include woodcarvings, masks, baskets, hammocks, ceramics and hand-rolled cigars.

Rum time

Puerto Rico’s most famous product is also a tour favorite. Frequent ferries leave from Pier 2 in Old San Juan over to the Bacardi Rum Factory where there are interactive exhibits on rum history and production as well as a gift shop and hibiscus gardens. Distillery tours and tasting can be enjoyed at Destileria Serralles, which produces Don Q, one of the oldest rum brands made on the island.

Art scene

Puerto Rico has a lively contemporary scene and an artistic heritage that includes the renowned 18th-century painter José Campeche. Art lovers will want to explore the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, Galeria Nacionale and the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Puerto Rico, all in San Juan.

Golf

There are more than 15 championship courses in the San Juan area, including two 18-hole, Tom Kite-designed courses at Trump International Golf Club.

Snorkeling & scuba diving

Escambron Marine Park right in Old San Juan offers snorkeling in protected waters. The island’s prime snorkeling and dive spots are found off Fajardo on the east coast where reefs and underwater caverns near a string of islets. Catamaran excursions to Fajardo are available from San Juan.

Casinos

Las Vegas-style casino gaming is available in some of San Juan’s luxury hotels.

Blue Brick Roads in San Juan Viejo (Old San Juan), a World Cultural Heritage Site.
vxla / Creative Commons BYBlue Brick Roads in San Juan Viejo (Old San Juan), a World Cultural Heritage Site.

Family-friendly options

YOLO (You only live once!)

Bioluminescent kayaking: A tour by boat or kayak of one of the bioluminescent bays in Vieques is a spellbinding experience. The microscopic organisms that live in the waters glow with an eerie blue-green light as they dart away from movement.

Don’t miss

El Yunque National Rainforest: A network of trails wind throughout this spectacular cloud forest on the slopes of the Luquillo Mountain Range. Hikers can hear the song of local coqui tree frogs, keep watch for elusive wild parrots and take a bracing dip in the pool at the bottom of La Mina waterfalls.

Best bets for dining

  • Pig out: One of Puerto Rico’s signature dishes is lechon, suckling pig slow roasted over wood flames. Restaurants that specialize in the succulent treat abound in and around Guavate in the southeast part of the island.
  • Old San Juan dining: El Jibarito and Parrot Club are celebrated for their take on classic Puerto Rican dishes, including fried plantains and red snapper. Ceviche, oysters, shellfish towers and other fresh seafood abound at Aguaviva. El Picoteo in the historic El Convento Hotel is an atmospheric spot for Spanish tapas and sangria.
This bronze fountain
vxla / Creative Commons BYThis bronze fountain "Raíces" (for "Roots") in Old San Juan celebrates Puerto Rico’s rich cultural diversity and historical heritage.

Best time to go

  • High season: December-April
  • Shoulder season: May-June
  • Low season: July-November

Puerto Rico has a tropical marine climate with little seasonal variation, ranging from 70 to 90 degrees F. Hurricane season spans June through November, with rainfall likely to occur daily.

Fun facts

  • The piña colada was invented in San Juan.
  • Juan Ponce de Leon never did find the Fountain of Youth, but he did get to be the first governor of Puerto Rico.
  • The town of Loiza, founded in 1719 and populated largely by escaped slaves, is famous for its coconut shell masks used during religious festivals.

When you arrive

Docking information

Cruise ships arrive at one of the four cruise piers located along San Antonio Canal, a short walk to Old San Juan, historic sites and shopping. Many ships stay docked until late in the evening, so there’s a chance to enjoy local dining and nightlife.

Getting around

Taxis are available at the cruise piers. Look for white taxis with Taxi Touristico on the doors. A taxi from Old San Juan to the resort districts of Condado and Isla Verde costs  $12-$19.

Public transit: Free trolleys, which stop across from the cruise piers, go around to the major sites in Old San Juan. There is no island-wide public bus system, but San Juan offers two public bus systems for getting around the city.

Car rental offices are found at the airport or in major hotels.

Need to know

Documents: Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, so U.S. citizens do not need a passport.

Language: Although both English and Spanish are the official languages, most local people outside of the hospitality industry are not fluent in English.

Currency: The U.S. dollar

Your take

How about you? Have you been to Puerto Rico or are you planning to go? I'd love to hear about your experience or see your photos!

Help improve this article! See anything wrong? What did we overlook? Be a co-creator!

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Maria Lenhart
I am a veteran travel writer who has enjoyed reporting on destinations far and near for many publications. My favorite way to travel is on board a ship, no matter where it's going. 

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Overheard

“Puerto Rico's midsection is underappreciated for its beauty. The thin shoelace of road from the coast to Guajataca Forest Reserve is like taking a hike on four wheels. It's nearly as tropical and textured as the famed El Yunque Rainforest three hours away, except this is 45 minutes, tops, and free.”

Islands magazine

“Puerto Rico is an intoxicating blend of Spanish, African and Indian influences all melded into a tropical atmosphere of beaches, rainforest and a fast-growing element of luxury.”

Travel + Leisure

“In Old San Juan, climb the ramparts of El Morro, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for great views. If you want a more natural experience, explore the dripping jungles of El Yunque.”

Lonely Planet

“Folks who have traveled to Cuba say that Old San Juan reminds them of Cuba, at times, more than Cuba itself.”

Cruise Critic

“The Vieques Human Society and Animal Rescue welcomes dog lovers who want to give back while on vacation. The nonprofit encourages visitors to call ahead to arrange times and tasks that might include bathing, feeding, and walking dogs.”

AFAR magazine

“Check out the moon calendar at viequesadventures.com. As long as the moon isn't at its brightest, book a clear kayak tour of the bioluminescent bays with Vieques Adventure Company. The water will literally glow beneath you.”

Islands magazine

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