Puerto Rico is such a great place for a get away. It feels like you’re going to a different country – without having to bring your passport (assuming you’re a U.S citizen)! There’s so much history and different areas to explore including beaches, the town and the rainforest! I loved the relaxing and friendly vibe and it didn’t hurt to sip coconuts on the beach either.
I came with a group of friends primarily for a wedding, and we decided to make a vacation out of it. We had so much fun exploring the unique areas of Puerto Rico that we wouldn’t be able to find in California. Below are some things that we did while we were in Puerto Rico. If you’re planning trip there, check out my post on Random Things to Know About Visiting Puerto Rico and enjoy the amazing history and tropical vibes!
Explore Old San Juan
You can spend hours just exploring Old San Juan. There’s plenty of colorful buildings, shops and restaurants to check out. We came back to this area almost everyday (mostly to eat) and we were still able to find something new to check out every time we came back. Below are a few places that are worth stopping by.
La Fortaleza (Governor’s mansion)
The Governor’s mansion is located at the end of Calle Fortaleza. We were able to see them taking down some holiday decorations since we went in January.
This giant Puerto Rican flag can be seen on the well known street of Calle Fortaleza in front of the Governor’s Mansion. If you look at other people’s post/pictures (prior to Jan 2020), you might see that it’s a bunch of colorful umbrellas hanging instead. Either way, you’ll get a sight of something cool to check out.
Cathedral of San Bauista
This is the oldest church in Old San Juan. They keep the doors open and you’re welcome to go inside and check out the amazing architecture.
San Juan Gate
This is a popular historical entrance which symbolize the door to entering the city. On one side of the gate, it’s the city and on the other side, it’s a pretty view of the water.
Walking Along The Water
Old San Juan is surrounded by water and it’s really relaxing to walk on the pathways next to it. There’s also a huge cruise ship port (which I would actually try to avoid because there are so many tourists), but it’s cool to see the giant ships there. There’s also plenty of restaurants and cafes to stop into for a meal or a break.
Check out the Forts
There are 2 major forts in Old San Juan and they both pretty much wrap around the whole city of Old San Juan. The forts played an important role in protecting the area during the Spanish-American war.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Castillo San Felipe del Morro is considered the more popular fort in Old San Juan. Unfortunately, we got there when it was near closing so we didn’t get to go inside and explore. From what I heard, it’s pretty big and it’s about a mile to get from one side of the fort to the other. We were able to explore the outside though and it was nice to see some history there along with amazing views of the water.
Castillo San Cristobal
This is the other famous fort, but it’s not as big as Castillo San Felipe del Morro. There’s so much history to explore and there’s also a museum you can browse through for more information about the fort as well.
Ferry to El Cataño
One of the suggestion of our Uber driver was to go ferry from Old San Juan to El Cataño as they have a lot of restaurants to eat at. I’m not sure if it was because it was a weeknight, but once we got off the ferry, the area was totally dead and there was maybe about only 3 restaurants open. We were a little underwhelmed by what our Uber driver described and ended up just grabbing a quick dinner since we took the trip there. The upside was that it was a really smooth ferry ride that was under 10 minutes and it was only $1 round trip! Despite our disappointment, I added this because there are actually things to do here (see Casa Bacardi below), just not a lot around the ferry area.
Hike El Yunque Rainforest
The El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rain forest in the national forest system and a place we definitely wanted to explore while we were there. I guess this is obvious, but the reason why it’s called a rainforest is because it rains 3-4 times a day. We were super limited on time (truthfully, we all just woke late) so we didn’t really get to hike. We mostly drove and walked really short trails to the Yokahu Tower and to a couple of waterfalls.
The waterfall looks kind of small below, but we were able to walk in right underneath it. It was fun playing around it in and there was even a path to climb up to go check out another waterfall! I would be super careful though as there’s a lot of rocks and it’s really slippery around that area.
We passed by this waterfall (below) and just had to stop and stare. Apparently, you can also hike up to the top of this, but we didn’t have time for it.
Try Some Puerto Rican Food
If you know me, you know I’d never plan a trip without trying all the food in the area. Check out my post on where and what to eat in Puerto Rico.
Nightlife in Old San Juan
Not only is it cool to explore Old San Juan in the day time, but there’s a lot of nightlife going on as well. It’s a grab place to grab dinner, drinks, and go dancing as well.
Go to the beach
Puerto Rico is one giant island so of course it’s surrounded by water with a beach every other foot. We took a day (with a car) and just went beach hoping. When the sun was out, you can see the gorgeous sea blue color of the ocean. I wouldn’t say that the water is warm, but once you get in, you get use to the temperature. Below are a few of the beaches that we went to. You can also go to the Condado area for more resort like beaches.
Kayaking at the Bioluminesence Bay
Puerto Rico has 3 out of of the 5 bioluminescent bays in the world: Laguna Grande, La Parguera, and Mosquito Bay. The other 2 are Luminous Lagoon in Jamaica, Halong Bay in Vietnam. According to Discover Puerto Rico, “These rare ecosystems happen when microscopic, single-celled organisms called dinoflagellates grow in quantities big enough to produce a “glow-in-the-dark” effect when they are stimulated by movement. So, when you paddle or splash the water, these organisms light up in a neon blue-green color, and so does everything they come in contact with, giving a star-like reflection to the water.”
We decided that this was something we wanted to check out and booked a Bioluminescent Bay Night Kayaking Tour in Laguna Grande, Fajardo.
[Spoiler] Imagine kayaking at night with a nice bright moon over you and every time you stroke your paddle through the water, a beautiful wave of blue-green lights follows.
Sorry to ruin the beautiful moment, but the reality was that we powered through the rough waters to get to the lagoon (it was really windy that day), kayaked in a winding lagoon when it was pitch dark (we chose a later time to kayak). The only light guiding us was the small glow stick of someone else’s kayak in front. And then we finally arrived to a large bay. Since the moon was bright that night (it needs to be pretty dark), they put a tarp over us and told us to splash around in the water so we could activate the lights. We saw speckles of blue and were excited to see something but honestly, we just felt a wave of disappointment as we were underwhelmed by the experience. After about 30 seconds of that, we paddled back to shore where my friend and I who were sharing a kayak struggled and ended up having our guide hooking his kayak to ours so that we can get back safely.
I’m sure you’re wondering if I would recommend this. I think if you’re into kayaking, it’s fun. If you’re expecting something magical, I wouldn’t get your hopes up.
Also, there are no pictures of this as you can’t capture the moment with a regular camera.
Tour of Casa Bacardi
Come here if you want to see where Bacardi Rum is made. I initially wanted to just grab a drink as they have a waterfront bar, but got sucked into taking a quick tour instead. It was $15 that included a welcome drink worth $8 (and you get to keep the cup!) so I thought it was worth checking out.
It was actually an interesting tour to learn about how rum was made, the history of Bacardi and why they have a bat as its logo. I also really enjoyed my mojito (my fave cocktail) and just hanging out in the nice open space.
They also have tasting tours and mixology classes as well.
Other Things To Do That We Didn’t Get To Do
- Take a boat ride to Culebra (or neighboring islands) – We actually had booked our tickets for this, but because of the recent earthquakes, they said that it was unsafe to be on the water. Culebra is known as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world for its white sand and clear blue waters.
- Go caving – half our group didn’t want to do this, but there are a lot of different caves you can explore in Puerto Rico
Overall, there’s a lot to do on this island. There is something for everyone – beaches, water sports, hiking, exploring, eating/drinking, etc. I had so much fun and felt that we were able to experience some Puerto Rico culture.