Puerto Rico is known as the “Isle of Enchantment” (a nickname I completely support) but if you have more than a few days on the island and you don’t make it out of San Juan, you may miss out on some of its gems. The island is relatively small; no city is further than about a 2 hour drive from San Juan, and a lot of unique attractions are within 45 minutes of the city. So if you find yourself planning a trip to Puerto Rico and you have a few days to get out and explore off the beaten path, be sure to rent a car and check out these destinations!
No offense intended to San Juan, but Ponce (about 1.5 hours south) just might have been my favorite city in Puerto Rico. The heart of the city is Plaza las Delicias (roughly “Plaza of Delights”), a wonderful square containing Ponce Cathedral, the iconic red-and-black striped Parque de Bombas building, fountains, and 16 lion sculptures, each painted in a different, vibrant style by local artists. Nearby is the wonderful Lola Restaurant, and King Cream, which makes fantastic ice cream in tropical flavors like passionfruit and coconut (my favorite!). Ponce felt like a very artistic city in general; there’s also the fantastic Museo de Arte de Ponce, which features a wonderful collection of European and Puerto Rican art, including it’s piece de resistance, Flaming June. During our day trip to Ponce, we also hiked in Guanica dry forest (which is in stark contrast to the tropical El Yunque to the east). It features such delights as a 1000-year-old guayacan tree, Tamarindo Beach, limestone caves, an abandoned lighthouse, sugar mill ruins, and old Fort Capron. On the way back from Ponce, we stopped along the Pork Highway to sample the delicacy lechon asado. Ponce, and the area around it, has plenty to offer if you’d like to get out of San Juan and explore the island on your own!
3. El Yunque
El Yunque is Puerto Rico’s tropical rainforest, and the only one in the US National Parks system, which is pretty cool. The park is also about 45 minutes away from Old San Juan, but to the east. There is some really great hiking to be found there, with several waterfalls (we hiked down to La Mina Falls, which you can swim beneath) and gorgeous overlooks in the park too. When we were there, in June, the forest was full of colorful flowers, little lizards, and the sound of coqui frogs. There’s a visitor center that offers great information about El Yunque and the impact rainforests have on our world (as well as some pretty cool suspended walkways through the forest). It was really cool to get out of the city of San Juan and experience some of Puerto Rico’s natural world.
4. Fajardo (Bio Bay)
The main draw of Fajardo (about an hour from San Juan, and not far from Luquillo or El Yunque) is its bioluminescent bay. There are several Bio Bays in Puerto Rico, but Fajardo is the one nearest to and most accessible from San Juan. If visiting one of these natural wonders wasn’t on your Puerto Rico bucket list, it should be! At night, the water in a bio bay will glow a faint blue color. This is caused by dinoflagellates, microrganisms that let off the blue light when disturbed in the water, whether by waves or the paddles of a kayak. In the evening in Fajardo you can experience this otherworldly phenomenon by taking a kayak or boat tour out through the mangroves and into the bay. This was one of our absolute favorite parts of the trip… it was amazing to be out on the bay, the stars reflected in the water, and see the glowing blue trail behind your kayak and hold sparkling blue water in your hand. If you can, go closer to the new moon phase as you’ll be able to see the luminescence better. I also recommend combining this day trip with one to El Yunque or Luquillo Beach, since during the daytime there isn’t as much to do in Fajardo.
5. Luquillo Beach
I did a bit of research into Puerto Rico’s beaches before we traveled there, and Luquillo Beach often popped up on lists of the best ones. There aren’t too many idyllic beaches in close proximity to San Juan/Old San Juan, but luckily Luquillo, which is a designated Blue Flag Beach, is only a 45 minute drive away. The beach is wonderful–a crescent of white sand fringed by palm trees, with views of far-off mountains to the west. The water is clear and the waves are gentle, thanks to the reef that’s a ways out in the ocean. Luquillo is also famous for its kioskos, which sell delicious Caribbean food and drinks (I indulged in a pina colada in a fresh coconut while there), so between swimming, sunbathing, and eating it makes a great full-day trip!
I hope this post has given you some ideas for day trips that can be taken from San Juan, Puerto Rico! Have you visited any of them, or ever been to Puerto Rico? Any amazing Puerto Rico day trips that I left off the list? Comment below!