3 Beginner’s guides to Puerto Rico exploring the island’s culture, adventure and history

Puerto Rico is a relatively small island, measuring only 100 miles and 30 miles wide. But this island is jam-packed with excitement. The island caters towards a wide variety of people: those who are searching adventure, those looking to come home with a great tan, history buffs, and those who want a little bit of everything.

The best way to tour the island is to rent a car. There is public transit in San Juan, but the rest of the island’s excitement lies in outside the city limits.

Below I’ve broken down Puerto Rico into three different types of tour, including the highlights for each.


Adventure seekers tour: 

Highlights – Surfing in Rincon; Hiking and zip lining in El Yunque; Snorkeling and biobay tour in La Parguera; Cave spelunking

First, venture through the hidden labyrinths of cave systems all over Puerto Rico. Start at Cuevo del Indio in Arecibo, west of San Juan. Careful for the water that will be flooding the cave’s floors occasionally! Explore this cave if you love off-road adventures. Other caves you can explore are Cueva Ventana (the Window Cave), this is a famous landmark of Puerto Rico, and Las Cuevas de Camuy (Camuy Caves).


Venture further west and visit Rincon, the home of the surfers in Puerto Rico. Rincon is well-known for its semi-rough waves, perfect to host world-wide surfing competitions. Along the coast, there are dozens of surfer shacks you can stay at and try to tame the waves with your board.

My favorite memory from my trip to Puerto Rico was swimming under the moon’s light and stars in a bioluminescent bay in La Parguera, located on the south edge of Puerto Rico. A bioluminescent bay is a bay where light-emitting organisms live. When these organisms move around they produce a green glow (it looks blue in photos). I went on a fantastic tour in La Parguera to see the bio bay there. Two other bio bays are located in Puerto Rico at Fajardo, the eastern part of the island, and in Vieques, a small island off the eastern coast. La Parguera was my favorite tour because you were able to swim in the bays to make it glow. Other tours you kayak or boat through the bays.


Your final stop is in the western part of Puerto Rico. Explore the only rainforest that is part of the United States National Park Service, El Yunque. Many of the parks main natural attractions are located along the roadside, easy access for tourists to jump out their cars and snap a quick photo. But I encourage you to trek further into the rainforest and see what lies in the quieter parts of the misty wilderness. One of the easiest and most-recommended hikes is La Mina Falls Hike. It’s completely worth it.

Tanning royalty tour:

Highlights – Culebra and Vieques

Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are located in Culebra and Vieques, two small islands located off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. Vieques is also known for the wild horses that inhabit the island. Both of these islands have an abundance of beaches for you to choose from to watch the sunset and bum the day away under the sun. In Vieques, I bummed at the Sun Bay beach, a small secluded beach located near the Nature Reserve on the island.

In Culebra, visit Flamenco Beach, voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Also make sure to visit the colorful, painted tanks on Flamenco Beach. They have a rich history behind them and also make for a great Instagram photo.

History buffs tour: 

Highlights – Ponce, San Juan, Jayuya.

San Juan is considered the central hub for most tourist that visit Puerto Rico. The city is rich with history. Some of San Juan’s historic highlights include the gates of San Juan, El Morro and Cristobal, Viejo San Juan and Barrachina, where the Pina Colada originated.

 

 

Spend a few days in San Juan to absorb the rich and vibrant nightlife of San Juan, then jump into a rental car and venture to more of the secluded gems on the island.

The caves, located west of San Juan, are artifacts of the Taino Indians. Taino Indians were some of the first inhabitants of the island. See Taino Indian hieroglyphics at Cueva del Indio. These caves are on the shoreline and offer a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean.

Your next destination stop should be venturing the mountains of Puerto Rico. Inside Puerto Rico’s beach infested rim, lies rolling hills and mountainous terrain. In the mountain lies Puerto Rico’s world-renowned coffee plantations. Take a tour of the plantations and see up close what goes into making Puerto Rico’s lust-worthy cup of java.

Further south is Puerto Rico’s Mecca for museums and art, Ponce. Many art and architecture enthusiasts call Ponce home. Ponce, located in southern Puerto Rico, boasts an abundance of museums and impeccable Spanish-inspired architecture. Spend an afternoon basking in Ponce’s colorful city center, or spend a few days hoping to each museum and soak in the culture’s history.


If you can’t decide tour best fits you, here’s an overall best list of the island:

  • Natural wonders-

    El Yunque, Bioluminescent bays, La Solpaera waterfall in the mountains

  • Best beaches-

    Vieques, Culebra and on the mainland: Isla Verde, Isla La Mujeres, Rincon

  • Tropical activities you cannot pass up-

    Snorkeling, hiking in the rainforest and mountains, exploring caves and splashing in waterfalls. Other than the obvious, relax on the beach, Puerto Rico has a lot to offer.

Whatever you decide to see and experience in Puerto Rico, the inviting island is rich in culture and will offer you a trip of a lifetime.

 

Quirky Globetrotter

Hi! I'm Martha! The mastermind behind Quirky Globetrotter a feminist travel blog. Quirky Globetrotter is devoted to telling narratives devoted to female solo travel and hidden gems worldwide with an emphasis on intersectional feminism and how that impacts travel on a global and local level.

37 thoughts on “3 Beginner’s guides to Puerto Rico exploring the island’s culture, adventure and history

  1. The Adventure Seekers tour sounds perfect for me! I cannot really surf but hiking and ziplining in El Yunque sounds perfect to me. Also, snorkeling and exploring the Window Caves and Camuy Caves sounds like a perfect plan! I would love to get myself to Puerto Rico someday.

    1. Hi Medha! Puerto Rico is like a second home to me, so I highly recommend it to everyone. I’m an adventure seeker myself and loved all the exploring that I could do in Puerto Rico. It shocked me that a stereotypical island vacay could have so much adventure in it! Happy travels to you!

  2. I just recently watched this TV series named Burn Notice and in few of its episodes they featured Puerto Rico. You are right, it is a gorgeous place. Also their unique music is also entertaining and makes me dance to its beat.

  3. Sounds like Puerto Rico has something to offer everyone. I don’t think I fit into any particular category but like the idea of a rainforest trek and a beach day. The sea looks spectacular and I can imagine it’s good for surfing!

    1. Hi Laura! I definitely bounced between each itinerary on my stay there as well, which I think is completely logical and fine. I would say visiting the rainforest was a highlight of my trip. Happy travels to you!

  4. I didn’t realize puerto rico was so small in area. They have so much to offer for how small the island is. I would absolutely love to swim in the bioluminescent bay in La Parguera under the moonlight.

    1. Hi Courtney! I was floored by the number of activities that Puerto Rico had to offer as well! I definitely spent a lot of my time on the road exploring, but I wouldn’t have it any other way! Happy travels to you!

  5. The adventure seekers tour and the history buffs tours both sound amazing to me! I love ziplinging and hiking, so that would be priority for me. I haven’t been cave spelunking yet, but I would love to go! As a history buff, that tour also sounds incredible. I’ve always wanted to visit Puerto Rico, and your post has given me more reasons to make it a priority. 🙂

    1. Hi Leah! You should definitely visit Puerto Rico soon. It’s still an undiscovered gem, which means there are fewer crowds at “tourist spots.” I hesitate to call them “tourist spots” because there’s literally no tourists around, it feels like! Happy travels to you!

  6. This tour seems perfect for me! I alsways wanted to visit Puerto Rico. Snorkeling and exploring the Window Caves and Camuy Caves sounds like an amazing experience. Definitely at the top of my bucket list for 2019, I’m so glad I came across this article

  7. Puerto Rico seems like an adventurous paradise. Swimming at the bay under the moonlight in La Parguera sounds really fascinating. I did love to do the history buffs tour and explore the historic highlights of Puerto Rico. I am really looking forward to visiting Puerto Rico soon.

  8. Wow, whether you love to visit historical places or you are an adventurous soul or both, Puerto Rico will keep you entertained all the time. Nice to know that a place has so many places to see and so many interesting things to do.

  9. Puerto Rico seems to be very beautiful with those lovely and famous beaches and also the cultural streets of this small island. I have never seen light emitting organisms though watched them on TV or read them, so it must be great to see them in person here. The caves of San Juan looks interesting and great to know that it is famous for nightlife. I would love to do both cultural and adventure part on this beautiful island.

    1. Hi Yukti! The bioluminescent bay experience was definitely life-changing. I was shocked at how it made me feel and how in the moment I was. I want to relive that moment over and over again! I’m glad that you think the culture in Puerto Rico is interesting, but it’s so unique and different from others in the Caribbean. I hope you make it to Puerto Rico someday soon!

  10. I would take the adventure tour because jungle trekking and visiting the caves sounds amazing and swimming in bioluminescent sea must be incredible!
    I am neither history buff or tanning person! But the flamenco beach does seems interesting! I hope to see Puerto Rico one day!

    1. Hi Dada! I’m not much one for simply lounging on the beach either, but I was pleased with how much fun I did have when I indulged in a beach day in Puerto Rico. The sandy beaches there are pristine! It definitely changed my mind about being a beach bum. I hope you find all the adventure you’re looking for on your next trip to Puerto Rico!

  11. What an awesome guide for first-time visitors! Great timing too! I’ll be visiting Puerto Rico next year and I’m so glad I came across this article.

  12. Your pictures are absolutely stunning! I loved seeing Puerto Rico through your words. There are so many adventure activities in here which I am yet to experience, snorkelling being one of them. This makes me want to visit Puerto Rico this year

    1. Hi Sinjana! Thank you! Puerto Rico holds a very dear place in my heart. I went snorkeling for the first time in Puerto Rico and I would recommend it to everyone! If you need some inspiration, feel free to look at my Puerto Rico archives! Happy travels to you!

  13. I did not know Puerto Rico has so much to offer. I was only aware of the beautiful beaches but it is great to know there are so many activities as well for adventurous people. If you ask me to choose between adventure and history, I think I would go for adventure. Snorkeling, hiking in the rainforest and mountains, exploring caves and waterfalls are a great bunch of activities it offers. I am sure you had a great time.

    1. Hi Shreya! I was rather shocked that Puerto Rico had so much to offer as well. I had to do a lot of digging to find all these hidden gems but it definitely made my trip much more memorable. I had a fabulous time and also brought home a fabulous tan! Happy travels to you!

  14. Would definitely go for the tanning royalty tour shared by you. Did a bit more research on the beaches and they look stunning! Need to plan a trip there soon it seems!

    1. Hi Rishabh! The beaches in Puerto Rico are some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The sand is so soft and beautiful! I definitely spent my fair share of time on the beach while I was there. If you need any more tips about your Puerto Rico trip, you can check out my Puerto Rico archive. Happy travels to you!

  15. First and foremost, your stunning captures got me hooked. Puerto Rico is indeed picturesque. What a great trip you had and you have definitely introduced me to it cultural aspect. Also, I am in awe of its beaches and would also want to go for its history and adventure. I love exploring historical highlights, caves and waterfalls.

    1. Hi Manjulika! Aww, thank you for the compliment on my photography! I must admit though, Puerto Rico definitely makes it easy to capture a stunning photo. It sounds like you like a little bit of everything, which is fabulous. You’d probably want to meld a few of these tours together to achieve what you want. If you have any questions or are still curious, few free to explore the Puerto Rico archive. Happy travels to you!

  16. OMG! This island is indeed a little gem. Those Tanoi Indian inscriptions are just wow! As a history buff, this is probably the place that I’ll go first! Bioluminiscent bay sound incredible. I’ve seen many pictures of it. Its been a dream for me to see one of those in real life.

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