Travel - Destinations
By: - at September 19, 2013

Top 15 Interesting Places to Visit in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a particularly handy vacation spot for Americans due to its proximity to the U.S. and its status as a commonwealth give it a number of advantages for tourists. The national currency is the American dollar, and American citizens will not need a passport to get into the country. Also the total travel time isn’t as strenuous or lengthy as other sandy beach locations. Many famous artists and athletes call Puerto Rico home, or at least call it their hometown.

map of puerto rico

With a rich culture and diverse history, this island would also have its share of attractions without its connections to the U.S.

15)  Bacardi Factory
The famous alcohol manufacturer offers a grand tour of its facilities, starting with a reproduction of the original rum factory used as a museum of Bacardi memorabilia. A tour guide explains the rum-making process to you, and shows you examples of the oaken barrels used for aging their product. The tour is large enough that a train is used to get you from one part of the factory to another. There is another stop with a quick lesson on mix drinks from a professional bartender, and a display of vintage Bacardi ads at another location. At the present factory, a guide discusses the current process of rum making, and then it’s time to relax at the on-site bar for a while after the tour. You can send special eCards to folks back home to commemorate your visit, and also two complimentary drinks are offered to each guest. The gift shop is full of Bacardi-themed souvenirs at reasonable prices, and while tours done with a tour operator must be paid for, the basic tour itself is completely free.

Bacardi Rum Factory in San Juan
Bacardi Rum Factory in San Juan

Many of the limited rums not available outside of Puerto Rico are offered for sale in the tour gift shop, but it’s important to remember that items like these are often available in the duty-free shop at the airport that you may purchase on your way out of the country. Make sure you spend your money here wisely, and only on the one-of-a-kind items only sold at Casa Bacardi.

14)  Old Aguadilla Lighthouse Ruins
Accessible only by crossing the golf course next to Puerto Rico’s airport, there is very little left standing of the Aguadilla lighthouse. The weathered brick has an eerie feeling to it, with so little of the building left intact, and not a speck of civilization around it. The Spanish built it in 1889, naming it Borinquen Point Lighthouse. Like many of its kind, the lighthouse was an elaborate structure, including living quarters for the light house keeper. An earthquake demolished the structure and, the U.S. Coast Guard abandoned the site in 1922 when they chose to rebuild it as a concrete structure some distance away from the original location.

Ruins of the Old Aguadilla Lighthouse
Ruins of the Old Aguadilla Lighthouse

Aguadilla itself is a pleasant port town, owing its thriving existence to its historically prime location for trade with boats. It was the site of a national tragedy in 1944 when a train wreck on a busy general election day occurred in the village. The National Mayoral Association says it has been awarded “Best Quality of Life Award” twice, and it boasts very beautiful and a few readily accessible but very private, beaches.

Aerial View of Aguadilla
Aerial View of Aguadilla

In fact, there is one such beach just past the lighthouse ruins, located down a dirt road. Some of them are noted for their excellent surfing, so if you’re interested in catching some waves while in Puerto Rico, definitely check this town out during your vacation. The beautiful crystal clear water is a must see while visiting in Puerto Rico. 

13)  San Antonio de la Tuna
Another idyllic beach town is the city of Isabela, found east of Aguadilla:

city of Isabela

Nearby lies the remains of the original Spanish settlement on the island that Isabela is descended from. Around 1725, the Spanish founded a community among the native Taino of the region, and erected a small church near the Guajataca River. The town they named La Tuna, and the church was named for San Antonio. As sea trade took off and the Spanish became comfortable, they abandoned the village here for what would become Isabela, in order to be closer to the coast. The church is now being preserved for future generations, and has been added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Ruins of San Antonio de la Tuna
Ruins of San Antonio de la Tuna

Relations between the Taino and Spanish were not ideal, and La Tuna is a symbol of the colonization of the island. Still, both ethnicities have had such a profound influence on the unique culture that is Puerto Rico today, and many places like this are markers of that heritage on one side or the other. Isabela contains many such sites like the ruins at La Tuna, so if learning more about the culture of Puerto Rico interests you, this should definitely be on your list of places to visit.

12)  Dona Juana Waterfall
Located in Orocovis, the falls at Toro Negro are beautiful, and one of the largest in Puerto Rico. Despite the large amount of annual visitors, the site remains fairly clean with the waters clear. There is a pool at the bottom of the falls that can be used for swimming, and if you’re skilled enough to climb the steep rock faces, you can jump off into the water basin. The locals often call the falls Salto Dona Juana, or Dona Juana’s Leap. The area around the falls has several other water features, including two well- stocked fresh-water lakes that are known for fantastic fly fishing. Two more falls are found in the nature reserve and they are La Mina, and La Confesora.

Dona Juana Waterfall

The falls are in the highly elevated Jayuya where Puerto Rican coffee is grown, and where many historic Taino sites can be found. Day hikes are especially popular here, through the beautiful rain forests and ample preserves that showcase the biodiversity Puerto Rico has to offer. Being a highland area, it can get a little chilly here, though, so if you decide to go inland and upwards, you might want to grab something with long-sleeves.

11)  El Morro
Officially named Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, locals refer to this site as “El Morro” to shorten things up a bit. The 400 year-old fort still watches over the San Juan harbor; its six levels a testament to Puetro Rico’s strategic position in the Caribbean, and the struggle to hold it by nations with an interest in the New World. Having undergone expansion and remodeling after serving both the Spanish and the U.S. army during various periods of its existence since 1540, El Morro still has its sentry boxes, cannon water battery, and a rebuilt lighthouse. The Torre Antigua, which is the oldest tower in the fort, and from the original construction. El Morro flies three flags: the U.S. flag, the Puerto Rican flag, and the old Spanish military flag flown during its initial span as a strategic military base for the Spanish settlers.

El Morro Fortress
El Morro Fortress

When you’re finally done at the park—which could take a while—San Juan itself is an interesting place that shares quite a bit of history with the fort. For example, the town bears the name when the island was original christened by Columbus, upon his landing here the name of the island, Puerto Rico, was originally the name of the town.

10)  Culebra Island
“Snake Island,” as it would be in English, is about 17 miles west of the Puerto Rico mainland. It is actually the last in the archipelago chain that makes up the Virgin Islands. Culebra is classified as a nature preserve, and has both scenic beaches and beautiful forests, but its interest is once again in the history of the place. Traditionally, it is said to have been the home of a group of Carib Indians, whom Columbus may have met on his second voyage.

Culebra, Puerto Rico
Culebra, Puerto Rico

After rebelling, many Taino moved to the island and formed alliances with the Caribs living there, but this combined force’s random attacks on the plantations still could not break Spanish control.

Old Tank on Flamenco Beach - Culebra Island
Old Tank on Flamenco Beach - Culebra Island

After being abandoned for some time, new regulations in trade made the island look favorable as a dwelling once more, this time for pirates, and even some local fishermen. Attempts to clear the island of foreigners, establish order, and move out any rogues failed, and it was simply the changing times that finally cleared the area of all but a few mild, but independent locals.

9)  Guanica Dry Forest
Nearly 1000 acres in size, this forest only receives around 30 inches of rain a year by the DRNA’s calculations, as opposed to the 200 some inches a year that fall in the rainforests on the islands. This marks an unusual variance in terrain that accounts for the biodiversity found in Puerto Rico, and is seen in the biodiversity of both plant and animal life.

Guanica Reserve - Puerto Rico
Guanica Reserve - Puerto Rico

The area here is arid but not barren, with a variety of trees, bushes, and even cacti that are found nestled in stone outcroppings or towering over short grass growing in sandy soil. There is a small abandoned watch tower on the premises called Fort Caprón out in the distance. There are other trails as well with some that are less well-marked than others, and without a map and navigation skills it is possible to get lost while blazing these trails.

A Look at the Lagoon in the Guanica Reserve
A Look at the Lagoon in the Guanica Reserve

There is a water feature in this forest provided by the Ojo de Agua, allowing a little circular oasis of more lush botanical life to grow, that creates an interesting contrast in flora. The area is very hot and despite being so dry, mosquitoes can be a serious issue. So if you’re going to take the time to properly explore, make sure to bring some bug spray along as well so that you will be able to completely enjoy your experience.

8)  Art Museums in Bayamon
While many of the things to do in Puerto Rico are about nature and the out of doors, there are also indoor attractions as well. Bayamon is the second largest city in Puerto Rico, and only lacks some of the amenities of a major metropolitan area because of its proximity to San Juan.

Aerial View of the City of Bayamon
Aerial View of the City of Bayamon

Bayamon is very devoted to culture, and though they are small, there are two art museums of note that you want to visit. The Bayamon Museum of Art and the Oller Museum of Art and History are both free of cost, and feature Puerto Rican artists that date back to the mid-1800s up through contemporary work, so there is a nice variety of styles to introduce you to the evolution of art in the area.

Bayamon Museum of Art
Bayamon Museum of Art
Courtesy of

The Bayamon Museum is located in Luis Ferre Science Park. It features nine exhibition rooms and even a small garden with sculpture. The Oller Museum is located downtown, in what used to be the City Hall. It has two floors for exhibition, with a focus on the works of famous Puerto Rican painter Francisco Oller.

Inside the Bayamon Museum of Art
 Inside the Bayamon Museum of Art
Courtesy of

Local artists like Juan Santos also have displayed works—as does Thomas Baptista. The museum also houses historic religious art and Taino artifacts.

7)  Cemi Museum
“Cemi” is the Taino word for spirit, which could be any number of entities including gods and ancestors. The word can also stand for the physical representations of these spirits and gods. The Cemi Museum in Jayuya is dedicated to preserving Taino culture through artifacts and education. Gathering for ceremonies in the mountains is an important part of historic Taino culture, and so a lot of preserved sites and digs are all at high elevations in coffee country. Jayuya is the main hub for this activity, and the Cemi Museum is meant to bring it altogether. It is named after sculptures of Cemi found nearby, which scholars believe may be meant to resemble a nearby mountain range with the humps on its back.

Cemi Museum
By ganbei [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The museum is built in the shape of a cemi, and is home to a small assortment of tools, pottery, and petroglyphs from the area. A short informational program serves as a guide, and the museum itself can easily be browsed in under 20 minutes by most accounts. If you’re looking to round out your day with more things to do, other Taino sites like Piedra Escrita—another example of petroglyphs—is nearby, along with the aforementioned Dona Juana Falls and even some coffee plantations.

6)  El Yunque
This 28,000-acre rainforest belongs to the U.S. Forestry Service, and spans some of the highest elevations in Puerto Rico. It is one of the most stunning places to visit on the island, with many waterfalls and an impressive array of plants and animals that includes 400 separate botanical species.

View of Mountains of El Yunque
View of Mountains of El Yunque
By Stan Shebs via Wikimedia Commons

Its tallest peak—what the areas is named for, el yunque meaning “anvil”—is usually shrouded in an eerie thin mist that dissipates with the afternoon showers.

El Yunque Rain Forest
El Yunque Rain Forest
By stanthejeep [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Many shelters have been installed to provide cover for hikers and backpackers, as eventually you will find yourself caught in one of the distinctive torrential downpours that marks this area as rainforest—the only one in the U.S. Forestry system.

5)  Rio Camuy Caves
This area is actually better known by the locals for its nearby beaches, and visiting either one should be a rewarding adventure. The caves are wide open places that were actually exposed when parts of them caved in. Tours are given with a numbered ticket system in place to limit the amount of visitors in the cave at one time, and careful education is given in a pre-tour briefing both to help you know what to expect, and to ensure you support preservation of the cave by not handling anything within it that might damage the fragile ecosystem. At one point, you will come to a place in the cave where the floor opens up and you are able to see the Camuy River running beneath you. In other parts of the cave system, you can hear the sound of rushing water. There is a spring, one of the many once called the fountain of youth, and the water is considered potable enough for you to try.

Entrance to Rio Camuy Caves
Entrance to Rio Camuy Caves

The park around the cave is also beautiful, with picnic pavilions and a play area for children. Locals visit here as often as tourists, and the number of visitors is limited by the same number lottery system, so be aware and plan ahead. You might keep in mind, too, that the cave is closed during rain, as parts of it can be subject to flash flooding. There is a restaurant and a souvenir shop on site, as well.

4)  El Arsenal
This is a former naval station in the San Juan area. The fortress is made with Romanesque architecture that makes it easily visible as it spreads low and gray over La Puntilla, which is a strategic defense point at the seaward side of the San Juan harbor. Originally, the fortress was established out of fear for British naval attacks on the harbor. El Arsenal was ideal for launching shallow boats into the mangrove swamps surrounding this little arm of the island, and could easily patrol to warn the navy of approaching enemy ships. It was one of the last retreats of the Spanish military forces when the Americans won the Spanish-American war.

El Arsenal Fortress
El Arsenal Fortress

The fortress currently serves as the home for the Institute of Puerto Rican heritage, and has a welcoming visitor’s center to teach you all about the fortress, the island, and the unique culture of Puerto Rico. There are also several different art exhibitions featuring local artists. Tours are given of the facilities, where even the little chapel is preserved from the place’s past as a military stronghold. Many cultural events are held there on a revolving basis, so there are definitely plenty of things to do.

3)  Arecibo Observatory
Among the places to visit in Puerto Rico, this one is definitely unique. This observatory houses the William E. Gordon telescope—the single largest aperture telescope constructed at 305 meters--and is part of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center. The observatory operates under agreement with the National Science Foundation to allow for research on a competitive basis with a variety of different science teams. This is the giant dish featured in the movie “Contact” from back in the ‘90s. The on-site visitor’s center contains bilingual exhibits that are designed to instruct and pique interest in astronomy and the night sky. The Angel Ramos Foundation sponsors a short audiovisual show in the center’s auditorium that lets you experience how the observatory’s labs work on a daily basis.

Arecibo Observatory

The observatory runs a pre-college program that allows the students to work side-by-side with the scientists over a period of 16 weeks. Some are involved in group projects, others in individual ones, but all present their findings at a bi-annual symposium hosted by the observatory. Arecibo also releases beautiful colorized images taken during observations, as well as abstracts of findings for citizen stargazers to enjoy.

2)  Lagoon Tortuguero
This aquatic reserve located between Vega Baja and Manati is the only freshwater lagoon in Puerto Rico. It holds 708 million gallons of water over roughly 2.5 kilometers. It is the fourth most important preserve on the island, and is home to over 700 species of plants in 130 different families. Many of these are considered very rare and maybe endangered, which is what gives this bio diverse area its supreme importance. A tour of the area will introduce you to many grasses, ferns, and beautiful orchids, as well as to a variety of semi-aquatic animals. Freshwater crocodiles were introduced into the area a few years ago, though, so camping is not among the things to do here—in fact, it is prohibited.

Lagoon Tortuguero

There is still hiking, mountain biking, bird watching, and fishing, though. There are also guides you can hire to show you less accessible areas and even take you mountain climbing. Bird watching in particular is prized here, as there are 83 distinct species found in the lagoon area, and only 30 are migratory. Some of the notables include the Moorish Queen and a couple of varieties of warblers.

1)  Mosquito Bay
Also called the Bioluminescent Bay, this bay area is home to billions of dinoflagellates that cause the water to glow at night. The area is part of the Sun Bay Nature Reserve, and must be heavily guarded. The popularity of the attraction can lead people to try and visit the bay under circumstances that harm the delicate ecology present and that make the bay so unique and vibrant. Conservation efforts are constant at the site, and awareness about the rarity and beauty of the bay is a campaign headed by many concerned individuals who care about the bay’s preservation for future generations.

View of Bioluminescent Bay
View of Bioluminescent Bay
By Phil Hart

If you want to tour the bay, the best thing to do is go with a tour company who are professionals interested in sharing the experience of the bay in a way that doesn’t harm it. There are available night tours that utilize an electric pontoon boat or kayaks which do not disturb the microorganisms. Reputable tour groups will even advise you not to wear DEET bug repellent, as this could harm the organisms as much as gas fumes from a motorboat. You can see the ethereal green glow for yourself best on moonless nights, with extra flashes of blue, as small fish dart through the waters. On some tours, you can swim in the water, which is an eerie experience, as the dinoflagellates luminesce in response to movement, making for a brilliant, personal light show all around you.

Puerto Rico may be popular among U.S. places to visit just because it’s so close to home, but it’s also very far away in the sense that its ecology and culture are astonishingly unique compared to the rest of America. Its rich history, diverse ethnicities, and even more diverse plant and animal life contribute to Puerto Rico's charm. Whether you are into nature, science, art, music, history, culture, cuisine, or sports, this small island has plenty of adventure waiting for you. This list highlights some of the most interesting attractions—both in the mainstream and off the beaten path—but there are hundreds more waiting to be discovered by more intrepid explorers. Coming from the U.S., there is nothing required of you but a photo I.D. and possibly a birth certificate to get in; no passport is required for entry for U.S. citizens. Come and experience all of the wonder that Puerto Rico has to offer!





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