There is so much that is misunderstood about these islands. Yes, it’s a territory of the United States. But to think of it as merely the “American Caribbean” is to miss the whole point of this all-star island and its charming capital city, Old San Juan. Here is our must do Puerto Rico itinerary for a long weekend.
First off, this is still technically the United States. You don’t need a passport to visit. You don’t need foreign currency. And just about everyone speaks English. So, traveling here is easy, even for a long weekend. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t rewarding too.
These islands are historic. The capital, San Juan, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The three fortifications (San Felipe del Morro, San Cristóbal and San Juan de la Cruz) guarding the harbor are pristine examples of early Caribbean architecture. Christopher Columbus arrived in San Juan, on his second trip while re-discovering the “New World” in 1493. History is around every corner in this beautiful capital city.
Our Ideal Puerto Rico Itinerary
Day 1 – Explore the Historic City of San Juan
Old Town San Juan is one of the most beautiful cities in the Caribbean. It’s also one of the oldest cities in the Americas. By day, Old San Juan is filled with charm as visitors wander the cobble-stoned streets peeking into a few stores and doing a little shopping. Understanding the history of the islands begins on the broad esplanade in front of the San Felipe del Morro, with its stunning views of the ocean and San Juan harbor.
As the sun sets on Old Town, we were able to take in the festive holiday lights around Plaza de Colon and sample some of the local gastronomy. In the summers, the party is just getting started as patrons fill the bars and restaurants before carrying the festivities through the streets.
Day 2 – Scuba Diving at Fajardo
We’re big divers, and the scuba diving here is among the best in the world. Head an hour to the east of the capital to the town of Fajardo. This oceanfront community is the launching pad for a lot of dive trips. The closest and most common trips are to the La Cordillera Reef, where divers can explore the reefs, submerged caverns and walls. The massive coral formations have abundant marine life and there’s also the chance to see manatees in the wild. The area around Fajardo is known for its extremely clear water and extreme visibility.
If you’re not a certified scuba diver, snorkeling is also possible. Or you could simply lounge at one of the Puerto Rican beaches and let the sand in between your toes. We recommend bringing your own equipment for snorkeling or diving with you. Check out our guide to snorkel equipment.
Day 3 – Natural Activities in El Yunque National Forest
Not far from the capital on the slopes of the Sierra de Luquillo Mountains, the El Yungue National Forest is the only tropical rainforest under U.S. National Forest Service control. This is a chance to go hike, take in waterfalls and the flora and fauna of the rainforest.
For those into birding (we’re not birders), this is the only place in the world to see the elfin woods warbler. We’ll stick to the waterfalls, like the La Mina Falls. El Yunque Forest is one of the top day trips from San Juan.
If you’re visiting Puerto Rico with kids, this makes a great destination. Start by hiking the Caimitillo Trail. And then end your visit by splashing in one of the waterfalls.
Day 4 – Casa Bacardi Distillery Tour
These islands are synonymous with rum. And there’s good reason for it. The Bacardi Rum operation occupies a massive section of shoreline on the western side of the harbor. Originally started in Cuba by Spanish immigrants, the Bacardi family moved the recipe and production out of Cuba just before the communist revolution nationalized all assets in the country. Cuba’s loss was our gain.
Today, the Casa Bacardi Tour is one of the best things to do on the island – and makes a great stop before heading to the airport and flights home.
On the Bacardi factory tour, you board a little open-air bus that drives you about 100 yards, let’s you off to explore a four room museum (which begins with a 7 minute video). Unfortunately, you can’t see any of the rum production (due to food production and hygiene), but the Case Bacardi creates a magnificent experience center. They also have one of the most extensive gift shops we’ve ever seen and make perfect souvenirs to take home from your weekend trip to Puerto Rico!
There are so many things to do on this all-star Caribbean island; it’s tough to narrow down everything to a single weekend. However, our must-do weekend trip to Puerto Rico packs a punch!
Tips for Puerto Rico Vacations
Best Time to Visit
Given its location, the island can be impacted by storms during the autumn hurricane season in the Caribbean (such as Hurricane Maria in 2017, which devastated the island). For us, the best time to travel to here is near the end of hurricane season, but before Spring Break (so, from mid-December through the end of February). The weather is warm without being too hot.
Best Places to Stay
When it comes to visiting the island, a lot of people choose from one of the many all inclusive resorts (such as these). While these resorts can be extremely popular because they simplify your trip, we recommend skipping the all inclusive resorts and staying at one of the Old San Juan hotels instead. Check current prices on hotels here.
Food here is far more than just mofongo and you have to try out all the dishes (check it out at the local restaurants).
What’s your favorite Puerto Rico itinerary? Why do you want to visit again? Post a comment below and tell us!
This brought to you by Visit Puerto Rico Tourism and is based on our experiences on the island.