For the American traveler, Puerto Rico is a dream. It’s a far off and exotic Caribbean land, filled with palm trees, piercing turquoise ocean, rich history, beaches galore, and what may very well be one of the best food scenes on the entire planet. A trip there feels like traveling to another time period, where clocks don’t matter and the only things one must worry about are cold beer and sunscreen. Only, you don’t need a passport to get there and flights are comparatively cheap. For all intents and purposes, it’s the perfect travel destination.
Tourism is rebounding after Hurricane Maria hit the island head on last September, which makes now as good a time as ever for us to remind everyone that Puerto Rico is open for business. And if you’re a traveler looking to go somewhere on the cheap, Puerto Rico is particularly attractive because the island is doing all they can to incentivize new visitors right now. Don’t believe us? Here are 10 reasons to visit Puerto Rico right now.
To Eat as Much Food as Possible
Puerto Rican food is delicious, and authentic fare is hard to come by in many parts of the U.S. Lechón, pasteles, mofongo, bacalaitos, alcapurria, tostones, maduros… the best part is that there’s no need to make reservations at some specific restaurant. These are the national dishes of Puerto Rican people, which means you can get a healthy helping of them damn near anywhere you go on the island.
Bar Hopping in Old San Juan
Old San Juan is a hop and a skip away from popular tourist places like Condado, and it’s beautiful no matter the time of day you’re there. Any way you cut it, however, going bar hopping there is a must. The area itself is only like seven square block (around 2.5 square miles), and not only is it full of incredible and colorful old Spanish-influenced architecture, but the bar scene is unbelievable. It seems there’s a noteworthy bar every few feet here, but some of the ones on our radar include La Factoria (voted one of the 50 best cocktail bars in the world), El Batey (one of the islands oldest dives, having opened in 1966), and La Taberna Lúpulo (a rock and roll bar with the best beer selection on the island).
Jet Ski Tours
We try to stay away from the kitschy tourist stuff when we go on vacation, but this is one of those rare times we feel the need to make an exception. We love things that go fast, and we’re also huge history nerds, so when someone offered us a tour of San Juan and the surrounding area by zipping around the San Juan Bay on jet skis, we jumped on the opportunity to do it. Whether you’re rolling out with kids or just planning a few days away with the guys, this is an excellent way to kill a couple hours on the water, learn about some of the island’s history, and even go for a dip in some beautiful, clean Caribbean water.
Robert Clemente, Carlos Beltrán, Roberto Alomar, Ivan Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, and Juan Gonzalez… what do they all have in common? They’re all famous Major League Baseball players, sure. But what else? They all hail from Puerto Rico. Baseball is one of the most popular sports on the island, and if you’re looking for a truly authentic Puerto Rican experience, there’s nothing better than heading out to a ballgame at San Juan’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium, kicking back with a Medalla Light and a hot dog, and catching a game.
The people of Puerto Rico are an attraction in and of themselves, and they know it. Especially living in a post-Maria Puerto Rico, you’ll be hard-pressed to find locals who aren’t happy to see tourists coming back to the island. But even without the hurricane recovery underway, the locals here are lively and super helpful. Talking to them is the best way to get the lay of the land and learn a little bit about the area you’re in. In New York or LA you can head to Yelp to get a half-decent list of places to eat, but in a place like Puerto Rico, there’s no better way to find out where the spots are than by talking to locals.
The Trails of El Yunque National Forest
Fun Fact: El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rainforest in the United States. Another Fun Fact: It’s fucking beautiful. Despite being decimated by Maria, there are plenty of trails that are back open and ready for exploring. El Yunque is a couple hours outside Condado and the San Juan area, so it’s a bit of a trek, but one that we’d wholly recommend to anyone visiting the island.
La Placita de Santurce During the Day and At Night
“La Placita” is Spanish for “The Little Plaza,” and that title is befitting for La Placita de Santurce, as it really is just a small two- or three-block plaza. What makes La Placita so special, though, is that during the day it’s a wonderful market, filled with fresh produce and street stands. But at night, the streets fill with live music and dancing, and karaoke spills out of open-air bars.
The Bacardi Rum Distillery Is Open for Business
We’ve written pretty extensively about our intense love for rum, and Puerto Rico is home to some of the world’s best. While Bacardi is far from a small-batch producer, there’s no denying their prestige as an international rum behemoth. Their distillery is massive, the tour guides are exceptionally friendly, there’s a bar, and whether you’re a fan of their juice or not, you’ll leave knowing everything about how rum is made—from molasses, to fermentation, and even cask maturation. Other, smaller brands offer distillery tours, but their availability is hit or miss this soon after Hurricane Maria.
Flamenco Beach—Or Any Beach, Really
Puerto Rico is a world-renowned beach destination, which means you can probably close your eyes, point anywhere on the map, and find some kind of habitable beach nearby. Flamenco Beach, however, is something special. It’s a roughly 1.5-hour ferry’s ride away from the main island, and is located on Culebra. What makes this place so special is that it’s somewhat isolated, takes effort to get to, and it’s home to some of the most phenomenal (and swimmable) beaches in all of Puerto Rico. Of course, there’re plenty of other beaches to check out, including Condado’s famed Atlantic Beach. The west coast is equally gorgeous, near Rincon, and there’s Jobos Beach in the Northwest. No matter where on the island you end up, just make sure you spend some time out on the beach, soaking up some rays.
To Smoke Cigars at Don Collins
Places like the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Honduras get a lot of love outside Cuba for their quality cigars, but Puerto Rico has an excellent cigar culture, too. Among the shops is Don Collins, located on the west end of Old San Juan. It’s s a legendary shop whose cigars are produced in the oldest cigar factory in the entire Caribbean.