Puerto Rico Travel Guide
Puerto Rico is an island nestled in the Caribbean with a rich culture colored by Spanish and American influence. The turquoise waters and decadent, colorful cuisine make Puerto Rico a destination for all types of travelers. Keep reading for recommendations for accommodations, cuisine, activities and more.
Flying into Puerto Rico is a breeze, especially when traveling from the United States. After just a short three and a half hour flight from JFK airport in New York, NY, we land in paradise. This proximity and short travel time is just a small part of what draws travelers in to this Caribbean paradise. We typically fly into San Juan, which is a central hub for travelers. The airport is small and slightly outdated, but there is a surplus of taxis and vans waiting outside of the airport, so transportation to your hotel is rarely an issues. The island also has Uber available or you can coordinate transportation with your hotel.
Where to Stay
While Puerto Rico may look small on a map, this island packs a punch with a variety of small and larger cities to explore. If you opt for the northern side of the island, you can enjoy the beautiful beaches, including the famous white sand beaches of Isla Verde. The Northern coast also boasts Old San Juan, which is the home to the San Juan National Historic Site and buildings dating back to the 16th century. If you're a history fan, the Bautista Cathedral houses the tomb of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon and is worth a visit.
The southern coast is less traveled, but no less beautiful and there is plenty to do and see there. The popular southern town of Ponce is actually the largest city in Puerto Rico. The Southern coast is rich with stunning small beaches and secluded offshore islands with gorgeous hiking trails and snorkeling areas. When we visit Puerto Rico, I prefer to stay on the Northern side and then we take excursions to the Southern coast.
Our preferred hotel is The Fairmont El San Juan. This was the El San Juan hotel prior to being acquired by The Fairmont group, but the famous hotel still boasts its historical charm. The property was designed by legendary Miami Beach architect Morris Lapidus and officially opened in 1958. El San Juan became the destination for travelers and talent alike. The hotel was, and still is, known for its vibrant entertainment and night life. Renowned entertainers have since performed at El San Juan, including Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Eddie Fisher, Carol Channing and Liza Minelli. Even after the acquisition by The Fairmont, the hotel still maintains its quintessential grand lobby with a center circular bar and main stage where live performers entertain nightly. The walls and ceilings of the lobby are adorned with intricate wood carving details and drapery. The rich historical design is contrasted with the vast casino and neon lights oozing out into the main lobby. From the moment you enter this hotel, you know this is the place to be.
The hotel rooms have been updated with a modern flare since it was acquired by The Fairmont. The pool grounds and wellness center also have a modern design, which contrasts with the historical details that are sprinkled throughout the property. There are multiple pools, cabanas for rent, beach service and multiple restaurants on the property. The service was impeccable and the food was delicious. Next time you travel to Puerto Rico, The Fairmont should be on your list!
Where to Eat
From high end fine dining to local street vendors, there is something for everyone on this colorful island. When we visit, I like to do a little bit of both and visit some fine dining establishments while also getting a taste of local traditional bites.
Alcapurria is a popular fritter type dish local to Puerto Rico and it's a must try while you are there. The outer shell is made with plantains and the filling can be either meat, cheese, crab, shrimp or lobster. Venture out to small neighboring towns or to La Placita de Santurce to stop by a local vendor and grab a variety of alcapurria to taste. The small vendors usually sell empanadas as well. This is a great way to taste the local cuisine in an authentic way.
The fine dining in Puerto Rico is also exceptional. Depending on how formal you want to go, I have a few recommendations from my latest trip:
Santaella Puerto Rico - the exposed concrete walls, amber lighting, reclaimed wood and a terrarium installation make an impactful first impression. What's to follow does not disappoint. The specialty cocktails were outstanding and unique. The food menu offers elevated and modern twists on traditional Puerto Rican cuisine. Some highlights included the melt in your mouth tuna poke skewers, the honey truffle goat cheese quesadilla, the cheese scallion empanadas and the salmon crudo. The service was impeccable and the staff was attentive. I highly recommend you go here on your trip!
Jose Enrique - for a more modest and casual meal, but nonetheless impactful, Jose Enrique is the spot for you. The interior is modern and casual and the food is delicious and traditional to Puerto Rico. This is the spot to go if you're a foodie and want to get a real taste for Puerto Rican cuisine. The menu changes regularly, but you can expect plenty of plantains, pork and fresh vibrant salads.
What To Do
There's no shortage of fun on this colorful island. Whether you're an active traveler looking for your next adventure or for your next cocktail and lounge chair, there's something for you here.
Boat Rental - on this last trip we rented a private boat to explore the smaller remote islands off the southern coast of the island. We used the App called GetMyBoat for a charter and we were happy with the service. You can use this app for a charter a boat anywhere in the world, so it's worth checking out!
Beach Day - rent a car and explore the smaller remote beaches off the southern and western coast of the island.
Snorkeling - Puerto Rico is home to a diverse marine life and makes for a spectacular snorkeling destination.
Lounge and Relax - what better way to enjoy this Caribbean island than to soak up the sun.
Old San Juan - explore the historical streets of Old San Juan, stop by local shops and vendor's to try local cuisines. This is a great place to get a taste of Puerto Rican history.