Puerto Rico: A tropical paradise with delicious food and an intriguing history! Visiting here from the mainland US is easy, and it’s a great spot for active or relaxing vacations. Here is my recommended Puerto Rico one week itinerary:
As a US territory, visitors from the states have it easy. No passport is needed to travel. At this time, no Covid test is needed to fly home either! Flights are fairly priced, and for a long weekend or full week vacation, this destination can really pack a lot in!
Here’s what we did with one week:
DAYS 1 & 2- El Yunque Rainforest
For the first day, fly into the San Juan airport. Get your rental car, and then head into El Yunque. This beautiful place is managed by the US Parks Service, so it’s the only US National Park that is also a tropical rainforest!
If you are able to get a ticket to access the main road into the park, there are several great hikes and scenic viewpoints. Most of these involve waterfalls- swimming optional! The most common stopovers on the main strip are Juan Diego Falls, La Coca Waterfall, Yokahu Tower, Baño Grande and Mt. Britton (a one hour hike with great views!)
If you would rather “do your own thing” and get off the beaten track, your best bet is to ask locals for their favorite swimming holes. After talking with our AirBNB host (Elemental Eco-Retreat), we got some amazing recommendations. My favorite of all was Espiritú Santo waterfall. Cool waters, stunning scenery, small crowds, and great swimming- I was in heaven! There is also a “natural waterslide” you can go to (Las Pailas), so much fun! In terms of nature and scenic trails, my favorite one is El Angelito.
Lodging: Elemental Eco Retreat– The perfect budget accommodation! Set in the mountains, the temperature is perfect. It feels isolated and relaxing, but at the same time is still within driving distance to grocery stores/restaurants. The best part is being serenaded by the coqui frogs in the evenings!
DAY 3- Snorkeling in Culebra (via Fajardo)
Puerto Rico has a few tiny islands off its east coast, and one of these is known for its prime snorkeling. If swimming in warm, clear, Caribbean waters is something you love- make sure to book an organized day tour out to the island to get in some snorkeling! It is possible to do this on your own using the Culebra ferry, but do your research in advance!
To get here, drive your rental car from El Yunque to the coastal town of Fajardo. There, you will meet up with your excursion company (we went with the “Culebra Power Boat Snorkeling & Beach Tour” through the company Sail Getaways from 8am-3pm). They provided lunch, drinks, snorkeling gear, and transport, and were a really fun group! The boat ride out to Culebra island can be a bit choppy (be aware if you’re prone to seasickness), and takes about 2 hours.
Once there, most groups will have time to snorkel at Flamenco Beach and/or Playa Carlos Rosario. If you have time, you can also walk around Playa Flamenco and find the World War II era tanks (below) before heading back to the city.
On our way to our hotel in San Juan, we stopped at the small beach town of Luquillo to visit the famous “Kioskos”. These are several tiny stalls (each have a stall number posted) selling a huge variety of food and souvenirs. We got dinner there, then spent some time swimming at Luquillo Beach.
The Kiosks I recommend:
Classic Puerto Rican dishes: #8 – de Sylvia /# 40 – Wepa Arepa / #53 – Ya Yola / #54 – El Castillo del Mar / #60 – Roca Taina
Other Options: #2- La Parilla / #18 – Caribbean BBQ / #22 – Jibaros: Local Seafood / #27 – Ocean Palace: Asian / #29 – Osso Buco: Italian / #34 – Revolution Pizza (my fave!) / #42 – Ceviche Hut: Peruvian cuisine
DAY 4- Island Road Trip
Given our short trip, we wanted to see as much of the island as we could. Early in the morning, we headed out on our “island road trip day”! This daytrip was planned out for me by an expert guide form the trip itinerary-planning company ViaHero! Make sure to check them out!
If you’d like to do something similar, here’s what we did:
Our first stop was a tiny swing in the mountains, one hour away from the city. The swing was not very exciting, but the scenery was! Called La Curva del Árbol, it’s nice for a quick stop!
Next up is the historic town of Ponce (50 min drive), “the pearl of the south”. The architecture in the city center was neat to look at, but there honestly wasn’t too much to do in the town beyond grabbing lunch and strolling around the center. We did stop to see the beautiful Villaronga House, Parque de Bombas, and Plaza Las Delicias. Ice cream at King’s Cream is also a great idea! If you’re feeling ambitious, you can also hike nearby “Cerro de Punta” for a view of almost the entire island!
From there, stop in the town of Yauco (30m drive). On the weekends it can be pretty lively, and it’s mostly known for its colorfully painted buildings as part of an urban art installment called “Yaucromatic”.
Next up are the salt flats: Salinas de Cabo Rojo (47 min drive). This otherworldly looking landscape is mostly known for having pink water, and definitely makes for a good photo! If you continue down the road, you can see the scenic Lighthouse, Faro Los Morrillos.
Next, we decided to experience the “Pork Highway” of Puerto Rico! The “Pork Highway” is basically an area in the hills with several restaurants serving up… pork (obviously). There are even “bus-bar tours” that take people around to stop at different restaurants while serving up alcohol and music. For dinner, we stopped at a local joint, Lechonera Los Pinos (1 hr drive).
This was a great place to experience the “non touristy” part of the island, and we met a few new friends as well! After dinner, we headed back to San Juan (2 hr drive).
Lodging: San Juan (we stayed at the Marriott Isla Verde)
DAYS 5 & 6 – San Juan
There is so much to do and see in this city (which really reminded me of Havana, Cuba!), so we tried to split it up by spending time in the old city and then doing different things in the newer parts like Condado and Isla Verde.
Old San Juan – Start your day with a visit to the historic 17th century fortresses that protected the city from invaders. There are two- San Felipe del Morro and Castillo de San Cristóbal. Each has its own entry ticket and can be bought at the site. If the colonial, pirate-filled era of history intrigues you, you’ll love it!
From El Morro, you can also get an amazing view of the scenic Santa María Magdalena Cemetery. You can also see the colorful La Perla neighborhood, recently known for being the filming location of the “Despacito” music video!
Strolling the streets and admiring all the pastel buildings of San Juan can fill up a whole day- but here are a few stops of note:
Puerto Rico Flag (black and white) Mural – Calle de San José
Puerto Rico Flag (colorful) Mural – Callejón de la Puerta Bandera
Save a Gato – Cat rescue! A quick stop to see the kittens, and make a donation
Caleta de las Monjas– Not much to do, just a very scenic street
Plaza del Quinto Centenario– A plaza in honor of Columbus’ voyage 500 years ago
Calle Fortaleza– This used to be “Instagram famous” and known for having the hanging umbrellas, but at least as of summer 2021 they were no longer there and the area was instead filled with protestors, cops, and people sleeping on the streets.
Make sure to stop at Barrachina for drinks- If you love piña coladas, they were supposedly invented here. I’ve also heard good things about the popsicles at Señor Paleta. We had breakfast at the Waffle-era Tea Room, and coffee at Caficultura. We had dinner one night at Hijole, a Mexican restaurant.
My favorite dinner place though was the “local” spot called El Nuevo Acuario. We actually met the owner Leo when we were hiking in El Yunque and he convinced us to go and try his seafood- it was DELICIOUS! The mofongo there is insanely good too! Finally, if you want a night out for drinking and dancing, check out La Factoria.
Outside of Old San Juan, you can spend time enjoying restaurants, bars, dance clubs, and beach activities (kayaking, parasailing, jet ski rentals) in the other areas of town.
Lodging: San Juan (we stayed at the Marriott Isla Verde)
DAY 7- Beach Day
If you’re feeling extra motivated, you could drive several hours and try to visit the famous waterfall called Gozalandia. Or, you could try to see the bioluminescence at Vieques Bay at night! We ran out of time, and energy, and instead spent this last day enjoying the beaches of San Juan.
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As always, all reviews and opinions are my own. However, should you choose to book any of the above hotels or day trips, please know that I am an affiliate and will make a small commission.