Puerto Rico has long been a favourite travel destination for those wanting to go to the Caribbean. It’s hard to go wrong with just heading out and exploring in Puerto Rico, but if you’re after a few specific things to do, here’s some of the top tips while you’re volunteering on the IVHQ Puerto Rico program.
In and around San Juan
Old San Juan
The spiritual heart of San Juan lies in its old town. This is where you’ll find tall colorful buildings on cobblestone streets that come together in a distinctive, energetic way. Rent a bike or go on a cycle tour if you want to take it all in, or walk through the urban jungle to see what you come across. Whatever it is, you can bet it’ll have character.
There are all the shops you’ll ever need and a healthy splash of local cafes, restaurants and bars for when you want a break. For the culture buff, there’s plenty of museums and art galleries, and if you prefer the open air then join the locals for a weekend on the Paseo la Princesa Esplanade and browse the range of handmade local crafts.
Check out the forts
These are both found in Old San Juan, but you can lose plenty of time in them so it may pay to consider them separately. There are two iconic old Spanish military forts that dominate the San Juan harbor - El Morro and Fort San Cristóbal.
El Morro boasts remarkable views of the bay, and even cruise ships on their way into port, and is famous for the flocks of people flying kites on the parkland around it on a windy day. Fort San Cristóbal is one of the largest Spanish fortifications ever built, rising around 150 feet in the air.
You can explore both forts at your leisure or pay for tours from knowledgeable guides. A free shuttle operates between the two forts, or you can walk the 20 minutes between them.
Follow your stomach
The food in San Juan will melt in your mouth, and you can always wash it down with a glass of something delicious. San Juan is packed with all sorts of eateries and often the best way to choose a good one is to find one that smells nice! Puerto Ricans have perfected the art of cooking with plantains. It’s in a lot of specialist dishes and can come in any number of different ways from sweet, savoury, spicy and anywhere in between.
Puerto Rican coffee is highly rated and it’s also the home to the Bacardi rum factory, which is open for tasting tours. Many cocktails have a rum base, or if you prefer something lighter you can check out why locals are so proud of their beer.
If you just can’t choose, a good option is to pay for a food tour. That way you know your food is high quality, has variety and shows off the local cuisine.
The only rainforest in the US
Puerto Rico is home to the only rainforest in the United States, El Yunque National Forest. Covering around 28,000 acres in mainland east Puerto Rico, El Yunque is home to a huge amount of wildlife including frogs, snakes and parrots, and plenty of scenery to marvel at. It can be enjoyed by car, as there’s a good handful of roads that drive through the forest, or on foot, where you can climb peaks and take in stunning views.
Of the many trails, La Mina Trail is popular as it leads to La Mina waterfalls, which is the only waterfall in the rainforest where you can swim. There are plenty of other swimming spots on other trails as well. There are also a good number of tour companies offering tours on foot or kayak, or even an adventure tour that includes canyoning, rock climbing and zip-lining.
Tour Puerto Rico’s bioluminescent bays
There are only five bioluminescent bays in the world, and Puerto Rico is home to three of them. They’re not all on the mainland, so if you want to see them all your best option is to organize a tour.
While you can see the water light up from land, the best way to see it is to get in a kayak and be out on the water when it really lights up at night. The underwater glow comes from unique organisms below the water lighting up when they’re agitated - don’t worry, it’s not damaging them - and the effect is magical.
If you can, try to go on a clear night at the new moon for the best effect.
This unlikely stretch of road is home to some of the best pork restaurants you will find. Tucked up in the Cayey mountains on Route 184 is a stretch of road around two miles long that’s lined with gazebos and patios.
It’s only around 45 minutes’ drive south of San Juan, and here you’ll find around a dozen open air restaurants called lechoneras that specialize in slow roasted, flavorsome whole pork. Many of these lechoneras are open during the week, but for the truly authentic experience, head there in the weekend when the locals do.
Hundreds of people head up there to have a weekend lunch in the fresh air, listen to live music and debrief the week.
If you would like more details on any of these locations or activities, our local team in Puerto Rico can assist you once you are registered on the IVHQ Puerto Rico program.
To apply for the program or explore the volunteering opportunities available in Puerto Rico, visit our Volunteer in Puerto Rico page.