Best cities to stay in Puerto Rico
San Juan & Condado
The language might be Spanish but the currency is US dollars and credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted. San Juan is where the atmosphere is great and there are plenty of places to eat and drink with cuisine to suit every palate, and budget. Try and eat street food, the traditional dishes of pork and rice, plantains and beans will be far nicer, and cheaper, than anything in a hotel.
With restaurants, boutiques, bars and attractions there is always something going on in this essentially Spanish city. Take a tour of El Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a 16th century citadel and UNESCO World Heritage Site then relax on Carolina Beach. Don’t forget to fit in a visit to the Bacardi Rum factory as well!
The more upmarket Condado is a bustling and lively strip of San Juan facing the Atlantic Ocean. This is one of the islands most important tourist destinations and its success is reflected in the number of casinos, nightclubs, restaurants and designer name boutiques.
It is a very busy place and can be noisy, but it would be hard to find a Spanish city that isn’t. In Ashford Avenue world-class dining options can be found and every year a culinary festival is held between the most popular restaurants in the area.
You can opt to stay in the historic part of San Juan where it is possible to find a dorm bed for less than twenty dollars per night. At the other end of the scale you can choose a luxurious fully serviced hotel in the exclusive Condado district, but whatever you decide there is the perfect place waiting for you!
The second largest city on Puerto Rico can be found on the south coast of the island facing the Caribbean Sea and is very colonial in character. The pretty Catedral de la Guadalupe is just one of the charming buildings in this laid back town that is in complete contrast to San Juan. Daily flights to nearby Mercedita Airport from JFK and Orlando mean that Ponce is very popular with visitors from the US looking for short breaks.
The compact city centre has all the main attractions close together and it is very easy to get around on foot. The central Plaza las Delicias is surrounded by museums and restaurants and a free city wide bus service makes going further afield cheap and easy. A tourist train does a loop of the town and is much easier to use that trying to park a car which can be challenging. The train departs from the distinctive Parque de Bombas which is where the tourist office can be found. The former fire station is painted with red and black stripes and is the symbol of the city.
Ferries across to the island of Caja de Muertos leave from the pier and there are miles of deserted beaches, a snorkel trail and an empty lighthouse to explore. Other places to visit around Ponce are speciality coffee plantations where guided tours can be taken and there are several shopping centres offering the latest in food, fashion and gifts.
Accommodation can be found in budget inns around Plaza Degetau or you splash out a small fortune and stay at the beachfront casino and golf resort just outside the town.
This small colonial town is probably best known for the giant radio telescope that is used to explore the heavens. With a diameter of 350 metres and a surface area of twenty acres it has to be seen to be believed. The visitor centre has a lot of information about the telescope and if you are interested in science or astronomy it makes a worthwhile day out. As well as the amazing La Poza beach there is the Arecibo Lighthouse & Historical Park and you can descend into the spectacular La Cueva del Indio complete with bats and petroglyphs.
The town has a relaxed feel and it does help if you can speak some Spanish. Accommodation can be found in hotels and guesthouses to suit all budgets, there are the usual big brand names as well as individually owned and run hotels where you can feel like one of the family for a few days.
Fajardo is great with loads to do and see. The wildlife area of Las Bocas de San Juan mustn’t be missed nor should the El Yunque National Forest. No trip to Fajardo would be complete without a nighttime trip in a kayak out into the middle of the inky black lagoon to see the amazing bioluminescent plankton. This is recommended for adults and older children as the trip can be quite demanding but the electric blue effect on the water is definitely worth it.
One of the best beaches for families close to Fajardo is at Balneario de Luquillo where for a dollar or so you can use the changing rooms, loos and showers. Boat trips to Isla Palominos and Isla Vieques can be taken from Fajardo and make a change from staying on the mainland.
The Puerto del Rey Marina has moorings for over 1000 boats and is an impressive sight. There is a selection of shops selling marine related items and some decent restaurants where you can chill out and enjoy good food accompanied by live music at the weekends.
When you are deciding where to stay in Fajardo there is wide choice. From a beachside five star luxury resort with its own water park to a simple room in a local family home there really is somewhere for everyone.
Isla de Vieques
A short 60 - 90 minute ferry ride from Fajardo will find you on the tropical island of Vieques where time seems to have pretty much stood still.
Beaches are the main reason for a stay in Isla de Vieques and white sand beaches, black sand beaches, wide flat beaches and rocky cove beaches can all be found here. Some are only accessible by boat like Ensenada Honda and Playita at Puerto Ferro Bay which also offer great snorkelling opportunities. If you plan to visit Isla de Vieques with small children Media Luna Beach is great as the water is very shallow for several metres from the shore.
The main town is Vieques on the north side of the island where the ferry from Fajardo docks. Most of the residents live in the area known as Isabel Segunda which still maintains its rural character and it is quite common to see chickens and horses roaming the streets.
Tourists tend to hop in a taxi and head south to the smaller town of Esperanza. Calle Flamboyan runs parallel with the ocean and is where the main restaurants and bars will be found, plus a few island style clubs.
There is a rich variety of accommodation in Isla de Vieques including guesthouses, inns and hotels to suit every budget so you can find the perfect holiday. There is also a camping site at Balneario Sun Bay by the beach.