Columbus arrived in 1493 and 15 years later Juan de Ponce de Leon (Fountain of Youth fame) founded the first settlement and christened the island Puerto Rico, or “Rich Port.” Boy, was he right.
This island of riches awaits exploration. Let GO pick you up at the airport and you’ll be on your way! There’s so much to see and do and taste and experience, just like so many mainland Americans have been doing since 1898, when Puerto Rico became a commonwealth of the United States after the Spanish-American war. Seldom, will you find so much new world history and hedonistic Caribbean pleasure in one place. Welcome to “Rich Port,” the Island of Enchantment.
Old San Juan
Charming, quaint, inspirational and walkable! Don’t bother renting a car, just yet. Old San Juan offers the best experiences on foot, and yes the cobblestones are truly blue, naturally. Old San Juan extends out to sea a bit from the city, serving to protect the island from any invaders. So beyond all the authentic small street atmosphere, now with many buildings featuring fashion and food to satisfy your curiosities, there are real forts to be toured: Castillo San Cristóbal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro (“el Morro”). Both functioned to protect the city, one from any land attack coming from the east and one from the sea. There are some walls as thick as 15 feet. Both are National Historic Protected sights as well as UNESCO World Heritage locations.
Between the two forts sits the wonders of Old San Juan. Start walking at the Plaza de Colon and spend a pleasant day discovering several unique museums, like the Museo Pablo Casals, Museo de las Americas, Museo de San Juan, and the Casa del Libro, a museum dedicated to the artistry of the printed word. Old San Juan is surrounded by thick walls with several access tunnels, one of which leads a wonderfully quiet spot overlooking the sea, the Cemeterio Santa Maria Magdalen del Pazzis. Of course, you’ve been eating and snacking all day long at the many restaurants and coffee shops along the way.
El Yunque National Forest
About 45 minutes east of San Juan is the only tropical rainforest managed by the U. S. National Park Service. (More than 100 billion gallons of precipitation every year.) Hurricane Maria wasn’t very kind to this part of the island, but there are still sections open for hiking. You’ll be surprised how far away you can feel, so close to your hotel. Flora and fauna you’ve likely never seen before, along with waterfalls, every step of the way. For the most accurate availabilities within the park, check www.fs.usda.gov/detail/elyunque.
And since you’ve made the trip, you might as well check out one of the best beaches on the island at Loquillo. Be sure to stop at one of the many friquitones, kiosks on the road offering local seafood specialities and antojos, fried finger foods.
Closer to San Juan are the areas of Condado, Ocean Park and Isla Verda with miles of pleasant beaches offering many water sports. Snorkeling is good, and the beaches stretch for miles surrounded by luxury hotels and pleasant residential areas. Windsurfing is common at Ocean Park, with lots of beach bars and calmer water near the hotels at Condado. Join a beach volleyball game at Balneario El Escambron close to the Old City itself. Commanding a view of the entire stretch is El Capitolio, a grand white structure in the style of the U.S. Capitol Building. Make this a daytime trip for the sun and fun and you’ll feel much safer.
Puerto Rico is where African-influenced Caribbean rhythm met the Big Band Sound from the U. S. The bomba morphs into the salsa and dance floors beckon. A trip to the island wouldn’t be complete without a night out on the town. There’s music everywhere. Check with your hotel or any trusted local for some current, good recommendations. Try Calles Cristo and Fortaleza for a gallery stroll before dinner. And try and learn how to play a cuatro, if you can, a unique Puerto Rican instrument that sounds like a cross between a 12-string guitar and a mandolin.
When it comes to food, be ready to discover some new twists on some of your favorites, like “mofongo” (arroz de gandules), which is basically a rice and peas dish favored by the locals. Every restaurant has a version. Or tostones. Or some of the freshest seafood anywhere in the Caribbean. Then, for the really late crowd, there are the casinos, of course. And for the adventurous, take sides in the “Pina Colada War,” where two famous local bars claim birth rights.
Speaking of rum, a trip to Puerto Rico wouldn’t be complete with paying a visit to the home of rum. Actually, the Bacardi family were exiled from Cuba in 1950 and built a small rum distillery here. Lucky for Puerto Rico. Today, Bacardi (the accent is on the “di”) produces over 21 million cases of spirits a year. Tours of the Casa Bacardi include either a mixology class or one free drink. It’s located right across the bay from Old San Juan and can be reached by ferry, if you’d rather not make the drive.
Want a private tour? GO Puerto Rico Shuttle offers adventurous tours and excursions throughout the island to make your trip to Puerto Rico unforgettable. GO with your big or small family, cooperate or school group and experience some of the many beautiful and historical sites across the island at an affordable price. Feel safe knowing you will be in the hands of exceptional, highly trained drivers and tour guides.
Explore the Island of Enchantment of Puerto Rico at the following private tours:
- Old City of San Juan Sightseeing Tour
- Bacardi Rum Distillery Tour
- Ponce Historical and Cultural Tour
- El Yunque National Rainforest
- Manati Water and Nature Adventure Tour
- Tropical Catamaran Excursions
- Vieques and Culebra Islnds (beaches, by ferry only)
- Day trips to Rincon (surfing) or Ponce (art museum)
- Bioluminescent bay at Las Cabezas
- Santurce area for art museums/galleries
- Music/cultural festivals (almost monthly)
- A local baseball game, catch the next MLB star
- Catedral de San Juan Bautista