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Puerto Rico is a diverse island filled with beautiful beaches, lush rainforests, colorful, colonial-style buildings, and impressive caves, mountains and rivers. To experience the best of this US territory in the Caribbean, you’ll want to rent a car and go on a Puerto Rico road trip. Don’t know where to start? We’re here to help with our ultimate Puerto Rico travel guide and itinerary!
This Puerto Rico itinerary can easily be followed whether you have 4 days in Puerto Rico or plan to spend one week on a Puerto Rico road trip. We’ve also included a Puerto Rico road trip map of all of our recommended stops and lodging recommendations to help you visualize and prepare for your Puerto Rico vacation.
Our road trip experience in Puerto Rico
Traveling to Puerto Rico is like stepping into a foreign country even though you’re still in a US Territory. The culture and signage will make you feel like you’re outside the United States. Street signs are in Spanish and the gas stations are in metric. Don’t worry, speed limits are listed in miles per hour.
In other words, Puerto Rico is a mix of a lot of cultures all inside an island that is only 39 miles wide.
The main roads are easy to drive on. Think of the fancy turnpike that you pay tolls on. The side roads are like a country road. Well paved but with no markings. Given the beauty of the islands and the tight turns on the road, you’re not likely to drive over 35mph. Even though the island is not very large, because of the terrain, it can take time to drive around.
Getting around Puerto Rico – tips for a Puerto Rico road trip
Renting a car is the best way to get around Puerto Rico, especially if you plan to road trip in Puerto Rico.
But there are a few things to know before your Puerto Rico vacation. Here are some tips that will make the experience easier and more fun for everyone.
Use a reputable rental car company
Puerto Rico is one of the best Caribbean islands for families. It is a US territory, so not only do you not need a passport to enter if you are a US citizen, but you’ll find many of the major chains and reputable companies that are well-known in the United States. However, you’ll find several smaller, unknown companies, as well. And our advice is to avoid them. When it comes to renting a car, it is best to stick with reputable car companies. This will help you avoid scams and unexpected fees.
Be cautious, even when booking through websites like Expedia or Booking.com. If the company is an unknown name, be sure to check the online reviews before you book. If you don’t you may end up with a sub-par, dirty car, hidden fees that double the cost when you arrive, or a long wait that eats into your vacation time.
Puerto Rico road signs are in Spanish
Although Puerto Rico is part of the United States, Spanish is the official language. Road signs are all written in Spanish. so, it’s a good idea to learn some Spanish before visiting the island. It’s one of the best languages to learn for travel, and will help you understand street signs and get around Puerto Rico easier.
Mix of imperial and metric systems
While some things may feel different than in the states, others are very similar to what you would expect on any other USA road trip. For example, speed limits are listed in miles since Puerto Rico primarily uses the imperial system for measurement, like the rest of the USA. However, gas stations in Puerto Rico use the metric system, so gasoline is measured in liters rather than gallons.
Roads and highways in Puerto Rico are generally well maintained. Although during a Puerto Rico road trip, you might find yourself on some winding, two-lane mountainous roads that will require driving slower. But, look at the bright side, that just gives you more time to enjoy the beautiful scenery!
Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria
The island of Puerto Rico was devastated in 2017 by Hurricane Maria. Parts of Puerto Rico are still recovering years later. During a road trip around Puerto Rico, you will certainly come across areas where the devastation is still evident. You’ll see plenty of homes that remain vacant and destroyed. Lots of communities are still in the rebuilding process. But, that is to be expected considering Hurricane Maria was the worst natural disaster the island had ever experienced.
Weather in Puerto Rico
Unless you have a tropical storm overhead, scattered showers happen every day. But, it’s rare to see any lightning. Weather in Puerto Rico is warm year-round. Even in January, the coldest month in Puerto Rico, you’ll find the average high temperatures are around 83 degrees Fahrenheit, making the island territory one of the best warm winter destinations in the US.
Puerto Rico road trip itinerary
Here is a suggested Puerto Rico road trip itinerary that takes you around the entire island. We recommend at least 6 days for a road trip around Puerto Rico’s main island. However, you could always spend more time in San Juan or Rincon if you have a week in Puerto Rico. Or you could spend a day less in Arecibo if you only have 4 days in Puerto Rico.
Day 1 – San Juan
- Old San Juan
- Castillo San Felipe del Morro
- Castillo de San Cristóbal
Day 2 – Arecibo
- Cueva del Indio
- Lunch in Arecibo
- Rio Camuy Cave Park
Day 3 – Arecibo
- River Tubing at Tanama River Adventures
- Cueva Ventana
Day 4 – Rincon / La Parguera
- La Parguera BioLuminescent Bay
Day 5 – El Yunque / Fajardo
- El Yunque
Day 6 – San Juan
- Back to San Juan
Prefer guided experiences? Find the best excursions and guided tours in Puerto Rico here.
Things to do on a Puerto Rico road trip
Now that you have a general Puerto Rico itinerary to follow, here is a brief description of all the awesome things you’ll see and do on your island road trip.
Old San Juan
Perhaps the most visited attraction in Puerto Rico, Old San Juan, or Viejo San Juan in Spanish, is the oldest district in the capital city. With colonial Spanish-style buildings that date back to the 16th century, and cobblestone streets, this charming, historical area of Puerto Rico is a must-visit. Spend some time wandering the Instagrammable streets and take in all the colorful buildings and beautiful doors.
Be sure to visit the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista. Located in the center of the Old San Juan, the church is the oldest church on American soil and the second oldest church in the western hemisphere. The cathedral dates back to 1521. It houses the tomb of Juan Ponce de Leon, the Spanish explorer who led the first European expedition to the New World.
You’ll also want to try some of the popular Caribbean fusion restaurants. Definitely order mofongo, a traditional Puerto Rican dish made from mashed fried plantains. Barrachina Restaurant is a popular place to eat in Old San Juan. Not only do they serve mofongo and other Spanish and Puerto Rican cuisine, but the restaurant claims to have invented the world-famous pina colada.
Old San Juan reminded us so much of Old Town Cartagena, Colombia, another beautiful, colorful city that we fell in love with during our travels!
Castillo San Felipe del Morro / Castillo de San Cristóbal
On the edge of Old San Juan, you’ll find two old forts dating back to as early as the 1500s. These two impressive Puerto Rico landmarks are within walking distance from each other. Your admission fee covers your entrance to both Castillo San Felipe del Morro, or El Morro for short, and Castillo de San Cristóbal.
The fortresses, which both tower over the sea, were designed to protect the island from attackers arriving by ship. In fact, they served as active military forts for centuries before they were retired in the 1960s. The forts are now part of the National Park Service and serve as historical sites and museums.
Where to stay in San Juan: Hotel El Convento
Your next destination on your Puerto Rico road trip will be the Arecibo area. Approximately an hour and a half from San Juan, Arecibo is a great town to base yourself to explore some of the best caves and most beautiful beaches in Puerto Rico. If possible, plan to spend two nights in Arecibo to see the north central part of the country.
Where to stay in Arecibo: Oceania Beachfront Accommodations
Cueva del Indio
Cueva del Indio is one of the most beautiful spots in Puerto Rico. Costing just $5 USD a person to visit, this ocean-side cave is just a short hike from the parking lot. Located about 10 minutes outside the town of Arecibo, the cave is surrounded by dramatic cliffs overlooking the ocean. The cave is an impressive look back in time as it contains petroglyphs that have somehow withstood the forces of nature and humans for centuries. In fact, Cueva del Indio is believed to have the largest number of petroglyphs on the entire island.
Getting into the cave is tricky and kind of confusing. You won’t find any signage pointing you toward the entrance. Accessing the cave requires crawling through a narrow crevice that drops you down into the cave. Entering the cave can be done with kids, but it takes some work and a lot of caution. I recommend watching this brief video before your visit so you’ll know what you are in for. You’ll want to wear walking shoes rather than flip flops or sandals since you’ll be climbing and walking on sharp rocky surfaces that were likely once coral.
In the area around the cave, you’ll find breathtaking views of natural arches and waves crashing on the cliffs. So, spend some extra time taking in the surrounding beauty.
Rio Camuy Cave Park
If you love exploring the world beneath the earth’s surface, Rio Camuy Cave Park is not to be missed! The third largest cave system in the world, Rio Camuy Cave is easily one of Puerto Rico’s top natural attractions.
The main cavern is an impressive 10-stories high. The kid-friendly tour starts out with a trolley ride that takes you down the mountain to the cave’s entrance. The deeper you go into the cave along a well-defined walking path, you’ll find stalagmites, stalactites, and even bats sleeping overhead. Camuy River runs through the cave. The highlight of the tour is a large sinkhole where sun rays often shine through into the cave.
To visit Rio Camuy Cave Park, you’ll want to call ahead to make a reservation for your visit, as tours are limited and Rio Camuy Cave Park sells out.
Phone number for Rio Camuy Cave Park: +1 787-898-3136
If you aren’t tired of cave tours by this point, Cueva Ventana is another great place to visit on a Puerto Rico road trip.
This cave, located about 10 minutes south of Arecibo, is only accessible via a guided tour. The guided tour takes you on a short hike to Cueva Ventana, or Window Cave in English. The hour and a half long guided experience is easy to do with kids. Hiking shoes are a must. The tour company also requires all participants to wear hard hats that they provide.
The view from inside the cave is one of the best in Puerto Rico. You can reserve your spot on the tour in advance or book a day trip from San Juan that includes both Cueva Ventana and Cueva del Indio.
Tanama River Adventures
Near the town of Utuado, south of Arecibo, Tanama River is a wonderful place to visit if you are looking for a family-friendly adventure. Tanama River Adventures offers cave tubing and rappelling tours fit for people of most ages, including kids as young as 5 years old.
There are 6 tours to choose from that vary in length and level of difficulty and adrenaline. If visiting Puerto Rico with kids, the shorter, 3-hour cave tubing adventure includes a short 20 minute hike, swimming, and easy tubing through a rapid-free, underground river that runs through a large cave. The tour company provides everything including a helmet, life-jacket, tube, and an experienced guide.
It is a refreshing and fun way to experience the beauty of Puerto Rico on a road trip.
After one or two days in the Arecibo area, head to the west coast of Puerto Rico to the laid back surfer town of Rincon. Known for its beautiful beaches that are home to sea turtles, Rincon is a popular place for surfers and snorkelers. You could easily spend 2-3 days in this relaxing seaside community, depending on how many days you have allotted for your Puerto Rico road trip.
Steps and Tres Palmas Reserve are the two most popular beaches particularly if you hope to see the Hawksbill Sea Turtle or the Leatherback Sea Turtle. Both of these endangered species of sea turtles have been known to nest on the sandy beaches near Rincon.
Where to stay in Rincon: Rincon of the Seas Grand Hotel
La Parguera BioLuminescent Bay
One of the most unique things to do in Puerto Rico, the bioluminescent bay in La Parguera is the only one of its kind in the US territory where you can actually swim in the water to experience the bioluminescence up close.
Located in southwest Puerto Rico, La Parguera is one of three places in the territory where you can see the glowing effects created by microorganisms in the water. The microorganisms emit a short burst of light when disturbed or agitated. The glow isn’t visible during the daylight, so, to experience this natural phenomenon, you need to take a night tour, where you can kayak and swim after the sun sets. While the bioluminescent bay on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques is supposedly the brightest in the territory and the world, La Parguera will not disappoint!
However, unless you are incredibly skilled at night photography and have a professional camera, this experience is one that will live in your memory, but not on your camera. It is very difficult to capture this phenomenon on camera and do it justice. Even our GoPro photo above, which was taken at sunset, turned out grainy once we brightened it a bit. But trust us, the tour is well worth it. It is one of the most unique experiences in Puerto Rico to see the water light up a greenish-blue color as you tread water and move your arms about.
We have experienced both the bioluminescent bay in La Parguera and the bioluminescence near Fajardo. We definitely recommend La Parguera, as it is much brighter, the water seems cleaner, and you can actually swim in the glowing water!
Where to stay near La Parguera: La Jamaca, Lajas
El Yunque National Forest
The only rainforest in the US National Forest system, El Yunque National Forest is 29,000 acres of breathtaking, biologically diverse tropical scenery.
The rainforest is a wonderful place to explore, hike, and swim beneath waterfalls. La Mina Trail is the most popular and most heavily traveled trail in the national forest. However, it isn’t expected to reopen until 2022, as it has been undergoing repairs since Hurricane Maria destroyed the island.
The trail, which follows La Mina River, is a great and easy trail to hike with kids. The .7-mile trail does involve a challenging elevation change which makes the return trip a bit difficult, but the hike takes you down to a lovely waterfall that cascades 35 feet into a shallow pool where you can take a refreshing dip if you wear your bathing suit.
If planning to hike this trail (once opened), go early to avoid the crowds.
Juan Diego trail is an alternative waterfall trail that is rated as easy. It is a very short hike, so it is great if hiking with young kids. If you prefer guided experiences, you can book a guided excursion that includes both hiking in El Yunque and natural waterslides.
Fajardo is a great place to stay if you want to island hop and visit the stunning beaches in Culebra or take the ferry over to Vieques for a day trip. However, you likely need a few extra days if you want to experience the other islands in Puerto Rico.
Even if you don’t plan to ferry over to Culebra or Vieques, Fajardo is a great place to spend a day. Home to great beaches, natural pools, and a bioluminescent lagoon, after hiking in El Yunque, Fajardo is a convenient place to stay on a Puerto Rico road trip.
Prior to Hurricane Maria, kayaking through a canopy of mangroves to the bioluminescent lagoon was a fun experience. However, according to numerous Trip Advisor reviews, the bioluminescent effect is barely visible now. Numerous reviewers said the guide had to cover the group with a tarp in order to see the glowing water. While we did not do a bioluminescent tour at Laguna Grande in Fajardo because we opted for the one in La Parguera this time, current reviews do not reflect the same memorable experience we had pre-hurricane.
Where to stay in Fajardo: El Conquistador Resort
What you won’t see on this Puerto Rico road trip
The primary thing you won’t get to do if you follow our road trip Puerto Rico itinerary is to visit the other islands. Vieques and Culebra are both great for day trips or an overnight stay. But with limited time on our road trip, we opted to just limit our Puerto Rico road trip to the main island.
However, you could easily ferry over to either place from Fajardo or take a short flight over to Vieques from San Juan. If you want to add a few days to your trip to experience these other islands, expect a laid-back vibe and lots of relaxation. It would be a perfect way to round out your Puerto Rico vacation!
Have a question or comment about a road trip in Puerto Rico? We’d love to hear from you. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.