In this travel guide to Puerto Rico, I will go over things to know about the island, where to stay, what to do, where to eat, and a day by day itinerary.
Last month (January) we went to Puerto Rico and spent a total of 5 days and 4 nights. We mainly stayed in San Juan. We wanted a long weekend trip to escape Chicago’s winter and it was the perfect getaway. The weather was perfect. The entire time it was in the 80’s (mostly mid 80’s) and sunny. The best part is that there was a breeze. So we were never too hot. At least I wasn’t. Tre occasionally would get really hot, especially if we were right under the sun.
We also decided to go to Puerto Rico because we wanted a trip that’s not only warm but had an international and cultural experience. That’s exactly what Puerto Rico is. Since Puerto Rico is an unincorporated U.S. territory, we did not need to bring our passports. The flight was about 4 and a half hours to get there.
Let me just tell you I am so impressed with this island. As you may know, Puerto Rico was heavily hit by Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma about a year and a half ago. They experienced extreme devastation. But when we got there, the people and the island were thriving. They quickly re-built despite the challenges they encountered after the disaster. I could not recommend going there enough!
Things to Know
This is a Spanish-speaking island, but the majority of people know how to speak English. Of course, I still think it is beneficial to know some basic Spanish.
If you are staying in and exploring San Juan, it is a walkable city. You can pretty much get anywhere on foot especially in Old San Juan. You can see most of the major sites in a couple of days. Uber is also available if walking is not an option. And their Uber is fairly affordable!
Also, if you get a cab/taxi from the airport to your hotel, it is a fixed rate. We headed straight to Old San Juan and the rate from the airport to Old San Juan was $21.
Food To Try
Of course, one of my favorite parts about traveling is eating the local dishes. Below is a list of foods to try!
It is a sweet Puerto Rican bread. You have the option to have powdered sugar on it. The most popular way to eat it is with eggs, ham, and cheese for breakfast. So good! Perfect combination of sweet & savory!
This is their national dish. It is a side dish made with mashed up plantains and yuca.
Puerto Ricans love their pork and they eat it several different ways. There’s lechon (and if you are a Filipino like me, I’m sure you are already familiar with it!), chicharron, and so much more. If you are not vegetarian or vegan, basically eat the pork!
These are fried, flattened plantains. Lots of their dishes include plantains or have some type of plantain side dish. Mmm so good!
Arroz con Gandules
This is rice with pigeon peas and omg it is so good! I can basically eat just a plate of this!
It’s Puerto Rican empanadas, and it is filled with whatever is available, usually chicken, beef, pork with cheese, onions, and garlic.
Overall there are lots of Puerto Rican dishes to try. I honestly loved everything we ate. And they also love avocados!
Travel Guide To Puerto Rico
To begin this travel guide to Puerto Rico, I will first go over where to stay.
Places to Stay
We stayed at Hotel La Terreza de San Juan. It is located in the heart of Old San Juan. It is a cute boutique hotel. We later learned that the locals really appreciate it when people stay at boutique hotels versus chain hotels because this will really help local Puerto Ricans.
Overall, we really enjoyed this hotel. The rooms are decent size and have a lot of charm. On the weekends, the hotel’s restaurant is available and they offer happy hour drinks. It has a rooftop terrace (hence the name), and has an amazing outdoor setup. There is also a pool that overlooks San Juan.
Here are other hotels we considered:
Places to See
Old San Juan
Old San Juan has so much charm and it is so cute. It is known for the colorful buildings. Old San Juan is very walkable and has tons of restaurants. A lot of people say you can see the entire Old San Juan in a day. Each day we walked in a different section of Old San Juan.
Walk along the Port/Pier
There’s quite a few restaurants, coffee shops, and stores to see along the port. But really, it is just nice to walk along the water. If you want a drink, stop at La Casita de Rones.
San Cristobal Park
This is the park right by the Castillo San Cristobal and it is free. You can get an amazing water view. I highly recommend heading there around sunset time. The lighting and the sky are beautiful at this time.
Paseo de la Princesa
This is a popular promenade in San Juan. It’s nice to just stroll along it, and there’s always a bunch of things happening around it. Either there are local vendors selling and sharing their artwork or people singing or dancing to Puerto Rican music. If you continue to walk along its path, it can lead you to the San Juan Gate and Paseo del Morro.
San Juan Gate
This is a well-known historical entrance. In the 1600s-ish it used to be the gate into the city. If you started for Paseo de la Princesa and continued walking along the path, you will definitely see the San Juan Gate.
Paseo del Morro
Right past the San Juan Gate will be the path leading to El Morro. That path is known as the Paseo del Morro. It’s a beautiful path. If you want to see El Morro fortress from the Paseo del Morro, make sure you have your walking shoes on. It is a decently long path, but a pretty one at least! There is no shade along this path. So make sure you have your sunscreen on!
This is the most famous fortress in Puerto Rico. It is large and for sure a must-see! There’s so much history in this fortress and lots of amazing photo ops!
This street is in Old San Juan and it is well-known as the street with umbrellas. The end of the street, right before the Governor’s Mansion, is where you’ll see the infamous umbrellas.
It’s a big blue mansion and very easy to spot. You can find the entrance at the end of Calle Fortaleza.
Castillo San Cristobal
Another famous fortress. It is smaller than El Morro, but still worth seeing!
This is a national forest and worth seeing. This is the only rain forest in U.S. territory. It’s about a 45 minute drive from Old San Juan. If you are a hiker, you would love to check this place out. Due to the damage done from the hurricanes, there are some paths that are completely closed off. More details on El Yunque below.
This is an area in San Juan known to be more resort-like. A lot of people who like to hang out by the beach and have R&R, this is where they stay. A lot of the large, well-known hotels are located here, and they’re usually along the beach. It’s about a 10 minute drive from Old San Juan. We checked out the beach and dined around here one night.
Bacardi Rum Factory (Casa Bacardi)
Bacardi is headquartered in San Juan, and this is a must-see! The campus itself is beautiful! If you only picture that Bacardi silver rum from college (ya know, when you had your first rum & coke), this place will change your mind about Bacardi rum. More details below.
Cathedral of San Bautista
This church is a historic landmark and it is located in Old San Juan. It is also the city’s oldest structure. You can walk in for free to check it out.
The capital building is just outside of Old San Juan. We didn’t go inside, but walked around it and explored the area. It’s right by Plaza San Juan Bautista and Playa Pena.
Plaza San Juan Bautista
This is the plaza right across from the Capital Building. There is a large statue of San Juan Bautista and it has mosaic crests of people/places that helped shape the Caribbean. It overlooks the Pena Beach (Playa Pena).
This is a beach right outside of Old San Juan and walkable from Old San Juan. This is perfect if you want to head to the beach and don’t want to leave the Old San Juan area.
Places to Eat/Drink/Snack
One of the oldest restaurants in Old San Juan. It’s been around for about 170 years! They serve traditional Puerto Rican food. We got the ceviche, fried pork mofongo, and tostones. We basically got 2 appetizers and shared an entree. The food was really good and we got an authentic experience.
It is a cafe that focuses their menu around chocolate. They also sell the well-known Caribbean chocolates Forteza and their own chocolates too. This was a fun place to go to! We had Spanish style churros with chocolate hazelnut sauce, banana roll, and chocolate grilled cheese sandwich.
This is a cute coffee shop and when I was doing my research, this was listed as one of the best! I tried their seasonal special Coquito Latte. Personally, I thought it was too sweet. But I did enjoy their regular coffee.
This is a diner, and nothing fancy to it. But people love coming here for the food. We went for breakfast and had to get their mallorca. I thought it was the best mallorca we had! We got the mallorca (with powdered sugar) with ham, cheese, and egg. SO GOOD!
La Casita de Rones
This is a bar right by the pier. You can definitely get some food there, but people primarily go here for their drinks. Even the locals love it there. Their pina coladas are delicious. I ordered coconut water, and they served it right out of the coconut!
Stuffed Avocado Shop
Puerto Ricans love avocado and this place serves bowls with avocados. I had the Mango Tuna bowl and it was so tasty! Tre got the chipotle chicken bowl with masteopeo rice. So delicious!
This place is known for their paletas and we kept coming back multiple times! Paletas are spanish-style ice pops (popsicles), but they are made with fresh fruits. You can also get a cream based one or sorbet style. I swear we tried almost every flavor haha. I grew up snacking on paletas so this was a blast from the past treat.
All the locals raved about this. It’s right by our hotel. Nothing fancy about this place but it does get packed! We had an early dinner so we got in right before the rush. They serve your classic, authentic Puerto Rican dishes. We ordered the the pork with plantain curry & mofongo, and plantain tamales stuffed with pork with yellow rice & beans on the side.
Puerto Rico Cafe Cola’o
This is a small coffee shop right by the pier. Their coffee was very good. We also got some mallorcas for breakfast.
This place is known for their seafood. Not only was their food delicious, but the amount of seafood you get is impressive! We got crabmeat arepas for appetizers and fish & shrimp tacos as our meals. We were happily full.
This is a stand in the Condado area. They are known for their smoothies, acai bowls, and pina coladas. You can have their pina coladas with or without rum. We loved that you can order pina coladas and have it served in a pineapple – which in our opinion just makes it tastier!
This is a casual place to dine. It has a beachy vibe to it. There are some healthy options. We went for their tacos. We got the tuna tacos and empanadas. Their mojitos were very good and they served several flavors. I got the soursop (Guanabana) flavor, and Tre got the classic mojito.
This place is so cute! It has a very similar feel as the Majestic Cafe in Porto. Very Disney Main Street style. We went here for breakfast and got the mallorcas, fruit salad, and coffee.
This place is known for their stuffed mofongo. Oh my the best mofongo we had during our stay in Puerto Rico. We got the Kan Kan for appetizers and the skirt steak monfongo. The chimichurri sauce the goes with the skirt steak monfongo was unbelievably good. The pina coladas are very delicious too!
This restaurant serves breakfast all day. I got the Pavo breakfast sandwich and Tre got the Fruit & Granola parfait. We were very pleased and loved its rustic decor.
Another popular coffee shop on the island. I ordered the vanilla iced coffee and it was so smooth!
There are a couple of places where you can do day trips/excursions from San Juan. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do it all, but this gives us a reason to want to come back. I’ll be sure to note which ones we’ve done.
As mentioned above, this is a National Forest and the only rain forest in U.S. territory. It is so worth seeing. I’m not a nature/outdoorsy girl, but I’m glad I went to see El Yunque. It is about a 45 minute drive from San Juan. You can rent a car or sign up for a guided tour. We used the guided tour and overall had a very positive experience!
About the Tour
The cost of our guided tour included pick-up and drop off from our hotel and in total it’s about a half-day trip. I really liked our tour and our guide Ricky was so nice and very informative. He was able to point out things that I would have never spotted. The tour itself started out by stopping at a town close to the rain forest, and then watching a short video from El Yunque’s office/gift shop.
The tour drove to main spots/attractions of the rain forest. And we also checked out some of the surrounding area. Some spots do require some walking/hiking. Therefore, I recommend dressing and wearing comfortable clothes. You will get the opportunity to be in the water and check out the waterfalls like the infamous La Coca Falls.
If you are really into hiking, then I don’t think this guided tour is for you. There are people who hike the paths on their own. The guided tour is limited to where they can take you due to liability. But we were totally okay with that. I think the most impressive part of this experience is how quickly the vegetation came back since the hurricane. There were pictures from how it looked right after the hurricane, and there was a large difference. However, it is still nowhere near what it was. But I have a feeling it will be back to its old self soon!
Bacardi (Casa Bacardi) is headquartered in Puerto Rico. Did you know that Puerto Rico is known to be the rum capital? Checking out Casa Bacardi is so worth it! The campus itself is gorgeous. You get an amazing water and mountain view. Checking out Casa Bacardi will also change your mind about Bacardi rum. We all know the Bacardi Superior White…ya know the one that is mainstream and is used in mixed drinks aka college drinks haha! Well Puerto Rican rum is different and I actually enjoyed drinking it on the rocks.
Every tour requires you to get there at least half an hour early. That way you can enjoy your welcome drink and just enjoy the campus.
You can take an Uber. From Old San Juan it was about a 10-15 minute Uber ride. Or you can take the ferry. The ferry costs $0.50/person. You will need to take a short Uber/cab ride once you arrive from the ferry.
There are 3 different tours you can do. We did the Rum tasting tour, and that took about a couple hours. We really loved it and the tour guide was awesome!
This is a day trip we didn’t do, but wished we did. Culebra is a small island east of Puerto Rico, and it is known to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We’ve heard the water is incredibly clear! If we were to go, we were going to use this day trip excursion.
Quick Recap of Our Puerto Rico Itinerary
I thought it would be helpful to do a recap of our itinerary in this travel guide to Puerto Rico. That way you have an idea what our day-to-day was like.
- Walked around Old San Juan
- Walked Along the Port/Pier
- Lunch/Dinner (arrived afternoon from our flight) at La Mallorquina
- San Cristobal Park
- Dessert at Chocobar Cortes
- Coffee at Cuatro Sombras
- Breakfast at Cafeteria Mallorca
- Drinks at La Casita de Rones
- Walked along Paseo de Princesa
- San Juan Gate
- Paseo del Morro
- El Morro Fortress
- Pool Time at the hotel
- Snacked at Stuffed Avocado Shop
- Walked around Old San Juan
- Calle Fortaleza & Governer’s Mansion
- Snacked at Señor Paleta
- Castillo San Cristobal
- Dinner at El Jibarito
- Coffee & Breakfast at Puerto Rico Cafe Cola’o
- Day Trip to El Yunque
- Lunch at Cayo Caribe
- Relaxed at the hotel
- Walked around Old San Juan
- Calle Fortaleza
- Senor Paleta
- Pina Coladas at Pina Loka
- Walked around Condado’s beach
- Dinner at Kabanas
- Breakfast at La Bombonera
- Walked around Old San Juan
- Senor Paleta
- Tour at Casa Bacardi
- Cathedral of San Bautista
- Dinner at Raices
- Dessert at Chocobar Cortes
- Breakfast at Caficultura
- Capital Building, Plaza San Juan Bautista, and Playa Pena
- Walked around Old San Juan
- Coffee at Finca Cialitos
This sums up my travel guide to Puerto Rico. We definitely want to go back especially since it is easy to get to from Chicago. Next time, checking out Culebra is high on our list!