This time last year, the prospect of summer travel was becoming a pipe dream. Now, with the Biden administration announcing that the nation’s vaccine supply will cover every American adult by the end of May, that fantasy looks like it may be a reality once again. There’ll still be asterisks to summer travel, including where Americans will be able to go. One suggestion: Puerto Rico.
While travel restrictions like testing requirements and an island-wide curfew are still in place, Puerto Rico is open to travelers, and being a US territory it’s one destination that does not require Americans to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test upon reentry. Logistics aside, Puerto Rico is also blessed with outdoors that make social distancing easy, including the only tropical rainforest operated by the US National Forest Service. It’s an easy sell, really.
Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Puerto Rico this summer.
- Entry requirements and COVID testing
- What’s open in Puerto Rico?
- Staying in San Juan
- A crowd-free island experience to the west
- Explore El Yunque National Forest
Entry requirements and COVID testing
Puerto Rico is welcoming air travelers at three ports: the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Mercedita International Airport in Ponce, and Rafael Hernández Airport in Aguadilla. To enter, arriving passengers are required to complete a Travel Declaration Form from the Puerto Rico Health Department and provide a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival, whether or not they have been vaccinated.
Travelers who do not present a negative PCR test will be expected to quarantine for 14 days or until they’re able to return one. Upon uploading their test results to the health department’s online portal, travelers will also be issued an Airport Exit Confirmation number and QR code, which they’re required to have. Once at the airport, arriving passengers can expect heightened health and safety protocols, such as temperature checks and thermographic screenings.
What’s open in Puerto Rico?
There’s good news for travelers seeking a literal and figurative breath of fresh air in Puerto Rico this summer: Outdoor spaces like beaches, nature reserves, and golf courses are open. Masks and social distancing are required at all times, except when beachgoers are in the water.
Most indoor spaces, including hotels and restaurants, are currently operating at half capacity. Reservations are highly encouraged. Museums, movie theaters, casinos, gyms, and even hotel pools are also operating at 50 percent capacity while businesses like supermarkets and pharmacies are open. Travelers are able to visit hair salons and spas on the island provided they make an appointment in advance, exempting saunas which are currently closed. Bars and clubs are closed, as well, and all public alcohol consumption is currently prohibited.
Note that locals and travelers alike are subject to a curfew between 10:00 PM and 5:00 AM while on the island. Businesses are not operating during these hours with a few exceptions: Grocery deliveries are available until midnight; taxi services from the airport are also allowed to operate outside of curfew hours, so travelers need not worry about transportation to their accommodations; buses and subways are also running, as are ferries to the island of Culebra. While ports are currently closed to cruise ships, marinas are open but only until 9:00 PM.
For more information on what to expect, consult the Discover Puerto Rico website.
Staying in San Juan
Anyone visiting Puerto Rico should try to see as much of the island as possible, but it’s likely that you’ll be spending at least a day or two in San Juan. Just because you’re in the capital city, however, doesn’t mean you need to be squeezing through crowds of tourists. There’s no shortage of beaches on the island, and San Juan is no exception. Condado, Ocean Park, and Pine Grove beaches are all located within city limits, and a great break from the urban environment.
There’s no doubt that Old San Juan is the city’s premier tourist area. It’s currently only open to residents and tourists who are staying in the area, however, so you may want to consider booking your accommodation there. While its cobbled streets, fort of Castillo San Felipe del Morro, Castillo de San Cristóbal, and nearby Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery are among the city’s most famous attractions, you can also enjoy a less crowded version of San Juan by staying in the newer Ashford Avenue, the main drag of the Condado neighborhood. The modern street runs right along the beach and is replete with cafes, restaurants, and resorts.
The Old Town alternative to Ashford Avenue is Paseo de la Princesa, which means “walkway of the princess.” Located just outside the walls of Old San Juan to the south, Paseo de la Princesa is a 19th-century avenue that has Old World charm without the crowds that typically clog the narrow streets inside the city. Ambling down the street, and through the plaza, you’ll have a great view of San Juan’s historic fortifications. The street is defined by its antique lamp posts, stone fountains, street vendors, and views of the old city walls.
Around San Juan, you’ll quickly notice an abundance of street art murals. The capital is full of colorful artwork that will really liven up any walking tour. The Calle Cerra, and adjoining side streets, are particularly known for their colorful art. And if you happen to be visiting in August, you’ll be treated to the Santurce es Ley contemporary art festival, where street artists decorate empty parking lots and old buildings with large murals.
A crowd-free island experience to the west
You can have an epic Puerto Rico vacation without ever setting foot in San Juan. From rainforests to hidden beaches, there are plenty of ways to get the full experience while keeping your distance from others.
It’s currently only open to residents and tourists who are staying in the area, however, so you may want to consider booking your accommodation there. While its cobbled streets, fort of Castillo San Felipe del Morro, Castillo de San Cristóbal, and nearby Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery are among the city’s most famous attractions, you can also enjoy a less crowded version of San Juan by staying in the newer Ashford Avenue, the main drag of the Condado neighborhood. The modern street runs right along the beach and is replete with cafes, restaurants, and resorts.
Just south of Rincón lies Cabo Rojo, another area perfect for escaping the crowds and indulging in the island’s natural beauty. In the southwest, Cabo Rojo is known for its beaches, dramatic limestone cliffs, and restaurant scene. Its name is a reference to the water’s reddish color where the salt flats are located, due to a high concentration of salt. The salt flats here are seriously impressive and one of the island’s most beautiful hidden landscapes. Perched atop the cliffs of Cabo Rojo, the observation deck of Los Morrillos Lighthouse offers one of the best views in the area, looking out over the sea, and it’s probably the best way to admire the surrounding cliffs. For a more active experience, take one of the hiking trails to Cabo Rojo’s natural stone bridge.
A short drive from Cabo Rojo, you can find La Parguera bioluminescent bay. It may not be as famous as Mosquito Bay in Vieques, which is closer to San Juan, but you’ll find fewer crowds. Better yet, it’s the only bioluminescent bay on the island that allows motorboats and swimming, versus just paddling. Take a boat tour, kayak, or just go for a dip and enjoy the surreal feeling of swimming among the glowing dinoflagellates.
Explore El Yunque National Forest
As you’ll soon learn from spending just a few days in Puerto Rico, rainforests aren’t just for South America. El Yunque National Forest, the rainforest near the east coast of the island, is open to visitors with limited capacity in main recreation areas. All other areas in the park are open with social distancing measures enforced. To access the main recreation areas, you’ll need a reservation, which can be made online.
Two of the best hikes in the area are the trek up to Mount Britton Tower and the El Yunque Rock Trail. At the end of both, you’ll have a great view all the way to the coast. To cap off your rainforest experience, take a refreshing dip in the Mameyes River. The El Angelito Trail ends at a rope, which you can use to swing right into a swimming hole.
There are a few waterfalls in El Yunque National Forest, but for a truly dramatic waterfall experience, drive out west to Gozalandia Falls. About 30 minutes from the city of Aguadilla on the island’s west coast (and an hour from Rincón) Gozalandia Falls are a tranquil getaway in the heart of one of Puerto Rico’s most beautiful jungles. The falls lie at the end of a short hike through the trees, spilling into a pool that’s perfect for swimming. While there will probably be locals there jumping off the falls or using the rope swing, it’s one of Puerto Rico’s more secluded experiences and a great break from civilization.
A version of this article was previously published on July 20, 2020, and was updated on April 15, 2021, with more information.
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