AMERICANS SO OFTEN FORGET there’s an absolutely beautiful Caribbean island that’s super close and that they can travel to with zero need for a passport. Puerto Rico is stunning, and it’s not just the beaches — it’s the rainforest and the varied scenery, but also the people, the architecture, and the culture.

A few years back I was lucky enough to spend a day and a half in Puerto Rico. And in that short period of time, I was able to visit a colonial fort, have a piña colada at the place that invented piña coladas, and go nighttime kayaking in a stunning bioluminescent bay. You just don’t get that sort of variety anywhere else, and these pictures are here to prove it.


Dancers in San Juan

Photo: Angel Xavier Viera-Vargas


El Yunque National Forest

El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the US National Park system. It sits on the slopes of the Sierra de Luquillo mountains, and while it's one of the smallest national forests, it's also one of the most diverse in its flora and fauna. Find it a quick drive east of San Juan.
Photo: Thomas Shahan


The coquí

The coquí, a small frog native to Puerto Rico, has a chirping call that's the de facto soundtrack of the island. You'll find tons of other incredible animals, like parrots, lizards, and turtles, hiding in the forests, too.
Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Southeast Region


Barbecue adventure

Puerto Rican cuisine combines the culinary influences of the indigenous Taíno, Africans, and the Spanish. You can get a good taste for it all at the many lechoneras, chinchorros, and fondas (casual eateries that specialize in roast pork, fried goodies, and traditional dishes, respectively) you'll find around the island.
Photo: Ricardo Mangual


El Morro, Old San Juan

Castillo San Felipe del Morro, lying at the tip of Old San Juan, is a gorgeous 16th-century fort that was commissioned by Charles V of Spain. These days, it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited places in the Puerto Rican capital. It's also one of the best places in San Juan to watch a sunset.
Photo: See Puerto Rico


Surfer at Arecibo's Hallows Beach

The west coast of Puerto Rico is the surf capital of the Caribbean. In addition to Hallows, shown above, Isabela, Aguadilla, and Rincón are three spots to put on your list.
Photo: Ricardo Mangual


Hermit crab

A Caribbean hermit crab chilling on the beach. Seeing a few is common, but in August or September, you may see hundreds migrating from the ocean to the trees.
Photo: Felix Lopez


Art on Calle Cerra, San Juan

San Juan has killer street art, and its Santurce district is the absolute center of the scene. Santurce Es Ley is the annual street art festival that brings together top talents from the island and around the world.
Photo: Juan Cristobal Zulueta


Abandoned tank, Playa Flamenco

The island of Culebra, just off the east coast of the main island of Puerto Rico, was used as a US naval base until 1971. When the Navy left, some of their equipment stayed behind—hence this old tank at Playa Flamenco, now covered in colorful graffiti.
 Flamenco is just one of many gorgeous beaches around the tiny island, a place where you can enjoy Puerto Rico's beauty at its most unspoiled.
Photo: Angel Xavier Viera-Vargas


Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico

Santurce, in central San Juan, is a district of the capital where you can hang out at the beach in its Condado and Ocean Park neighborhoods, and then walk straight to some of the island's best museums, like the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (pictured) or Museo de Arte Contemporáneo. In Santurce, the outdoors meet culture in one place.
Photo: Chu Aponte



This classic Puerto Rican rum that needs no introduction has been around since the 1830s. Stop into Casa Bacardí for one of their three tours: the historical tour, the rum tasting tour, and the mixology tour. All will give you an authentic (and smooth) taste of Puerto Rico. Find it in Cataño, right across the bay from San Juan.
Photo: Jason Melcher


Puerto Nuevo Beach

The gorgeous Puerto Nuevo Beach in Vega Baja has beautiful rock features that protect beachgoers from the rougher waves of the northern coast. It's a great swimming spot for those in the know, and one of the stops on our ultimate Puerto Rico road trip itinerary.
Photo: Ricardo Mangual


Arecibo observatory and telescope

The Arecibo radio telescope is the world's second-largest single aperture telescope—and yes, it's the one featured in GoldenEye. It's 1,000 feet in diameter and has been used to observe planets, asteroids, and distant pulsars.
Photo: Chris Amelung


La Coca Falls, El Yunque

La Coca Falls in El Yunque National Forest is one of the most easily accessible sights in the park. Travel up PR 191 and it'll be one of the first things you see from the road.
Photo: Ricardo Mangual


Los Morrillos Lighthouse, Cabo Rojo

As an island with a long maritime history, Puerto Rico's coast is pretty much covered with lighthouses. You'll find the Los Morrillos Lighthouse on the island's southwest corner, in Cabo Rojo. Built in 1882 to guide ships through the often dangerous Mona Passage on their way to the Atlantic, the lighthouse has been renovated, reopened to the public, and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Walk up the cast-iron spiral staircase and you'll see what really makes this lighthouse pop: surrounding limestone cliffs, reddish saltwater lagoons, and views of one of the most beautiful coves on the island, La Playuela Beach.
Photo: See Puerto Rico


Flamenco Beach, Culebra

Puerto Rico has a lot to offer, but the excellence of its beaches is hard to overstate. The best part: If you ever manage to tire of all the options on the main island, you can simply hop over to Vieques, Culebra, or Isla de Mona—small islands off the coast—to get away from it all. Pictured above is Flamenco Beach, rated by both TripAdvisor and the Discovery Channel as one of their top three most beautiful beaches in the entire world.
Photo: See Puerto Rico


Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

Established in 1863, this cemetery sits right next to El Morro, and is the final resting place of many prominent Puerto Ricans. It overlooks the Atlantic, symbolizing the soul's journey to the afterlife.
Photo: Arnob Alam


Boat at Playa Almendros

Apparently, there's a boat painter at Rincón's Playa Almendros who's a Rolling Stones fan.
Photo: Angel Xavier Viera-Vargas


La Fortaleza

Built in the 1530s, this is the very first fort used to defend San Juan. It was eventually converted into a palace and is now the governor's mansion, with gardens, a chapel, and an old jail—all open for touring and to give visitors a glimpse of historic Puerto Rico.
Photo: See Puerto Rico


SUPing at sunset

Two stand-up paddlers enjoy the calm waters of Rincón at sunset. Fact: Puerto Rico is small enough that you can easily catch a sunrise on the east coast, make a leisurely drive (three hours or less), and arrive on the other side well before the sun dips below the western horizon. You can't say the same for many other places in the US.
Photo: Aaron Perkins