Perfect Puerto Rico: Round the island in six easy steps

For a long time, Puerto Rico has been the USA's ideal holiday escape: what's to argue with the island's superb beaches and surfing, colonial architecture still evoking the smuggling days of yore, and arguably some of the finest hotels and restaurants anywhere in the Caribbean? From 2016, the island is set to see an increase in holidaymakers, courtesy of the new direct flight from London Gatwick with Norwegian, so now's the time to go.

Puerto Rico holidays in the Caribbean © Eddie Toro - Fotolia.com
Puerto Rico holidays in the Caribbean © Eddie Toro - Fotolia.com

Perfect Puerto Rico holiday: round the island in six easy steps

Puerto Rico's not solely a sand and surf destination. From the capital San Juan's twisting colonial backstreets to the mist and magic of its Central Mountains, there is a lot to get acquainted with if you want to have the perfect Puerto Rico holiday. Geographically, Puerto Rico can be broken down into six key areas, and a sampling of each immerses you in all the most fascinating aspects of island life.

1. San Juan

A suave city with a top-notch dining scene, Puerto Rico's metropolis retains a tantalising flavour of its piratical past (it was a popular haunt of buccaneers in the colonial era and saw skirmishes a-plenty) with a warren of cobbled alleys intertwined around bombastic forts, castles and mansions.

Street in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico © Mikolajn - Fotolia.com
Street in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico © Mikolajn - Fotolia.com

Beyond the historic heart stretch some of San Juan's other treasures: from the vibrant arts district of Santurce to a clutch of balmy beach-hugging neighbourhoods. When the museums have been perused and the nearby sands basked on, there is the riotous nightlife to get out and enjoy - salsa, pina coladas - the works.

2. The East Coast

Where San Juan surprises and delights with its sophistication, the East Coast thrills with its wild side albeit a very popular place to visit because of its proximity to the capital. The main draw is the waterfall-splashed rainforest park of El Yunque, with its network of neat trails to coax coast lovers inland. Then there are the two classic Caribbean isles just off the coast here: tranquil but well-appointed Vieques, and timewarped Culebra, remaining almost catatonic in its peacefulness. Both boast an abundance of beautiful beaches, and are easily reached by boat or even a short flight.

High in the mountains of El Yunque National Forest © Anette Knudsen
High in the mountains of El Yunque National Forest © Anette Knudsen

3. The South Coast

This stretch of coast includes its Puerto Rico's second city, Ponce - a polished place deserving of a stop for its fantastic museums (the highlight is the riveting museum dedicated to Puerto Rico's indigenous groups, Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes). Otherwise, the coast is the very antithesis of polished, and the simple, forgotten communities hereabouts make for a nice break after a dose of manicured resorts. Perhaps the greatest wilderness on the island, the dry subtropical forest of the Bosque Estatal de Guánica, also awaits.

4. The West Coast

Don those wetsuits and get out those surfboards: Puerto Rico's west coast could very well be the world's premier surf spot. Rincón is the big surf centre, and the diving offshore here is good. As a result some of the island's best places to stay, dine and play can be found in the vicinity. But there are some unexpected anomalies, too. Southeast of Rincón, San Germán is a near-deserted 16th century jewel of a city with great restaurants (if you can catch them open), while the lonely headland of Cabo Rojo in the extreme southwest provides downtime after all that frenetic wave action.

The island of Culebra, Eastern Puerto Rico © Czuber - Dreamstime.com
The island of Culebra, Eastern Puerto Rico © Czuber - Dreamstime.com

5. The North Coast

The island's north shore is the domain of swanky mega-resorts and golf courses. Indeed, if you crave luxury there are few better spots to frequent in the Caribbean. Dorado, towards the San Juan end of this coastline, has a glut of upscale golf hotels, whilst at the other end, Isabela has put itself on the glam golfing map recently with the wonderful Royal Isabela complex. Surfers-in-the-know often favour the breaks around Isabela over those in Rincón, too. The north coast has a few ways of making waves away from the water, too: the world's largest radio telescope, Observatorio de Arecibo, lies halfway between Dorado and Isabela.

6. Central Mountains

The part of Puerto Rico that most often gets overlooked is by far the biggest, and seems many times more so when you are toiling along the looping, thrilling, but painstakingly slow-going roads of the Central Mountains.

Window Cave near the Arecibo Observatory © Sharkhats - Flickr Creative Commons
Window Cave near the Arecibo Observatory © Sharkhats - Flickr Creative Commons

The prizes, though, are numerous: most of the island's wilderness areas (exemplified by fabulous reserves like Reserva Forestal Toro Negro), a clutch of haciendas producing delicious coffee and perhaps the best zip-lining in all the Americas in Toro Verde Nature Adventure Park.

As with much of the Caribbean, December through February is Puerto Rico's high season, once the hurricane season (August to October) has properly passed, and those from Northern Europe and North America gravitate to escape the cold. July is when locals generally holiday.

Zip lining in Toro Verde Nature Adventure Park - photo courtesy of www.toroverdepr.com
Zip lining in Toro Verde Nature Adventure Park - photo courtesy of www.toroverdepr.com

Days of around 30°C are common even in January and December in the coastal areas, although the west coast can get mighty windy. The Central Mountains boast a moist, misty and often chilly microclimate all of their own, however. Here, temperatures are regularly more than 10°C cooler than on the beaches, and a warm top come sundown is a must.

The difference between its coast and inland mountains is indicative of Puerto Rico's diversity. You can certainly come for the sun, but the perfect Puerto Rico holiday ideally takes many forms. Tempted to try this tips on Puerto Rico? Don't miss Norwegian's new low cost flight from London, while Expedia often have many other deals on holidays.

Luke Waterson

Luke Waterson
Posted on Wednesday 16th March 2016 in: Beach Caribbean Excursions Winter sun

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