Puerto Rico is an excellent choice for any sort of Caribbean vacation. But it’s especially great if you’re American and don’t want to worry about juggling passports, currency exchanges, and foreign SIM cards – because, as a US territory, traveling to Puerto Rico is considered just a domestic trip!
Lots of people visit San Juan (the capital of Puerto Rico) each year as the jumping off point for Caribbean cruises. But just as I recommend spending more time in San Juan to fully get to know it, I also recommend planning a Puerto Rico-only trip sometime to fully explore and appreciate this island.
I’ve been to Puerto Rico three times now (twice with my husband Elliot), visiting different parts of it on each trip. And, based on those trips, I’ve come up with a 7-day Puerto Rico itinerary that covers all the highlights, from Viejo San Juan to El Yunque rainforest to beach time in Rincon.
Feel free to use this itinerary to help you plan your own week in Puerto Rico!
The best time to go to Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico has a tropical monsoon climate, meaning that it’s hot and humid pretty much year-round (temperatures stay a pretty consistent low- to mid-80s F). The most popular months to visit San Juan are during the North American winter, i.e. December-March, when it’s slightly cooler and drier and there aren’t any threats of hurricanes.
Hurricane season in the Caribbean (which Puerto Rico is often affected by) runs from June-November, and that’s when you’ll find the cheapest hotel rooms. But you also run the risk of running into rain, storms, and worse.
I most enjoyed my February trip to Puerto Rico, but April, May, and June are also good months to visit if you want more of a shoulder season vibe.
7 days in Puerto Rico itinerary
If you want to explore the main island of Puerto Rico in a week, this is my ideal itinerary! It includes:
- San Juan (including Old San Juan)
- El Yunque Rainforest
- Visiting Ponce
- Rincon and the west coast
- Optional trip(s) into the mountains for coffee or zip lining
You’re going to need a rental car for this itinerary as you’ll be traveling all over the island, and public transit isn’t really a thing outside major cities. I usually search for rental cars using Discover Cars, and it’s easy for this itinerary to pick up and drop off a car at the SJU airport.
Day 1: Old San Juan
San Juan, Puerto Rico, is one of the oldest cities in the Caribbean, with a history dating back more than 500 years. The city was officially founded by Spanish colonists in 1521 who named it “Ciudad de Puerto Rico,” or “rich port city,” though the Indigenous Taino people called the area home long before that.
Today, when most people think of San Juan, they think of the colorful old colonial buildings and the Spanish forts from hundreds of years ago that are found in Old San Juan – which is why that’s where I recommend starting your trip!
Morning: San Juan fortresses
Start out your morning with a visit to Castillo San Cristóbal, part of the San Juan National Historic Site. The historic site comprises two different fortresses, as well as old city walls and gates. I recommend starting with Castillo San Cristóbal on the northeast end of Old San Juan, because it’s within easy walking distance from most Old Town hotels.
Castillo San Cristóbal is one of the fortresses built by the Spanish to defend Puerto Rico. Construction on this fortress began in the 1600s, and it was used all the way through WWII, when US troops used the sentry boxes and lookouts to scan the waters for German U-boats.
This fortress was the one that protected the land entrance into Old San Juan, back when it was an entirely walled city. It’s large, too, covering 27 acres – it’s the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the New World, in fact.
Entry to the historic site is just $10 per person, and there’s a lot to see. You can visit former prison cells, stand in sentry boxes, and explore most of the fortress.
You can also get some fantastic views over San Juan in all directions.
Pro tip: Get to Castillo San Cristóbal as close to opening time as you can; the cruise ship tour buses will start rolling in 1-2 hours after opening, so get there early if you want to have the site mostly to yourself.
Early afternoon: Explore Viejo San Juan
Next, it’s time to spend some time getting lost in the colorful streets of Old San Juan. The pastel-painted buildings, old city walls, and Puerto Rican flags everywhere make for great photos.
Along with simply enjoying the beautiful buildings and squares, a few things to do in Old San Juan include:
- Grab Puerto Rican coffee at Cuatro Sombras.
- Get a piña colada at Barrachina, which claims to be the birthplace of the Piña Colada.
- Try chocolate-infused dishes at Chocobar Cortes.
- Visit La Fortaleza, the current governor’s house – and take photos on Calle de la Fortaleza.
- Have rooftop drinks with ocean views at La Vergüenza.
Late afternoon: Food tour
One thing that you can’t miss in San Juan is a food tour! I love taking food tours when I travel; you learn so much about an area’s history and culture through its food.
In San Juan, the go-to food tour company is Flavors of San Juan, and the tour I’d recommend for this afternoon is the classic Old San Juan Food Tour. This 3-hour small group tour is a great introduction to Puerto Rican food and drink. It mixes history and good eats – and a bit of walking to help you burn off some of those extra calories.
I won’t give away everything included on this tour, but you’ll visit at least 5 different locally-owned spots and taste everything from Puerto Rican coffee to pastries to chocolate. My favorite part of the tour was when we made our own mofongo!
The Old San Juan Food Tour is offered several times throughout the day. I recommend going with a late afternoon option (there’s usually a 3 p.m. tour), which will fill you up enough that you won’t have to go out for a separate dinner.
Evening: Sunset and sundowners
If you opt for the afternoon food tour, your tour will end before sunset, so you can either head to the old city walls past Paseo de la Princesa and La Fortaleza, or all the way out to San Juan’s second fortress, Castillo San Felipe del Morro, to watch the sun go down.
Afterwards, you can stop at Barrachina for a Piña Colada if you didn’t make it there earlier, or stop in to La Factoria, a famous collection of seven different bars/dance clubs that also serves up good drinks.
Total driving time today: None; Old San Juan is very walkable! I actually don’t recommend picking up a car at all until either Day 3 or 4 of your trip. If you need to take a short ride, Uber is available and very cheap in San Juan.
Where to stay in San Juan (2 nights): You can either stay for 2 nights in Old San Juan, or in the Condado hotel zone (a short drive from Old Town). In Old San Juan, Elliot and I stayed at the Decanter Hotel, which we really liked. Another top pick is the historic Hotel El Convento. Both are within walking distance to a lot of attractions and restaurants. In Condado, my pick is the Condado Ocean Club. This hotel is newer, with light and airy rooms with a distinct beachy vibe. We especially loved the floor-to-ceiling window in our oceanview room, and the infinity pool right on the edge of the beach.
Day 2: Condado and Santurce
While Old San Juan is certainly the most-visited part of San Juan, it’s actually only a small part of the city! There’s much more to San Juan than what’s contained behind those fortress walls.
Today, I recommend exploring the Santurce neighborhood east of Old San Juan. This neighborhood is more residential and less touristy, but is still filled with restaurants and cafes – plus lots of colorful street art.
Morning: All the art
Start off your day in Santurce with a visit to the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. This art museum showcases and celebrates Puerto Rican and Caribbean art spanning from the 17th century to the present, and is a must-visit for art lovers.
I’m not actually a huge fan of art museums, but the variety of styles represented in this museum (plus seeing so much work by Puerto Rican artists!) held my interest for a couple of hours. We made our way through all the galleries, and also took a walk through the museum’s outdoor sculpture garden.
From the art museum, you can easily walk to other parts of Santurce, keeping your eye out for the colorful street art that the neighborhood is known for.
Often compared to Miami’s Wynwood Arts District, Santurce has incredible murals to be found around every corner. Stroll up Calle Cerra or Calle Loíza for the greatest concentration of art and artsy cafes. Read more about Santurce’s street art here.
Grab lunch at one of the myriad cafes and restaurants along Calle Loíza – no matter what you’re in the mood for, you’ll find it here!
Afternoon: Beach time!
A short walk north of Calle Loíza lies the Ocean Park beach (AKA Playa Último Trolley), a long public beach that’s laid-back and not very touristy at all. This is a perfect spot to take a walk along the sand, or go in for a dip if you bring your swim gear.
You can also watch people trying out windsurfing, kiteboarding and other water sports, as this is a popular beach for all of those.
Alternatively, you can head to Condado Beach, near many of the high-rise hotels in this part of San Juan. You can either hit the sand here, or perhaps just enjoy the views with a drink in hand at Wicked Lily at the Tryst, a really nice beachfront bar.
Evening: Go out at La Placita
Head back to your hotel to clean up and grab some dinner. You may just want to relax this evening, but if you’re up for some excellent local atmosphere, head to La Placita de Santurce after dark.
During the day, this two-tiered market square is pretty quiet with a farmer’s market and some restaurants. At night, though (and especially on weekend nights), it’s where locals flock for street food, drinks, and live salsa music (and dancing) in the square.
Not all parts of Santurce are regarded as being safe after dark, but La Placita is an exception; the atmosphere on a weekend night is so vibrant. I recommend taking an Uber there/back from your hotel, and practicing basic safety precautions to keep yourself and your stuff safe. But this spot makes for a truly fun night out.
Total driving time today: None; things are pretty walkable today. If you need to take a short ride, Uber is available and very cheap, and will save you money parking a car at your hotel.
And if you plan to spend more than just 2 days in San Juan? Check out my 5 days in San Juan itinerary.
Day 3: Trip to El Yunque
El Yunque is Puerto Rico’s iconic rainforest. Located in the eastern part of the island, El Yunque is actually a US National Forest – and is the only tropical rainforest in the national forest system.
You *could* technically stay a third night in San Juan and take a day trip today to the rainforest and eastern part of the island, but it’s also totally possible to drive yourself.
If you want to take a tour from San Juan, I would choose this El Yunque tour that includes time in the rainforest, as well as a visit to the famous beach in Luquillo.
If you want to self-drive through El Yunque, you’ll want to pick up your rental car early today and hit the road early to ensure you can get into El Yunque!*
*El Yunque was severely damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, and was closed for more than 4 years. There are still some roadways being worked on in the forest. Because of this, there was a reservation system in place from 2022 through August 2023. As of writing, however, the reservation system had ended (in September 2023), and entry into the park is on a first-come, first-served basis. More info here.
Morning + early afternoon: El Yunque
The drive from San Juan to El Yunque is about 40-60 minutes, so take that into account. If you’re visiting outside of high season and/or on a weekday, you’re probably okay visiting at any time. But getting there before 10 a.m. is recommended if possible! There’s limited parking in El Yunque, and they do temporarily close the entry gates after a certain number of cars has entered.
El Yunque covers almost 29,000 acres, but the vast majority of the park is dense rainforest. There’s basically one main road that travels through the forest that you’ll follow (Highway 191).
The main things to do during a self-guided visit to El Yunque include:
- Stopping to see La Coca Falls (right beside the road)
- Climbing Yokahu Tower (no hiking required)
- Swimming in the waterfalls at Juan Diego creek (there are a few)
- Stopping to see Baño Grande and Baño de Oro (former public swimming pools that are just for looking now)
If you want to get some hiking in, there’s a trail to Torre Britton (another tower), and a trail to La Mina Falls – though note that the trail to La Mina is closed indefinitely.
For lunch, El Yunque Rainforest Cafe inside the forest serves up some tasty empanadas.
You’ll want to allow at least a couple of hours to explore El Yunque, and be sure to wear your swimsuit if you’re planning to swim at Juan Diego Falls.
Afternoon: Luquillo Beach
If you don’t spend the entire day in El Yunque, you could head to Luquillo this afternoon – specifically to Luquillo Beach (Playa De Luquillo/Balneario de Luquillo). This large beach has ample parking, plus services like changing rooms, picnic areas, and food kiosks.
Total driving time today: Roughly 2 hours, which includes time driving in El Yunque.
Where to stay near El Yunque (1 night): You could stay near Luquillo tonight (check out the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar for a resort, or the The Surfing Turtle for a beachfront hotel), or you could drive a bit further east to Fajardo, which is home to the El Conquistador Resort.
Day 4: To Ponce via coffee
Today you’ll be heading to the city of Ponce on Puerto Rico’s southern coast. But, since driving distances in PR aren’t too crazy, I recommend making a stop at a coffee hacienda on the way!
Morning: Coffee hacienda tour
Puerto Rican coffee is world famous; its coffee beans, grown in the mountainous interior of the island, were exported all around the world in the 19th and 20th centuries, being lauded as some of the very best. And while times have changed (and various hurricanes have severely decimated coffee crops), you can still get a taste of Puerto Rico’s native coffee by visiting a coffee hacienda, or farm.
I personally visited Hacienda Muñoz, a coffee farm located less than an hour from El Yunque in San Lorenzo. This small coffee farm is relatively new on the scene in Puerto Rico, but is making excellent coffee that they’re (rightfully) super proud of.
The tour has you walking through the farm to see coffee bushes up close and learning about the entire coffee-making process in detail. They run tours of the farm here Friday-Sunday (10 a.m. is the English version), which last for a little over an hour and cost $20.
If you’re not visiting on a tour day, Hacienda Muñoz also has a coffee shop (Doppio Coffee Bar, open every day except Monday), as well as Yiya’s Restaurant (open Wednesday-Sunday).
Other coffee haciendas you can visit between El Yunque/Luquillo and Ponce include Hacienda de Café Pomarrosa (tours offered on Saturdays), Hacienda San Pedro de Jayuya (museum and shop offered), and Hacienda Buena Vista (former coffee farm that’s now a museum).
Afternoon: Explore Ponce
Your destination for tonight is Ponce, a large city on Puerto Rico’s southern coast that’s often called “the Pearl of the South.” The city was officially founded in 1692 and named after Juan Ponce de León y Loayza (the great-grandson of the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León), and today is known for its well-preserved old town and architecture.
If you arrive early enough this afternoon, you might want to book a tour of Ponce’s most famous attraction: the Museo Castillo Serrallés.
This Spanish Revival mansion was built on a hill overlooking Ponce in the 1930s by the Serrallés family, who also started the famous Don Q rum distillery in Puerto Rico. You can book a guided 45-minute tour of just the house (offered Wednesday-Sunday), or a Don Q Rum Tour that includes a mixology workshop.
If you arrive too late to take a tour today, then I recommend just wandering around Ponce’s historic center to admire the architecture. (The Parque de Bombas, a former firehouse located in the Plaza las Delicias, is easily the most famous building to see.)
There used to be a bit more to do in Ponce (including a nice pier and boardwalk at La Guancha), but the city has not fully recovered yet from Hurricane Maria and a series of earthquakes in 2019/20. But I still think it’s worth making a stop here!
Total driving time today: About 2.5 hours if you also visit a coffee hacienda.
Where to stay in Ponce (1 night): A few hotel options in Ponce include the Ponce Plaza Hotel (a historic hotel in the city center), Hotel Bélgica (boutique hotel also in the center), and the Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort (near the coast).
Day 5: Ponce and to West Coast
If you didn’t visit the Museo Castillo Serrallés yesterday, then I recommend doing that today. If you happen to be in Ponce on a Friday, then you could also visit the Museo de Arte de Ponce, which is currently only open one day a week as it goes through reconstruction.
Or, you can also book this morning walking tour of Ponce to learn a bit more about its history with a local guide. (This would be my personal pick if you have the time!)
Afternoon: Drive to Rincón
This afternoon you’ll be making your way to Puerto Rico’s west coast and the beach town of Rincón. You’ll be driving along PR’s southern and western coast, and could stop in a spot like La Parguera or Cabo Rojo (where Boquerón Beach is popular), but you also may just want to get to Rincon to have more time at the beach!
If you don’t make any stops, it will take you about 1.5 hours to get from Ponce to Rincón.
Once there, you can definitely hit up one of the area’s many beaches for a swim and to watch the sunset.
Beaches here that are good for swimming* include Balneario Publico de Rincon (Rincón’s public beach), Corcega Beach, Doña Lala Beach, Sandy Beach, and Almendros Beach.
*Note that some of Rincón’s beaches are better suited to surfing than swimming!
Total driving time today: About 1.5 hours.
Where to stay in Rincón (2 nights): Villa Cofresi is the top-rated hotel in Rincon (and is home to a famous cocktail called the Pirate Special). Other good hotel options include the The Lazy Parrot Inn (local family-run hotel), and the Casa Isleña Inn.
Day 6: Rincon/West Coast
Morning: Hit the beach
Rincón is one of the best places in Puerto Rico for surfing. So if you’ve ever wanted to try to sport out, this would be an ideal spot to sign up for a surf lesson! This beginner surf lesson at Domes Beach would be a great way to start the day.
(Or, if you’d rather just go and watch surfers hit the waves, the most popular surf beaches in Rincón are Domes Beach, Maria’s Beach, Pools Beach, Steps Beach, and Sandy Beach. December-April is the season with the biggest waves.)
And if surfing isn’t your speed, another option for this morning is to go snorkeling; there’s excellent snorkeling in the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve near Steps Beach. You can either book a guided snorkeling tour into the marine reserve, or simply stop in to Rincon Diving & Snorkeling starting at 9 a.m. to rent snorkeling gear so you can explore the reserve and reefs on your own.
Afternoon: Rincon lighthouse
After a morning in the water, this afternoon I recommend visiting the Punta Higüero Lighthouse, or El Faro de Rincón. This lighthouse near Domes Beach dates back to 1892, and today is surrounded by a lovely park with an observation deck looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. From January-March, it’s not uncommon to be able to spot whales from here.
Nearby is also the Ola Sunset Café, which is a great spot to grab lunch and a cold drink (their mojitos are massive for just $10!) as you watch the waves.
Late afternoon: Aguadilla
You could head back to the beach this afternoon for more swimming, sunbathing, or snorkeling. But if you want to make one more unique stop, it’s a short drive north along the coast to the town of Aguadilla.
Stop to see the Banyan Treehouse at a playground, and then plug “Casas de Colores Aguadilla” into your GPS or Google Maps. This series of houses on a hill is painted in vibrant, mosaic-like murals that make for some excellent photos. The murals are a project by a group called Pintalto, with the goal of revitalizing this community and bringing tourists to visit.
I personally was happy to be influenced to make a stop!
Then you can head back to Rincón for another excellent sunset and dinner.
Day 7: Back to San Juan
Can you believe your one week in Puerto Rico is almost over??
Morning: Hit the road
You can drive straight back to San Juan from Rincon in about 3 hours if you’ve booked a flight home this afternoon/evening. But if you have the whole day free, then you can still squeeze in some more beach time or adventure!
On your way to San Juan, Balneario Cerro Gordo beach is a great place to stop for a swim if you’re craving one last beach day.
Afternoon: Zip lining
Or you can tack on a bit more driving and head back into the mountains to visit Toro Verde Adventure Park in Orocovis. This park specializes in zip lining and ropes courses, with some of the longest, tallest, and fastest zip lines you’ll ever ride!
If you opt to spend the afternoon at Toro Verde, I recommend getting an earlier start to your day so you can do a combo of the park’s zip line course (7 zip lines through lush jungle) and one of the big fast zip lines like The Monster or The Beast. A combo like this is less than $100 per person, but note that it will take you a good 3-4 hours to do it all. (It’s super fun, though!)
Then from there you can drive back to San Juan for your final night in Puerto Rico.
Total driving time today: This is the longest day, for sure! If you drive from Rincon straight back to San Juan, it’s 2.5-3 hours. If you add the stop at Toro Verde, then you’re looking at a little under 4 hours total of driving.
Where to stay in San Juan (1 night): Even if you’re flying home tomorrow, don’t feel like you need to book an airport hotel tonight since SJU is very close to the center of San Juan! In Old San Juan, I recommend the Decanter Hotel and Hotel El Convento. In Condado, my pick is the Condado Ocean Club.
Have more time or want to visit Vieques?
If you have 10 days in Puerto Rico (or if you’d prefer to sub out Ponce and Rincon for a visit to one of Puerto Rico’s idyllic smaller islands), then continue reading!
Traveling to Vieques
If you have MORE time in Puerto Rico, I recommend adding an additional 2-3 nights on the island of Vieques.
Vieques is a small island 8 miles off the east coast of Puerto Rico, and is most well-known for being home to the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world. It takes some planning to get to, but it’s absolutely worth it to go!
You can get to Vieques by ferry from Ceiba (a 1-hour drive from San Juan, and you’ll want to book a ticket online in advance), or you can take a short flight from San Juan International Airport (SJU) or Isla Grande Airport (SIG) in San Juan. Several small airlines fly these routes a couple times per day, including Vieques Air Link and Cape Air.
Once on Vieques, you can spend your days beach-hopping across the island’s excellent beaches (there’s even a black sand beach!), and you can book a nighttime tour to kayak in Mosquito Bay, which is the brightest bioluminescent bays in the world. Plan this as close to a new moon as possible, and definitely book a tour in a clear-bottomed kayak! (This tour is the one I recommend.)
For more info on this Vieques add-on, read my full post here: Planning the Perfect Island Getaway to Vieques, Puerto Rico
Here’s what your itinerary could look like with Vieques added:
7 days in Puerto Rico: San Juan and islands
- Day 1: San Juan
- Day 2: San Juan
- Day 3: El Yunque (Luquillo Beach, east coast)
- Day 4: San Juan/Fly to Vieques
- Day 5: Vieques
- Day 6: Vieques
- Day 7: Back to San Juan
(For this one week Puerto Rico itinerary, you don’t necessarily need a car, except perhaps on Vieques.)
10 days in Puerto Rico
- Day 1: San Juan
- Day 2: San Juan
- Day 3: El Yunque (Luquillo Beach, east coast)
- Day 4: To Ponce
- Day 5: To Rincon
- Day 6: Rincon/West Coast
- Day 7: Back to San Juan/Fly to Vieques
- Day 8: Vieques
- Day 9: Vieques
- Day 10: Back to San Juan
Have you been to Puerto Rico? If not, is this a trip you’d like to take?
Amanda Williams is the award-winning blogger behind A Dangerous Business Travel Blog. She has traveled to more than 60 countries on 6 continents from her home base in Ohio, specializing in experiential and thoughtful travel through the US, Europe, and rest of the world. Amanda only shares tips based on her personal experiences and places she’s actually traveled!