7 Days in Puerto Rico: Itinerary for a Magical Trip

Ah, Puerto Rico. It is appropriately called “La Isla del Encanto” — in English, the Island of Enchantment.

This small Caribbean island is vibrant and truly enchanting with its stunning beaches and wonderful people. Puerto Ricans are welcoming, lively, and resilient.

Puerto Rico is not always an easy place to live — scars from hurricanes, colonization, and poverty will tell that story — but it is a beautiful one.

Above all, Puerto Rico is alive. You will find incredible street art and the rumble of music on the streets of San Juan. You will be amazed as you snorkel above magnificent coral reefs with colorful fish darting below. The food is delicious, especially for fans of mariscos (seafood), plantains, and tropical fruits.

While Puerto Rico is a beautiful place, there is quite a complex history. While we can’t cover the subject with any hope of comprehensiveness in a short blog post like this one, we’ll quickly try to introduce it.

PLANNING FOR PUERTO RICO AT A GLANCE:  

When to Go: Puerto Rico has a beautiful tropical weather almost throughout the entire year but it's between December and April that it shines the most. 

It's perfect for relaxing on the beach and participating in other major activities, this is Puerto Rico's high season so you can expect prices to be high. 

If you want to beat the crowds and pay a bit less, then you can consider visiting between mid-April to June. Avoid late summer as this is hurricane season.

Where to Stay: Puerto Rico is beautiful on every turn but for this itinerary, I recommend staying in these areas —  San Juan, Fajardo, and Vieques. 

In San Juan I recommend staying at Dorado Beach Ritz-Carlton for a luxurious experience, O: Live Boutique Hotel if you love Mediterranean-inspired details and Nomada Urban Beach Hostel for budget travelers. 

When in Fajardo, I suggest staying at a private villa at the Rio Mar Beach Resort if you love staying in villas, St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort for a luxurious stay in a resort-style hotel, or Surfing Turtle Inn if you're looking for a budget-friendly hostel.  

In Vieques, opt for Finca Victoria for a boutique eco farm stay, Tranquility by the Sea for a seaside cottage, and Lazy Hostel for a budget-friendly hostel.

How to Get Around: While driving in Puerto Rico can be a bit tricky (especially for nervous drivers) since drivers can be a bit aggressive here, I think it's worth it. I like the freedom that comes with deciding where and when to make a stop without feeling rushed or delayed. 

Alternatively, you can choose to take tours but that can get expensive pretty fast. If you do choose to rent a car, compare car rentals and prices from hereBest Activities: Don't want to drive or plan? Booking a few different activities can help you eliminate the need for driving around. You can book a food tour, a craft rum cocktail tour, or Old San Juan Sunset Cruise.

3 Things Not to Forget to Pack: Since you'll spend plenty of time on the beach, I recommend taking this Dock & Bay travel towel which is 100% made from recycled materials. You'll need a swimsuit to fully enjoy the beaches -- this is my favorite swimwear  -- and of course sunscreen -- I love SunBum SPF 50 with Vitamin E — it’s moisturizing and soothing for you and also harmless for marine life! 

A Quick History of Puerto Rico

Beautiful trees creating a shaded canopy over the boardwalk Paseo de la Princesa

The island that is now known as Puerto Rico was originally inhabited by the Taíno people. Their name for the island was Borikén, which meant “land of the brave lord”, in their native tongue, Arawak.

Today, many Puerto Ricans identify themselves as “boriqua”, the adjective deriving from the land’s original name. When you consider the fact that Puerto Rico translates to “rich port” in Spanish, you can see how the Spanish saw the land: a place to be conquered and looted, rather than respected.

Unfortunately for the Taíno people, Christopher Columbus made his way to Puerto Rico in 1493. Like many other Caribbean nations, the Taíno way of life was changed drastically by this unwelcome arrival. Columbus placed the island under an encomienda system, similar to the feudal systems of Europe, which essentially enslaved the Taíno people on their own land, forcing them to work in gold mines and on plantations.

The Taíno population quickly started declining due to the introduction of European diseases that never existed on the island previously, such as smallpox, measles, and typhus, as well as through the harsh conditions of slavery.

Who remained of the Taíno people were subject to cultural genocide practices, such as the Complementary Declaration of July 28th, 1513, which “freed” only the Taíno who were “clothed, Christian, and capable”, further chipping away at Taíno identity.

By 1530, the effect of 40 years of European colonization had taken an enormous toll. The original population of an estimated 50,000 Taíno dwindled down to just 1,148 survivors in the 1530 census. The remaining Taíno were still oppressed, and many Taíno women intermarried with the Spanish conquistadors and assimilated.

There’s no denying that the Taíno people as a distinct Indigenous group are a shadow of what they used to be. However, Taíno blood runs in the veins of many Puerto Ricans, and Taíno identity is being shaped and defined by the descendants of these Indigenous people living today.

There are ancient sites all over the island to visit and honor these unforgotten people. There are a few towns in Puerto Rico that still retain their Taíno names: for example, Yauco and Utuado.

After over 300 years of Spanish colonization, the United States claimed Puerto Rico in the Spanish-American War in 1898. Today, the questions of statehood and Puerto Rican independence are thorny ones, and the path forward for Puerto Rico is not entirely clear.

Today, many Puerto Ricans call the island Borinquen, to honor their Taíno roots and acknowledge the Taíno, Caribbean, African, and Spanish influences on the island’s ethnicity and culture in a way that is more inclusive than the Spanish-given name of Puerto Rico.

How this Puerto Rico Itinerary Works

a mural of the puerto rican flag surrounded by colorful walls and cobblestones

Now that you have a bit of knowledge of the history of the island, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of this Puerto Rico itinerary.

The following suggestions only cover a small portion of the east side of the island, since this itinerary only covers 7 days in Puerto Rico.

We’ve highlighted all the most popular touristic hotspots in Puerto Rico and given some off-the-beaten-path suggestions where it makes sense to best maximize the time on your trip to Puerto Rico.

However, if you have more than a week in Puerto Rico, we strongly suggest you make your way around the entire island; you will be amazed at the variety of climates. Explore desolate salt flats, lush rainforest, coral reefs, mountain waterfalls, lakes, and countless beaches that would make a postcard weep.

What to Pack for Puerto Rico

Allison wearing a swimsuit in Puerto Rico
Enjoying Puerto Rico in a cute high-waisted swimsuit!

I’m in the process of creating a full Puerto Rico packing list, but here are 5 things not to forget before your trip.

An awesome travel towel. A proper travel towel is a game-changer. I’m not talking about a sad little microfiber square that might as well be a washcloth. I’m talking a true microfiber beach towel that serves you just as well on a beach day as it does after a long shower. I’m obsessed with this classic red and white striped travel towel from Dock & Bay, which easily knocks off sand in a single shake-out and is made of 100% recycled materials. Order it on Amazon here.

Bathing suits you love. On an island trip, you’ve got to have swimwear you can stand behind! I love wearing a two-piece, but I hate feeling bloated while I travel and feeling awkward in my swimwear after too much mofongo. Solution? High-waisted swimsuits! I love this one, and this one is a great plus-size option with a high waist and a classic shape. I would bring 3 swimsuits for one week in Puerto Rico so I never have to suffer the indignity of putting on a wet bathing suit. Ick.

Reef-safe sunscreen. This is so essential! The future of marine life in Puerto Rico depends on the actions visitors and locals take now, so do your part to keep Puerto Rico’s reefs pristine for generations to come. I love SunBum SPF 50 with Vitamin E — it’s moisturizing and soothing for you, and harmless for the animals who call Puerto Rico’s waters their home!

Comfortable travel sandals. I will be buried with my Birkenstocks, or you can try to pry them from my cold, dead hands. Dramatic? Maybe. But they’re a must for travel! I love the Birkenstock Gizeh leather thong style personally, but the classic two-buckle Arizona slides are really cute as well. These are the exact shoes I have and love!

One tip, though: Break them in for 2-3 days before you travel, as they form to the exact shape of your foot! They’ll be slightly uncomfortable at first, but nothing major (I just bought a second pair and they fit like a glove after a day of use), but they’re not shoes I’d want to walk around a cobblestoned city in on their first day!

Chemical-free insect repellent: Like reef-safe sunscreen, it’s important that the bug spray you use won’t harm the sensitive ecosystems of Puerto Rico, particularly when you get in the water! A simple lemon eucalyptus spray like this will keep most mosquitos away without the harsh chemicals which can mess up delicate ecosystems.

Where to Stay in Puerto Rico

This Puerto Rico itinerary has you staying overnight in three separate destinations: San Juan, Fajardo, and Vieques. We’ll give you some suggestions for each!

San Juan

the colorful buildings of old san juan in a rainbow of colors

BOUTIQUE | I love the Small Luxury Hotels of the World brand and I’ve stayed at many a property of theirs over the years! They have a gorgeous offering called O:Live Boutique Hotel located in vibey Condado that I’m looking forward to staying at on my next trip to the island! Gorgeously designed rooms with Mediterranean-inspired details, rain showers with hydromassage jets, a roof terrace with an infinity pool with views of the Condado Lagoon? Swoon. Sold.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

LUXURY | Nothing says luxury quite like the Ritz-Carlton brand! At Dorado Beach Ritz-Carlton, we’re talking on-site golf course, multiple swimming pools, 4 on-site restaurants, and spa and fitness centers. Plus, some rooms even have their own private plunge pools for the ultimate luxury vacation! It’s not cheap, that’s for sure, but it’s by far the best choice if you’re looking for a blowout accommodation choice for a special occasion (or just a really baller vacation).
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

BUDGET | Looking for a hostel option? Nomada Urban Beach Hostel is a fantastic choice for travelers on a budget, located near Isla Verde Beach. Options include dorm-style rooms and private rooms. The dorms are modern with amenities like curtains and hangers allotted for each bunk bed: little touches that frequent hostel-goers are sure to heave a sigh of relief over. There’s also a roof terrace for travelers to relax on and chitchat.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

Fajardo

The beautiful blue waters and fine sands of the beaches in Fajardo Puerto Rico

VILLA | If you want to stay in a villa, there are some great choices in this area! This charming private villa at the Rio Mar Beach Resort in nearby Rio Grande is a great choice for people who want to spread out and enjoy a larger space without paying a huge price. It can sleep up to six guests in its one bedroom, two sofa bed configuration. The villa also has two bathrooms, a full-size kitchen and dining area. It’s not fancy, but it’s spacious and charming.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

LUXURY | If you want resort-style luxury, the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort is a phenomenal option about 12 miles north of Fajardo. Amenities include a golf course, ocean-view pool, spa center, yoga and pilates classes, and best of all? Every room includes butler service for that special ultra-luxury touch, plus either gorgeous garden or ocean views.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

BUDGET | For a cute hostel experience, go outside of Fajardo 5 miles to Luquillo, a charming beachy area with lots of great food. The Surfing Turtle Inn offers dorms and private rooms at affordable prices for the area. Dorms and rooms are fairly basic, but offer all the standard budget amenities at a reasonable price, with a clean reputation.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

Vieques

the sun rising in vieques puerto rico

BOUTIQUE | Eco-friendly and chic, Finca Victoria is the place to go for a stunning, Instagrammable retreat-style hotel at an affordable cost. It has beautiful treehouse-inspired rooms with soaringly high ceilings and exposed beams, loads of natural light, and vintage farmhouse details in the furnishings. Daily free yoga classes are included, as well as a delicious Caribbean breakfast made with Ayurvedic principles in mind. There are loads of thoughtful touches like hammocks on the balcony, outdoor showers, and small kitchenettes.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

COTTAGE | The lovely Tranquility by the Sea offers a 3-bedroom oceanside cottage perfect for families and groups at a good value. It’s not fancy, but it is well-appointed and spacious with plenty of room to enjoy a vacation home style rental. A full kitchen, washer & dryer, and a wraparound veranda are some of the best perks of this rental. Best of all? You can often see wild horses grazing right from your window.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

BUDGET | While the decor is definitely nothing to write home about, if you want a cheap and clean place to lay your head at night, Lazy Hostel is a good choice. It has a social vibe and it offers a variety of room types including dorms and private rooms. It’s good for solo travelers and anyone on a budget in Puerto Rico.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

A Few Final Tips About Visiting Puerto Rico

the ocean at el morro in old san juan

A few quick tips before you arrive on the island!

Cell service can be spotty. So make sure you download maps of the areas you are in to be sure you can find your way. That means you should also keep your phone charged.

Google Maps are not always accurate either. I try to cross-reference with Maps.me and always check my accommodations or destinations to see if they have alternate directions.

Anti-theft bags are great for San Juan. While Puerto Rico is overall safe, San Juan is a large city like any other, and you should use caution. When traveling in cities, I bring my PacSafe CitySafe backpack — it’s chic, sleek, and almost theft-proof, with things like double-locking zippers and mesh slash-proof construction.

The driving in Puerto Rico can be wild. If you’re not used to it… watch out! The right lane is the fast lane, the left lane is the slow lane, and merging onto highways via the right lane is practically a form of cardio. While renting a car in Puerto Rico will give you freedom, it can also be stressful. I suggest a handful of guided tours on this Puerto Rico itinerary so that you can reduce your driving and focus on relaxing, while also having your adventure improved by local guide knowledge.

Watch for mosquitos. Puerto Rico has a tropical climate and therefore a handful of tropical diseases you don’t have to worry about in most of the U.S. mainland. Dengue fever, Zika, chikungunya, and other diseases are transmissible through mosquito bites. Wear mosquito repellent during day and night, and be especially careful around sunrise and sunset, when mosquito activity is at its peak. Reapply and wear long-sleeved, loose-fitting clothing at this time for the most coverage.

To Rent or Not to Rent?

a red car at sunset on a beach in puerto rico

We’ve done a lot of the hard work for you in putting together this itinerary for Puerto Rico, but there’s one big decision you need to make: to rent a car or not to rent a car?

As I mentioned above, driving in Puerto Rico can be difficult. Drivers are a bit on the aggressive side, and the fact that the right lane is the fast lane and the left lane is the slow lane can be a real mind#(*@ for anxious drivers like myself.

I’ve been to Puerto Rico twice, once without a rental car and once with. I was able to adjust to the driving, but there were definitely some heart-pounding moments! Ultimately, I liked the freedom it gave me, though I didn’t enjoy driving on the tiny streets of Old San Juan.

There are tours and taxis you can take which make having a car unnecessary; plus, you ought to leave your rental behind when you go to Vieques, as the car spots on the ferry are limited and are needed by locals. Plus, many rental companies do not allow it.

However, tour and taxi costs can add up, so you’ll want to do some cost benefit analysis there. Renting a car likely skews cheaper, but it will mean some headache. Tours and taixs will likely skew a bit more expensive, but be more relaxing.

If you do choose to rent a car, there are ways to get a good deal on your rental. I’ve rented cars dozens of times through various search engines and have settled on Discover Cars as the best car rental search engine – it searches over 500 trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for car rental from San Juan Airport here.

Puerto Rico Itinerary: 7 Days on the Island of Enchantment

Day 1: Explore Old San Juan

runners in Old San Juan against three colorful houses

Old San Juan is one of the most lively areas of the islands!

The colorful and stunning architecture reflects the early days of San Juan shortly after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, and some of the earliest buildings dating back to 1508. 

The historic forts and old city walls are especially impressive. Beyond the architecture, San Juan has some of the best eating in Puerto Rico, so bring your appetite!

Start your day off with a cup of coffee.

You’re in Puerto Rico, so it’d be a shame to start the day without a proper café con leche. Puerto Rico is full of coffee farms so be prepared for fresh, delicious coffee that’s local and delicious.

To indulge your coffee craving, head to Cuatro Sombras. This is the coffee house of choice if you are looking to try locally-grown coffee. Enjoy shade-grown coffee from the mountains of Yauco in El Yunque National Park.

Their food menu includes pastries, breakfast plates, sandwiches, and paninis. It is the perfect place to start the day and fuel up with some locally grown coffee.

But resist the urge to overindulge here — next up on this Puerto Rico itinerary is enjoying a delicious walking food tour to get a sense of Puerto Rican flavors.

a cup of coffee with some latte art

Taste the flavors of Old San Juan.

On my first day in a destination, I love to do a food tour for a variety of reasons. For one, it’s a great way to learn what you like and what you don’t — as well as what you haven’t sampled yet! — so you can order tastier and more adventurous dishes on your travels.

It’s also a great way to ask a local for their point of view on the best restaurants in San Juan, so you can plan future meals and make sure you don’t miss out on any can’t-miss foodie experiences.

This highly-rated food & walking tour will provide you with the opportunity to enjoy Puerto Rican cuisine and do some more coffee tasting. Plus they provide a cocktail, if you don’t mind imbibing on the early side (you are on vacation, after all!).

This tour will take you through the streets of San Juan while you admire the architecture and learn about the history of this colonial city and how San Juan came to be. It is a well-rounded (and delicious) Puerto Rican cultural experience and a great way to start off a weeklong Puerto Rico itinerary.

Book your food tour online here!

a sampler plate of delicious puerto rican food including fried snacks and pulled pork and rice

Relax on the beach in Condado or Isla Verde.

From there, you may want to rest your legs for a bit and relax on the beach and digest all that delicious Puerto Rican food!

Head to Condado Beach to experience the beach, enjoy the view, and relax…. plus there is a lot of shopping in Condado for those wanting to explore more and find some Puerto Rican souvenirs to take home.

However, Condado Beach is in one of the most built-up areas of San Juan. If you would like a more laidback Puerto Rican beach experience, head to Isla Verde Beach, otherwise known as Playa Isla Verde in Carolina.

There are multiple bars and restaurants along the beach here which is how it is done at many popular beaches in PR!

the turquoise waters of condado beach with soft sand, lots of blue umbrellas on the beach, people, and buildings surrounding the urban beach

Enjoy San Juan at night one of three ways.

No matter what you choose, you’ll want to eat a big dinner before you explore more of San Juan. This choice is up to you. Both Condado and Isla Verde provide plenty of opportunities to eat well, or perhaps your food tour guide gave you a can’t-miss recommendation for where to eat. If they did… heed it!

There are a few different things you can do to cap off your first night in Puerto Rico. One suggestion is to take a craft rum cocktail tour, to learn why Puerto Rico is the rum capital of the world!

You will taste many delicious rum-centric beverages while exploring the colorful nightlife of Old San Juan. You will get to experience a variety of bars in the city and learn about the drinking culture of Puerto Rico. Get to know the city and its history while getting your buzz on!

Book your rum cocktail tour here!

lit up fort of el morro at night with a dark blue sky

It also must be said that viewing the forts at night is especially impressive! Walk from Castillo San Cristobal to Castillo Felipe del Morro. Enjoy the sound of the ocean while taking in the impressive view.

There are multiple historic citadels, old city walls, and forts in this area, representing the previous Spanish military presence in the former Spanish colony. Some of these looming structures date back to the 16th century and are in remarkably good shape for their age.

Add Paseo Del Morro to your night exploration to continue along on a boardwalk flanked with the city walls on one side and the bay on the other. It runs into Paseo de la Princesa which will allow for you to be able to do almost a full loop around the old city walls.

Day 2: Do it all in San Juan

Hopefully, you will wake up well-rested for another stellar day in San Juan! This is the last full day in San Juan on this PR itinerary, so let’s make the most of it.

I highly suggest you start the day with an early morning dive if you’re certified, or do some snorkeling. Then we’ll explore a bit more of San Juan to close out the day.

Start the day with a fantastic breakfast.

This means fueling up with something light like fruit or a pastry with some more local coffee before you hit the water.

Check out Cafe Cola’o. This is a woman-owned coffee shop that features coffee from Utuado, Adjuntas, and Ponce. Cafe Regina is another spectacular spot representing Puerto Rican agriculture. Sample starfruit jam, locally made ice cream, and excellent coffee.

Head to Escambrón Beach.

One of the best ways to get around the city and get the heart pumping is to rent an electric scooter. Skootel is a new app-based scooter rental service in PR. You can find it on the Bird app. The options are varied as to how you will want to take advantage of your scooter rental. 

Head to Escambrón Beach any way you like. We suggest a scooter, of course! You may want to head out and go the long way to view the forts again, this time by day.

Old San Juan is so small that any way you choose to get to the beach will be relatively fast and easy to navigate. It is, of course, very fast if you drive, if you were brave enough to rent a car.

Playa El Escambrón is a great spot to enjoy the beach for anyone not wanting to snorkel or dive. However, the shining star of Escambrón is the snorkeling and diving adventures that await you under the sea!

Be prepared for sea turtles, coral reefs, and calm waters. When you explore Escambrón Marine Park, you will find incredible sunken structures throughout.

Picture the columns of Atlantis, statues, and a sunken “fish protection wall”. This is a great spot to try scuba diving for the first time with its easy beach access and shallow waters.

Please remember to use reef-safe sunscreen any time you get in the water. The future health of the marine ecosystems of Puerto Rico is dependent upon it! I use and love SunBum SPF 50 with Vitamin E — it’s great for your skin and for the marine environment.

snorkeling at escambron beach

Have a delicious brunch.

After you have had your fill of the water, it’s time for one of the best brunches of your life!

You will be very pleased to refuel at Waffle-Era Tea Room. This place is the ultimate breakfast spot. They feature an extensive list of savory and sweet waffles, plus salads and bowls.

Of course, you can also enjoy an extensive tea menu! Think fragrant earl grey, peony, or lemongrass chai. There are all kinds of varieties of tea, plus there are mimosas, bloody marys, and cocktails…. it’s even encouraged to spike your coffee (hey, vacation, right?). It’s a grand reward after you have spent time in the water and sun!

Check out the beautiful shops of Old San Juan.

The afternoon will be your chance to check out some of the unique shopping experiences Old San Juan has to offer and support the local businesses.

One such location is at the enchanted library, called Quimera, Café Literario. You will mostly find books about spiritual development, fairy tales, and magic, though, this magical bookstore-meets-café is much more than that!

The Poet’s Passage is just down the way from Quimera. It is self-described to be a “living museum of poetry and local art”. This is certainly true. They also host spoken-word and music events, and because it’s Puerto Rico, land of delicious coffee, there is a café here too. 

Looking for a souvenir? Check out Seafoam for locally made rare jewelry. El Gapon hat shop is a great spot to check out, too.

Take a sunset sail.

As the day begins nearing a close, head on out for your sunset sailing tour!

The meeting place is between Pier 3 and 4 at San Juan Bay at 5:30 PM (though double-check as varying sunset times throughout the year may impact this).

Silhouette of a sailing boat at sunset in the Caribbean in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Climb aboard the Amazing Grace, a sailing vessel dating back to the American Revolutionary War. Enjoy beverages, cocktails, and appetizers as you cruise San Juan Bay viewing historic buildings like La Fortaleza, the Governor’s mansion… plus you can enjoy local music aboard the vessel. The views are stunning on this small-group tour!

Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring your ID!

Book your tour here: Old San Juan Sunset Cruise

Have a delicious dinner.

After your happy hour aboard the Amazing Grace, it is time for dinner in San Juan. There are some world-class restaurants in San Juan ranging from upscale to casual fare of all kinds.

If you are looking for a casual experience, you should check out Lote23 in Santurce. This gastro park will provide you top-notch fare from some of the best chefs in Puerto Rico!

Each stand has something unique and bound to be mouth-watering. Enjoy mofongo (mashed green plantains) at El Cuchifrito or Puerto Rican pork shoulder sandwiches at Pernilería Los Proceres. Plus you will find poke bowls, fried chicken, cocktails, and more.

a plate of mofongo (mashed plantains) with a side of a dipping sauce

Head home early or continue the night out.

If you are looking for more to do after dinner you may want to experience the Condado nightlife.

Condado has the best nightlife scene on the island. There are many cool bars, lounges, and clubs. We love Oceano for its rooftop views and excellent outdoor seating, La Terraza for cheap margaritas and reggaeton, and Red Coral Lounge for the artwork and ambiance, especially the giant coral sculpture.

This is the spot if you want to go out dancing and stay out late… but be sure to get some rest. You have another jam-packed day ahead of you!

Day 3: Journey to the rainforest

Today is all about El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the United States! It’s an absolute must-visit on any Puerto Rico itinerary.

Getting to El Yunque by car is absolutely doable! It’s about a 45-minute or 1-hour drive, depending on traffic. However, Puerto Rico driving is not for everyone, so we’ve also vetted and suggested a tour that will show you around El Yunque stress-free.

a waterfall plunging into a pool in the rainforest of puerto rico called el yunque, a must on your 7 day puerto rico itinerary

Grab a tasty breakfast with a side of history.

Start the day off with a healthy breakfast steeped in history at St Germain, which is a great spot for vegetarians especially!

You will dine in a historic building that was once home to Don Pedro Albizu Campos, widely considered a hero in Puerto Rico.

He was the leader of the Puerto Rico Nationalist Party from 1933 to 1965, leading uprisings to overthrow the United States government. He was imprisoned for many years of his life. Dine at this restaurant and pay homage to the struggle that Puerto Rico has lived through due to colonization.

Head out to the rainforest.

Once you are satiated, it is time for your rainforest and waterslide tour in El Yunque National Forest! Yes, this tour takes you on natural waterslides — nothing manmade about them! We suggest going by tour, but we’ll also include how to get there on your own below as well.

It is an insanely awesome, one-of-a-kind adventure. It is not every day you get to experience this! Plus you can cliff jump, rope swing, and bask beneath waterfalls. There is also a stop at a restaurant on this tour where you can Puerto Rican cuisine.

Book your El Yunque Rainforest & Waterslide Tour!

the natural waterslides going through the rocks near luquillo puerto rico

If you have rented a vehicle, you can make this trip without a tour. You will want to head to Las Pailas in Luquillo. There is a $5 parking fee. The lot is in a local’s yard at these GPS coordinates: 18.337856, -65.731060.

Follow the path from the parking area down to Río Pitahaya where you will venture to find the two waterslides.

Once you have exerted yourself head over to La Muralla, located nearby, right in El Yunque. Get simple, delicious Puerto Rican food and fresh coconut water to recharge before you head back towards San Juan for dinner.

the trees in the rainforest of el yunque national forest

Walk around San Juan a bit before dinner.

Before dinner, you may have some time for resting, or you can tour more of San Juan.

One fun way to see the city is to do a DIY mural tour, as there are plenty of thought-provoking, electric murals in this city. You will get a modern idea of what is happening in PR by observing the artwork of real Puerto Ricans.

Dine at one of San Juan’s best restaurants.

The dinner options in San Juan are endless! If you want to dine near the water, La Casita de Rones is the place. They have great food and craft rum cocktails. The restaurant is close to where the cruise ships dock, though, so it can get very busy: be warned!

El Jibarito is a great place to go if you want to try one of Puerto Rico’s national dishes, mofongo. Mofongo is a dish consisting of mashed green plantain and broth.

The plantain is mashed to the inside of the bowl where they pour in various types of broth. It can be made with beef, chicken, seafood, or creamy broth, and then it’s typically served with meat or seafood inside.

Whatever you choose, as they say in Puerto Rico, “buen provecho!”.

a place of mofongo, rice, and meat, with a salad as well

Cap it off with a night paddle or get an early night’s sleep.

If you want one more exciting activity to cap off your evening, go night kayaking! You can paddle through Condado Lagoon on a clear-bottom kayak with LED lights gently guiding the way.

It will be a unique experience as you observe the lights of San Juan and perhaps a sea creature or two. This will be one of two excellent kayaking adventures you can experience in PR. Find more information online here.

Sleep well and wake rejuvenated for a relaxing day into a magical night — bursting with bioluminescence!

Day 4: Head to Fajardo and the Bioluminescent Bay

Spend the morning in San Juan your way before heading to Fajardo.

Did you want to try a new cafe? Did you see a museum you want to check out while in San Juan? Do you just need some time to relax at your hotel? This would be a great time for any of that!

kayaks at sunset awaiting guests to go on a bio bay tour of the lagoon in fajardo puerto rico

If you’re heading to Fajardo, there are a few options, all of which involve driving. It’s about an hour’s drive away if you’ve rented a car. Not driving? You can hire a public taxi, Uber, or use a private car service (speak to your hotel to see what they can arrange). Be prepared to spend about $80-100.

There is no public transit from San Juan to Fajardo. If you’re comfortable driving, we recommend renting a car for the entire week in Puerto Rico, or at least from Days 4-7 of this itinerary. This will save you money and hassle in the long run.

Grab lunch at La Casita Blanca.

On your way to Fajardo, stop for lunch. For a quiet and wonderfully authentic dining experience head to Santurce for La Casita Blanca, aka “the little white house”.

The restaurant is full of tropical plants, eclectic artwork, and tchotchkes. But really, you’re here for the food: it is incredible! The skirt steak and accompanying rice are mouth-wateringly flavorful. You have to try the tres leches cake, too! You will be served plantain soup upon arrival and given chichaito, a digestif, at the end of your meal, a really nice touch. It’s a bona fide Puerto Rican experience!

They are open daily for lunch and serve dinner on Fridays and Saturdays only. They also have valet parking, which is convenient for parking in this small residential neighborhood.

Arrive in Fajardo and relax on the beach.

Whenever you are ready to get adventuring, head over to Fajardo to check into your new hotel. From there, you can go out and appreciate some of what this area has to offer!

Fajardo offers a great mix of historical sites and some beautiful beaches. Get your snorkel on or call in your inner beach bum for some relaxing time.

one of the beautiful beaches in the fajardo puerto rico area

Playa Escondida is a great beach to hit if you want to avoid the crowds. It takes about 30 minutes to walk to Playa Escondida from the trailhead, which is near the Governor’s Beach House. However, this beach is one of the most dangerous swimming spots in Puerto Rico, so it is strictly for exploring or relaxing while taking in the view.

If you are looking to swim, Seven Seas Beach is a great place to snorkel, plus, it does not require a long trek to get to the beach. The waters are calm and the sea life is thriving. Palm trees abound and there are plenty of shady spots to enjoy.

There is a restaurant here that may or may not be open. There are also showers and restrooms. Sometimes you can rent kayaks, SUP paddleboards, and snorkeling gear on the beach here.

To guarantee your gear, head 5 minutes south of Seven Seas Beach by car. You will hit Pirate Snorkeling Shack. There are snorkels, kayaks, and SUP for rent on the beach here.

Either of these beaches will be a nice place to spend the golden hour before you prep for your adventure on the Bioluminescent Bay!

scenic blue waters of seven seas beach, a calm oasis in puerto rico

Have a BBQ dinner, island style.

Firstly, you’ll want to get dinner. A trip to PR is not complete without a visit to a BBQ. A lot of the beef consumed in Puerto Rico comes right from the island, so there are many BBQ spots around.

La Estación is the place to go for locally sourced, buttery, delicious steaks in Fajardo. They take American barbecue classics and merge them with Caribbean flavors. Enjoy locally sourced fish, meats, and produce. Their brisket is award-winning, the ceviche is made daily, and vegetarian options are available.

Have an enchanting kayak ride through the bioluminescent waters.

Once you have had your fill, grab your gear for kayaking. You will want to bring a towel and possibly a change of clothes for when you exit the water.

The tour provides bottled water, snacks, life vests, and bug spray. Use only eco-friendly bug spray if you bring your own. This is a protected area, and some of the chemicals in traditional bug spray are extremely harmful to this rare ecosystem, particularly DEET.

Once you’ve geared up, an enchanted evening is upon you as you embark on a bioluminescent bay kayaking tour.

streaks of electric blue in the dark water at night with lots of stars out

Puerto Rico is one of only 3 places in the world where you can experience the magic of a bioluminescent bay! There are 3 bio bays in PR. You can find them in Vieques, La Parguera, and at Laguna Grande in Fajardo; the latter of which is the most famous and where we’ll be tonight!

You will paddle through mangroves into the bay for 2 hours. You will see the bioluminescence light up the shapes of the fish, and possibly sharks, swimming beneath you. The water sparkles as you splash your paddle. It is otherworldly and awe-inspiring, an experience you will never forget.

Book your kayaking tour online here!

Make sure you get a lot of rest for day 5. You will have to have an early morning the following day in order to make your catamaran ride, which meets at 8:15 AM.

Day 5: Set sail in Fajardo

Grab a quick breakfast at a panaderia.

Puerto Rican bakeries or panaderias are flourishing on the island! This would be a great way to start an early day. One of the best spots in Fajardo is Panaderia Monte Brisas.

Like most Puerto Rican bakeries, you can get sandwiches here, too. There is something for all tastes, savory or sweet. All orders are to-go, so grab your sandwiches or pastries and make your way south to Puerto del Rey Marina.

Have a gorgeous catamaran ride or go scuba diving.

As you have seen on your journey so far, Fajardo is an ocean-centered town. It brings opportunities for water sports of all kinds, plus beach lounging and seaside dining. It is not surprising that a catamaran ride is one of the most popular activities to do in Fajardo!

Your final day in Fajardo will be as dreamy as it gets. Head to Puerto del Rey Marina to hop on a catamaran tour!

a blonde tan woman in a black dress standing on the net area of a catamaran looking at islands in the distance with blue water around

You will sail for 45 minutes to a deserted island called Icacos. You will have a couple of hours to explore the beach and swim before lunch is served. Enjoy sandwiches, fresh juices, rum punch, and more!

You will then cruise the Caribbean Sea a little more to anchor over the reef. This is a great time to utilize the slide that is aboard the catamaran!

Swim, snorkel, or chill out before your leisurely sail back to the marina. You should arrive back by 3:30 PM.

Book your catamaran ride in Fajardo here!

After your day of fun in the sun, you may want to head back to your hotel to take a rest and freshen up. A seafood dinner will follow.

If you’re PADI certified, you may prefer to go diving here! You can book a two-tank reef drive departing Fajardo — note the early start time!

Book your two-tank dive here!

Dine on fresh seafood.

Head to the coastline for delicious, Puerto Rican-style seafood! Pescaderia Don Candi will show you how the Puerto Ricans do seafood. In short? They do it well!

You should order the fried red snapper. You will be presented with a whole fish, fins and all. The fins are crunchy and yummy so don’t leave them out! They will come with a PR staple, fried plantain, otherwise known as tostones.

fried fish served on a bed of tostones and salad

They also serve oysters and delicious coconut shrimp dumplings. Don’t forget your rum cocktail or another PR staple, Medalla beer.

As a side note… you may notice on your travels that there are many folks selling rotisserie chicken and pinchos on the side of the road. Pinchos are essentially BBQ meat on a stick. They are cheap, delicious, and a great snack. Both pinchos and rotisserie barbeques are often wonderfully flavorful and make a great choice if you’re trying to save a bit of money!

Perhaps when you complete your dinner, you will want to check out the Cape San Juan Lighthouse of Fajardo for golden hour. Since we are on the east side of the island, watching the sunset over the ocean is not possible; however, the hues of this extraordinary time of day will still impress and delight you!

Head to Reserva Natural Cabezas de San Juan. This nature park will be a great place to walk around while you breathe in the salt air and connect with some history.

The lighthouse was first lit in 1882 and had a large influence in the Spanish-American War. It now sits on a nature reserve that includes Laguna Grande, the bio bay you explored last night! Plus you can explore mangroves, coral reefs, beaches, and lagoons. There is no better way to end the day.

the white and green lighthouse in fajardo

Day 6: Hop the ferry to Vieques

Before you head to Vieques for the night, take the morning to pack up, get breakfast, and tie up any loose ends on your “to-see” list in Fajardo. Then head to Ceiba to catch the ferry to Vieques.

The ferry has specific hours, but it is not always on time. Check the timetables and plan accordingly. Keep your timeline fluid. Vieques in general will force you to slow down and go with the flow!

Cars are allowed on the ferry, but please do not attempt to take your rental to Vieques. The vessel is carrying supplies and vehicles for residents of Vieques. If everyone were to bring vehicles to the island, it would make it very hard for the residents to go about their business.

Please note: it may be very difficult to get on the ferry to Vieques during holidays and weekends due to crowds. It is easier going back, so flying in and out may be your best bet.

leaving colorful port on the fajardo vieques ferry

If you fly, head to the Ceiba airport and hop on a flight with Vieques Airlink or Air Flamenco. The round trip flight should cost less than $100. I consider these both sightseeing and transportation because the views as so beautiful! So if the budget allows, flying is a great choice.

Once you arrive on Vieques, be prepared to rent a Jeep, motorbike, or a golf cart to get around. There are also taxi services. Make all of these arrangements ahead of time, as you may not get a taxi or vehicle if you arrive without a reservation.

UTV Rental offers golf carts for rent which can be a fun way to explore, or Vieques Car Rental offers Jeeps and SUVs as well as golf carts.

One great way to get acquainted with Vieques is to take a drive around the island! If you rent that Jeep, you are in great shape, as you can drive on dirt roads through the jungle that wind into ocean views. If you are not renting a vehicle, renting bikes is another great option.

The island is mostly reserve land that you have the privilege to explore. They have quite a few roads running through the reserve, and there are hikes to jump on along the way. Be careful if driving as there are wild horses in many parts of the island!

several wild horses and baby horses roaming the street in vieques puerto rico

Head towards Sun Bay.

Take your vehicle down towards Esperanza to check out the beach at Sun Bay. You may see wild horses here!

As a side note… the proximity of Playa Sun Bay to the bioluminescent bay makes this a cool beach to peep at night. You may see the dinoflagellates (the creatures that glow) in the surf or on the beach. Can you say sparkle beach, anyone?!

Walk west down the beach at Sun Bay towards Esperanza to enjoy painkillers and a meal at Lazy Jack’s Restaurant and Hostel. Painkillers are a yummy cream of coconut and rum cocktail topped with fresh nutmeg.

Enjoy the lively atmosphere of this Vieques favorite. It is also a great place to stay for the night!

brilliant turquoise and cerulean waters of the beach at sun bay vieques

Day 7: Explore Vieques some more and head back to San Juan

The island has two main areas where there are hotels and restaurants: down south at Esperanza or north at Isabel Segunda, near the ferry terminal.

Up north, the best breakfast place is Rising Roost delicioso! Cafe Del Mar down south is great, too. Enjoy a great breakfast with their house-made bread.

Explore the black sand beach.

After you hit a breakfast spot of your choice, you should head over to Black Sands Beach (Playa Negra). You can walk on the beach from Esperanza if you like. Walk west to reach Playa Negra.

It is inspiring to see the volcanic black sand for yourself! Amp up the magic of your experience and opt for a horseback riding tour on the black sand – contact Esperanza Riding Company for details.

Have a final meal in Vieques.

For a final restaurant recommendation, we have the best for last!

Head to Finca Conciencia for a healthy, ethical, locally sourced meal. Their grouper stuffed with lobster and grilled over mesquite in banana leaves will change your life!

The menu is subject to change but that is the beauty of eating locally. There is variety and change just as the seasons change. When you visit, you will see their sustainable farming practices in action.

It is a sweet place that honors the sacredness of Mother Earth. They are true stewards of the land here. Plus, you may get to sample local honey from their apiaries. Call or email to reserve a spot. See their website for precise directions to their land, as it will not come up on Google.

Take a hike.

Up north, Playa Grande Sugar Mill Ruins is another great spot for a hike.

Hike amongst the ruins and along the coastline. End with a fabulous view of Punta Mulas Lighthouse. This is also a lovely spot for sunset if you end up with time before heading back to San Juan.

beautiful ripples in the water in vieques with sunset colors and palm silhouettes in the distance

Enjoy your final moments in Vieques.

Spend the afternoon relaxing or preparing to head back to San Juan. Your timeline will depend on if you choose to take the ferry back or fly.

If you have time, check out some more beaches, restaurants, or shops. This is a small island with a population of about 10,000. Jobs are limited, so your shopping in Vieques will significantly impact the people that live there in a positive way, especially if you buy hand-crafted products from local artisans. Either way, enjoy the rest of the day your way. It is your last day in Puerto Rico, after all!

You will end your journey back in San Juan. If you drove a rental car to Fajardo, you’ll want to return to Fajardo by bus or by plane and then drive back to San Juan Airport. If you took a taxi to Fajardo, you can save time by flying from Vieques to San Juan.

So ends your week in Puerto Rico. Perhaps you will be going home, perhaps it is on to another adventure!

Hopefully, you feel revitalized from your time on this magnificent island. You will certainly have eaten extremely well if you followed our tips!

Beautiful Gozalandia Waterfall in San Sebastian Puerto Rico at daylight

From natural waterslides and sailing on the Caribbean sea to kayaking amongst bioluminescence, the adventures you will experience on this Puerto Rico itinerary will surely live in your memory forever.

Puerto Rico is a place that deserves a lot of love, and the people will welcome you so well, you may never want to leave!

It is also a place that has seen a lot of hardships, especially since Hurricane Maria and the subsequent federal failure to address the damages the hurricane caused. As a result, infrastructure is lacking in many parts of Puerto Rico.

The poverty and inequality that pre-dated Hurricane Maria was exacerbated by the impacts of the storm, as well as tourism dollars shrinking during the Covid-19 pandemic. Once the pandemic is over, your visit here will impact the economy of Puerto Rico positively (as if you needed more reasons to come to this awesome place!).

Come to Puerto Rico. Show them some love, and see why they say Puerto Rico se levanta. Puerto Rico will rise again.


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Your Puerto Rico Packing List: What to Wear in Puerto Rico

With year-round warm weather, beautiful beaches with buttery soft sand, and vibrant city culture, Puerto Rico is the has-it-all destination within a short flight from the U.S. mainland.

Despite not needing a passport to visit, Puerto Rico offers a unique culture all of its own. Puerto Rican culture is influenced heavily by its Taíno roots (the Indigenous people of the Caribbean who pre-dated Columbus’ invasion), as well as African, Spanish, and American cultures: a result of its complex history of colonization, slavery, and its present-day status as a colony by a different name.

This post will focus on what to pack for Puerto Rico and so I don’t want to get too much into such a complex topic here. I wrote a quick summary of Puerto Rican history and things to know before you go on this Puerto Rico travel guide that may be helpful to read before arriving in PR.

Packing lists can be quite personal, and I don’t claim that this is the only or most comprehensive Puerto Rico packing list out there. This is what I’ve personally brought on my two trips to Puerto Rico as a minimalist traveler who still likes to look cute when I travel and bring a few of my favorite products.

I’ve broken this list down into the 10 most essential items to make sure aren’t missing from your Puerto Rico packing list, then I’ve followed it up by what to wear in Puerto Rico for women and men. Finally, there are a few little extras that you should consider when packing for trip to Puerto Rico, located at the end of the post.

10 Essential Things to Pack for Puerto Rico

Reef-safe sunscreen: If there is one thing I hope you take away from this Puerto Rico packing list, I hope it’s this! The future health of the reefs around Puerto Rico depends on the actions you take today. Your choice on what sunscreen to wear has a huge impact on keeping Puerto Rico’s reef system healthy for future generations. When it comes to a reef-safe option, I love SunBum SPF 50 with Vitamin E — it’s moisturizing and soothing for you, and it won’t hurt the animals who call the reefs around Puerto Rico home.

Chemical-free insect repellent: Just like reef-safe sunscreen, it’s critical that the bug spray you use won’t harm the sensitive ecosystems of Puerto Rico, especially when you get in the water! A simple lemon eucalyptus spray like this will keep most mosquitos away without the harsh chemicals which can mess up delicate ecosystems. Spraying your clothes with

An awesome travel towel: An actually-good travel towel changes the game. Let’s be clear: I’m not talking about a sad little microfiber square that might as well be a washcloth. I’m talking a true microfiber beach towel that serves you just as well on a beach day as it does after a long shower. I’m obsessed with this classic red and white striped travel towel from Dock & Bay, which easily knocks off sand in a single shake-out and is made of 100% recycled materials.

Bathing suits you love. When packing for a trip to Puerto Rico, you’ve got to have swimwear you really love — and that loves you back. I love wearing a two-piece, but I often get bloated while I travel and I hate feeling awkward in my swimwear after a day indulging in too much mofongo and lechon. Solution? High-waisted swimsuits! I love this one, and this one is a great plus-size option with a high waist and a classic shape. I would bring 3 swimsuits for one week in Puerto Rico so I never have to suffer the indignity of putting on a wet bathing suit, because no one — and I mean no one — has time for that.

Allison wearing a swimsuit in Puerto Rico
Enjoying Puerto Rico in a cute high-waisted swimsuit!

Comfortable and secure daypack: My everyday backpack is this awesome PacSafe CitySafe backpack – it has a lot of awesome security features that make it insanely useful for city travel. While Puerto Rico is quite safe, pickpocketing can be an issue in cities. Personally, I love the locking zippers and slash-proof construction for peace of mind. Even when I don’t need the security features, I just love this bag because it’s great at fitting all the things I need for my day (mine can fit a camera and several lenses, a drone, my reusable water bottle, some snacks, and a few other odds and ends), and it’s actually — dare I say — cute?

Portable charger: You’ll use your phone battery more than you thought in Puerto Rico – whether it’s using it to take photos or videos, or to navigate as you drive around the country. Bring a portable charger to save yourself many headaches! Anker is a reliable brand and what I personally use as a blogger with approximately 102 different gadgets I use – make sure you get one that can hold several charges at once so you don’t have to charge it every single night.

Motion sickness tablets: Many activities in Puerto Rico have you out on the water, which can be tough for people like me who are prone to seasickness and motion sickness! I always pack non-drowsy motion sickness tablets and keep them on hand for days on the water and on long car drives.

Medications from home: Anything you need at home, you’ll likely need on the road. Don’t risk not being able to get the medications you need abroad. Just bring them, and double check that you have them before leaving.

Travel insurance. While this isn’t something you would literally pack for Puerto Rico, travel insurance is really important and should be part of the packing and planning process! Travel insurance covers flight delays and cancellations, as well as personal travel safety against incidents, theft, and illness. I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for years and recommend them highly for travel in Puerto Rico (and anywhere, frankly — I’ve trusted them with my safety for 5+ years across 60+ countries!). The contract is very clear as to what it covers, the prices are affordable, and the deductible is low if you find yourself needing to make a claim. Trust me, you’ll wish your health insurance was this good. *cries in Kaiser Permanente*

What to Wear in Puerto Rico (For Women)

El morro old san juan
A Saturday stroll at the El Morro grounds in Old San Juan

3-5 lightweight summer dresses: Dresses are great for the hot and often sticky Puerto Rican humid weather. Since they’re lightweight, they pack up nice and small, so feel free to throw a few extras in your bag so you have more options. Since you’ll likely end up wearing one or two as a beach cover-up, having some extras is nice. I like this classic striped dress, but pick whatever you are most comfortable in!

Bike shorts (optional): If you’re a thick-thighed woman like myself, you won’t want to wear dresses without these! Chub rub can ruin your day, so come armed and equipped. I like these Undersummers bike shorts for wearing underneath longer dresses — they come in inclusive sizing up to 5XL and are comfy with no inner thigh seams, which should be a “duh” for designers but often isn’t.

Bandelettes (optional): When I want to wear something cute and short like a minidress, I love these Bandelettes. The plus of the Bandelettes is that unlike short-short bike shorts, they won’t ride up and bunch, so they end up being a lot more comfortable. Plus they allow you to breathe, if ya know what I mean.

5+ tees & tanks: You will sweat a lot in Puerto Rico, so opt for black, navy, and other dark colors. Yes, they attract heat, but they also avoid the telltale yellow pit stains that seem to be my constant vibe whenever I attempt to wear white. If you wear white, make it loose and drapey. I love this simple blank tank.

1 pair jeans: While during the day I felt too hot in jeans, I did occasionally wear my pair of jeans at night and was happy to have one pair in my bag. I like a light-wash, high-waisted pair like these cute and classic Levi’s.

2-3 pairs shorts: I suggest one pair of denim shorts (cuffed or cutoff) and one or two pairs of linen or cotton shorts. Avoid polyester as it doesn’t breathe and you will hate yourself. I suggest these affordable 100% linen shorts! Note that linen wrinkles easily, but if you hang it up in your bathroom while you shower, a lot of the wrinkles will easily shake out and smooth out.

2-3 skirts: I suggest bringing one black skirt and one printed skirt for flexibility. I especially love having midi or maxi length skirts, which feel great and coincidentally look nice in photos. As a bonus, the extra fabric around your legs traps some cool air, making you feel less hot, plus it gives you some extra coverage. I adore this polka dot midi skirt, which looks amazing with some tan sandals, and this twirl-worthy pleated midi comes in a gorgeous selection of colors!

1 pair sneakers: On days when you’re walking around San Juan and all its cobblestones, it’s nice to have a pair of sneakers that can handle the abuse that cobblestones dish out. I always add my pair of black Nikes to every packing list, as I find they look cute even worn with my dresses, and I’m all about having options!

2 pairs sandals: I suggest bringing one pair of rubber flip flops like these Havaianas and another pair of more stylish or dressy sandals. I’m obsessed with my Birkenstock Gizeh sandals and will never go back. If you buy new Birks, though, be sure to break them in for 2-3 days before you travel, as they mold to form to the exact shape of your foot! They’ll be slightly uncomfortable at first, but trust me, they quickly will become the sandals you never want to take off.

Sandals so nice, I’ve bought them twice!

1 pair heels (optional): I don’t like to dance but I know many travelers plan for a night out in San Juan dancing the night away. If you enjoy dancing in heels, then I’d bring a comfortable pair with you. If you don’t plan to go dancing, then leave these at home – I did, gladly!

1 rain jacket: Even if you don’t plan on traveling in the rainy season (which runs April through December), sometimes the weather has other plans. I love my Marmot rain jacket as it’s lightweight, practically impermeable (tried and tested in rainy NYC biking conditions), and has underarm zips which you can open to vent on hot, humid rainstorm days.

1 lightweight cardigan: Just in case you get cold at night, are battling some extra persistent mosquitos, or want a little extra coverage, a cardigan is good to have. You likely won’t need it in Puerto Rico, but it’s good for the plane. I’d opt for a slightly longish, light-colored open front cardigan.

1-2 bras: I personally brought 1 regular bra and 1 sports bra and switched between the two.

7+ pairs of underwear: You can arrange laundry on the road, but I recommend avoiding it if you only have a week in Puerto Rico or less. If you want to avoid laundry, just bring enough underwear for the duration of your trip.

Socks: As needed for wearing with sneakers.

1 sunhat: Not just for the ‘gram, you’ll want a sunhat as it’ll give your face extra SPF and keep the rays off your face.

Sunglasses: Bring an inexpensive pair or two, or prescription from home if you’re blind as a bat like I am.

What to Wear in Puerto Rico (For Men)

Full disclosure: I’m not a man, nor do I have strong opinions or experience with men’s clothes, so these are guidelines more than actual product recommendations.

This guide is really aimed more at addressing what to wear in Puerto Rico for women since that’s my personal experience, but I’ll throw in some suggestions without much commentary in case it is helpful.

  • 5 short sleeve Ts
  • 2-3 pair jeans or pants
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 1 pair of underwear for each day of your trip
  • flip flops or comfortable walking sandals
  • sneakers
  • 1 pair nicer dress shoes if you have a nice dinner/night out
  • 1 nicer button-up shirt for nights out
  • waterproof rain jacket
  • swim trunks
  • 1 lightweight sweater
  • 3-5 pairs of socks
  • sunglasses

Other Things That Need to Be on Your Puerto Rico Packing List

Basic toiletries: This is highly personal, but for me, I need to bring the following: shampoo, conditioner, facial moisturizer, facial sunscreen, and all my little serums. Shoutout to my permanent sidekick, the Valo Vitamin C serum from Lumene, a cruelty-free Finnish brand, which is currently working overtime undoing all the sun damage I unleashed on my poor twenty-something skin before I realized the importance of preventing sun damage and am now seeing in my thirties.

Deodorant: This deserves a separate category, always and forever. I readily admit I am often sweatier than I have any right to be, but I’m obsessed with Secret clinical strength deodorant. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to go with a more natural formation, but I’ve often ended up sweat-drenched and rank within hours. This is the only thing that holds up to hot weather travel for me.

Hand sanitizer: The thing we’ll never travel without again! I like these small Purell bottles for travel.

Menstrual cup or your favorite tampon/pad brand (if applicable). I switched to a menstrual cup for travel 5 years ago and haven’t looked back! I started with DivaCup, and now I like the FlexCup for its tampon-like pull tab which makes it easier and cleaner to remove. While it may seem awkward at first to the uninitiated, I don’t have to change my cup for at least 8 hours even on heavy days when a tampon will last less than 2 hours. I’ve never leaked once in 5 years — can you say that for tampons? That said, you do you, and if you will feel more comfortable in tampons or pads, bring ’em.

Razor (if applicable): Bring a high-quality razor for a close shave that won’t irritate your skin — disposables are wasteful and cause irritation.

Ebook reader: I love having a Kindle Paperwhite for travel (the new ones are waterproof!) but if you don’t think you’ll be doing much reading on your Puerto Rico trip or your flight over, then you can give this a pass.

Travel camera or smartphone: I use a Sony A6000 because it’s lightweight for a professional caliber camera, relatively inexpensive in the wild world of professional-grade cameras, and a nice step up from a smartphone. I like having a zoom lens and a prime lens to maximize what I can capture, but if you have to pick just one, I’d pick a zoom lens. The kit lens on the A6000 isn’t bad, but the 16mm-70mm f4 Zeiss zoom lens uplevels it massively. However, smartphones are getting better every day, and the new iPhones with their telephoto and wide lens capabilities are pretty amazing, so you might not need a camera if you have a good smartphone!

Well, that just about covers what to pack for Puerto Rico. I hope you found this list and my tips for what to wear in Puerto Rico for women helpful for planning your trip. Did I forget anything that’s on your Puerto Rico packing list? Let me know in the comments!

San Juan Itinerary: How to Spend 3 Days in San Juan, PR

Old San Juan views

The United States is a young country – and as a result, its architecture skews towards the modern and functional rather than the historic and elegant.

The U.S.’s best architectural eye candy actually lies about 1,000 miles offshore of Florida: Old San Juan, Puerto Rico at the edge of the Caribbean Sea.

With its odd legal status somewhere between colonial territory and full U.S. statehood, Puerto Rico is easy for Americans to travel to. 

As a result, visiting Puerto Rico requires neither a passport nor lengthy border crossings at airports. 

That, plus Puerto Rico’s immense beauty, has lead it to be an increasingly popular destination, particularly in 2021 as we navigate the new normal of travel.

San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico and it offers the best of the island in a nutshell. This vibrant city combines history and modernity, urban life and beach culture, old and new seamlessly.

If you only have 3 days in Puerto Rico, it may be tempting to blitz as much of the island as possible, trying to see San Juan as well as the beauty of Ponce, Culebra and Flamenco Beach, and Vieques. 

But I’m here to tell you to take your time. Puerto Rico moves at its own pace, and running yourself ragged to hit all the “top spots” will actually have you missing out. 

San Juan in and of itself has tons to offer. By basing yourself in San Juan and doing a day trip to visit El Yunque and the Bio Bay, you’ll get a rich picture of Puerto Rico while also having time to relax.

You’ll also be energized to come back and plan a longer Puerto Rico itinerary where you can spend more time enjoying Puerto Rico’s islands (yes, this island has islands!) and lush tropical interior.

With beautiful colonial architecture painted in vibrant colors, some of the most Instagrammable places in Puerto Rico, and gorgeous beaches within the city limits…. what are you waiting for?

Where to Stay in San Juan

the beautiful downtown of old san juan

Here is a selection of some of the best-rated places to stay in San Juan. I suggest staying in a hotel, not an Airbnb. 

Airbnbs have recently been required to pay taxes like hotels, and many Airbnbs in San Juan operate illegally to avoid taxes. To avoid issues with an illegal Airbnb, I suggest staying in a hotel.

BOUTIQUE | I love the Small Luxury Hotels of the World brand and I’ve stayed at many a property of theirs over the years! They have a gorgeous offering called O:Live Boutique Hotel located in vibey Condado that I’m looking forward to staying at on my next trip to the island!

Gorgeously designed rooms with Mediterranean-inspired details, rain showers with hydromassage jets, a roof terrace with an infinity pool with views of the Condado Lagoon? Swoon. Sold.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

LUXURY | Nothing says luxury quite like the Ritz-Carlton brand! At Dorado Beach Ritz-Carlton, we’re talking on-site golf course, multiple swimming pools, 4 on-site restaurants, and spa and fitness centers. Plus, some rooms even have their own private plunge pools for the ultimate luxury vacation! 

It’s not cheap, that’s for sure, but it’s by far the best choice if you’re looking for a blowout accommodation choice for a special occasion (or just a really baller vacation).
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

BUDGET | Looking for a hostel option? Nomada Urban Beach Hostel is a fantastic choice for travelers on a budget, located near Isla Verde Beach. Options include dorm-style rooms and private rooms. 

The dorms are modern with amenities like curtains and hangers allotted for each bunk bed: little touches that frequent hostel-goers are sure to heave a sigh of relief over. There’s also a roof terrace for travelers to relax on and chitchat.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

Travel Tips for Getting Around San Juan

the colorful buildings of old town san juan

I’ve structured this San Juan itinerary so that you don’t need to handle renting a car while in Puerto Rico. Renting a car gives you freedom, but it can be stressful, and 3 days isn’t enough for a full-on Puerto Rico road trip.

Parking conditions are tough especially in the Old Town, and Puerto Rican driving is something you definitely have to adjust to!

This itinerary can be done with a combination of guided tours + taxis, and this is how I specifically planned this San Juan, Puerto Rico itinerary.

However, if you want to rent a car, feel free to — it will definitely give you more freedom to craft the ideal 3 days in San Juan without having to consider tour timings and transit.

If you choose to rent a car in Puerto Rico, there are ways to get a good deal on your rental. I’ve rented cars dozens of times through various search engines and have settled on Discover Cars as the best car rental search engine – it searches over 500 trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for car rental from San Juan Airport here.

San Juan Travel Guide: 5 Frequently Asked Questions

the colorful buildings of old san juan in a rainbow of colors

Is English widely spoken in San Juan? Yes! While the main language is Spanish, most people in San Juan are bilingual and you should have no problems getting around with English.

Is 3 days enough in Puerto Rico? While ideally, you’d have a full week getaway to explore Puerto Rico to its fullest — white sand beaches, islands, snorkeling, rainforests, and more — 3 days in San Juan is a great introduction to the island! 

What do I have time for with only 3 days? I suggest sticking to the PR “mainland” if you only have a 3 day weekend in Puerto Rico. The ferry ride to Vieques and Culebra takes quite a bit of time, and flying is a bit of a hassle as well. 

Is an adaptor needed for Puerto Rico? Nope! PR uses the same plugs as everywhere else in North America. In Puerto Rico, electronics use a voltage of 120V, so if your device needs a different voltage, you may need a voltage converter.

Is San Juan, PR safe? Absolutely! I’ve traveled to San Juan three times: once solo, once with friends, and once as part of a couple, and I’ve had fun and felt safe every time! There are some parts of San Juan that have specific safety tips to be aware of, which I’ve mentioned below, but overall, keep aware of your surroundings as you would in any other city and you’ll be fine.

What to Pack for a San Juan Getaway

Allison wearing a swimsuit in Puerto Rico
Enjoying Puerto Rico in a cute high-waisted swimsuit!

Reef-safe sunscreen. The future of marine life in Puerto Rico depends on the actions visitors take now! Do your part to keep Puerto Rico’s reefs healthy for the future. 

I use and love SunBum SPF 50 with Vitamin E. It’s moisturizing and protective for you, and it’s harmless for the animals and marine organisms who call San Juan Bay their home!

Chemical-free insect repellent: Like reef-safe sunscreen, it’s important that the bug spray you use won’t harm the sensitive ecosystems of Puerto Rico. This is true for swimming as well as visiting the rainforest in El Yunque, particularly if swimming in the natural waterslides, waterfalls, and pools! 

A simple lemon eucalyptus spray like this will keep most mosquitos away without the harsh chemicals which can mess up delicate ecosystems.

An awesome travel towel. I’m obsessed with this classic red and white striped travel towel from Dock & Bay

It easily knocks off sand from the beach in a single shake-out and is made of 100% recycled materials. Order it on Amazon here.

Bathing suits you love. On an island getaway, you’ve got to have swimwear you adore! I love wearing high-waisted swimsuits to cover up any travel bloat (mofongo, amirite?)

I love this one, and this one is a great plus-size option with a high waist and a classic shape. I’d bring two suits so I have another one to change into.

Comfortable travel sandals. Birkenstocks are my travel must! I adore the Birkenstock Gizeh leather thong style personally, but the classic two-buckle Arizona slides are really cute as well. These are the exact shoes I have and love!

One tip, though: Break them in for 2-3 days before you travel, as they form to the exact shape of your foot! They’ll be slightly uncomfortable at first, but nothing major (I just bought a second pair and they fit like a glove after a day of use), but they’re not shoes I’d want to walk around the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan in on their first day!

San Juan Itinerary, Day One: Old San Juan

Visit the Castillo San Cristóbal.

San Cristobal, old san juan

One of two beautiful forts in downtown San Juan, Castillo San Cristóbal is a great place to start your walking tour of San Juan and the old city center.

It’s massive, covering 27 acres at one point, which made it the largest fort ever built by the Spanish in the Caribbean.

It’s absolutely worth a visit. I suggest buying a $10 combined ticket which will allow you entry into both Castillo San Cristóbal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro.

There’s a ton of historical insight here at San Cristobal — you can see where the first shots were fired during the Spanish-American war, look through holes in the wall where cannons used to be placed, and check out the sentry boxes which used to house Spanish soldiers (including, supposedly, a haunted one — la Garita del Diablo). 

Not into history? The views alone are swoon-worthy, stretching all the way to the gorgeous beaches of Condado.

Take an oceanside stroll down Calle Norzagaray.

basketball in Old San Juan

The best way to start your San Juan itinerary is by taking a self-guided walking tour of all the amazing sights in downtown San Juan.

Calle Norzagaray connects several important San Juan landmarks such as Castillo de San Cristóbal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro, flanked on one side by the beautiful Caribbean Sea and another by beautiful colorful facades.

You’ll love walking the historic streets of Old San Juan with their cobblestone pathways and candy-colored buildings!

Note: Down below Calle Norzagaray is the neighborhood of La Perla, a colorful shantytown outside the city walls made famous by its appearance in the Despacito music video. 

I personally haven’t visited, and the neighborhood has a strict “no photo, no video” policy. Murders of tourists — while rare — have occurred

I’ve always felt safe when traveling in San Juan, but as a solo female traveler, I opted to stay away from La Perla. This is not to fearmonger — many people have visited safely and enjoyed it. 

Use your judgment, but I left it off this San Juan itinerary since I have no personal experience and don’t feel comfortable recommending it without having been there myself.

See the most beautiful cemetery in the world.

Old San Juan views

As you near Castillo San Felipe del Morro, you’ll see a gorgeous green grassy area, often filled with people picnicking or flying kites and enjoying the gorgeous Puerto Rican weather and salty breeze.

Down below the park, there’s a staircase that takes you to an oceanfront cemetery just outside the city walls. 

cemetary old san juan

It’s one of the most beautiful places in Old San Juan and it shouldn’t be missed on any San Juan itinerary! 

While in the heart of San Juan between two very well-known landmarks, the cemetery is a little bit hidden and so there usually aren’t a ton of tourists here.

It’s a nice peaceful little sojourn off the beaten path of downtown San Juan!

Wander around Castillo San Felipe del Morro.

El Morro Old San Juan

The better-known of the two fortifications in Old San Juan is Castillo San Felipe del Morro, often called “El Morro” for short because whew that’s a mouthful.

Using your entry ticket which you bought at San Cristóbal, you can also gain access to this beautiful and historic site, which protected Puerto Rico from water invasions. 

The fort was positioned strategically on a high cliff (hence the name ‘el Morro’, which means ‘promontory’ or headland) with a sweeping view of the San Juan Bay, so they could easily spot any intruders and immediately spring into defense.

This is also another place for gorgeous views as well as tons of interesting history.

Take a photo on Calle San Jose.

street art in Old San Juan

Home to some of the most beautiful and recognizable street art in Puerto Rico, Calle San Jose is a colorful street in the Old Town that shouldn’t be missed!

To take some photos of this gorgeous piece of street art, type in “Puerto Rican Flag Door Historical Location” into Google Maps or look just outside of the Base Hostel Old San Juan: it’s right there!

Fill up on a fun food tour.

tasting platter in puerto rico

One of the best ways to get to know a destination is through a food tour!

While there are a few food tours that cover Old San Juan, keep in mind that the historic center is but one small part of San Juan — and a touristic one at that.

To eat like the locals of San Juan, opt for a food tour that gets you outside the city walls — like this driving food tour of San Juan.

You’ll eat like a true boricua as you explore the San Juan metro area and enjoy 3 sitdown meals and 2 drinks, including beach snacks at beautiful Piñones.

Book this San Juan metro food tour!

Relax on the beach.

the beach at playa escambron

After eating your way through the city, it’s time to kick up your feet and relax at one of San Juan’s best beaches.

Now would be a great time to visit Playa Escambrón, a great snorkeling spot as it’s home to the Escambrón Marine Park, which also has several beautiful sunken statues and structures throughout which make it a beautiful blend of art and nature. 

Picture the columns of Atlantis, statues, and a sunken fish protection wall! This is a great spot to bring your own snorkel or even try scuba diving for the first time! It has easy beach access and shallow waters.

Another option, if you have a car, would be to drive to Luquillo and visit the beautiful white sands of Luquillo Beach! There are lots of kiosks selling tasty fritters and other fried Puerto Rican goodies, but it’s a bit hard to get there unless you drive yourself.

Get your night going with a rum craft cocktail tour.

hand serving a mai tai style cocktail made with rum filled with crushed ice and garnishes.

For the best way to cap off your first night in San Juan, I suggest you take a tasty craft rum cocktail tour.

You’ll learn firsthand why Puerto Rico is widely considered to be the rum capital of the world — and how rum is more than just Bacardi! Rum distilleries in Puerto Rico are a huge industry, and there are many more tasty rums to try.

On this fun cocktail and walking tour, you will have the chance to taste many delicious rum-forward cocktails, while also exploring the fun-loving nightlife of Old San Juan with a guide. 

This is a great way to get to know a variety of bars in the city (and figure out which ones you want to come back to spend more time at!) while also learning about the drinking culture of Puerto Rico and the history of rum production.

Get to know the city and its history while getting your buzz on!

Book your rum cocktail tour here!

San Juan Itinerary, Day 2: Rainforest & Bio Bay

Take a day trip to El Yunque Rainforest and the Bioluminescent Bay.

the beautiful green landscapes of the tropical rainforest of el yunque

One of the coolest parts of visiting San Juan is the chance to see a rainforest in the United States — the only tropical rainforest in the U.S., in fact! 

So if you’ve never experienced visiting a rainforest before, you’ll adore the opportunity to do so on this San Juan 3 day itinerary. A visit to El Yunque National Forest is only a short drive or easy guided tour away.

I personally drove out to El Yunque on my last visit to Puerto Rico, and it was absolutely worth the time but I will say driving in Puerto Rico is a little different than the U.S. mainland… a little more hectic than driving in California, let’s say. 

Drivers are a little more aggressive than I’m used to, and there are some quirks about driving in Puerto Rico that can surprise you.

For example, the right lane is typically for faster cars whereas the left lane is typically the fast one in the States, which means that merging onto the highway can be a heart-pounding experience if you’re an anxious driver like I am!

If you want to skip the er, cultural immersion that is driving in Puerto Rico in a rental car and have a more relaxing experience, I recommend going by guided full day trip. 

beautiful waterfall in el yunque

This highly-reviewed day tour makes it all easy. They will arrange pick up at your hotel and then they will take you to El Yunque first.

There, you can hike through the beautiful rainforest with unique tropical flora and fauna, arriving at natural pools and waterfalls (including a natural waterslide!) via the beautiful hiking trails in the national park. 

By night, the tour will bring you to a delicious dinner before heading to the Bioluminescent Lagoon in Fajardo Bay, where you’ll get to kayak in the picturesque blue waters which sparkle as the paddles dip into the water, gently disturbing the dinoflagellates microorganisms which then light up in response — true magic.

Book your rainforest + bioluminescent bay tour here!

the electric blue views of the bioluminescent plankton in fajardo

San Juan Itinerary, Day 3: Beach Day

Start the day with a mallorca.

mallorca y cafe

One of the best ways to start the last way of your San Juan itinerary is with a tasty breakfast with a view!

Grab a ham and cheese mallorca (con un cafe con leche, obviamente) for breakfast. There are so many places you can grab one, but I suggest eating at one of the kiosks the Plaza de Armas, which is a colorful square with lots of historic and beautiful buildings.

So, what is a mallorca? Mallorca refers to the sweet Puerto Rican bread dusted with powdered sugar, but it can also be split open and turned into a delicious sandwich that’s tasty at any time of day, but is delicious for breakfast.

 It’s salty, it’s sweet, it’s delicious. It also runs the risk of covering you in a white cloud of powdered sugar, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Relax on the sand or jet ski through the San Jose Lagoon.

palm trees and blue waters of carolina beach in san juan puerto rico

From your accommodation in Old San Juan, head to Carolina Beach, about a 20-30 minute drive or Uber depending on traffic. 

From there, you can stake out a claim on the public beach at Balneario de Carolina or Balneario de Isla Verde, sipping on local craft brews from Ocean Lab Brewing Co (I recommend the blood orange blonde!) or cocktails swinging on a bar swing at Vaivén Beach Bar.

Alternately, or you can go on a 90-minute jet ski tour through the San Jose Lagoon with its beautiful turquoise blue, crystal clear waters, heading all the way to the beaches of beautiful Isla Verde.

A jet ski tour of the San Jose Lagoon is an adrenaline-pumping way to see a large stretch of the area around San Juan quickly, perfect if you only have a weekend in San Juan to make the most of.

If you’re not into jet skiing, kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding is another fantastic option.

Book your 90-minute jet ski tour online here!

Have a delicious lunch by the sea.

a fried red fish with flattened fried plantains
Fried red snapper with tostones — a Puerto Rican classic!

While in Piñones, make sure to eat a delicious lunch — preferably seafood, since you’re in the Caribbean, after all!

We recommend El Nuevo Acuario if you’re a fan of seafood — it’s famous for its tasty lobster empanadas, fresh fish, and tasty trifongo (which is a combination of plátano verde, plátano maduro, and yuca — aka green plantain, ripe plantain, and cassava).

Not a fan of fish? Hipic Cache has a nice variety of non-seafood options, such as their mofongo (mashed plantains) with skirt steak and BBQ chicken.

Spend the rest of the day enjoying the sun.

the beaches of condado in san juan

From here, you can spend the rest of the day on one of the beautiful beaches in San Juan proper, such as Condado, Playita del Condado, Ocean Beach, or Ocean Park.

I’ve been to all of them and each is amazing in its own way. You can’t go wrong!

Finish your San Juan itinerary with a sunset sail.

Silhouette of a sailing boat at sunset in the Caribbean in San Juan, Puerto Rico

For a beautiful and historic sail around San Juan, climb aboard the Amazing Grace, a sailing vessel dating back to the American Revolutionary War.

Sunset sailing tours depart daily at 5:30 PM between Pier 3 and 4 in the San Juan Bay.

While on a sunset tour of the San Juan Bay, enjoy beverages, cocktails, and appetizers as you cruise San Juan Bay viewing historic buildings like La Fortaleza, the Governor’s mansion… plus you can enjoy local music aboard the vessel.

The views are stunning on this small-group tour! Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring your ID.

Book your small group sailing tour online here!

Cheap Eats in San Juan, Puerto Rico: Best Meals Under $10

helado old san juan

With off-peak tickets to San Juan from the East Coast sometimes as cheap as $200 round trip, Puerto Rico is actually becoming a fantastic budget destination. (Another great budget Caribbean destination for East Coasters? Barbados!)

Hostels can be found for $15-25 per night, and you can eat some excellent hearty Puerto Rican food for under $10 per meal. Follow this guide to some of my favorite cheap eats in San Juan and enjoy. Just make sure you’re cool with being on island time – speedy service is not something Puerto Rico is known for.

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