When many think of a Puerto Rico vacation, they imagine Caribbean beaches, rum drinks with little umbrellas and perhaps the vibrant and famous streets of Old San Juan. Puerto Rico may look like a small island, at just over 3,500 square miles, but the nation is actually home to a diverse ecosystem that includes rainforest jungle, mountains and a plethora of satellite islands that play home to some of the natural wonders of the world.
Getting out and around Puerto Rico is as easy as hopping in a car, but knowing where to go can be a bit overwhelming. In this piece we dive into some of Puerto Rico’s regional centers, natural attractions and islands that can help extend your trip from a beach stay to a full-blown island adventure.
Exploring Puerto Rico’s Six Regions
Puerto Rico is divided into six regions: North, Metro, East, Central, South, and West. From there, the island is broken down further into about 78 municipalities.
The Metro Region has a lot packed into a small area. There are seven cities within Metro: Bayamón, Carolina, Cataño, Guaynabo, San Juan, Toa Baja, and Trujillo Alto. Bayamón is referred to as “El Pueblo del Chicharron,” the “fried pig skin city” specializing in deep frying different cuts of pork and sometimes chicken.
Bayamón is also a part of the metropolitan area of San Juan and is the second-most populous city in Puerto Rico. Suppose you are looking to tour a distillery on your trip. In that case, Cataño is the perfect place in the Metro area to visit because it is home to the prestigious Bacardi Rum Plant (considered to be the largest rum distillery in the world).
San Juan City
San Juan, the island’s capital, is situated in Metro, the smallest region of the island. It’s a city that is very popular with tourists for the broad range of activities, resorts, restaurants, and shopping to choose from.
Numero Uno Beach House is conveniently located in San Juan, with our sister location close by in the city of Loiza in the East region. Old San Juan is a richly historical area with an old military stronghold dating back 500 years and is worth exploring during your visit. While San Juan has a lot to do, it is still worth your while to see what else the island offers to see what will fit your interests the most.
In the east of Puerto Rico, 40 minutes away from San Juan, lies the incredible El Yunque nature reserve, also known as the Caribbean National Forest. The East Region has gorgeous beaches, amazing sunsets, delicious seafood and offers up plenty of secluded spots for those on a romantic getaway. Here are a few of our favorite spots in the East region.
Fajardo is considered one of the most beautiful spots on the island. It is home to around seven unique ecosystems and is a significant location for scientific research. Las Cabezas de San Juan in Fajardo is the most vital natural area on the island. It’s also the perfect spot to snorkel or scuba dive in the clear and still waters replete with coral reefs, mangroves, and lagoons.
Looking for some secluded stretches of beach to relax in the sun? Take the ferry from Fajardo to Vieques and Culebra. Two beautiful areas known for their secluded beaches, snorkeling spots, and stunning views. The island of Vieques is situated between Puerto Rico and St. Thomas. This historic old haven for pirates is the perfect place to enjoy pristine beaches with sand that ranges from white to black.
One of the must-see spots in this region is Mosquito Bay, where you can view more than just gorgeous sunsets. Located on the southern shore of Vieques, it is considered the brightest bioluminescent spot in the world. We recommend you plan your visit to the bay during a New Moon phase. There are plenty of guided tours available to get the most from your nighttime adventure.
Located a mere 20 minutes from San Juan, Loiza is a 20 minute day trip escape from San Juan into the Afro-Caribbean roots of the island. Loiza and nearby Piñones play host to a colorful street food scene.
It is also where you will find your very own oasis of calm: Numero Uno Pinoñes. Air conditioned rooms, a chic pool bar and on-site water sports activities like e-foiling, water tubing and surfing await.
The North is made up of nine cities: Arecibo, Barceloneta, Camuy, Dorado, Florida, Hatillo, Manati, Toa Alta, Vega Alta, and Vega Baja. This region has abundant history and boasts the world’s most extensive underground cave system. Of the nine cities, the three listed below are our pics for a day trip or extended visit.
Arecibo has lots of history to offer its visitors. Settled in 1556, Arecibo was an early Spanish-controlled area. One of the city’s most popular points of interest is “La Cueva del Indio,” a cave and archaeological site known for prehistoric cave drawings dating back to earlier generations of the native Taino people.
Arecibo is also home to the Arecibo Observatory and space telescope, made famous in films such as The Landing and Goldeneye.
Abundant pineapple plantations dot the land in the town of Barceloneta and is also referred to by many as the “pineapple city,” or “La Ciudad de las Pinas”. This town is also famous for gorgeous black sand beaches.
Just a little over an hour’s drive from San Juan, Camuy is a gorgeous destination that is an accessible day trip from San Juan or other Northeastern destinations.
A great spot for outdoor enthusiasts, Camuy is home to the third-largest underground river in the world, Rio Camuy Cave Park, offering visitors 268 acres of nature trails and large caverns. The limestone caves cover the span of three towns in this area, including Camuy. You will have to reserve your spot before going to the park these days, so don’t wait too long to plan your excursion to Camuy.
Central Puerto Rico
In the Central region, you can enjoy a cooler climate filled with dense tropical forests. The lush wilderness is dotted with caves and waterfalls, including popular hybrid cave-tubing tours offered on the Tanamá River.
This is where you will find the highest peak and elevation in Puerto Rico., and home to many of the island’s coffee plantations. You can stop to indulge the senses in both nature and freshly grown coffee at places like Hacienda Tres Ángeles.
The West Coast
If all you care about is coming to the island for the beaches, the Western region will be perfect for you! The West has 21 cities, a few of which are tiny islands of their own. Some of the island’s most popular beaches are found along the hundreds of miles of the Puerto Rican coastline. If you’re big into surfing, you are sure to find the perfect spot in Aguadilla. If you are looking for some of Puerto Rico’s best moonshine, look no further than Añasco for a taste.
Southern Puerto Rico
The South tends to be the hotter and drier region of the island. Ponce, which is historically significant for its Spanish colonial past, has been an area of intensive restoration and preservation in recent years. For history enthusiasts, the Southern region is worth visiting to see the impressive architecture and unique cultural sites.
Planning Your Puerto Rico Road Trip!
While this article only skimmed the surface of what you can do during your visit, hopefully, it has given you an idea of what areas you want to explore or stay in. Whether you are a food enthusiast, a history buff, just looking for a relaxing spot on the beach, or a watersports thrill-seeker, Puerto Rico has something for you. There’s plenty of culture and fun for everyone of all ages, with lots more to discover on this unique island.
To learn more about the different regions and what they offer, check out Discover Puerto Rico for more information. Also, don’t forget to book your stay at Numero Uno Beach House in San Juan or our sister location in Loiza, Numero Uno Pinoñes, as well as reserve your watersports activities while you’re at it. There’s never been a better time to make your island getaway a reality!