Puerto Rico is one of those destinations that just keeps on giving.

On your first vacation in Puerto Rico, you'll visit the more popular spots and well-known historical monuments. Then you'll be back. You'll go off the beaten track. Beyond the bioluminescent bays. Beyond the Puerto Rico beaches everyone raves about.

Visiting this Puerto Rico requires a little bit of research. Probably a rental car and a little insider knowledge from the residents. With more than 300 miles of coastline, the best places to go in Puerto Rico spill out from one end of the island to the other.

If you’re into exploring cities, San Juan has a vibrant museum and arts scene. Indeed, the capital can take you from the beach to the speakeasies in the blink of an eye. Here's where to go in Puerto Rico.

An attendee dances during the Saint James the Apostle festival celebrations in Loiza, Puerto Rico,
Loíza is the place to go for live music © Xavier Garcia/Bloomberg via Getty Images

1. Loíza

Best for live music

There are plenty of amazing places to visit in Loíza to watch live bomba music. Start in Piñones to cruise the kiosk strip and buy delectable fritters, like the famous empanadillas de jueyes (crab empanadas) and the plantain-and-ground-beef delicacy piononoEl Boricua is a favorite with locals. Arrive early as lines can snake around the establishment.

After that, head over to El Imán Bar to listen to live bomba music and watch the bailaores (flamenco dancer) execute increasingly difficult moves to satisfy the drummers and the crowd.

Local tip: Bomba gatherings are informal and sometimes impromptu. To get a sense of the times and days for activities available in the area, it’s best to check out Corporación Piñones Se Integra, a nonprofit community-based organization in Loíza tasked with preserving the town’s traditional history. 

2. Isla Verde

Best for craft beer

The ubiquity of Medalla advertisements in Puerto Rico makes you think it’s the only beer on the island. It may be the best local light lager – and at US$2 to $5, one of the cheapest – but in the last 15 years, the likes of Ocean Lab Brewing Co. in Isla Verde have made Puerto Rico a haven for Caribbean craft beer lovers.

Local breweries across the island use old European and new American techniques to create beers with flavors unique to the island, like passion fruit, quenépa (Spanish lime), and mango. At Ocean Lab Brewing Co., try the crisp Mayawest lager and the Mambo passion-fruit wheat beer

Local tip: Elsewhere, Boquerón Brewing Co, in the beach town of Cabo Rojo, has some excellent fruity experimental beers and ales. For a super-unique sip, take a trip South to Señorial Brewing Co in Ponce for their elusive quenépa fruit beer. 

This photograph is of the street scene on Calle Loiza in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico. A corner building is painted with the Puerto Rican flag. Cars and people can be seen along the street and sidewalk.
Santurce has some of the most colorful strolls in San Juan © Boogich / Getty Images

3. Santurce, San Juan

Best for street art and museums

Thanks to its central location – and its historical ties to music and culture – the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan has long been a meeting place for artists. Each year, top muralists and graffiti artists add to the district's creative reputation at the Santurce es Ley festival, a street party that invites artists from Puerto Rico and around the world to spruce up buildings with their art. 

To see the best work, head to the Tras Talleres and El Gandul areas of Santurce. There are similar projects in Yauco, like Yaucromatic, and art installations in Ponce that offer an excellent account of the creative scene on the island.

Similarly, this San Juan neighborhood is home to some of the most interesting museums on the island. Head to the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, an architectural wonder in the middle of the district, or try the more experimental Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, housed in the city's only brick building.

Local tip: There are tons of small museums around the island dedicated to preserving hyper-local history and events. Another favorite of ours is the Museo de Artes Populares de Caguas, which focuses on traditional Puerto Rican folk art and woodwork. 

Colorful house facades along a street in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, with a Puerto Rican flag hanging down from one of the balconies
Old San Juan hides some great rooftop bars © Getty Images/iStockphoto

4. Old San Juan

Best for rooftop bars

Most of Old San Juan is worthy of a photograph or four, but hidden on the city's rooftops are some of the trendiest bars and terraces – and many have premium views of the island's fabled sunsets.

Some of the best include La Catedral at the Decanter Hotel, the perfect spot to admire the architecture of the Catedrál de San Juan over afternoon cocktails, and Scryer Rum & Barrelhouse, a tasting house complete with rooftop lounge that offers rum-based cocktails and a look at the distilling process. If you’re up for a party, La Vergüenza, overlooking the La Perla neighborhood, is your spot for salsa and live music.

The downtown public square and church of Aricebo, Puerto  Rico
Historic Arecibo is often overlooked by travelers © TexPhoto / Getty Imags

5. Arecibo 

Best for history

Often overlooked by tourists, Arecibo is one of Puerto Rico’s oldest towns. Officially established in 1616, it has reinvented itself numerous times throughout history – from pirate cove to the site of important astronomical discoveries at the now-defunct Arecibo Observatory. While the town center has seen better days, young business owners are slowly turning its storied buildings into high-concept restaurants and bars.

During the weekend, head to La Buena Vida on Calle Gonzalo Marín for craft beers and creative, made-to-order pasta. Follow that with drinks at W Bar on Avenida de Diego, a hidden whiskey bar with a trendy tropical decor. If you’re still hungry, Ocean View Food Park offers fusion cuisines, including Mr Don’s famous ramen, and fried chicken at Tori House.  

A small cascade trickles down mossy rocks into a pool in El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico
El Yunque is remarkable for its life-giving rivers © Dennis van de Water / Shutterstock

6. El Yunque

Best for wild swimming

As the only rainforest in the US National Parks system, El Yunque has myriad species of plants and a series of life-giving rivers, many of which are swimmable.

Hiking trails in Puerto Rico can range from difficult to challenging, but if you want to do some wild swimming, take the Angelito Trail – a 20-minute walk down a muddy pathway that leads to the Río Mameyes.

Other wild swimming spots include the Las Paylas River, which has a fun natural slide that drops you into a tranquil fish-filled pool and Las Tinaja. Book a visit to either with a tour guide as access is via unstable terrain and some moderate climbing.

Local tip: Check the weather before heading to a river. If it’s raining, don’t go – flash floods claim many lives each year. A telltale sign of a flash flood is debris, such as mud and sticks, starting to appear in otherwise clear waters.   

A violet-and-pink sunset view from Cordillera Central mountain range in Puerto Rico.
Hike the Cordillera Central for some incredible views © Javier_Art_Photography / Getty Images

7. Cordillera Central

Best for hiking

Full of lush green landscapes, creeping fog and fresh air, the Cordillera Central mountain range offers some prize hiking. It also gets peppered by afternoon rains, so pack a rain jacket.

To explore the most panoramic walk, start in Cayey, right off the Luis A Ferré Expressway. When you reach Guavate, stop to eat at one of the many restaurants serving one of Puerto Rico's most iconic dishes: lechón (whole-hog roast). 

Continue up the mountain on Road #1 to take in the rolling hills and rocky mountain peaks. There are also plenty of chinchorros (food stalls) along the way to Aibonito, where you can stop for mojitos, tacos and artisanal drinks.

Local tip: Head out early in the morning to give yourself ample time to stop along the route. The town centers of Aibonito, Coamo and Orocovis are picturesque and offer great eats and local history. 

8. El Poblado de Boquerón

Best for partying 

A sleepy seaside town during the week, El Poblado (which means town square) in the Boquerón sector of Cabo Rojo turns into a massive street party at the weekend. Expect live music, karaoke and delicious street food. 

Fill yourself up at Pelican’s Boquerón restaurant, where you can find a variety of local dishes like fried fish and mofongo (fried plantain mash with garlic and olive oil). Then barhop your way through the square and dance the night away. Keep up your energy with a giant bacalaíto (codfish fritter) from the cart on the square. You won’t be sorry. 

This article was first published Sep 20, 2021 and updated Jan 14, 2024.

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