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The Ultimate Guide for First-Time Visitors in Puerto Rico

The Ultimate Guide for First-Time Visitors in Puerto Rico

It’s time to finally take that post-pandemic getaway you have been dreaming of! We’re here to share with you why you need to add Puerto Rico to your bucket travel list. The island is sure to offer you an experience rich with culture, music, dancing, food and natural wonders all year-round.

Here is your guide to the top activities for first-time visitors to beautiful Puerto Rico! 

PLACES TO STAY:

O:live Boutique Hotel (55 Calle Aguadilla, San Juan)

Inspired by the “Art de Vivre” (the art of living), O:live Boutique is a luxury hotel in Condado that aims to elevate love and welcome those couples that want to getaway. Every detail at this resort was influenced by the owner’s travels to Morocco, Spain, Italy, and France. The design provides a relaxed and unique experience for each of its guests. 

All suites have a private veranda terrace and a hand-carved stone outdoor shower for couples to enjoy on their romantic escapade. All wood furniture is made from 100-year-old restored wood, purchased from curators around the world. O:live Boutique’s rooftop is a gem that overlooks the lagoon. At the Sage Steak loft, guests can taste the dishes of world-renowned chef, Mario Pagán.

Parador Guánica 1929 ‘9 (Km 2.5 Los Veteranos Avenue, PR-3116, Guánica)

As the name implies, Parador Guánica 1929 was constructed in the 1920s in the town of Ensenada, located in the municipality of Guánica on the south side of the island. The town isn’t much older than the hotel (1909) and was established by the South Porto Rico Sugar Company to house workers for the nearby sugar cane plantations and processing plants.

The hotel was originally named the American Hotel and featured architecture inspired by Spanish haciendas. Typical guests of the American Hotel were the executives, investors and politicians with stakes in what became the most powerful sugar company in the Caribbean. The current owners maintained the original 1920s architecture while making upgrades to the facilities and adding modern amenities.

Meliá Century Hotel (75 Calle Cristina, Ponce)

On Plaza Las Delicias in the historic center of Ponce, the Meliá Century Hotel has stood the test of time, expanding and adapting with each passing decade. Built in 1895 by Don Bartolo Meliá, a Spanish merchant, the hotel began with nine rooms. In 1915, the Hotel Meliá expanded its capacity to 21 rooms, which were designed in the neoclassical and modern styles by architect Alfredo Wiechers.

In 1940, the hotel added another 26 rooms developed by well-known local architect Francisco Porrata Doria, who added a balconied facade and pillars. A third expansion occurred in 1960, adding another 26 rooms. The hotel underwent its most recent renovation in 2014 when it came under new ownership. Meliá Century Hotel is the only hotel in Puerto Rico that has maintained uninterrupted operations for more than 120 years.

PLACES TO EXPLORE:

El Yunque Rainforest

Spend a day (or half-day, if you prefer) in the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Forest System. Located in Río Grande, about 45 minutes from San Juan, you’ll find hiking trails, scenic views, waterfalls, and petroglyphs made by Taínos (the island’s indigenous people) carved in stone.

Depending on the tour, you’ll learn about the history and biology of the area, including the more than 240 species of plants, such as tree orchids, giant ferns and wildflowers, and animals that thrive in the habitat, especially the native coquí frog. Tours usually include several stops at picture-perfect spots as well as a chance to try authentic Puerto Rican cuisine.

Cueva Ventana and Cueva del Indio

Enjoy a day full of close encounters with wildlife while exploring two of Puerto Rico’s most important caves: Cueva Ventana and Cueva del Indio. Located in the northside town of Arecibo, 45 minutes from San Juan, this day trip takes you into the caves and shows you their diverse ecosystems and the formation of the stalagmites and stalactites found in the caves.

Situated on top of a limestone cliff, Cueva Ventana offers a beautiful window to breathtaking views overlooking the Río Grande de Arecibo valley, while Cueva del Indio offers an ocean-front location and ancient Taíno wall carvings.

Some tours also offer add-on options for hiking and other nearby activities, depending on the length of trip you want to take. The round-trip hotel transportation, admission fees, light refreshments, and necessary equipment are included.

Puerto Rico’s second-oldest town

While there is evidence of its existence as early as the sixteenth century, San Germán was officially established in 1573, making it the second-oldest city in Puerto Rico (behind San Juan). In fact, at one point the entire Island was divided into two parts: San Juan and San Germán. Today the area preserves its nostalgic appeal, with cobblestone streets, neoclassical architecture, and two meticulously maintained plazas. The entire Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The municipality of San Germán is located in the southwest of the Island, with Mayagüez and Maricao to the north, Hormigueros and Cabo Rojo to the west, Lajas to the south, and Sabana Grande to the east. Rafael Hernandez International Airport (BQN) in Aguadilla is an hour north, and driving to San Juan takes about two hours.

ARTS & CULTURE

Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico

Delve in Puerto Rico’s rich history with the curated online exhibitions of the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. The entire portal offers a vision of the island’s fascinating history and evolution. From paintings to photography and sculptures, the artifacts presented in their virtual catalogue pay homage to the people of Puerto Rico, their struggles, and their resilience.

From the 19th-century masterpieces like “Mother and Daughter” by Atiles y Pérez to the most recent works like “Fuera de Registro” by contemporary artist Ivelisse Jiménez, be sure to navigate some of the most iconic moments in Puerto Rico’s art scene.

Museo de Arte de Ponce

Have you ever heard of the famous Flaming June? You have access to it, as well as resources to learn about Frederic Leighton (its creator) and examine the strokes of oil in the painting as you venture into an online exhibit from the Ponce Museum of Art.

The art museum in Ponce is a treasure trove of European art in America and offers a collection that stretches from the middle ages to the dawn of the 20th century.

Los Muros Hablan

You can also take a tour of giant murals around the neighbourhood of Santurce by exploring Los Muros Hablan (The Walls Speak), one of the largest street art projects in the Caribbean. Their online exhibition is a tour of the San Juan district where renowned Santurce es Ley was born. The mecca of street art in Puerto Rico is showcased through the works of local and international artists whose goal was to revitalize abandoned buildings throughout the city.

See Also

Walk around the borough and get to know the story behind the impressive pieces of art that adorn the Puerto Rican streets.

EAT LIKE A LOCAL

 

Porta Caribe (South)

If you’re on the south of the Island, don’t miss the opportunity to try Lola Eclectic Cuisine, located in the Ponce Plaza Hotel and Casino. Their dishes bring together Puerto Rican, Spanish, and international influences in unique and very effective combinations. For more traditional fare, head to Salinas where you can dine at oceanfront Restaurante El Balcón del Capitán or Restaurante El Roble. Be sure to order at least one dish with the famous mojo isleño, a rich tomato-based sauce with slow-cooked onions, peppers, and olives that were invented in that town.

 

Porta del Este (East)

Along the east coast, there are currently three mesones gastronómicos. Daniel’s Seafood in Humacao is a casual oceanfront eatery that receives everything from snapper to giant lobsters from local fishermen. For a more upscale option, visit Pasión por el Fogón in Fajardo, where the dishes also skew more international in their preparation. Finally, there’s StarFish Restaurant in the Fajardo Inn, where the presentation of the food is just as impressive as the flavors.

Porta del Este (East)

Along the east coast, there are currently three mesones gastronómicos. Daniel’s Seafood in Humacao is a casual oceanfront eatery that receives everything from snapper to giant lobsters from local fishermen. For a more upscale option, visit Pasión por el Fogón in Fajardo, where the dishes also skew more international in their preparation. Finally, there’s StarFish Restaurant in the Fajardo Inn, where the presentation of the food is just as impressive as the flavors.

Central Mountain Range

Finally, one of the most famous mesones gastronómicos is Casa Bavaria, in the town of Morovis, a beer garden with a German and Puerto Rican food menu that specializes in sausages, from the local longaniza to bratwurst, which you can pair with a diverse selection of beers. At Parador Villas Sotomayor in Adjuntas you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a drink at Restaurante Las Garzas. For a more rustic but still elegant experience head to Tío Pepe Restaurant and Guest House in Aibonito.

 

No matter what your interests are, Puerto Rico has something for everyone! It’s certainly a vibrant place with so much to do and many amazing sites to see. There’s no better time to take that much needed vacation to the beautiful paradise of Puerto Rico than right now!

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