What vacation destination provides a fun, affordable getaway with beaches, nightlife, plenty of restaurants to delight foodies, off the beaten path spots, and has history to explore? If that wasn't enough, what about an island paradise that doesn't even require a passport if you're a U.S. citizen? Puerto Rico provides the best balance of everything you want in a vacation to destress, adventure and party up.
Here's a comprehensive 5 day Puerto Rico itinerary that takes you to the best of what they have to offer and places that most tourists never get to go to.
Here's what we're covering:
Why Puerto Rico is awesome
Puerto Rico is a unique island in the Caribbean Sea for a so many reasons. It's a tropical destination that is packed with natural wonders, historical Spanish influences, a dynamic culture, and delicious foods.
In the chain of islands which has the larger Dominican Republic and Haiti to the left and the tiny British Virgin Islands and US Virgin islands to the right, Puerto Rico is quite the sizeable island. In fact, it's 3 times the size of Rhode Island which is why you'll find that every side is so unique.
Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States located in the Caribbean and as a result, is quite the easy island to visit if you're American and carry a US passport. There are frequent flights from all corners of the US and is also easily accessible by Canadians.
With the only tropical rainforest in the US with El Yunque National Forest, beautiful beaches that line the coast, salt flats to the west, ocean tides to the north, and scuba paradises in its smaller islands (Culebra, Vieques, and Isla de Mona), there is so much adventure to be had.
Lastly, what sets Puerto Rico apart from many other Caribbean islands is that it doesn't bill itself as a resort island where all inclusives dominate. Instead, the encourage visitors to rent a car to explore the island. The local roads and highways are USA-calibre so expect it to be incredibly easy to find your way around.
5 Day Puerto Rico Itinerary
Now that you know a bit more about the island, let's jump right into what your Puerto Rico itinerary can potential look like!
This is a holiday plan that's designed for both first timers and those that really want to see the best of Puerto Rico's nature offerings in a short span of time. As you'll see, it very much focuses on the eastern side of the island.
Day 1 – Get Your Beach On
You're going to want to maximize your time out here so I'd recommend catching the earliest flight you can find to San Juan which is where the international airport is located in. Check into your hotel and once you're settled in, grab a rum drink, hit the beach, and kick back. There's no better way to start off your vacation.
If you really want to make the most of your 5 days in Puerto Rico, there's time to a sunset walking tour of San Juan's Old Town.
For dinner, check out Oceano for an amazing modern culinary experience. Your tastebuds will thank you.
Recommendations for where to stay
Contemporary hotel that's located in the heart of San Juan. Rooms feature wifi and property has stone bathtubs and a rooftop sundeck for you to use. An excellent affordable choice.
Day 2 – Old San Juan
After a hearty breakfast at your resort/hotel, it's time to head out and explore Old San Juan. I recommend that you start your trip at El Morro National Monument which is an impressive 16th century Spanish fort that costs less than $5 per person. The views from up here are awesome.
From here, make use of the free white tram and hop off and hop back on along the way to take advantage of the numerous quirky boutiques. It's in the old city where you'll want to freely roam around and admire all the old-world colorful buildings that surround you. Along the way, you'll end up grabbing a rum drink or a fresh fruit frappe at one of the many watering holes.
For lunch, consider a local favorite, Restaurante Raices, which serves up delicious mofongo and chimichurri and where the waitresses dress in traditional Puerto Rican outfits.
The afternoon is free for you to either explore further or head back to your hotel and take advantage of the beach or pool.
If you're interested in doing a sunset cruise, plan to check out this sailing excursion that leaves from San Juan Bay.
San Juan is one of the nightlife capitals of the Caribbean and to not take advantage would be a shame! Soak up the energy and show off your best dance moves at a spot like La Placita. Salsa, hip hop, bachata, reggaeton, this place has it all. Best part is that locals come here too so you know it's authentic.
Alternative idea: Now if touring the city isn't your jam and you'd rather do something adventurous, I thought I'd just drop in this 2-Hour ATV activity at Campo Rico Ranch. There's also an affordable and popular jet ski experience in nearby Isla Verde by the airport.
STAYING PUT IN SAN JUAN?
If you'd rather just stay in one spot and enjoy the island from San Juan, make sure not to miss our day trip guide.
Day 3 – El Yunque
It's time to hit the road on the third day and head to one of Puerto Rico's best attractions, El Yunque National Forest. This is one of the destinations featured in our best day trips in Puerto Rico from San Juan but what's even better to drive out here yourself.
This tropical rainforest is filled with incredible waterfalls, hike-able dense forests, and a ton of wildlife to spot. You'll want to start off at the El Portal Tropical Forest Center where you'll be able to learn more about the area's wildlife, grab a few maps and ask for advice on hikes.
One hike I'd recommend is the one that takes you out to La Mina Falls which is only 30 minutes. If you're up for a challenge there are also a number of 3-4 hour hikes. At a minimum make sure you make sure you stop by La Coca Falls and climb up to the Yokahu Lookout Tower for spectacular views from the top. If you're lucky, you'll be able to spot the Coquí frog and the Puerto Rican parrot during your time here.
For lunch, I recommend the many kiosks of nearby Luquillo. These row of humble restaurants along Route 3 are a great place to sample Puerto Rican favourites like arepas and plantains.
In Luquillo is a natural water rock slide called Las Paylas where there are smooth rock downhill rivers make for a thrilling ride. There's no cost to this since it's just part of the local river but you can pay $5 to park at a local's house where he's sectioned off an area as a parking lot and provides easy access straight down to the river. As always, be careful of the slippery rocks and chat with the people there first to find out what where the easiest access to the start of the slides are.
Once you're done, head over to the Cieba (moved from the original Fajardo ferry terminal) which is 25 minutes from Las Paylas. Here, you'll catch a 1 hour ferry to Isla de Vieques. It will only cost $2. Keep in mind that the two late departure ferries leave at 4:45 PM and 8:15PM.
You can now book this ferry online on PorFerry but since this is a third party service, the cost will be slightly more.
Getting here: Logistically, you can either do a one-way car rental from San Juan (make sure to use our car rental coupon codes) for the day or you can coordinate with a tour company doing half day tours to El Yunque and negotiate a drop off in Fajardo.
Recommendations for where to stay
This 13-room boutique hotel is in the seaside village of Esperanza on the southern side of Vieques. All rooms have air condition, personal refrigerators, wifi, and safes. A great pick!
Out of the 3 properties here, this is the only one at Isabel II in Vieques which is where the ferry comes into. This guesthouse has 8 rooms, has a communal kitchen, pool area, and rooftop. The service here is personal and rooms are equipped with a bag for the beach, coolers, seats, and even snorkelling equipment.
Day 4 – Isla de Vieques
Isla de Vieques is a Caribbean island off to the east of the main island that typically stays under the radar but is a treat for anyone that knows about it. This is an island that's escaped major commercial developments and so you get a tropical paradise that is full of secluded beaches and wild horses that roam the countryside.
Spend the day lounging at your hotel beach or head out to some of those postcard perfect beaches that dot the island. Blue Beach and Caracas Beach are easy to get to but just remember to bring your own food, drinks, and other beach gear because there are no shops out here.
You're probably wondering why I didn't include the Bioluminescent Bay in Fajardo. The reason is because there's an even better bay here since it's been left largely undisturbed and unpolluted. Under dim moonlight, you're able to kayak into a body of water where every paddle stroke you make causes the water to glow around you. It really is out of this world to see. For this, I would recommend booking in advance as the tours do fill up quickly. A company like Black Beard Sports has nightly tours heading out to the Vieques Bio (Mosquito) Bay. If you're in San Juan, you can also do this bio bay with tours like this.
Tip: For the best experience, visit the bio bay on a dark night prior to the new moon for one of the best glow.
Day 5 – Culebra
Now if it were up to me, I'd keep this spot a secret but you really do have to check out the island of Culebra. Think of this as the anti-tourist destination.
If you thought Vieques was quiet, this is another island where you won't find any flashy hotels, tour buses, golf courses, casinos, fast-food chains, or rush-hour traffic. Instead, you get long stretches of white sand beach and a sleepy and quaint town.
From Isla de Vieques, you'll have an early wake up call so you can catch the 6AM ferry back to Fajardo and then link up with the 9AM ferry from Fajardo to Culebra. Once you get here, check into your hotel.
Alternative idea: If the ferry gets too complicated, there is also a full-day Culebra Island Catamaran Tour that starts from Fajardo that's worth considering.
With Flamenco Beach, TripAdvisor's Traveller's Choice in 2015, it's really a no brainer where you'll end up spending the day.
As your last full day, this will be your chance to do everything you didn't get to do on the trip or just a whole lot of nothing. Go snorkeling. Go diving. Go sailing. Rent a jetski. Watch the sunset. That's a pretty good day right there!
This is a highly affordable budget hotel in the center of Culebra and 1km from the airport. Free wifi is available in the public areas of the hotel and rooms have their own private bathrooms and AC.
Day 6 – Back to San Juan
It's not really a full day as for most you'll be looking to fly back home from Puerto Rico. Depending on your schedule, you'll either have extra time to explore or you'll be focused on making it back to San Juan Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport.
Ferry wise, to get to Fajardo, catch the 6AM (only weekdays), 1PM or 5PM. Once you get to Fajardo, to get to San Juan, you have the option of taking a cab (roughly $80) or you can do a one-way car rental once again.
The week will feel like a whirlwind but when you get back home you'll reflect and think how epic of a vacation it really was.
Puerto Rico Travel Tips
Ferry Schedule: Full details about the ferry to Vieques or Culebra
Cell Phone Service: If you have a US SIM card, this will work here.
Electrical Outlet: Standard North American plug.
Best Time To Go: The peak travel period is December to April and low season falls between May and November. June 1 to November 30 is also hurricane season. It's safe to say that low season is the best time to go in terms of crowds and prices.
Numeric Confusion: Puerto Ricans use both miles and kilometres: distances in kilometres, while speed limits are in miles. To add to the confusion, gas is sold in litres and not gallons.
Recommended Activities To Book in Puerto Rico
Looking for other activities? Here are top 5 activities on GetYourGuide to consider reserving ahead of time before they sell out. These are ranked by how much these activities are in demand to give you an indication of popular they are.
I've indicated the city that each of the tours depart from.
- [Carolina] Isla Verde, Puerto Rico: Jet Ski Tour – Travel through the San Jose Lagoon to the beach of Isla Verde in a jet ski.
- [San Juan] 2-Hour ATV Adventure at Campo Rico Ranch – 2-hour ATV adventure at a private ranch to discover mountains, mangroves, limestone, and indigenous wildlife.
- [Fajardo] Catamaran Day Trip to Deserted Icacos Island – A carefree 6 hour sailing trip on a catamaran to Icacos.
- [San Juan] Horse Riding at a Private Ranch – Incredible 2-hour horseback riding experience at a private ranch.
- [Carolina] Full-Day El Yunque Rainforest & Waterslide Tour – Discover this magical rainforest, learn about the history and ecosystem, and of course go on the epic waterslide.
Frequently Asked Questions
There's no denying that Hurricane Maria left considerable damage in its wake. That said, almost half a decade later, the island has focused on recovery and rebuilding. As a visitor, most attractions have recovered and tourism is more-or-less back to as it was before.
The ideal answer is at least a week, if not more to truly see the entire island. However, if you're short on time, you can see many of the highlights of the eastern side of Puerto Rico in 5 days.
5 days is a tight squeeze but enough to see San Juan, El Yunque National Forest, Vieques, and Culebra.
What about you? Have you been to Puerto Rico and have your own recommendations? Or are you planning a trip and need advice? Don't be shy! Drop a comment down below.
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