Traveling is no longer just a way to take a break and escape your everyday routine, it’s a way to give back. Over the past couple of years, traveling to a destination to see and help with its preservation through ecotourism, voluntourism and agritourism (like woofing) has been on the rise.
Executive director of the Center for Responsible Travel Martha Honey told the New York Times that seeking authentic experiences within the local culture is the new way of travel. However, being a responsible traveler isn’t as hard as it sounds. An easy way for tourists to help local economies is by checking out local businesses, especially those beyond major city centers. In doing so, she said it can even give travelers a better vacation by helping build a connection to the destination.
Take advantage of San Juan’s clear waters by putting on a snorkel and swimming with the wildlife. You can go for a snorkel and picnic cruise (tropical drinks included), swim with sea turtles or take a catamaran to a deserted island. And if you’re up for it, go for a sunset swim in one of the bioluminescent bays.
Visit the rainforest
The El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rain forest in the US national forest system. Although it’s small by comparison (29,000 acres), it is one of the most biologically diverse and is home to hundreds of unique animal and plant species, like the endangered Puerto Rican parrot.
Although many trails and facilities in the forest are closed off for repairs (especially post-Hurricane Maria), there are still plenty of places to visit and experience the forest.
Go to Perla
Puerto Rican food is influenced by a combination of US, Spanish, African and native Taínos flavors. While there are more than enough great restaurants in San Juan, one with a view that’s as good as its menu is Perla (pictured). Perla is located at the La Concha Renaissance Hotel and sits in a conch-shell like exterior that was designed by an Italian architect in 1958. The “shell” sits on an infinity pool that overlooks the ocean.
Perla’s menu is appropriately seafood-focused with dishes like Baked Caribbean Lobster with Lobster Beurre Blanc and Seafood Ceviche and is rounded out with steak, chicken and an impressive dessert list. Just think of all the pics you’ll get for your Instagram…
Some of our other favorite places to eat include:Lote 23
Visit Old San Juan
Think of Old San Juan as the downtown area. There are no beaches or resort hotels, but it boasts bright colorful architecture, bustling streets and a rich history.
Visit and see the old home of Ponce de León, check out the kiosks along Pase la Princesa, go shopping, dine on Fortaleza Street (tons of good spots to eat!) and stop by to see the forts (more on that next).
Visit Castillo San Felipe del Morro
The castle, also known as El Morro, sits on the water at the entrance to the San Juan Harbor. The building of it began in the 1400s by the Spaniards and over the years was rebuilt and modified — it’s over 475 years old! Today, the fort is a historical landmark and used for entertainment.
El Morro is part of the National Park Service and upon entering, you’ll be asked to pay an entrance fee. You’ll receive a map that can guide you around the “park” or you can take any of the guided tours offered there. Check out more on visiting here.
Another recommended excursion:
Shop for jewelry
Shopping for jewelry in San Juan is great because you can get quality high-end items at lower prices than you might find on the US mainland. And, there are so many jewelry stores! (In addition to diamonds, make sure you check out the local spots for handmade accessories, too.)
Argenta (in Old San Juan)
Bared (in Old San Juan)
Visit the Bacardi Rum Distillery
Take a ferry from Old San Juan and visit Casa Bacardi. While Bacardi rum was founded in 1862 in Cuba, its Puerto Rican distillery opened in 1936. Today, you can visit and go on a historical tour, a rum tasting tour, take a mixology class or even bottle your very own Bacardi — each experience comes with a strong drink or two (or more!).
Have a beach day
There are plenty of beaches in San Juan, so take a day to relax and enjoy the clear waters and sand.
Most pristine: Flamenco Beach
Good for snorkeling & scuba: El Escambron
Closest to resorts: Playa Condado
Best for playing sand sports: Ocean Park Beach
Bioluminescent & wild horses: Mosquito Bay, Vieques
Most secluded: Playa Borinquen
Explore a bioluminescent bay
The water of a bioluminescent bay glows in a blue-green color. The glow is created by teeny tiny micro-organisms called flagellates; they make their food through photosynthesis, which creates the glow. It’s a sight to see, and a rare one — there are very few bioluminescent waters in the world. Luckily, you can find one near San Juan!
Go on an adventure
There are plenty of ways to explore around San Juan that don’t include walking or riding in a car. Take an ATV through the countryside, a jet ski around the islands, zipline through the rainforest or hike through the caves. There’s a lot to see and not everywhere is accessible via automobile.
One place you can travel to that would benefit from your business is Puerto Rico, which has been in recovery mode since 2017’s devastating Hurricane Maria. Although travelers to the area dipped after the storm, Airbnb recently reported it’s one of their most booked spring destinations. This year, the New York Times even named in their no.1 place to travel in 2019.
It’s not surprising Puerto Rico is so popular, though. Specifically, the capital city of San Juan is great for those seeking adventure, those seeking history, those traveling with kids or those just looking for a beach — it has a little bit of everything for everyone. Hike to see the waterfalls in the El Yunque Rainforest, go kayaking through the bioluminescent Mosquito Bay, go snorkeling at Isla de Vieques, work on your tan at Flamenco Beach or explore old forts like El Morro.
If you’re traveling from the US, Puerto Rico is only a short 3-hour flight from Miami, Florida, and since it’s a US territory, there’s no passport required and you can use American bills.
Check out our top 10 things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico above and if you decide to book a trip, make sure you take some time to check out the local shops, hotels and eateries!
See more trending spring vacation destinations (according to Airbnb) below:
2. Carolina, Puerto Rico
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