The commonwealth of Puerto Rico is comprised of a group of islands; the main one is just 100 miles long and 35 miles wide, making it about as big as the state of Connecticut. While small in size, the country checks just about every single box on most sun-seekers’ lists—gorgeous beaches, luxurious resorts, gourmet restaurants, lively bars and even lush rainforests. With direct flights leaving from White Plains and New York, travelers can go door-to-villa within hours. Sold on Puerto Rico? Here are some of the best places to explore, stay and eat.
WHAT TO DO
Hike El Yunque National Forest
Enjoy the unique sounds and sights of a world-renowned rain forest by exploring El Yunque’s 29,000 acres. Guides say late spring through early summer is one of the best times to visit to avoid crowds. In addition to going on a guided tour to see hundreds of animals (from monkeys to frogs) and plants (from ferns to rare indigenous varieties), adventure-addicts can also go zip-lining: you’ll get a rush as well as an overhead view of the lush Luquillo Mountains. Or try canyoning, a new sport where athletes challenge themselves to walk, climb, oat, swim, rappel and jump up and down the rivers of El Yunque.
Check Out Old San Juan
If there’s only time for one day trip, head to Old San Juan for the fastest way to get a feel for Puerto Rico’s culture and history. There you’ll take in giant fortresses like El Morro and absorb hundreds of years of military history (from the Spanish conquistadors to WWII) amid Instagram-worthy ocean views (expert tip: wear your sneakers because there are plenty of steps). When the sun starts to set and it’s not as hot, take a stroll on the promenade, Paseo de la Princesa, and enjoy colonial architecture, street performers and craftsman pedaling wares from stalls.
Learn To Surf
Puerto Rico has some of the best places to hang ten in the world. The Rincón Surf School (rincolnsurfschool.com), on the west coast of the island, is a well-established surf school, with group, semi- private and private lessons available for surfers of all skill levels. More advanced shredders can sign up for the “Guided Adventures” program to discover hidden breaks. And if you want to focus your entire trip around learning to ride a wave, book one of the ten rooms and suites at the new affiliated Rincón Surf Resort, a full- service resort which offers yoga, massages and excursions.
Visit The Island Of Vieques
Vieques, a former U.S. Navy base, is one of the smaller islands of Puerto Rico, and one of the most beautiful parts of the common- wealth. You won’t find any traffic lights on Vieques, but you will find pristine beaches and a quaint, small town vibe. Swim and snorkel in crystal clear waters, bike around the quiet island or spend a day absorbing military history at Fortin Conde de Mirasol.
WHERE TO STAY
El Conquistador Resort
A Waldorf Astoria Hotel and Resort, El Conquistador overlooks the converging waters of the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean east of San Juan. The sprawling resort covers 500 acres including its own private island, and has a plethora of amenities, including deep sea fishing excursions, but one of the most unusual is the Coqui Water Park, named after the local lizards. There are few better ways to spend a day as a family than on the Torre de Yocahu, with its collection of high- speed water slides (one with a dramatic 40-foot drop!), or for a gentler experience, an 8,000-square-foot lazy river. Kids are particularly well-catered to here, with a kids’ camp, a Scout About activity program for little ones and even a children’s spa program. From $149/night, elconresort.com
St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort
This sophisticated retreat is set on a coconut plantation between El Yunque and the ocean, with all the special touches expected from the top-tier of Starwood hotels. Golf enthusiasts will love the Robert Trent Jones, Jr. course, known as one of the best in the Caribbean. Spa-goers can book treatments at the serene Remède Spa, like Queen Loiza’s Royal Treatment, which starts with a scrub made with local sugar cane and ends with a massage done with 24 karat gold shimmer oil to stimulate collagen production. For those looking to lounge their trip away, there is a private beach with umbrellas, chairs and towels at the ready from friendly hotel staff. Every evening, guests gather on the beach facing side of the lobby for a champagne sabering ceremony at sunset. From $500/night, stregisabahiabeach.com
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
After working up an appetite in Old San Juan, sample local cuisine at The Parrot Club, like Mofongo (made with mashed and fried plantains) and arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) or the upscale offerings from Marmalade, like the white bean soup with tru e oil or lobster risotto. If you’re staying at the St. Regis Bahia Beach, your rst meal should be at Fern; overseen by the famed chef Jean- Georges Vongerichten, it features Caribbean fusion, such as their specialty avocado pizza with jalapeno, cilantro and lime. The St. Regis Bar offers expertly mixed cocktails, including the famed St. Regis Bloody Mary, the Red Snapper. Non-drinkers are well-catered to with refreshing herbal mocktails like the strawberry chamomile martini. Another don’t-miss is the St. Regis’s Seagrapes restaurant, a casual spot overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, serving new twists on Caribbean favorites like mahi ceviche with mango and grilled avocado salad with quinoa. Foodies will t right in at El Conquistador, which boasts 23 restaurant and bars on site. Options include Blossoms, a Pan-Asian spot with a sushi bar and tappanyaki table, and the festive Ballyhou Bar & Grill, known for their conch fritters.