For a truly unforgettable vacation, visiting more of the island opens up a whole new side of Puerto Rico.
Many of these locations have been popular amongst locals, and visitors are just starting to catch on. If you’re searching for a place away from the crowds where you can breathe, unwind, and savor the tropical vibes of Puerto Rico, you’re in luck.
Off the Beaten Path in Puerto Rico
One of the easiest ways to embrace Puerto Rico like a local is to visit Ponce’s downtown. There, you’ll find traits of the island’s culture and traditions scattered around the main square. Walk around the Plaza Las Delicias, the beautiful town’s square, which is surrounded by colonial buildings, including some showcasing impressive murals completed by local and international artists. Visit the unmistakable Parque de Bombas, a firehouse-turned-museum built in 1882 that celebrates Ponce’s history in firefighting. The red and black iconic building sits right in the center of the square, you can’t miss it!
As you walk around – and maybe browse local shops packed with souvenirs – stop by the Fuente de los Leones (Lions Fountain) for a beautiful photo-op or pose next to one of the life-size lion sculptures that make up the “Parada de Leones” public art exhibition. Other buildings to explore are the City Hall and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Once the estate of the Serrallés family – owners of the Don Q rum distillery, this astounding mansion testifies to the wealth generated by the sugar cane industry by the early 20th century. Considered a “Spanish Revival” mansion, this museum has been preserved so that visitors can travel back in time as they roam around the lobby, rooms, patio, and terrace. The castle boasts a permanent exhibition titled “La Hacienda Mercedita,” which shows the Serallés family’s 300-acre sugarcane plantation. Enjoy the panoramic views of Ponce and the Caribbean Sea as you learn more about the island’s hacendados and their role in shaping island culture.
Maricao’s State Forest
Off in the mountains, on the western end of the Ruta Panorámica (The Panoramic Route) is Maricao’s State Forest, where you can learn all about the island’s coffee plantation origins and the indigenous Taínos. Known as the Torre de Piedra (Stone Tower), the observation tower stands in the middle of the forest, providing far-flung panoramic views stretching in every direction. This place is ideal for self-guided tours, birdwatching, and waterfall finding.
Cabo Rojo Lighthouse and bridge
The view from this lighthouse is worth the trip to the southwest region of the island. Built by Spaniards in 1882, Los Morrillos Lighthouse sits beautifully atop a limestone cliff in Cabo Rojo. The structure is inside a nature reserve surrounded by hiking trails that lead to a stunning beach named La Playuela (known locally as Playa Sucia), the awe-inspiring natural stone bridge, and more scenic views. The building is part of a maritime lighting system built by the Spaniards that was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the U.S. Both the lighthouse and the bridge are surrounded by red limestone cliffs that serve as the perfect backdrop for a sunset picnic or a photo. Be sure to pack sturdy footwear for all the exploring!
Are you in for some laid-back, barefoot beach time? Rincón is the sunset-watching, beach-hopping setting you didn’t know you needed. There are active surfer-friendly beaches like Domes, Tres Palmas, and Steps to catch some waves or relax under the sun (there is plenty of shade, too, if you need a break) as well as historic settings like Faro Punta Higuera (a local lighthouse) where you can hear the waves and enjoy the views while you sip on a cocktail. Most of the beaches in Rincón are secluded, taking you away from the city noise and immersing you in breezy, tropical vibes. In winter months, you might also spot whales on the horizon.
Flamenco beach, Culebra
On a small island, a few miles off the east coast of Puerto Rico, is one of the top beaches in the world: Flamenco. This diamond-dust sand beach is one of the island’s best-kept gems. The white shores are gracefully brushed by the soft turquoise waves that change their intensity of color throughout the day. The peaceful tones of the beach contrast with the bright green rolling hills that make up the backdrop. Venture on a hike to find the rusty military tank that can serve as the background for your next postcard. At Flamenco, you can sunbathe, kayak, snorkel, and simply have a great time under the Caribbean sun. This is a beach where you’ll find serenity and genuinely fall in love with Puerto Rico.