When most people think of Puerto Rico, they think of a singular tropical island. In fact, though, Puerto Rico is an archipelago, or group of islands, with its main island eponymously named Puerto Rico. Surrounding this main island are more than 100 small islands and cays (also known as islets, which are very small sand islands that build up atop a reef). You can travel to some of these unique places by boat, plane, ferry or in a kayak, and explore a whole new side of island life that many tourists tend to miss.
Stunning Beaches in Culebra and Vieques
To reach Culebra or Vieques, you’ll need to board a plane or a ferry. The ferry from Fajardo is inexpensive but make sure you look at the schedule in advance. Alternatively, flights depart from the San Juan Airport or the Ceiba Airport — which is near Fajardo, one and a half hours east of the capital — on a more regular basis.

Culebra has some of the most laid-back and serene beaches in the Caribbean, including Flamenco, which is the most popular. Playa Tortuga on Culebrita, a small cay off the east side of Culebra, offers a space of serenity, so rent a kayak and paddle out to watch the sea turtles. If you want to get up close and personal with them, book a tour near Cay Luis Peña off Culebra’s west side. For great snorkeling, visit Melones or Mosquito Beach on the main island or try swimming with sea turtles with Culebra Island Adventure. Or, why not explore the waters of scenic Tamarindo Beach by kayak with Kayaking Puerto Rico? There’s no shortage of aquatic adventures to be had on Culebra.
Like Culebra, Vieques is another example of tranquil tropical island life. Don’t miss a night tour of the bioluminescent bay. Located on the southern shores of the island, Mosquito Bay was officially declared the brightest bioluminescent bay by Guinness World Records. The viewing varies depending on the phase of the moon and amount of moonlight, so contact the team at Black Beard Sports to find out the best nights to see the bio bay sparkle.
A Day Away on Caja de Muertos
Don’t be deterred by the name: This island is coffin-like only in shape. This nature reserve off the coast of Ponce hosts unique flora and fauna and is often visited by leatherback, hawksbill and green sea turtles. It’s a popular summer destination for sanjuaneros, who trade the crowded city for beaches during the hottest summer months.

To get across to the island, travelers will need to take the ferry from Ponce, which departs at 8:30 a.m. and returns from Caja de Muertos at 4:15 p.m. Once you’re there, enjoy stunning beaches and a pleasant hike up to an old lighthouse. Avid bird-watchers will also be in heaven, as Caja de Muertos is a protected bird-nesting area. If you’re spending the whole day there, note that there are restroom facilities on the island, but you should pack a picnic lunch or reserve a tour that includes food, as there are no restaurants or snack-bars.

While in Ponce, be sure to visit Isla Cardona as well. This tiny island offers a wealth of snorkeling opportunities, and all a short 15-minute boat ride from Paseo Tablado La Guancha. Venture out with Waterland Adventures to experience the island’s many trails, stunning reefs and its historic lighthouse, which was built in 1889.
Perfect Relaxation at Gilligan’s Island
Local families know Cayo Aurora — or Gilligan’s Island — as a favorite spot to relax on the weekend. They’ll pack up a cooler of drinks and food, grab a few beach chairs and spend the day floating among the roots of the mangrove trees. A ferry runs from Guánica to Cayo Aurora Tuesday to Sunday, with boats leaving roughly every 30 minutes.

The water’s typically clear and the bottom sandy, so Gilligan’s Island is a good snorkeling spot. There is a picnic area with bathrooms on the north side and plenty of shallow water areas for floating, which means you can bring the kids for a splash while you doze off under the shade of the mangroves.
Water Adventures at La Parguera Cays
La Parguera is the perfect island-experience to enjoy exciting water sports. About 30 individual cays are part of this unique area, which is a nature reserve near Lajas. You can go kayaking, take kitesurfing lessons or do some wakeboarding with Parguera Water Sports.

Since the waters at La Parguera are clear and full of sea life, this is a fantastic spot to go snorkeling or to learn to scuba dive. Additionally, La Parguera boasts the only bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico that allows swimming or snorkeling in the glowing waters, so travelers looking for an experience out of the ordinary should make this island a priority. Explore this natural wonder with Papayo Divers, or join them on a diving excursion at La Pared.

Your visit to Puerto Rico is more than one island adventure: It’s a full range of experiences on las islas, from relaxed to exciting. If you can’t choose just one (and who could?), plan your vacation to be an island-hopping adventure.

Ready to make a splash in Puerto Rico? Plan your adventure to include every one of Puerto Rico’s tropical paradises.