8 reasons to visit Puerto Rico in 2023
Editor’s note: This post has been updated with Puerto Rico’s latest conditions and new attractions. It was originally published on Jan. 18, 2018.
Puerto Rico continues to be a popular destination for U.S. travelers looking to enjoy the Caribbean without needing a passport.
A U.S. territory, Puerto Rico is an archipelago comprising the main island and over a hundred idyllic smaller islands, cays and islets. With pristine beaches, lush state forests, gourmet dining, historic architecture and adventures ranging from hiking and zip lining to surfing and diving, Puerto Rico is one of the Caribbean's most enticing and well-rounded destinations.
Thanks to an array of points hotels, and nonstop flights from major airports, including New York and Miami, Puerto Rico is easy to get to and affordable. A trip to San Juan is more alluring than ever.
Here are eight reasons that Puerto Rico should be on your 2023 travel list.
A variety of points hotels
Puerto Rico is home to more than 130 hotels that range from historic beauties in the heart of Old San Juan to modern, luxury resorts along the beach.
Over the last few years, several points hotels have reopened following major renovations: The St. Regis Bahia Beach; the iconic Caribe Hilton, the first international Hilton hotel; and the luxurious Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve property, located an hour west of San Juan.
The Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve Puerto Rico is a beachfront property with a lagoon-style pool and two 18-hole championship golf courses (designed by former golf pro, Tom Kite).
In 2020, Marriott debuted its first Aloft boutique property in Puerto Rico. The contemporary 177-room Aloft San Juan is in the flashy new entertainment and convention hub, known as Distrito T-Mobile — more on that later.
Mofongo. Need we say more?
If you haven’t already discovered one of Puerto Rico’s most famous dishes, you’ll be hooked from the first bite. This traditional dish is a mound of mashed fried plantains with other ingredients such as pork or seafood. It's on almost every menu on the island. Some of the more upscale restaurants add a gourmet spin to it.
Puerto Rico is also the birthplace of the pina colada, a frozen cocktail featuring rum, coconut cream and pineapple juice. You can sample one in the capital city of San Juan, known for its buzzing nightlife.
In charming Old San Juan, cobblestone streets lined with bars beckon travelers with some of the best rum in the world. Not to be missed, La Factoria consistently ranks as one of the world’s best bars — scenes from Luis Fonsi's classic video, "Despacito," were filmed here.
It should come as no surprise that Puerto Rico is considered the Rum Capital of the World. Casa Bacardi, the largest rum distillery on the globe producing 85% of Bacardi rum, is located on the island’s northern coast in Catano.
No passport required
Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, Americans don’t have to flash their passports when arriving (or go through customs and immigration, for that matter).
Even better, travelers don’t need to exchange currency. Cell service can be spotty on some of the more remote stretches of the island, but you should have perfect reception in town. Additionally, calls from the island count as domestic so there's no need to pay for an international phone plan.
Gorgeous beaches, bays and forests
Puerto Rico boasts a national forest and 19 state forests. It's also home to three of the world's five bioluminescent bays. You can kayak through glowing waters — a ripple caused by an oar, or a hand skimming the water, ignites magical fluorescent-blue sparkles below the surface.
On the island of Vieques (a 40-minute ferry ride from Ceiba), famed for its picture-perfect crescents of sand and crystalline waters, Mosquito Bay is universally hailed as the brightest of the world’s five bio bays.
Less than a 45-minute drive from San Juan, El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest on U.S. soil. Its four distinct forest zones are woven with some of the Caribbean's most accessible hiking trails.
Plenty of other natural attractions also await — catamaran rides in Fajardo, trail rides along the northwestern coast in Isabela and rainforest zip lining in Rio Grande.
In the beautiful Cordillera Central mountain region, Toro Verde Adventure Park boasts the longest zip line in the Americas: the 1.5-mile-long El Monstruo, which reaches speeds up to 95 mph.
The island of Culebra, 20 miles off the coast of Fajardo on the east side of Puerto Rico, is home to pristine, white-sand beaches — including one of the world’s most breathtaking, Flamenco.
You’ll also find 20 cays encircled by barrier reefs, teeming with marine life, that offer some of Puerto Rico's best snorkeling.
Vibrant art scene
Miami may be considered one of the world’s street art capitals, but Puerto Rico’s scene is arguably the most happening in the Caribbean.
One neighborhood that’s often compared to Miami’s Wynwood and Chicago’s West Loop is San Juan’s Santurce, where the island’s street-art movement is said to have started.
Today it’s one of the largest arts districts in the Caribbean, home to galleries and museums, as well as open-air murals by local artists like Alexis Bousquet, Bob Snow, Celso Gonzalez, Vero Rivera, La Pandilla and Defy.
Start your tour at Calle Cerra, where you'll find the greatest collection of graffiti art. It's also where the annual street-art festival, Santurce es Ley, began nearly a decade ago.
A flashy new district
In San Juan, Distrito T-Mobile is an island version of Las Vegas (sans casinos). It's comprised of more than 62,000 square feet of restaurants, bars and lounges; a Kidz Zone entertainment center; the Coca-Cola Music Hall performance space, which can hold 6,000 people; an eight-screen, state-of-the-art cineplex, and the first permanent augmented reality zip line experience in the world.
A foodie's paradise
San Juan has become a major destination for foodies, with an array of internationally recognized restaurants that stay true to the island's emphasis on sustainability underscored by a strong farm-to-table ethos.
Credited with putting Puerto Rico on the foodie map, Marmalade — helmed by Iowa native, Peter Schintler — is one of the best gourmet dining experiences on the island. The prix-fixe menu draws on Puerto Rico’s rich cultural heritage and blends indigenous and international ingredients.
In Santurce, Vianda is another major player in San Juan's ever-evolving dining scene. Former NYC chef Francis Guzman and his wife, Amelia Dill, showcase Puerto Rico's distinctive flavors and ingredients with a seasonally inspired menu served in a sleek, contemporary dining space centered around a wood-paneled bar.
However, for sheer indulgence, head to the elegant Condado Vanderbilt Hotel where 1919 is widely hailed as Puerto Rico's best fine dining restaurant. An alumn of the lauded Michelin-starred Blue Hill in New York, chef Juan Jose Cuevas is a farm-to-table pioneer on the island, sourcing local produce where possible.
Year-round beach weather
Puerto Rico has an average year-round temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit (although higher elevations are slightly cooler). Even when it’s rainy season — from May through November — showers tend to hit during the afternoon and don’t last very long. No matter when you decide to visit this Caribbean paradise, you can expect sunny, warm weather almost all day.
Puerto Rico’s stunning landscapes, rich biodiversity and compelling cultural history make it a quintessential Caribbean escape.
The island's relatively compact size means that within the span of a day, you can hike mist-laced peaks, witness rare bioluminescence and choose from Puerto Rico’s adrenaline-infused suite of adventures on land and sea.
For points travelers, a surfeit of appealing hotels — for all tastes and budgets — as well as inexpensive, direct flights mean that it's possible to experience an accessible dose of Caribbean luxury without breaking the bank.