We spent 3 days exploring the main island of Puerto Rico after our 3 days on Isla de Vieques (one of our most favorite places!). There is an abundance of beautiful sites and fun excursions in Puerto Rico, so this list is far from comprehensive. But we throughly enjoyed our 3 days here and would recommend trying these 5 inexpensive things to do in Puerto Rico next time you’re there.
We stayed at Posada San Francisco in the heart of San Juan’s historic center. The hostel balcony overlooked Plaza Colón and had views of Castillo San Cristóbal. We could also see the cruise ship port and could anticipate if traffic would be a mess or not that day! Better yet, everything we wanted to do in San Juan was within walking distance. With prices starting around $70 for a private room (or $25 for a bunk in dorm) it’s unlikely you will find another place in the area this affordable.
1. Explore Old Forts
Castillo San Cristóbal was built in 1783 by the Spanish who settled Puerto Rico. It was meant to defend against intruders, especially the British and Dutch who were prominent explorers in the Caribbean at the time. The fortification wrapped completely around the city, although about a third of it was destroyed as San Juan as grew. It was an active U.S. Military base, used the Army and the Navy during World War II was officially became deactivated in 1961. In 1983 it became a World Heritage site by the United Nations (UNESCO). If you have time definitely also check out Castillo San Filipe del Morro, the other fort in San Juan. Unfortunately we ran out of time so we didn’t see it.
2. Visit El Yunque National Forest
We met up with fellow travelers at the hostel and drove up to El Yunque National Rainforest for the day. It is part of the United States National Forest and is the only tropical rainforest registered as part of the U.S. The drive from San Juan took about 1 hour. It is possible to go with a tour group, but we enjoyed the freedom of making our own plans and the drive up there was pretty easy.
La Coca Waterfall
La Coca Waterfall was our first stop after checking out the visitor center and was right off the main road in the forest. You can’t really miss it! It was fun climbing up over the boulders to take pictures, but unfortunately most of them didn’t turn out well because of the sun glare.
There are 2 towers located in El Yunque. Yokahú Tower was by far the easiest one to get to, as the other one required going deep into the forest and some hiking. Climbing the 98 steps to the top of the tower gave beautiful views of the lush mountainsides in the forest, as well as views of the ocean.
La Mina Falls
This was easily the best part of visiting El Yunque! There was a rather grueling 0.7 mile (1.1 km) hike down La Mina trail, which was steep, narrow and quite slippery in spots. We got the the waterfall around 11 A.M. and while it was busy, it wasn’t as bad as I’m sure it was by the time we left. We passed multiple tour groups on the hike back up, so definitely get there early! Swimming under a waterfall was a bucket list item of mine, and it didn’t disappoint! The water was cool and refreshing and, surprisingly deep. My feet couldn’t touch the bottom of the pool near the waterfall.
3. Go to the Beach
There are plenty of beaches to choose from in or near San Juan. But it if you follow my 2nd recommendation, you find yourself really close to Luquillo Beach after visiting El Yunque. There was a few vendors at the beach and some locals, but when we walked a little further down we were completely by ourselves! There were cute blue benches under palm trees where the guys relaxed while the girls swam. The water was as warm as bath water and was really calm. It was absolute bliss just floating around and soaking in our last afternoon in Puerto Rico.
4. Take a Road Trip
This kind of ties in with the first two, as you will probably need a car to get there. Or you could: Explore a coffee plantation, rum factory, bio-luminescent bay excursion, Arecibo Observatory or find a place with good surfing. The options are limitless. You can see our Road Tripping Puerto Rico post to see our itinerary and how we spent the previous day exploring the other side of the island.
5. Explore Old San Juan
San Juan is a major cruise port, so there are a lot of shops and things to see. We bought our few souvenirs in Old San Juan, and it seemed that the further away from the cruise port the better prices were. The same goes for food as well! There were a lot chain restaurants near the port, but they became more authentic the further you got from it. The brightly colored buildings and cobblestone streets are so beautiful.
If You Go
- Castillo San Cristóbal: Admission was $5 for 16yrs or older (it was free when we visited on Easter though!)
- El Yunque: It is FREE to visit. However if you visit the Visitor Center you must pay $4 per person. We thought we had to stop at the visitor center so we ended up paying.
- Jeep Rental: We paid a total of $53 for a 3 day rental from Payless Car Rental in San Juan
*note: there are affiliative links in this post, which means we will make a small commission if you book something but you will still pay the same great price! We only recommend things we have tried ourselves***