Things to Do in Puerto Rico - page 2
Ponce is Puerto Rico’s second city and a complete change of pace from the capital San Juan. Ponce's low key charm speaks louder to architecture buffs than it does to party animals. Starting at the central Plaza Las Delicicas you’ll find two defining landmarks of the city, the twin-towered cathedral and the vivid scarlet and black stripes of the whimsical Parque de Bombas, once a fire station, now a museum of fire-fighting.
In the streets near the square you’ll soon come across the lemon-yellow Teatro La Perla and the delightful candy pink Museum of Architecture. Head north for the Castillo Serrallés, a Spanish Colonial Revival mansion which houses a museum relating to the island’s all-important sugar and rum industries. It’s just one of the imposing residences you’ll see throughout the city.
After all that visual richness cleanse your palate with the tropical Modernism of the highly-recommended Ponce Museum of Art.
The Arecibo Observatory has earned a reputation as the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world. It features the William E. Gordon telescope as well as a visitor and public outreach center and scientific research community. As more than 1,000 feet in size, it is the world’s biggest single aperture telescope. It is known also as the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC) and is run largely by the National Science Foundation. It was constructed in the mid-1960s in the space left in the ground from a karst sinkhole.
With three radar transmitters, it has the largest electromagnetic-wave-gathering capacity in the world, within a forty-degree cone of visibility. Many breakthroughs and discoveries have been found by scientists from around the world in the facilities here, including the rotation rate of Mercury and evidence that neuron stars exist. The observatory was listed on the American National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
Caguas is one of Puerto Rico’s most diverse and important historical areas – a town rich in Creole heritage and home to an abundance of natural beauty and superlative shopping. Once the home of the indigenous Taino group, Caguas has also known Spanish, British and Dutch residents, the remnants of which can be best experienced by simply walking the town, exploring the beautiful boardwalk or following the Route of the Creole Heart at the Traditional Urban Center.
Those who appreciate the beauty of Puerto Rico’s outdoors will also be impressed by the Caguas Botanical Gardens, which feature some of the most amazing waterfalls and natural greens in the Caribbean. The San Juan town also serves as the starting point for many day-trip adventures and excursions to Puerto Rico’s interior.
This tiny islet that’s part of the Palo Seco barrio once served as a leper colony in the early 19th century and travelers to this historic place can still visit Segundo de la Portilla, a stone building that once housed these social castoffs. Today, Goat Island (Isla de Cabras) services as a shooting range and training area for the Puerto Rico Police Department, as well as home to Isla de Cabras Recreational Park, where locals and travelers congregate along beaches perfect for fishing and picnicking—almost no one swims here. Visitors love the picturesque views of city walls, known by residents as El Morro, as well as the well-known Fort San Juan de la Cruz, which was designated as a national historic site.
San Juan’s most important cultural institution, the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (Museum of Art of Puerto Rico) was established in 2000. The museum’s core is a neoclassical building dating to 1920 that once belonged to the city’s hospital, with a more recent addition housing a theater and space for temporary exhibitions.
The collection here stretches from religious art and portraiture of the 17th century to cutting edge contemporary pieces. Seeing how local artists have reacted to foreign influences to create something unique to the island makes for a fascinating journey.
There is also an excellent sculpture garden where you’ll find works from 15 different local artists in lovingly landscaped surrounds, featuring waterfalls, ponds and a huge range of plants.
Learn about the historical and cultural development of Puerto Rico and the Americas at the Museum of the Americas (Museo de las Américas). Located on the second floor of the Cuartel de Ballajá, the museum features four permanent exhibits and a number of temporary exhibits that highlight the region’s history, sociology, anthropology, and art in a thoughtful way.
You’ll find the beachside Caribbean escape you’re looking for at Isla Verde in San Juan. A quick and accessible beach, Isla Verde is a posh paradise of luxury resorts and urban settings with a wild pristine coastline. On the westside of the beach, you’ll find food vendors and a bustling party scene. Further east, the shoreline becomes more untamed and serene.
Also known as the Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center, the Centro de Bellas Artes Luis A. Ferré is San Juan’s premier performance center. The center, located in downtown San Juan, hosts some of the best concerts, operas, theater, and ballet performances on the island and contains works by Puerto Rican artists.
Enjoy avant-garde films at Fine Arts Miramar in the Miramar area of San Juan. Fine Arts Cinema is known as the premier cinema in San Juan to see foreign and independent films, particularly those with artistic, cultural, and social relevance, all the while grabbing a bite to eat and a drink.
A World Heritage-listed fort, a cobblestoned old town and a nearby rainforest make San Juan a perennial favorite with Caribbean cruisers. The second-oldest European-settled city in the Americas is a history buff’s delight with a 16th-century cathedral and city walls, but if you’d rather see Puerto Rico’s natural or modern-day attractions, take a shore excursion to El Yunque National Forest or the Bacardi rum distillery.
More Things to Do in Puerto Rico
When the explorer Ponce de Leon arrived in Puerto Rico he and his men built the first Spanish settlement on the island. The ruins of this once impressive fortress are today among the most popular New World historic sites. Caparra was discovered back in 1917 when the construction of Route 2 unearthed this historic stone structure.
Today, travelers can explore the well-maintained grounds, which are marked with placards noting the historical significance of various sites, and unearth a bit of the past at the tiny museum on site. The one-room collection includes documents and artifacts that detail the colonization of Puerto Rico. Most travelers agree this place will never top the list of “must see” destinations in PR, it’s still worth a quick stop for the sake of history.
La Calle Loiza has become a destination for travelers in search of authentic Puerto Rican cuisine, local arts and crafts and contemporary Puerto Rican music. Visitors can wander the streets of this eclectic neighborhood and find open galleries, artisan workshops, unique food stalls, live music and even local theater. It’s the heart of San Juan’s cultural scene and alive with energy, sights and smells that provide a full sensory experience unlike any other neighborhood on this tiny island. Whether it’s combing through tiny boutiques in search of rare Puerto Rican finds, tasting some of the vegetarian cuisine that’s made this street a popular destination for foodies, or purchasing some handmade art for friends back at home, La Calle Loiza is the perfect place to spend an afternoon settling in to this country’s rare beauty.
It’s tough to miss the huge avocado sculptures and lively crowds outside Mercado Santurce, the largest public market in San Juan. Both locals and travelers flock to this popular destination known for its fresh produce, fragrant herbs and traditional Puerto Rican eateries. Visitors can wander through well-lit stalls and sample freshly squeeze juices, fried fish or spicy beans, while combing through household items and other typical market wares.
On weekends and weeknights things at Mercado Santurce really heat up. Once produce hawkers head home, travelers will find live DJs, dancing and fresh daiquiris at just about every shop surrounding the market. Locals gather here to let loose after a long work day, catch up with friends and sample some of the best street cuisine this city has to offer.
This protected park in the far reaches of Puerto Rico is home to the Laguna Grande bioluminescent bay, rainforests, walking trails, boardwalks and a wide array of flora and fauna. The reserve, which showcases some of the best—and most diverse—of Puerto Rico’s natural wonder covers just 316 acres but includes seven different ecological systems, making it a true wonderland for travelers looking to explore the outdoors.
Visitors will find giant iguanas, crawling crabs and a variety of colorful birds here, in addition to the oldest lighthouse on the island, El Faro de las Cabezas de San Juan. Whether travelers wander over rocky cliffs, or wind through a few miles of easy trails and boardwalks, they will find some of the most spectacular natural scenery on the island at Las Cabezas.
Those searching for a truly unique experience will find what they are after at the Mezzanine at St. Germain. This contemporary cocktail lounge is located in a historic colonial building in the heart of San Juan and experts craft one-of-a-kind drinks for a well-heeled crowd of locals and tourists.
From gimlets to negronis, mojitos to Moscow mules, there’s something for everyone on the Mezzanine’s list of favorite spirits. Travelers can also choose from an extensive menu of tasty tapas and bar snacks to pair with strong libations, like not-too-sweet guav and brie croissants, pineapple shrimp skewers and Greek-style ceviche. A handful of microbrews, hearty sandwiches and cozy brunch options round out a menu that’s perfect for dining any time of day.
Perhaps the last unspoiled island of the Caribbean, Vieques is home to untouched beaches, crystal clear waters, 3,100 acres of thick green jungle, wild horses and the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world. It’s a natural wonderland for travelers looking to experience tropical beauty at its best.
Visitors can explore this traffic-light-free island by bike, or trek along wildlife trails on foot or horseback. Underwater wonder also awaits here, with plenty of impressive snorkeling and scuba diving destinations and day trips.
But, without a doubt, the most popular feature of Vieques is Mosquito Bay—the world famous bioluminescent body of water. Travelers can kayak through this breathtaking lagoon where tiny organisms produce brilliant bursts of blue light whenever they make contact with a boat, paddle or other object. A visit to Mosquito Bay is a truly memorable excursion on what is one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful tropical islands.
Picturesque Flamenco Beach is ranked number three among the top 10 most exotic beaches in the world, thanks to its white coral sand, crystal clear water and breathtaking arid tree lined hills. But there are more sandy shores to see on Culebra Island than just this spot for sun and surf—the island itself is a true paradise for beach bumming travelers.
Visitors can access smaller island destinations like Culebrita and Luis Pena (after obtaining a permit) by using a public water taxi from the main town. These tiny landmasses off the coast of this picturesque island are ideal for hiking, photography and scuba diving. Since rivers and streams don’t run into the ocean waters here, so the surrounding seas are unusually clear making for perfect underwater wildlife viewing.
A crescent of fine white sand stretching along Puerto Rico’s Atlantic coast and backed by tall palms, Pine Grove Beach is one of San Juan’s most idyllic beaches. The tranquil waters here make Pine Grove a perfect spot for families with small children, while novice surfers can ride the waves at its eastern end.
Half-moon-shaped Sun Bay Beach has it all: palm-lined sand, clear turquoise waters, sparse crowds and pretty much all the facilities a beach-goer could want. As one of the most accessible beaches on Vieques — as well as the only beach offering public facilities — it’s a popular option for day-trippers to the island. The water is calm, with only a few gentle waves, so it’s an ideal beach for swimming, particularly at the far eastern end.
Sun Bay is about 2 miles (3 kilometers) long and rarely crowded, yet it has public bathrooms, showers, a campground, lifeguards and kiosks for purchasing food. The town of Esperanza — with its own collection of bars and restaurants — is within walking distance.
To enjoy tropical bounty in a not-so tropical climate, do as the locals do and head to the Mercado de Río Piedras. San Juan’s premier produce market is under cover and air-conditioned. While your pores recover, your eyes will be drinking in the amazing variety of colors. Naturally you can get bananas, pineapples, mangoes, coconuts and limes, but take the opportunity to try out more exotic fruits such as the citrus chironja, dark green soursops or star apples.
Vegetables, meat and fish are also on offer in the market, and the streets in the surrounding area are buzzing with sidewalk stalls.
The Museum of History, Anthropology and Art (Museo de Historia, Antropología y Arte) provides another important piece of the Puerto Rican puzzle. Artifacts created by the indigenous Taíno are joined by other pre-Columbian pieces to serve as a reminder of the island’s long history and diverse roots. This has been called one of the most important archaeological collections in the Caribbean.
It’s a big conceptual leap to the other major component of the museum: paintings, prints and drawings which show the development of Puerto Rican art from the 18th century onwards. All up this is a modestly-sized institution, and it won’t take you long to do a circuit.
Known for its soaring interiors, million-year-old stalactites and stalagmites, and namesake underground river, Rio Camuy Cave Park (Parque Nacional de las Cavernas del Río Camuy) in Puerto Rico attracts nature lovers and casual visitors alike. The 268-acre (108-hectare) complex is most famous for its cave tour, but it also offers picnic pavilions, walking trails, and a playground.
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