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Destination Guide: Puerto Rico

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Most American travelers only know one corner of Puerto Rico: historic Old San Juan, where more than a million cruise passengers alight each year. But as beautiful as San Juan is, there's much more to see when you're visiting Puerto Rico: bioluminescent bays, undeveloped beaches, lush rainforests and coffee plantations.

Despite Puerto Rico's recent economic struggles, tourism on the island is booming. San Juan's just a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Miami, and because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, you don't need a passport. A rental car is the easiest way to get around, although traffic can be frustrating. Vamonos!

Things to do in Puerto Rico

It's worth lingering in Old San Juan for a day or two after you arrive in Puerto Rico. Get a piragua (shaved ice treat) and spend an afternoon wandering the cobblestone streets, photographing the candy-colored colonial buildings and browsing shops. Make time to visit El Morro, the 16th-century Spanish fort. San Juan is also home to some surprisingly nice beaches, including Condado Beach.

Then, rent a car and explore the island's natural wonders. One of the can't-miss things to do in Puerto Rico is visiting El Yunque National Forest. With waterfalls, towering trees, and wildlife found nowhere else in the world, El Yunque is a magical place. Listen at night and you'll hear the coqui, a tiny frog that's the mascot of Puerto Rico.

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Visiting one of Puerto Rico's bioluminescent bays at night is an experience you'll never forget. Paddle your kayak through tangled mangrove roots and see the water shining at your touch as tiny plankton emit sparks of light. Laguna Grande in Fajardo is one of the best places to see this phenomenon. In 2014, the plankton mysteriously dimmed in Mosquito Bay, on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, raising fears that tourism had hurt the local ecosystem.1

If you have time, make a special trip to the tiny island of Culebra, just east of the main island. While the lines for the ferry can be long, your reward is lounging on unspoiled Flamenco Beach, which has stunning snorkeling just offshore. Wandering Culebra is one of the best things to do in Puerto Rico for nature lovers; nightlife people, on the other hand, will long to return to the bustle of San Juan.

Hotels in Puerto Rico

In the heart of Old San Juan, Hotel El Convento began its life as a Carmelite convent in 1646. Today it's one of the finest small hotels in Puerto Rico, with Colonial architecture, a beautiful pool and access to a private beach club. Another San Juan standout is the Caribe Hilton, where the piña colada was invented in 1954 — or so says the Hilton; local restaurant Barrachina also makes that claim. Try both and see which you like better.

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if you prefer to get away from San Juan, one of the best resorts in Puerto Rico is the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort in Rio Grande. Spa treatments, fine dining at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's restaurant Fern, two miles of beach and personal butler service — what more could you want?

For those who prefer hiking boots to high heels, the Rainforest Inn in El Yunque offers private villas, sumptuous vegetarian breakfasts, swinging beds and quiet seclusion.

Great Puerto Rico restaurants

Puerto Rican food is a celebration of tropical tastes: plantains, rice, fish and pork. Classic Puerto Rican dishes include mofongo (a garlicky stew of seafood, chicken or meat and plantains), morcilla (blood sausage made with rice) and pinchos (grilled kabobs). In San Juan, you can find standout Puerto Rican cuisine at Raices, famed for its skirt steak, and Jibarito, which specializes in comfort food.

Locals say no visit to Puerto Rico is complete without at least one meal at a chinchorro — a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Luquillo, a beach community east of San Juan, is famous for a long string of numbered shacks that serve beer and cuchifritos, or fried snacks, such as empanadas and bacalaito (fried cod). In the mountains, Restaurante Casaju in Juncos offers warm hospitality and mouthwatering mofongo, washed down with homemade sangria.

It's time to start planning a tropical getaway to beautiful Puerto Rico. Before you go, protect your vacation with robust travel insurance from Allianz Global Assistance. Happy travels!

Citations
  1. NYTimes.com

Nov 10, 2015