The Ultimate Guide to 5 Days In Puerto Rico

The Ultimate Guide to 5 Days In Puerto Rico

Despacito.. The song that caught the attention of people all over the world and became such a big sensation. The beautiful landscapes in the song, the colorful architecture, everything was so picturesque. Do you know where it was shot? Well, the title of this post does drop a big hint so no points for guessing! It was shot in beautiful Puerto Rico (PR). PR is a tropical american hidden gem. Hawaii is the destination that comes to mind when we think about a tropical paradise in the North American continent however, Puerto Rico is another beautiful tropical island which is part of the US but is a Caribbean island. In fact, you can never go wrong with any island in the Caribbean. The pristine blue Caribbean waters will make way for an unforgettable vacation if you are planning to visit Puerto Rico. There is so much to do in Puerto Rico apart from enjoying the amazing beaches. 5 days are not enough to completely absorb the vibe of this place. However, you can maximize the time available to explore many places that Puerto Rico has to offer. So we are sharing our personalized 5 day Itinerary for a beautiful Caribbean escape. Let’s dive right in.

Day 1: Isla Verde Beach and Old San Juan

We decided to stay near Isla Verde beach because it is close to the airport and lies midway between San Juan and the rest of the area that we planned to explore. So it was convenient from driving point of view to stay midway. We booked our stay via Booking.com and got an amazing beachfront 2 bedroom apartment (Playa Mar Beachfront Apartment). We planned to cook breakfast before we left for exploration each day. Hence we were looking for a place with kitchen but also wanted a beachfront property. This location fit our requirements perfectly. Isla Verde beach is as beautiful as other beaches in the area. This beach hosts water sports like banana boat ride, parasailing, jet skiing, etc which added another fun and adventurous element to our trip.

View from the patio of our apartment

Morning/Afternoon: We had our breakfast at our apartment and set out to explore the beautiful architecture of Old San Juan and also the renowned fun nightlife the city has to offer. But before that, you cannot start the day in Puerto Rico without fresh coconut water and Pina Colada.

San Juan is one of the most Instagrammable places we have seen in the US. There are many Insta worthy castles in the Old San Juan area including Castillo de San Cristóbal, Sitio Histórico de San Juan, Castillo San Felipe del Morro to name a few.

We chose to go to Castillo San Felipe del Morro. It is a beautiful castle made from stone overlooking the North Atlantic Ocean.

The architectural beauty of the place draws many travelers and Instagrammers towards it. The pictures do not make complete justice to the natural as well as man made beauty of this place. The castle also has huge lush green gardens overlooking the blue waters. It is such a beautiful place to spend the day at.

After exploring the castle, being coffee lovers, we had to get our cup of coffee. We stopped by this place called Don Ruiz inside Cuartel de Ballajá. This place reminded me of City Palace in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India. Puerto Rican coffee is one the best coffees I have ever had. Also, Mayuri didn’t miss a chance to get clicked inside this beautiful place 🙂

Cuartel de Ballajá

Since we started late and had a huge brunch, we decided to skip lunch and continued exploring San Juan. Since it was a long weekend, we couldn’t find a parking spot in Old San Juan before the sunset so unfortunately couldn’t get any pictures in sunlight but we did manage to explore the colorful streets from our car. Prettiest streets ever!!

Colorful streets of Old San Juan

Evening: We stopped for rolled ice cream near Calle Fortaleza (Calle means street in Spanish). Then we went to see the most photographed place in San Juan: Colorful umbrellas street (Opp La Fortaleza). Since it was memorial day, the umbrellas were replaced with camo print umbrellas. We also stopped for dinner at a cute restaurant in the same area and when you are in PR, you should definitely try Mofongo: A Puerto Rican dish with fried plantains as its main ingredient. Each place has a unique way of making it and it is super yummy!!

La Fortaleza

Night: After having soaked in the architectural beauty of this place, it was time to explore the happening and much talked about night life in San Juan. There are two major nightlife spots in PR: La Placita & Old San Juan (La Factoria area). There might be others too but we researched before our trip and found these two to be the most popular ones. Puerto Rico is known for its food, drinks and nightlife and now we know why. The food is incredible, the drinks are amazing and the night life has a super fun vibe. So on Day 1 we went to La Placita. This place is a central hub for several restaurants and bars playing live music. It is crazy busy on weekends and we must say, Puerto Ricans really know how to party hard!

Day 2: Vieques Island

This day was island hopping day. Vieques is famous for its bio-luminescent bay waters. So what is Bio-luminescence? Have you seen pretty pictures of water on Instagram where the water is glowing? Some microorganisms have the capability of producing this glowing effect when there is a physical disturbance. Puerto Rico has 3 bio-luminescent bays out of which the one in Vieques is considered to be more active and beautiful. Also, after the tragedy of Hurricane Maria, the other 2 bio-luminescent bays were majorly affected and hence the concentration of the bio-luminescent bacteria has reduced significantly. If you want to go for a Bio-luminescence bay tour in Vieques, you will have to stay overnight because there is no ferry or other means of transport to transport back to the main island after the tour gets over which is usually after 10 PM. So lets see how we planned this.

There are 2 ways to travel between the 3 Puerto Rican islands (main island, Vieques and Culebra): Small planes (San Juan airport/Ceiba airport/Culebra local airport/Vieques local airport) & Puerto Rico Ferry (this system is provided by the PR government itself). Tickets can be reserved in advance from their website: https://porferry.com/.

You will read many reviews saying that the PR ferry system is pathetic and full of hassles but since they have started the new ferry system, it has been much better. You just need to plan well in advance and buy tickets. Be prepared for some unexpected cancellations but inspite of that this is an excellent way of traveling between the islands and that too for super cheap ticket prices (2$ per person one way if you buy at the ferry terminals otherwise 6$ per person one way online). The ferries are well kept too and also closed sections with AC if you don’t want to sit outside in the open. Parking at ferry terminals is available for $5 per day.

Morning/Afternoon: We booked the earliest ferry (7 AM) so that we could get the entire day exploring the beautiful island of Vieques. We got there in the morning, got our rental car (we rented a Jeep for off-roading on the island) then had brunch at this colorful Mexican restaurant (Buga’s Mexican Restaurant) and set off to explore the island in our Jeep.

After brunch, we set out to explore the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. Only some part of this area is accessible to the public so check the government website before heading out to this area. We went to the Playa Caracas beach and spent most of the afternoon on the beach. Vieques beaches are not commercialized so the number of people visiting this area is small yet the beaches are well maintained and clean.

Chilling by Caracas Beach

Evening/Night: After exploring the island, we checked in to our super cute and cozy hotel, Villa Coral Guesthouse. This is super close to the BioBay tours pick up spot (for almost all companies). A very well kept guesthouse with very warm hosts running it. We were there for only 1 night but the stay was exceptionally good. There are very less options of good hotels/guesthouses in this area and we will definitely recommend booking this. They also provide beach chairs, umbrellas in each room. After having our dinner at Cafe Del Mar (the ambiance of this restaurant was so relaxing), we were picked up by Jak Watersports team (pickup spot was opposite this restaurant) for our BioBay tour. We chose Jak watersports because they are the only ones with glass bottom kayaks. The bio-luminescent tour was an outstanding experience. To kayak in the dark water is a little scary but the experience of watching the bio-luminescence is well worth it. We couldn’t click any pictures because special cameras are required to capture the bio luminescence which we didn’t have. The experience, however, is imprinted in our memories which no picture can capture.

Day 3: El Yunque National Forest & Casa Bacardi

Morning/Afternoon: After staying over in Vieques, we set out on the ferry to main island early morning on Day 3 of our vacation. This day was dedicated to El Yunque National Forest and Casa Bacardi Mixology tour. El Yunque National forest is still recovering from the hurricane Maria so many areas are still closed however you can get information about open areas and trails from the visitor center. We went on a couple of hikes and then had a dip in one of the river streams inside the forest. We loved visiting the forest and exploring the its beauty.

El Yunque National Forest

Evening: After exploring the forest, we grabbed a quick lunch and set out to go to Casa Bacardi for our Mixology tours. Bacardi offers several different tours to explore the factory however, in the Mixology tour, you actually get to make 3 cocktails as per instructions from a mixologist and the best part is you get to drink them too! You also get a welcome drink upon arrival. This is a “must do” activity in PR, we guarantee you will not regret it. Ours was the last tour and we had so much fun during and after the tour.

Casa Bacardi!

Day 4: Culebra Island

There are several ways to explore the Culebra Island. You can book excursions with some companies that take you out for snorkeling trips and eventually to the much sought after Flamenco beach. We initially booked our snorkeling excursion with East Island Excursions (pick up point is in Ceiba) but we were very tired from our Vieques activities so we cancelled the excursion and instead decided to explore the island on our own. Again, just like Vieques, there are two ways to get there. First option is to go via Vieques Air (small biplane kinda flight which is around 40$ one way per person but the fares vary based upon season and availability so please check in advance). It is short duration flight either from Vieques or from the main island. If you have a rental car in Vieques and taking the flight from there, the rental guys will drop you to the airport in their free shuttle. The other option is to take the local ferry. Things to do in Culebra: snorkeling, paddle boarding, kayaking or just chill on the beach. Tamarindo beach is known for snorkeling as you can spot sea turtles and other marine life easily. Culebra island adventures is the company to book Tamarindo beach snorkeling excursion based on really good reviews on Tripadvisor. They also take you to Flamenco beach and provide free snacks and professional photos, you don’t have to rent any transportation. They will take care of everything and additionally they also have an option of pre-booking ferry tickets.

Morning/Afternoon: We took the local ferry to Culebra in the morning and reach the island by around 11 AM. As soon as you get off the ferry, there are several private cabs which take you to Flamenco beach for 5$ per person one way (and the same goes for cabs coming back to the ferry terminal). We reached Flamenco beach at noon, changed into our beach wear, rented beach chairs and umbrellas (there are many local vendors that rent out beach gear) and went straight into the water. Flamenco beach is beautiful but it is super crowded. If you are looking for a non commercial, less crowded beach, the beaches in Vieques are definitely better in that aspect. We spent the entire day at Flamenco and grabbed pizza for lunch back at the ferry terminal. Finally we took the ferry back to main island and were back at our apartment by evening.

Evening: We spent a little time enjoying ocean view from the patio of our apartment and then got ready to explore the San Juan night life again!

Night: We talked about Despacito being filmed in Puerto Rico in the beginning of this post and the bar scenes in the second half of the song were filmed in La Factoria (it is a collection of 4 bars within a single space). Alongwith La Factoria, there are several other bars, pubs, clubs in the area around and party scenes are lit! Nightlife in Puerto Rico is one of its kind and you should definitely try the hand crafted Mojitos and Pina Coladas that each bar has to offer. We also found this cute place, La Sombrilla Rosa, that had swings instead of chairs around the tables. It was fun to see a different setting in a bar. They had around 43 types of hand crafted delicious Mojitos!! They also had the best Mofongo we tried in Puerto Rico. Many bars have karaokes too. We had fun dancing, singing, drinking. Definitely go bar hopping around this area.

Mofongo in La Sombrilla Rosa

Day 5: Leaving Puerto Rico

Our flight was in the evening so we did have sometime in the morning on our last day in Puerto Rico. We went for some water activities on Isla Verde beach as it was right in front of our apartment. We had fun enjoying the water sports and spending some time on the beach. Then we packed our stuff, checked out and left for the airport concluding our trip.

Until next time, Puerto Rico!

Puerto Rico made us fall in love with it. The weather, the people, the beaches, the activities that you can do on the islands, everything is amazing. There is so much to do in PR apart from the beaches and that is what we loved the most about it. We hope that the next time you plan your trip to Puerto Rico, our detailed post and travel guide will help you plan your trip well.

Until then, lots of love fellow travelers!

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