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Best places to visit in Puerto Rico near San Juan - Great Day Trips

Top Rated Tour to El Yunque from San Juan

If you’re staying in San Juan for more than a weekend getaway, let us introduce you to the wonders and amazing experiences outside the city, so you can understand why Puerto Rico is called The Island of Enchantment.  You’ll be amazed at the fact that you can be in a city, and just about an hour away, you can snorkel on a secluded island, visit a rainforest, explore splendid caves, go swimming on a beach that fulfills your Caribbean dreams, and so much more.   

This guide presents you with six fantastic day trips to some of the most captivating destinations and finest beaches near San Juan.  While some of these day trips are ideal for independent exploration with a rented car, others may benefit from the convenience of a guided tour provided by a professional company, ensuring a seamless experience and allowing you to make the most of your time in Puerto Rico. 

Experience the Sights, Sounds & Sensations of the Enchanting El Yunque Rainforest

Places to Visit in Puerto Rico from San Juan - El Yunque National Rainforest

The El Yunque National Rainforest stands out as one of the most unforgettable experiences in Puerto Rico, a mere 40 minutes from San Juan yet a world apart in its enchanting appeal.  It is a magical haven in the Caribbean, promising a treasured experience for the entire family.  A hike through this tropical paradise reveals mystical waterfalls, mist-laden air, vibrant flora, and the soothing sounds of the rainforest.  While one could easily spend a full week exploring the depths of El Yunque, a single day is ample to traverse its most renowned trails, capture the essence of its beauty, and entice you to return to Puerto Rico to explore more. 

Getting to El Yunque from San Juan:  Explore El Yunque stress-free!  The top-rated tours from San Juan handle all the details, ensuring a seamless and enjoyable experience.  If you wish to rent a car and go on your own, our guide tells you how to get there. 

Top Rated Tours to Official El Yunque National Rainforest from San Juan

Take a Day Trip to Flamenco Beach

The Best Beach under the Puerto Rican Flag, Consistently Acclaimed One of the Most Beautiful Beaches in the World

Culebra - Beautiful places to visit in Puerto Rico near San Juan

Discover the perfect blend of Old World European charm in San Juan and a glimpse into the Caribbean’s past on the pristine beaches of Culebra, one of Puerto Rico’s islands off the east coast.  Renowned for its untouched beauty, Flamenco Beach boasts crystal-clear turquoise and emerald green waters with excellent clarity.  Culebra offers some of the Caribbean’s most preserved coral reefs, making it Puerto Rico’s ultimate snorkeling destination.  After a day trip, you might find yourself planning an extended stay in Culebra on your next visit to Puerto Rico.  

+ Getting to Culebra from San Juan

  • Option 1 – Book an Excursion:  Easy, fun and convenient.  Average cost:  $140 per person – See catamarans, and boat tours  from San Juan to Culebra
  • Option 2Rent a car and drive to the Ceiba ferry terminal.  Purchase the tickets in advance to secure your tickets; if no tickets are available to purchase online, get there at least an hour before the desired time of departure.  If there are no tickets available.  Your Plan B will Option 4 below.
  • Option 3 – Fly from Isla Grande Airport with Air Flamenco or Vieques Air Link.  The cost is about $200 round trip per person.
  • Option 4Drive to Ceiba Airport and take a flight to Culebra.  The cost is about $100 round trip per person.

Top Rated Tours to Culebra from San Juan

Experience the Magic of Bioluminescence

Guide to the Best Experience from San Juan

Bioluminescent Bay in Puerto Rico - Best places to visit / top attractions from San Juan

Experience the magic of the natural phenomenon of bioluminescence at one of the bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico.   When the sky is dark, and the moon is young, the water lights up like magic with everything that touches it.  If you have children, it will be extra magical as you see their eyes light up with wonder and excitement, an experience the whole family will never forget.

There are three bioluminescent experiences, each offering a different experience.  We advise you to read about all three bioluminescent waters in Puerto Rico before booking a tour, see summary below.  Our goal is for you to have clear expectations and book the right experience for you and your group.

Quick Facts about Bioluminescent Bays and Lagoon

  • Laguna Grande is the second brightest, most popular, and most convenient bioluminescent bay for visitors staying in San Juan.  This Laguna Grande guide offers logistics for visiting on your own or with a tour guide, as well as itinerary ideas and need-to-know facts.
  • Mosquito Bay is the brightest and most impressive; the color is blue, like the pictures you see online; it is truly magical.  It is located on the island of Vieques, and you have to either stay overnight or take the last ferry or flight back to Ceiba and drive back to San Juan.  Is it worth it?  Absolutely.  This guide for Mosquito Bay gives you all the logistics, tours, itinerary ideas, and nearby places to stay for visitors in San Juan.
  • La Parguera is the least bright; it is rarely blue or blue-green; you have to jump in the water and swim in order to experience the bioluminescence, which looks more like bright stars.  This bioluminescent bay sees the least visitors since it is farther from tourist areas and the least bright.  Many find the quiet atmosphere very rewarding and swimming on the water and getting there by boat is considered a benefit.  Tours also cost much less, about half the cost of Laguna Grande.  Is it worth it?  Yes, kids especially love it.  La Parguera offers a wonderful, fun-filled day when you get there early in the day to enjoy swimming and snorkeling at Caracoles Cay and dining at the village, among other interesting activities.   This La Parguera guide has all the information for visitors in San Juan and nearby tourist areas.

If you’re ready to book a tour, here are all the experiences that offer convenient transportation from San Juan.

Top Rated Tours from San Juan to Bioluminescent Bays

+ Laguna Grande Bioluminescent Lagoon from San Juan

Laguna Grande is the closest bioluminescent bay from San Juan, located in Fajardo, about a 45-minute drive from the city.  Know that Laguna Grande gets the most crowds since most tourists in the San Juan and east coast go there.

See Top Rated Tours with Transportation from San Juan

+ La Parguera Bioluminescent Bay from San Juan

La Parguera - If you wish to take a day trip to the west coast, which can be a lot of fun when combined with the keys of La Parguera.  You may actually enjoy the bioluminescent bay experience even more since it is the only one you are allowed to swim in.  La Parguera is in the town of Lajas.  Depending on traffic, it could take 2.5 hours to get to the town, however, you will not have crowds, and it is a more natural and relaxed experience.  Sunsets are spectacular at La Parguera and you get the additional experience of visiting a true fishing village with various restaurants serving fresh fish and traditional Puerto Rican food.  Most weekends there is live music, dancing at the square, and artisan crafts... a true cultural experience.

See Top Rated Tours with Transportation from San Juan

+ Mosquito Bay from San Juan

Mosquito Bay in Vieques is the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world, and the water glow is truly spectacular.  You will have to stay overnight on the island.

Planning your trip to Vieques

  • Book a transfer from San Juan to the Ceiba ferry.   If taking the ferry, try and buy the ticket ahead of time.  You may also book a short flight from San Juan to Vieques or from Ceiba Airport to Vieques which will save you money depending on the size of your group.
  • Book a short stay in Vieques.
  • Reserve your bioluminescent bay tour in Vieques (see tours below).
  • During the day go on an awesome beach-hopping adventure by renting a jeep or scooter.
  • Book a transfer back to San Juan from Ceiba Ferry or your flight from Vieques to Ceiba Airport or San Juan.

Bioluminescent Bay Tours in Vieques 

Escape to The Dreamy Icacos Cay

Best Places to Visit in Puerto Rico - Icacos Cay

Just an hour from all the excitement of the city of San Juan, you can be sailing on a catamaran to a secluded island with gorgeous turquoise water and white sand… one of the most popular secluded islands of Puerto Rico is Cayo Icacos (Icacos Cay).

Icacos is part of the La Cordillera Nature Reserve, a group of keys off the east coast of Puerto Rico.  You can swim on a deserted beach, do a little snorkeling, and even swim with dolphins if you’re lucky to be there when they show up.

+ Getting to Icacos from San Juan

  • Option 1Book a catamaran or boat tour from San Juan – Fastest and most convenient.  See tours that offer pick-up service in San Juan.
  • Option 2Icacos & Bioluminescent Bay or El Yunque Rainforest Day Trip – You may wish to do two attractions on the same day.  Icacos and Laguna Grande are a great combination since they are both in Fajardo.  Book in advance to secure spots on the top-rated tours, especially during high season.  You can reserve and pay later and cancel if needed.  See Icacos Cay tours from FajardoSee bioluminescent bay tours from Fajardo.  If you don’t want to kayak and want a boat tour of Laguna Grande (Bioluminescent Lagoon), you can get to Las Croabas (place of departure) around dinnertime to reserve a spot.
  • Option 3Drive to Fajardo and Take a Water Taxi – At Las Croabas there are water taxis offering a ride to Icacos.  You are dropped off and the captain will pick you up at an agreed-upon time.  You will have to take everything you’ll need to the island; the cay is secluded with no facilities or staff.  The only benefit of this option is that it’s less costly.  We don’t recommend visitors this option; with an excursion, your tour guide and captain will be available to help you in case you need assistance or have a medical emergency.

Excursions to Icacos Cay Offering Pick-Up in San Juan

Explore Hidden Wonders like a Modern Pirate in the Caribbean

Best places to visit in Puerto Rico & top attractions

A scenic drive into the Karst region of the northern mountains, you can enjoy a fun day exploring the amazing caves of Puerto Rico.  From accessible and family-friendly caves to experiences for those with a more adventurous spirit.  Some tours include rappelling, body rafting, and river trekking.

Following are the most popular and best-rated cave tours in Puerto Rico near San Juan

+ Camuy River Cave Park

Camuy River Cave Park –  This is the most accessible cave in Puerto Rico with all the wow factor the entire family will enjoy.  Camuy River Cave Park is among the top five natural attractions in Puerto Rico.

+ Cueva del Indio

Cueva del Indio – Worthy of a filming location for Pirates of the Caribbean… and it was, as well as other Hollywood films.  One of the top rated tours to Cueva del Indio made it to the coveted list of Trip Advisor’s Traveler’s Choice list… earning the 12th spot on Top Adventure Activities in the World in 2021.  Right along the coastline, you can visit a beautiful cave home to Taino Natives where you can observe original petroglyphs.  The cave is located in one of the top five most scenic places on the island also known as Seven Arches, where rocks, water, and wind have come together to form seven natural arches.  You’ll get tons of Instagram-worthy vacation photos.

See all the tours from San Juan to Cueva del Indio; some have added favorite beaches and other attractions.

+ Arenales Caves

Arenales Caves – Incredible experience, ranked #25 in 2022, #5 in 2021 – Top Overall Experiences in the World. Also ranked #2 in 2022 and #1 in 2021 – Top Overall Experiences in the Caribbean – Spend a full morning on an intimate tour with a combination of river trekking, hiking, river floating through a breathtaking underground cave, and more. This is for the visitor with an adventurous spirit and physically challenging but worth every step.

Top-Rated Cave Tours from San Juan

Go Beach Hopping Like a Puerto Rican

Puerto Rico Beaches - Best beaches to visit near San Juan

You’ll be tempted to enjoy the beaches of San Juan and remain close to the hotel.  The beaches in San Juan are nice, but they’re on the Atlantic Ocean side, get more crowds, and do lack some of the enchanting traits of a Caribbean beach.  The best beaches of Puerto Rico are truly on the islands of Culebra and Vieques, but the main island has dozens of gorgeous beaches loved by locals and visitors.  To maximize your time while staying in San Juan, we have come up with a list of the best beaches to explore near San Juan.

We recommend you rent a car to enjoy a beach hopping day at your own pace.  Just take a beach towel, stop by a bakery and load up on water, Puerto Rican treats, and sandwiches, and simply enjoy the island life.  Let your hair down, play your favorite tunes and listen to them a bit louder than you’re used to… is ok… that’s the Puerto Rican way…  This small island is packed with great beaches, and we can tell you that once you start beach hopping, we are almost 100% confident, that you’ll become addicted and come back for more.  Weekdays are more mellow, and weekends are so much fun to go beach hopping, Puerto Ricans take out their detailed jeeps and head to the coastline to find some new beach corners to explore, eat, drink and enjoy the island life with family and friends.  When you get hungry, you’ll find plenty of beachside spots, roadside food trucks, and chinchorros (tiny simple food places) serving inexpensive but delicious traditional fritters.

Driving in Puerto Rico is easy, traffic is congested coming out of San Juan, but once you’re out of the city, you’ll be on your way to a nice adventure on the road.

There are various tour guides that offer trips to popular beaches, which are great if you don’t want to worry about logistics.

+ Best Beaches to Explore from San Juan

Beaches are listed from nearest to farthest from San Juan. Driving times with regular traffic

East of San Juan

West of San Juan

All the following beaches have one thing in common, they are natural pools on the north coast.  Coral walls create a shield from the open rough waters of the Atlantic, creating a natural pool.

During inclement weather, we’ve seen these calm water pools become like whirlpools, making it hard for children to swim and even adults.  Do NOT climb on the coral walls, they can be slippery, the stone has sharp edges and a big wave could surprise you, causing a fall that could lead to falling in open water and loss of life.  Please enjoy these beautiful beaches safely.

For a great day trip on the west coast of Puerto Rico, leave early and visit the following beaches on the northwest coast, in the towns of Isabela and Aguadilla.

  • Pozo Teodoro in Isabela, Puerto Rico – 1.5 hours (if you can leave, is gorgeous) – 1.5 hour drive
  • Jobos Beach in Isabela, Puerto Rico – Lunch at Jobos, there are plenty of seaside bars and restaurants. Fun beach with the laid-back Puerto Rican beach vibe, lounge rentals available, and surfing lessons. – 1.5 hour drive
  • Crash Boat Beach in Aguadilla – Spend the rest of the day at Crash Boat Beach for swimming, snorkeling (when the water is calm), sunset, and dinner. – 1 hour and 45 minutes drive

Fun Beach Tours near San Juan

Wander to the Wildly Beautiful West

Best places to visit in Puerto Rico near San Juan - West Coast

Ask any local where they love to go for summer vacation within the island and the majority will say, the west coast of Puerto Rico.  When speaking about the main island of Puerto Rico not including Culebra and Vieques, the west coast has the best beaches, the most variety of local eateries, the best sunsets, the best surfing beaches, and the most friendly and lively municipalities.  You can spend weeks exploring the West Coast, to make your vacation planning easier, we have created a few itineraries packed with fun things to do and beautiful places to see in one day.  It will be a long but great day, so leave as early as possible from San Juan to beat the heavy traffic. 

You can end your day with a visit to the bioluminescent bay in La Parguera before you head back to San Juan on Route 52, our preferred road to get to San Juan with the least traffic lights and congestion.

    Itinerary 1

    From San Juan, take Rt. 18 to Highway 52 from San Juan towards Caguas, pass Ponce and continue to the town of Guanica, your first stop.

    Morning 

    • Gilligan’s Island, try and get there early to take the earliest water taxi (ferry).  Stay until noon.  
    • Lunch – The best and closest place to get lunch after Gilligan’s Island is Copamarina Beach Resort. If you wish to drive and eat at a local place, we recommend Taty’s Pinchos, a food truck that serves traditional fritters, and it is perfect for a quick lunch.  The average cost per person is $5.00, a little more for chicken pinchos (chicken on a skewer).  If you have room stop for frappes at La Frutera on the way to Cabo Rojo, not far from Taty’s Pinchos.

    Afternoon

    Dinner and Sunset

    • Option 1: Head back to Lajas for dinner at the fishing village.  At dark, take a tour of the bioluminescent bay in Lajas which is right near the restaurants, it is the only bay where you can swim in Puerto Rico.  See location
    • Option 2: Head to the colorful village of Boqueron (see location on map), with a number of restaurants and casual island-style pubs.  See location

    Head back to San Juan 

    Itinerary 2

    From San Juan, take Rt. 18 to Highway 52 from San Juan towards Caguas, pass Ponce.  Then set your GPS to La Parguera, Lajas.

    • Island Hopping at La Parguera Nature Reserve
    • Lunch at La Parguera Fishing Village
    • Drive by the San German Historical District
    • Stop by Plaza Colon in Mayaguez and get a pastry, sandwich, and coffee at Ricomini Bakery.
    • Head to Rincon Lighthouse to watch the sunset.  From January until March (peak season in February),  you may get lucky and see humpback whales from the lighthouse.  They’re best observed early in the morning and early evening.
    • Dinner in Rincon
    • Head back to San Juan along the north route.

    West Coast Tours You May Enjoy from San Juan

    Map - Best Things to Do Near San Juan

    Capital City of Puerto Rico

    Photo Gallery - Best Places in Puerto Rico to Visit Near San Juan

    Camuy Cavern - Best places to visit in Puerto Rico near San Juan

    Flamenco Beach - Culebra / San Juan Tourism

    Cueva del Indio - Best Places / Attractions to Visit in Puerto Rico

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    El Yunque National Rainforest - Top Attractions in Puerto Rico

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    Crash Boat Beach - Aguadilla, Puerto Rico

    Best beaches near San Juan, Puerto Rico

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    San German Historic District - Best places to visit in Puerto Rico

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    Puerto Rico Travel Guide ⎮  San Juan Puerto Rico  ⎮ Things to Do in Puerto Rico ⎮ Places to Visit in Puerto Rico / Best Day Trips from San Juan