4 full Days in Puerto Rico: A complete itinerary for your first visit

how to spend 4 days in Puerto Rico

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How many days is enough to visit Puerto Rico? Is there ever enough time to explore a place? I compiled my own experiences with those that I traveled with to give you 4 full days in Puerto Rico, meaning you’re staying four full nights. . You can easily extend this into 5, 6, or 7-day Puerto Rico Itinerary. I’ll have some recommendations for that too!

My first time in Puerto Rico was filled with many of these activities, thanks to a travel conference I attended as well as Discover Puerto Rico. I fell in love with the country and learning not only through my experiences, but the experiences of the other travel writers I was with. We each had 2 half days of tours during the conference. Additionally, some of us experienced itineraries in the central mountains, and the southern and eastern parts of the islands. My experiences compiled with theirs bring me to 4 days in Puerto Rico covering a selection of highlights for every type of traveler.

What to know before you visit Puerto Rico

Location

Puerto Rico is located about 2.5-3 hours by plane from Florida. Many areas on the US offer direct flights making it easy to jet over for 4 days in Puerto Rico. It is near the Atlantic ocean side of the Caribbean, which means it’s a tropical climate, so plan and pack accordingly. It will be warm and humid much of the year.

Here’s the best thing about Puerto Rico. Because it is a US territory, you do not need a passport to visit. This also means no immigration so you can get off the plane and to your destination faster.

Language

While Puerto Rico was at one time a Spanish-occupied territory, the first official language is Spanish. However, the second official language is English. Many of the people in the main areas are dual lingual and speak both Spanish and English. I found it easy to converse with my minimal Spanish on the island beautiful.

Currency

Additionally, being a United States territory, the US dollar is your currency. No need to figure out any conversions either.

Driving

While I did not drive in Puerto Rico, it did appear as if it was easy to get around. While there may still be some structural issues as a remnant of Hurricane Maria in 2017, the main areas we visited had undergone a good deal of recovery. It is important to know your Spanish directional words as the road signs are in Spanish.

  • Norte – North
  • Sur – South
  • Este – East
  • Oeste – West

Hurricanes

Speaking of hurricanes, yes, you are in a hurricane area. If you are planning to visit during the active months of August and September, you need to get travel insurance. Aardy is my choice to compare rates amongst many companies. That said, not every year will be fraught with hurricanes disrupting the island, but if you choose the summer months, be flexible with your plans. Additionally, the hurricane season also brings daily rain. This can be a lush and beautifully vibrant green time to visit, especially in the rainforest.

Cell Phone Coverage

You would think that being a US territory would mean that your cell phone would work in Puerto Rico. That was true for about 70% of the people I traveled with. For me, using a budget cell phone plane Straight Talk powered by TracPhone, it did not work. For those that had problems, they simply bought a SIM card to use in the country. Since I have an iPhone, I could communicate with my family on Wifi, so I opted not to worry about it.

Others who did have service found that it was better in San Juan compared to the other areas. A SIM card from the country could have been a good option for those that needed it.

Boricua

Puerto Rico means rich port and the country is filled with a rich history. During my visit, which was in part hosted by Discover Puerto Rico for travel writers, we learned about the meaning of Boricua. It is a unique name representing the heritage of the island.

The word is derived from Borinquen, which is the indigenous name of the island. The indigenous Tainos culture, along with all the history of Puerto Rico, is reflected in the island’s motto of Live Boricua. It’s a way to celebrate art, food, music, spirit, and celebrations. You may just spot references to Boricua throughout your 4 days in Puerto Rico.

Day 1 in Puerto Rico

Every guide will tell you to start off in Old San Juan, and for good reason. After arriving at the San Juan airport, you can get an Uber or Lyft fairly reasonably into the Old San Juan area, or a taxi for about $20. when I discovered I didn’t have cell service, I had to opt for the taxi.

Old San Juan used to be the walled part of the city, complete with forts on either end. Likely you’ll be dropped in Columbus square which is diagonal from Castillo San Cristobal. it’s the largest fort built by the Spanish in the New World. It is similar in structure and style to the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, and just like that one, is part of the National Parks Service.

Most of the old town is within walking distance of everything else. Start off with a visit to Castillo San Cristobal for stunning ocean views and then turn to the colorful cobblestone streets of the old city.

On the opposite end of the old city, is Castillo San Felipe del Morro. This too is worth a stroll to witness the nearby graveyard, where many famed Puerto Ricans are buried.

Insider insight: Did you know that Ponce de Leon was buried in Puerto Rico? While he did seek out the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, Florida, he did not stay there. See if you can find the statue of Ponce de Leon elsewhere in the old city.

Highlights of Old San Juan

I simply fell in love with the Old San Juan area. In fact, after I visited on my first day in the country, I went back twice to simply wander the blue-grey cobblestone streets and discover more of its hidden charms.

The blue cobblestones themselves are a unique treasure in the city. the blue look sets them apart from traditional cobblestones. Despite differences in historical accounts, during a “renovation” of the city in the 1950s, the cobblestones are newer yet made to look like the old European-style. Regardless of why they are there, they did the trick of providing a charming walkway against the colorful buildings.

I also learned while visiting that the building colors giving the city a kaleidoscope effect of pretty pastels, must be approved paint colors. Each building along the city blocks cannot look as another on the same block. This too provides an endless need to explore. Take a guided walking tour if you want to learn as much as you can about this area.

Old San Juan is also home to a beautiful cathedral, and it’s worth stopping in, even if you’re not Catholic. The Cathedral Basilica of San Juan Bautista is nearly as old as the city, dating back to 1521. It is open to the public but does offer mass, so be respectful if you visit during that time.

Stop into the Palacio Provincial hotel for the best ceviche I’ve ever had.

Head to the outer western edge of the city and visit the old city walls and gates, that are still standing after nearly 500 years.

Feed the pigeons, if you dare, at the Parque de las Palmas, also near the city walls.

Finally, don’t miss a choco frio at the Chocobar. It’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted.

Pro Tip: If you are heading down a street, you’re facing south. Walking up? You’re going north.

Food Tour

If you have time or arrive in Old San Juan early enough, book a food tour with the Spoon Experience. We did a guided tour, learning not just about the food that makes Puerto Rico, but some of the histories as well. Our tour guide took us to learn how to make our own mofongo at a local food restaurant. The walking tour also brought us to a bar for cocktails, and as mentioned earlier, amazing fruity and light ceviche.

T-Mobile District

Finally, end your day at the Distrio T-Mobile in the convention area of San Juan. This covered entertainment area has plenty of choices for upscale and casual fine dining, cinema, art, entertainment, live music, and one of the largest collections of 360-degree screens I’ve ever seen.

Alternative ideas: If you’re interested in the history of Rum, check out the Bacardi Rum tour at Casa Bacardi. Here we learned the history of the Bacardi family, originating in Cuba. You can start with a legacy tour that includes a welcome cocktail, and a trolley ride through the factory facility. I’d recommend kicking it up a notch and doing the rum tasting tour which teaches you all about the aging process and tasting the premium Bacardi Rums. You also get the same tour as on the legacy trip. If you’d rather learn some mixology, you can make the perfect mojito and pina colada in the mixology class.

Where to stay: The Sheraton Hotel & Casino was within walking distance to Distrito T-Mobile, but far enough away to not hear the late nights. They also offered shuttles to Old San Juan and the public beaches, making it convenient to get back and forth. (As I said, I went 3 times!) The rooms were spacious and comfy, the hotel staff super pleasant and helpful.

I’d also consider the Condado Plaza Hilton for beach views and access.

Cavernas del Rio Camuy during a 4 days in Puerto Rico

Day 2 of in Puerto Rico

Time to hop in your rental car for a short road trip into the heart of the island. From San Juan, you can travel west for about 45 minutes to an hour and use Arecibo or Manati for your base of exploration.

Spend the morning visiting the Parque Nacional de las Cavernas del Rio Camuy. (about 30-45 minutes inland.) Only recently reopened due to massive flooding during the hurricanes, the caves are the third largest underground river in the world. What made this cave tour different is there are plenty of openings to let in some of the natural light. It is a cave still, so it will be dark in some areas. The impressive scenery is at the end where the cave opens into a large misty tropical jungle. It truly felt out of this world. Wear sturdy closed-toed shoes and a light rain jacket. It gets colder underground.

Alternatively, if you want both caves and river adventure, look at cave tubing tours in the Tanama River. This Tanama Eco Adventure looks amazing!

Next, travel back through the mountainous interior to Toro Verde Zipline Adventure Park. Traverse through 7 different zip-lines with incredible jungle views. I do highly recommend getting the video and picture package.

You can also do the Monster here which is lying down face first zipline, the longest in America. (Get the goggles or you won’t be able to see.) And they also offer ToroBikes, which are bikes suspended on zip lines where you can control the speed of your travels. Don’t worry, you’re fully secure on both bike and line!

After a day full of adventure it’s time to head back and enjoy the sunset on the beach in the Arecibo area. Many of the local restaurants have oceanside viewing.

Photo by Earl Wilcox on Unsplash

Day 3 in Puerto Rico

We’re going to keep heading west today for a much-deserved day of relaxation and laid-back vibes in Puerto Rico. If you’re only spending 4 days in Puerto Rico, it may be easy to skip the western side, especially if you’re only looking for exciting activities.

You could easily spend an entire day on the beach in either Rincon, Isabela, or Guanica. But if you do want to add a little bit of adventure, consider adding one of these activities.

Rincon is known for surfing and is a popular surf spot for everyone from beginners to experienced. Even if you won’t want to take up surf lessons for the day, it’s a lot of fun to sit on the beach and watch others try their balance at surfing.

If you’re looking for more dramatic views, head to Isabela for oceanside cliffs.

Or you could head out for a day hike in the Guanic State forest, a tropical dry forest. (We recommend doing both this and the tropical rainforest coming tomorrow.)

La Parguera is one of the three bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico. While it may not be considered the best in Puerto Rico, if you don’t get to one of the other three, head out on a motorboat tour from Lajas, on the western side.

If you decide not to do the western side of the island, alternatively you could go to the south side and visit Ponce for art, culture, and architecture. You’ll get even more colorful buildings in Ponce.

In Ponce, you’ll get more of the local culture. Check out the Museo de Arte de Ponce for it’s collection of local artists.

raging waterfalls
Photo by Wenhao Ryan on Unsplash

Day 4 in Puerto Rico

The last full day, day 4 in Puerto Rico brings us to the east coast of the island.

This area is best known for the El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the United States. Keep in mind, that right now you need to reserve entry to the National Forest, the same as you do for some of the National Parks. The reservation covers your vehicle and may be booked up to one month in advance. There are several ponds and waterfalls along popular hiking trails at El Yunque rainforest, so plan to spend at least half a day exploring this iconic nature preserve.

From the eastern side of the island, you can also take a day trip to Culebra or Vieques islands or both. Vieques is home to Mosquito Bay, the brightest bioluminescent bay (1 of 3 in Puerto Rico). Culebra is home to Flamenco Beach, often awarded one of the best beaches in the world.

If you’re not familiar with bioluminescence, it is a “glow-in-the-dark” phenomenon with the tiny phytoplankton emitting a glow when the water is moved around them.

Culebra has soft golden sand, beautiful beaches, and an active reef, perfect for snorkeling or scuba diving.

Pro tip: Even if you don’t get to the beaches here, you can enjoy the white sand beaches nearly everywhere on the island, including the public beaches of San Juan.

Extra Time

If you have extra time on the island, you can easily take these single days and stretch them into more. I certainly can see spending more time touring and wandering the streets of Old San Juan.

Other highlights to add on time or swap out our suggested itinerary include:

  • Visiting a Puerto Rican coffee plantation in the central mountains region. You can also add a coffee tasting in some of the other areas. Check out where you can discover Puerto Rican coffee here.
  • Learn Bomba dance, an Afro-Caribbean rhythm, and dance between dancer and drummer. It is authentic Puerto Rican culture. We were able to witness a demonstration of it during our conference and it is engaging, alluring, and inviting. There are places where you can participate and learn Bomba throughout the island. or if you don’t want to dance, venture out into the streets of Old San Juan or Santurce at Placita de Santurce where you’re sure to get swept up in the music of Bomba and Salsa.
  • Speaking of Santurce, it’s a cultural hub of art, street art, music, and murals. It’s not far from the capital city of San Juan, so this is an easy add-on at the beginning or end of your trip.
  • Expand your time on the eastern side of the island and relax in one of the area’s health spas. You’re near some of the best beaches in the world, so why not take some extra time to enjoy them?

Is Puerto Rico Worth It?

Unequivocally yes, it is worth it. What other Caribbean island can you visit without a passport? It is a great place to get all of that Caribbean island flair, and still mingle and learn about the Boricuan culture.

You can get a little bit of everything in Puerto Rico. Culture, history, seaside cliffs, dry and tropical rainforests, surfing, hiking, adventure, coffee plantations and so much more. This small island packs a punch when it comes to experiences, and how much you can even pack into 4 days in Puerto Rico.

Is there a perfect Puerto Rico Itinerary? No. It’s what you want it to be: a good time, delicious food, friendly people, and a beautiful island.

If you’re interested in learning more about Puerto Rico, my fellow travel writers have articles here:

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