How to Spend 5 Days in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a gorgeous Caribbean island and a great destination for a girls’ trip. It is affordable and has a perfect balance of relaxation, adventure, and partying. There are plenty of things to do in Puerto Rico. In 5 days, my friends and I were able to see and do a lot on the island.
And if you’ve had any hesitations about visiting Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, let me be the first to advise you to throw all of your concerns out of the window! While restoration efforts across the island are not yet complete, the tourist areas and main roads were some of the first things to get rebuilt and are back to normal.
Here’s a comprehensive recap of our 5 days in Puerto Rico that will help you explore some of the best attractions and authentic local experiences on the island.
5-Day Puerto Rico Itinerary
Settle in & Have Local Fun
Live Plena at La Esquina Watusi
We arrived in San Juan in the early evening. After picking up our rental car, making a CVS run for last-minute items, and checking-in and freshening up at our condo, we headed to La Esquina Watusi in Santurce. La Esquina Watusi is a corner bar and a local favorite. Every Thursday they have live plena that starts at 9pm. Plena is a genre of music that originated in Puerto Rico and is a fusion of African, Spanish, and Caribbean culture. Music is at the heart of Puerto Rico and there are plenty of opportunities to catch a live performance.
Here’s a little taste of plena:
We also had the best time soaking up the cozy vibes, exploring stunning street art, and going bar hopping in Santurce.
Pro-tip: For daily things to do in Puerto Rico, follow @dimelomio on Instagram.
Unique Excursions in Puerto Rico
Hiking at the El Yunque National Rainforest
Located in northeastern Puerto Rico about 30 minutes from San Juan is one of Puerto Rico’s best attractions, El Yunque. Although there are still trails that haven’t been recovered since Hurricane Maria, there is still plenty to see at this luscious tropical rainforest. The USDA Forest Service website is the best place to get the most up-to-date information on which trails are open to help you plan your route. You can easily spend the whole day hiking different trails and exploring the rainforest’s 29 acres of land, but we spent about 3 hours there. El Yunque opens at 7:30 am so if you get there early, you will have plenty of time to see a lot.
Pro-tip: It is a rainforest, so expect the ground to be wet from rain or dew, which increases your chances of slipping. Avoid this by wearing shoes with decent grip. Also, bring a poncho or rain jacket in case it rains.
If you decide to rent a drop-top vehicle, make sure you close your roof while you are within 15 minutes of El Yunque. It’s a rainforest so it rains sporadically throughout the day. We went from cruising in our Jeep Wrangler roofless in sunny skies to having to make an emergency stop to scramble to put on the top because of the torrential downpour.
We checked out the following spots during our visit to El Yunque:
Yokahu Lookout Tower
The Yokahu Lookout Tower is an observation tour where you can soak up the panoramic views of the coast and the rainforest.
Juan Diego Waterfalls
The Juan Diego Trail is a easy 5-minute hike that leads you to a small waterfall. It used to be a secluded trail but because it is now one of the few waterfalls accessible in the forest, it’s become popular.
After El Yunque, we drove 12 minutes to the stunning, palm-tree clad Luquillo Beach.
Bioluminescent Bay Tour in Fajardo
Visiting a bioluminescent bay is definitely a bucket-list worthy item as it is very unique. There are only five bioluminescent bays in the world, and Puerto Rico is home to three of them:
Mosquito Bay, the most popular one, is located on Vieques island, which is off the east coast of the main island of Puerto Rico.
Laguna Grande is located on the north side of Fajardo island.
La Parguera is located on the far southwestern side of Fajardo.
The masterminds behind the bioluminescence of a bio bay are dinoflagellates, single-celled microorganisms. These microorganisms give off a brief glow, typically in a blue-green color, whenever they are touched. Therefore, every splash and every movement in the water causes the dinoflagellates to illuminate the water around you, giving the bay its iconic glow. Although there are dinoflagellates all throughout the ocean, it is rare that they are found at concentrations high enough to produce the glow.
Kayaking in the bioluminescent bay was definitely one of my most memorable travel moments. It felt so surreal that nature produced something so magical. Although I don’t have any pictures of that moment (it’s virtually impossible to capture bioluminsence in water without very special cameras), the memory is very vivid in my mind. I still remember the joy I felt from kayaking into the moonlight, splashing the shimmery water onto my skin.
It’s crazy to think this moment almost didn’t happen. We headed to Bioluminescent Beach Fajardo hoping we would be able to find someone to take us on a kayak tour of the Bioluminescent Bay. Earlier in the day, we contacted over 6 major Puerto Rico tour operators to book and they all said they were sold out for the day. We put “ Bioluminescent Beach Fajardo” in the GPS and headed to the loading docks where most tours departed from hoping there would be last minute cancellations. We parked in a wrong area, which lead to the parking attendant telling us we couldn’t park there. We told her we were trying to go kayaking, but didn’t have a reservation. What she said next was music to our ears, “I know a guy who can help”. Low and behold, her guy, who was affiliated with Gio Tour Service, had availability for a 8:30pm tour and we were able to negotiate for a price that was much cheaper than advertised online ($40 PP vs $55 PP). That goes to show you that when there’s a will, there’s a way!
I highly recommend going through Gio Tour Service! At first, it may seem frightening to kayak in the pitch black but the tour guide was good at making sure everyone was comfortable and kayaking correctly. You can book your tour by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling them at (787) 503-5952.
Explore the Southwest Coast
Finca el Girasol in Guánica
Sunflowers are my absolute favorite flower! I was really excited to visit a sunflower farm for the first time. We walked through the fields and took loads of pictures. The farm sold cut flowers, seeds, and other locally grown produce. It’s free to enter but $2 for parking.
Las Salinas Salt Flats
If you are active on Instagram and look up pictures of Puerto Rico, you will undoubtedly see tons of photos of the pink salt flats in Cabo Rojo. Las Salinas is a must-see eco attraction in Puerto Rico. The area has the highest number and greatest diversity of birds in the Caribbean.
The day we went to visit, it was raining and cloudy so the hypersaline lagoons weren’t as vibrant as the pictures I saw. The color of the salt flats vary with the amount of sunlight, water, salt and organisms in the water (brine shrimp help contribute to the reddish color of the flats). Although the water wasn’t electric pink during our visit, it was still beautiful to see in person. The clouds and rain made the lagoons look like a scene out of a romantic comedy.
A torrential downpour cut our visit to Las Salinas short and caused us to rearrange our original plans of visiting the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse and relaxing at La Playuela beach.
Faro de Los Morrillos Lighthouse
Faro de Los Morrillos, also known as “El Faro”, is the most beloved sight in the city of Cabo Rojo. It is located at Los Morrillos Peninsula, sitting elegantly on top of limestone cliffs that drop 200 feet into the Caribbean Sea. You can go climb the stairs to the top of the lighthouse for a panoramic view of the Caribbean Sea. If you walk west on the hiking trails surrounding the lighthouse facing the ocean, you’ll come across limestone cliffs with hidden caves and natural bridges.
La Playuela is a 10-minute hike from the lighthouse. It’s known for its beautiful water tones that range from turquoise to emerald green.
La Parguera Cabo Rojo
After Las Salinas, we went to the boardwalk area of La Parguera Cabo Rojo to grab dinner. It was very lively and filled with people of all ages.
Beach Day at Piñones
Piñones is located on the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico in the town of Loiza. It is the heart of Puerto Rico’s Afro-Caribbean heritage. We had the best time relaxing and eating authentic local food from the kiosks along the beach. Kiosk Boricua is definitely the kiosk to visit. Their food is absolutely worth the long lines and wait.
Pro-tip: Leave an hour or two before 5:30 to avoid getting stuck in traffic for 1.5 hours getting out of Piñones.
Salsa Dancing at La Factoria
I was happy to put my months of salsa dancing lessons to use at La Factoria. La Factoria is located in Old San Juan and is a good jumping point to go bar hopping.
Explore Old San Juan
Our final day was spent exploring Old San Juan in the morning before we departed in the late afternoon. We started our day with breakfast at Cafeteria Mallorca, a simple yet charming diner. They are most known for their Mallorca bread, which is sweet with powdered sugar. I had a delicious bacon, egg, and cheese there!
After breakfast, we went souvenir shopping and casually roamed the beautiful cobbled-stoned streets exploring the El Morro National Monument and surrounding street art.
Pro-tip: Old San Juan has a free trolley system that can help you make the most of your day exploring the city.
Know Before you Go
Where to Stay in Puerto Rico
We stood in the neighborhood Condado, which is a ritzy area in San Juan, just across the bridge from Old San Juan.
Transportation in Puerto Rico
Our primary way of getting around Puerto Rico was with a rented car. We decided to rent a car to explore the island on our own terms in a cost-effective way. When renting a car in Puerto Rico, it’s important to note the following:
Make your reservation before your arrival at Carrentals.com. This will allow you to secure the cheaper daily rate advertised on the website.
All main highways in Puerto Rico have unattended highway tolls. All rental units and their license plates are registered within the toll system.
Opt-out of paying for insurance online. The company will add insurance, E-ZPass, and other add-ons when you arrive at the counter.
Car rental pickups are available at San Juan airpot (SJU) or Carolina, Puerto Rico since there are shuttles to that area that is less than 5 mins from airport. Be sure your location is open at your arrival time.
When ended up renting a Jeep Wrangler from Allied Car Rental. Although my friend did all of the driving, I did add myself as a second driver as a safety precaution. Also, because I received auto rental collision damage insurance from my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, we only added on partial insurance to provide us with full coverage. We decided to include the E-ZPass because we would be driving on a lot of main highways that were likely to have tolls. The E-ZPass provides you with unlimited daily use of the toll roads.
We had a lot of fun riding around in our purple drop-top Jeep Wrangler, Purple Reign, but it was not without its tricky moments. There are a lot of unexpected sharp exits/ turns in Puerto Rico. Particularly driving outside of San Juan at night requires a lot of precision and alertness because there are many narrow two-way roads and limited light. Drivers usually have their high beams on which also makes it nearly impossible to see in front of you.
Pro-tip: Have a designated GPS person to help you navigate while you focus on the driving.
When we weren’t driving, we used Uber. Uber in Puerto Rico is extremely reliable and cheap. From Condado, we were able to get to most of the hotspot areas for less than $10.
Have you ever been to Puerto Rico? Let me know about your experience in the comment box!
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