For those in search of rich history and culture, pristine white sand beaches, misty rainforests in majestic mountains and adventure – all without needing a passport – the east coast of Puerto Rico is the sun-kissed Caribbean paradise that offers amazing adventure.
A goal of beuno gente (local slang for “nice and friendly”) people and natural relaxation, Puerto Rico’s east coast is about an hour’s drive from the capital, San Juan, and is well worth the trip. I recently attended a trade conference in San Juan, and while the city was spectacular with culture, food, and history, I’m a sucker for the wild places.
During a hosted trip to the island’s east coast, I did everything from sailing a catamaran and snorkeling the reefs to exploring the verdant greens of America’s only rainforest national park on horseback. Staying at Wyndham Palmas Beach & Golf Resort, located in Humacoa’s posh resort community, gave me a home base that was both luxurious and close to all the adventures I needed.
When traveling to Puerto Rico, don’t limit yourself to the urban areas. Instead, take the short drive and discover these five amazing adventures on Puerto Rico’s east coast, where you’ll find adrenaline, relaxation, some of the island’s best food, and a laid-back natural vibe that appeals to grandchildren, teens, grandparents, and everyone in between .
1. Snorkel the reefs
Exploring the crystal blue waters surrounding Puerto Rico was high on my list of adventures, so on the first day of my trip I made my way to Villa Marina for the Culebra Power Boat Snorkeling & Beach Tour with Sail Getaways, which is offered private and public boat tours and snorkeling trips in Puerto Rico.
On our way to the gem island of Culebra, we enjoyed a quick and sometimes rocky 45 minute boat ride to the area where snorkeling and beach exploring are celebrated. The Sail Getaways staff provided us with lemonade and juice before we reached one of Culebra’s beautiful reefs for about an hour and a half snorkeling over a living coral reef.
Don’t worry if you’re not an expert at snorkeling; The staff also provides swim belts for those who need an easy time. During the approximately hour-long snorkeling tour, we gently paddled over the living coral reef with its swaying, fan-like plants to see schools of more than 60 species of fish, stingrays and sea turtles.
After we worked up an appetite from exploring the reef, which few people experience, the staff at Sail Getaways fed us a packed lunch and thankfully started pouring the rum drinks. As we stuffed our faces and sipped on hearty pina coladas, our special tour made its way to one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world, Flamenco Beach.
Pro tip: If you are prone to seasickness, take motion sickness tablets before the boat trip. Also, sunscreen is an absolute must in Puerto Rico, as I found out firsthand. After a day on the boat and on the beach, I turned red as a tomato.
2. Don’t miss the beaches
After snorkeling we spent the next two hours at the world famous Flamenco Beach. It’s easy to see why this beach, with its sparkling turquoise waters and dazzling white sands, is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 beaches in the world.
When we moored near the beach, we got out of the boat to wade in the nearly waveless waters, play in the sand, enjoy the strong Puerto Rican sun or explore the area. While you’re secluded, you’ll have access to amenities like changing rooms and bathrooms, parking, and showers, but you can also shop at various kiosks that sell authentic Puerto Rican crafts and groceries.
When frolicking on the beach gets boring (how could it?), take a stroll down nearly miles of beach to see one of Flamenco Beach’s most famous sights – The Tank.
During much of the 20th century, the US Navy used Culebra Island for training purposes and in 1936 for bombing raids. The graffiti-covered and rusted tanks on the beach are a living reminder of wartime America, but also make for impressive photos and history.
Depending on the weather and sea conditions, other beaches you can visit can be Luis Peña, Carlos Rosario, Melones or Punta Soldado.
Pro tip: Bring snacks along the way, as this full-day tour takes about 4 to 6 hours. Sunscreen and a sun hat are also highly recommended here.
3. Zip line through the rainforest
On the east coast of Puerto Rico is El Yunque, the only subtropical rainforest in the United States. Nestled among the coast’s towering mountains, this rainforest is filled with hiking trails, views of the surrounding forest, waterfalls and more.
It’s also a great place to zipline over the trees. One morning we put on our spirit of adventure and flew down eight different ziplines at the Rainforest Zipline Park. Home to one of the longest zip lines in the area at 700 meters, the park offers a unique way to experience the rainforest.
You do need to be able to climb steep steps and halt your flight with a leather glove, but the feeling of flying through the air is one of my favorites.
4. Explore the trails on horseback
After a hearty lunch at the Carabali Bar & Grill at Carabali Adventure Park in El Yunque, we got ready to explore the 600-acre Adventure Ranch and surrounding rainforest trails on horseback. My horse was a quiet fellow named Manuel who took his slow sweet time on the rocky trails and allowed me the luxury to relax and enjoy the streams, towering trees and views of the peaks in the distance.
Led by local horseback riders, the 1-hour ride took us along the Mameyes River in the foothills of the El Yunque range, but you can also book a 2-hour option that also takes you on a horseback ride along Puerto Rico’s famous beaches.
If horseback riding isn’t your thing, the adventure park also offers 2-hour ATV tours, side-by-side UTV rides, and even a hay ride that lets you explore the 600-acre ranch in relaxed style.
If you’re in Puerto Rico for a multi-generational outing with everyone from toddlers to grandparents, this adventure park has something for every age and ability.
Pro tip: The Carabalí Bar & Grill Restaurant is a western outpost that includes the restaurant, a hopping little bar, and a gift shop. If you eat at the restaurant, be sure to try the Carabali 12-ounce Angus skirt steak that the restaurant is famous for. Fun fact of the day – this restaurant claims they “invented” the pina colada. Whether that’s true or not, they make a delicious cocktail.
5. Taste the culture
For those whose idea of adventure is more culinary-themed, Puerto Rico’s East Coast offers a wide variety of local and culturally important foods and restaurants to sample.
For a more fine dining experience, look no further than your room at Palmas Beach and Golf Resort for Trova Narrative Cuisine. As part of the massive renovation and modernization work being carried out at Palmas, Trova was designed to ‘tell a story’ with its food. Led by Executive Chef Yia Madina, the menu showcases bold flavors and historical dishes ranging from beef tartare to whole fried fish.
For a taste of Puerto Rican barbecue, head to the Smokey Joe Caribbean Grill, but come hungry because owner Joe Padilla will serve you Angus beef, sausage, smoked pork and birria tacos, marinated grilled chicken tacos, fish tacos and much more indulge Joe’s famous tacos with smoked pulled pork. Located on a busy little shopping area, the restaurant is also a local favorite. Joe himself is a character and has an incredible passion for grilling and his culinary creations; In fact, he recently won an international cooking competition for his paella dish in Spain!
For some seriously great seafood, you can’t go wrong at La Pasion por el Fogón, which specializes in food “like grandmothers used to cook with firewood”. Open since 2001, the restaurant is known for its ceviches, shark bites served with homemade tartar sauce, fried Puerto Rican cheese, lobster flutes and, of course, fresh fish. They also specialize in mofongoa traditional Puerto Rican dish made with mashed plantains and pork or chicken seasoned with garlic and spices.
Pro tip: If you are not hiring a car to get to your Puerto Rico east coast adventures, then Bespoke Lifestyle Management is a great company to work with for transfers and transportation. You’ll need to confirm your reservations for airport transfers, tour transport, and East Coast excursions approximately 24 to 48 hours in advance of your service, but it’s an easy way to get around the island.
Bespoke also arranges tours like the El Yunque Rainforest Tour, snorkeling tours, food tours, and even tours to the bioluminescent bays of Puerto Rico’s west coast. We used them all the time during our hosted trip to the east coast which made getting around super easy.