Though small, Puerto Rico is so diverse that it is generally divided into five general regions, each offering distinctive attractions and personal tropical charms. Use the map at the right to navigate through the tours.
Explore a world-famous tropical rainforest, swim through schools of iridescent ﬁsh, then overnight in world-class accommodations.
Much of what attracts visitors to the Caribbean can be found in eastern Puerto Rico. Within a 30-mile radius, you can enjoy El Yunque National Forest, Luquillo Beach, oceanside golf courses, sailboats and ﬁsh-populated reefs, nature reserves, glamorous resorts, and a few fascinating islands and islets.
Road 187 travels the Piñones coastline east of San Juan, crosses the Loíza River, and enters the town of Loíza, known for its palm-shaded beaches, its 17th-century San Patricio Church, and its African heritage. Colorful vejigante masks made from coconut husks are made and sold in the Ayala crafts workshop east of town. These masks and lively bomba y plena music take center stage at Loíza’s traditional St. James Festivities in July. Beyond the town, you’ll ﬁnd a number of outstanding oceanside championship 18-hole golf courses that stretch from Río Grande to Humacao.
If instead you head east on Route 3, you will pass the Hipódromo Camarero (formerly El Comandante), largest horseracing facility in the Caribbean, and the Outlet Mall 66, both in the town of Canóvanas. Farther east (less than an hour from San Juan), El Yunque National Forest sprawls across 28,000 mountain acres and offers miles of trails through lush vegetation to numerous peaks and pools. This is the only tropical forest in the U.S. National Forest system, offering an unforgettable back-to-nature kind of day. To visit El Yunque, take Route 26 east from San Juan towards Carolina and get on Route 3 east, or get on the faster Expressway 66 to Route 3 in Río Grande. Continue east to the Palmer/El Yunque exit. Head toward the mountains and you’ll soon be ascending Road 191. Be sure to stop ﬁrst at El Portal Rain Forest Center, where interactive exhibits and a short interpretive trail will make you an environmental expert almost instantly. Up the mountain, Big Tree Trail leads to La Mina Falls, and El Yunque Trail takes you to some of the highest peaks. In addition, ranger-led nature hikes take off from the Palo Colorado Visitor Center every day.
The eastern region’s other celebrated natural landmark is found on the northeastern edge of the island. Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve is an ecological jewel that protects mangrove and shrub forests, several pristine beaches, and a bioluminescent lagoon that glows in the dark
Between these two sites is a number of other adventures. Be sure to include a soak at either Luquillo/La Monserrate Beach (near El Yunque) or Seven Seas Beach (near Las Cabezas). Both feature long expanses of sand curving gracefully around beautiful bays noted for their calm waters. Both are government-run beaches known as balnearios. No visit to eastern Puerto Rico is complete without a stop at the rustic kiosks on Route 3 in front of Luquillo Beach, featuring the entire gamut of Puerto Rican cooking. Both the beach and kiosks are in the town of Luquillo.
Some of the best-known sites in eastern Puerto Rico are actually found off-shore, in the clear shallow waters surrounding stunning islets and islands. The offshore inhabited islands of Culebra and Vieques showcase picture-perfect beaches and nature activities.
Culebra is a mere slip of land, scarcely seven miles long, surrounded by two dozen cays and islets. With long sweeps of semi-deserted beaches and sprawling coral reefs and a lack of urban pretensions, it is perfectly suited for nature lovers. Located halfway between Puerto Rico proper and St. Thomas, Culebra showcases refreshingly relaxed inns and open-air restaurants. Its best known attraction is Flamenco Beach, a huge arc of off-white sand that is often ranked among the Caribbean's most beautiful beaches.
Neighboring Vieques is a fascinating island, rich in indigenous and colonial history, site of the Caribbean's largest wildlife refuge and home of postcard-pretty beaches. Its Bioluminescent Bay, considered one of the most dramatic in the world, lights up with microorganisms on moonless nights. The inns and restaurants are steeped in tropical allure, and the island attracts sophisticated travelers seeking the simpler pleasures.
The coastal town of Fajardo has become the boating capital of Puerto Rico, home to several state-of-the-art marinas and coastal resorts and starting point for numerous day charters. The charters take guests on outings to nearby islets of bone-white sand and reefs populated by colorful fish; the outings usually include a buffet lunch, the use of snorkeling gear, and a snorkeling orientation. Fajardo is also a vacation destination in its own right, with luxury resorts and charming inns, creole seafood eateries and international upscale restaurants.
Route 3 (or Expressway 53 if you’re in a hurry) winds its way down the east coast. It passes the coastal town of Ceiba, site of the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Base, and the ﬁshing community in Naguabo. Here you’ll ﬁnd a boardwalk, seafood restaurants, and an offshore cay that shelters rhesus monkeys as part of the Caribbean Primate Research Center. Beyond is Humacao, the east coast’s largest city, home of modern shopping centers and an architectural jewel (now a small museum with changing exhibitions) known as Casa Roig. Humacao’s coastline features a public bathing beach and the Humacao Wildlife Refuge, site of beaches, lagoons and swamp forest, with bird-watching trails and weekend kayaking. Decades ago, former sugarcane ﬁelds and coconut plantations were transformed into Palmas del Mar, a modern, luxury vacationland.
Farther south is Yabucoa, once a major center for sugarcane production. It marks the start of the island’s Panoramic Route, connecting the east and west coasts by way of the central mountains. This coastal portion resembles scenes from the Lesser Antilles, with semi-arid hills descending to the sea and far-ﬂung views. The picturesque century-old Punta Tuna Lighthouse marks the island’s southeastern boundary. Open to the public, it sits on a promontory separating two lovely beaches; the southern one is the beach of choice for Maunabo residents on weekends.
AYALA CRAFTS WORKSHOP
EL YUNQUE NATIONAL FOREST AND EL PORTAL RAIN FOREST CENTER
CASA ROIG MUSEUM
HUMACAO WILDLIFE REFUGE
PUNTA TUNA LIGHTHOUSE
CULEBRA NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE’S LUIS PEÑA CAY
MOSQUITO BAY (BIOLUMINESCENT BAY)
RED AND BLUE BEACHES
CONDE DE MIRASOL FORT
PUNTA MULAS LIGHTHOUSE
ESPERANZA CONSERVATION AND HISTORICAL TRUST
LUQUILLO/LA MONSERRATE PUBLIC BEACH
LUQUILLO CATHOLIC CHURCH
LA PARED (BEACH)
PLAYA AZUL (BEACH)
THE POINT (BEACH)
LA SELVA (BEACH)
LAS CROABAS BAY
LAS CABEZAS DE SAN JUAN NATURE RESERVE
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