San Juan, Puerto Rico may be a quick flight away from continental U.S., but this island country feels like a world away. Puerto Rico’s culture contains global influences, from Spanish and African to Indian and American, so there’s no shortage of character, charm and history in the streets of San Juan. This city may have a storied history, but it’s also a vibrant, modern metropolis where you can enjoy great shopping, dining and nightlife. And if you want a break from the bustling city streets, you can always find the peace and quiet of the ocean just steps away.
I could wax poetic for days about the beauty and rich culture of Puerto Rico, but I’ll save that for another time. I just recently returned from my trip to San Juan, where I fell in love with the city, the country and the locals. It’s not often I have a chance to just get up and jet off somewhere tropical, so when I had the chance to visit San Juan for a long weekend getaway, I took it. To make this impromptu Puerto Rico getaway a reality, all I had to do was book my last-minute San Juan hotel through HotelTonight. Within minutes, I had a hotel room waiting for me in San Juan, and I was ready to swap my heavy winter clothes for a swimsuit and some flip-flops.
You’ll want to make sure you have a camera handy when you visit Old San Juan, because the colorful buildings and cobblestone streets of this neighborhood are too picture-perfect to miss. A stroll through the streets of Old San Juan will take you past colored colonial buildings, old military forts, and cute boutiques and art galleries. The highlight of Old San Juan is certainly its striking architecture, although the energy and excitement of this neighborhood will surely win you over as well.
A local told me that I couldn’t come all the way to San Juan and not visit El Morro. While this historic headland fort is definitely a tourist spot, I decided to follow the local’s advice and check out this UNESCO World Heritage Sight. As I toured the historic El Morro, considered the jewel of colonial San Juan, I learned about its long, fascinating history. El Morro was built all the way back in the 16th century, and it had been occupied by both the Spanish and the Americans at different moments in its history.
When I heard that Ocean Park is a favorite spot among locals, I knew I had to check out this beachfront neighborhood. This coastal community is proud of its laidback, easy-going vibe, which is why it’s the perfect place to hang out if you want to relax and unwind. The long stretch of beautiful beach in Ocean Park is free from the crowds and chaos at some of Puerto Rico’s more touristy beaches, and the surrounding neighborhood has plenty of great dining and shopping options.
The next day, I decided to visit one of Puerto Rico’s most famous beaches, Flamenco Beach. Since this beach is regularly rated as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, I expected both the sand and the water to be crowded with tourists. But I knew I couldn’t visit Puerto Rico without seeing one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. When I arrived at Flamenco Beach, though, I was surprised to see the long, wide stretch of white sand – and a virtually empty beach. This beach was practically my own private island oasis, and I realized that the lack of crowds had to do with the fact that getting to Flamenco Beach requires a bit of a journey. I had to hop on a ferry to get to this picture-perfect paradise, but I can certainly say it’s well worth the extra effort to find yourself on such an idyllic, remote island beach.
A trip to Puerto Rico should always be packed with outdoor adventures, as there is just so much natural beauty on this small island. I decided to escape the balmy beaches for an afternoon and head to the island’s most popular rain forest, the El Yunque National Forest. This lush, tropical rain forest features great hikes and beautiful scenery, and it offers stunning vistas of majestic waterfalls and sights of tropical wildlife.
I could have easily spent weeks exploring every inch of Puerto Rico, but unfortunately I didn’t have the time. I was surprised, though, to discover just how much of a city I could see in a short period of time, and I was definitely glad I was able to make my spontaneous trip to Puerto Rico a reality. If I have another free weekend in the near future, I just might book another quick flight to Puerto Rico and find my last-minute hotel in San Juan on HotelTonight, because I’m already craving another trip to the lush rain forests and breathtaking beaches of Puerto Rico.