Puerto Rico is celebrated for its natural splendor, rich history, cultural diversity, and unspoiled beaches. From its otherworldly Bioluminescent Bays, to the vibrant nightlife of San Juan, Puerto Rico is a tropical getaway destination with adventure around every turn. And what better way to discover those adventure-awaiting turns than taking an epic Puerto Rico road trip?
Puerto Rico is an ideal destination for road-tripping. It is only 110 miles east to west and 35 miles north to south. Before driving through the “Island of Enchantment,” you’ll need to know how to rent a car in Puerto Rico. Most rental car companies require the driver to be at least 25 years old and hold a valid driver’s license. Reserve your rental car before arriving to avoid the hassle of last-minute paperwork. Once you land, find your company’s kiosk, pick up your car, and hit the road toward adventure.
Although Puerto Rico is a relatively small island, it’s full of things to see and do. Whether you’d like to surf the world-class break in Rincón, hike El Yunque National Rainforest (Open Monday-Sunday 8 AM – 5 PM), explore the underground Camuy Caves (Open Wednesday-Sunday 8 AM – 5 PM), or stroll through the historical plazas of Ponce, a road trip around Puerto Rico allows you to explore on your schedule while following your itinerary.
Ultimately, you can create a Puerto Rico road trip map that explores your interests in the timeframe you have. With emerald beaches, lush mountain landscapes, and historic villages, you’ll surely come across roadside surprises that pique your interest. That’s the beauty of a road trip in Puerto Rico. We’ve created an outline that maps out the four regions of Puerto Rico, making an ideal itinerary for road-tripping. ¡Vamos!
Hit the Gas on our Puerto Rico Road Trip
Remember, you can drive in whichever direction you’d like from the starting point of San Juan. For our purposes, we’re heading west to first explore the northern region of Puerto Rico. From San Juan to Rincón, you can take Route 2 along Puerto Rico’s northern coast. From start to finish, it’s about 90 miles, but plenty of worthwhile stops can be made along the way. It’s worth noting that some roads will have tolls, so you may want to have a few dollars on hand. Most tolls are now cashless, so your rental car’s AutoExpreso tag should save you from the hassle of stopping.
The first stop of our road trip around Puerto Rico is the town of Manatí and nearby Mar Chiquita beach (Open Monday-Sunday 12 AM – 11:59 PM), which translates to “small sea.” Here, a unique coral formation surrounds a coastal cove, creating a small beach protected from sea swells. Mar Chiquita’s calm waters make it a popular destination for lounging, swimming, and snorkeling.
If you’d like to stay a few nights in the area, the coastal city of Arecibo is a great base. Along with the downtown’s historical charm, the town’s picturesque beach, Poza del Obispo, features a historical lighthouse that offers Insta-worthy photo opportunities. Arecibo also provides easy access to Rio Camuy Cave National Park, home to the world’s third-largest underground cave network. Here, you can take guided tours through the enormous caves.
Before continuing your Puerto Rico road trip to the western region, consider visiting the forested Gozalandia Waterfalls in San Sebastián, riding horses on the beach of Isabela, or grabbing a seaside meal at Salitre Meson Costero (Open Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday 11:30 AM – 8 PM and Friday, Saturday 11:30 AM – 9 PM), one of Arecibo’s most popular restaurants.
Epic Surf and Scenery in Western Puerto Rico
Staying on Route 2 is about an hour’s drive from Arecibo to Rincón. Rincón is a world-class destination for surfers on the northwest corner of Puerto Rico. The confluence of currents from the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea produces big swells here, especially during the winter. Surfing has been a way of life in Rincón for decades.
If you want to catch some waves during your Puerto Rico road trip, stop in Rincón. Even if you don’t plan to surf, Domes Beach and Sandy Beach are worth visiting. We also suggest catching a sunset from Faro Punta Higüeras, a historic lighthouse set on a hilltop, and grabbing a cocktail at one of Rincón’s famed beach bars. For a memorable meal in Rincón, try Estela (Open Tuesday-Saturday 5 PM – 10 PM). James Beard Award-nominated Chef Abel Mendoza serves a menu of Puerto Rican favorites with international influences.
While Rincón may offer Puerto Rico’s best waves to ride, most agree that the southwestern region of Cabo Rojo boasts the island’s most postcard-worthy beaches. Still driving on Route 2, cruise south for about 30 minutes before reaching Mayagüez, the third-largest city in Puerto Rico. Mayagüez is known for its colonial-style buildings, so the city is worth exploring if architecture’s your thing.
If you don’t have the time, we suggest continuing on Route 100 to explore the region’s beaches. From the relative seclusion of Playa Buyé to bustling beach bars, the Cabo Rojo region offers plenty of world-class beaches to fit your mood. Among all the beaches, La Playuela could be the most idyllic beach in Puerto Rico. With its white-sand beaches, turquoise and calm waters, La Playuela is an unspoiled, half-moon swimming cove. It’s no surprise that it’s one of the most photographed spots in Puerto Rico.
History and Thermal Springs in Southern Puerto Rico
From Cabo Rojo, you’ll stay on Route 2 to Ponce, which should take about an hour. On the way, you’ll pass the Guánica Dry Forest, a UNESCO National Reserve offering hiking trails through coastal forests and around Spanish forts.
Known for its 19th-century architecture, Ponce is home to the Museo de Arte de Ponce (Open Fridays 10 AM – 3 PM and the last Saturday of the month 10 AM – 5 PM). It holds around 4,500 pieces of Caribbean art. It’s also home to the Museo Castillo Serrallés (Open Wednesday-Sunday 10 AM – 3:45 PM), once the summer home of the Serrallés family. The Museo Castillo Serrallés is a must-visit for Puerto Rican history.
No visit to Ponce is complete without a visit to Museo Castillo Serrallés, the estate of the creators of Don Q Rum. While touring the estate’s magnificent grounds, you’ll learn about the sugar cane industry and the history of Puerto Rican rum.
After exploring the city’s museums, grab a bite at the Guancha Boardwalk, which overlooks Ponce Bay. The boardwalk is a great area to mingle and sip another rum cocktail as the sun sets. Or, grab dinner at Chef’s Creations (Monday-Friday 11 AM – 4 PM), which serves classic Puerto Rican dishes using fresh ingredients from Ponce’s Plaza del Mercado (Open Monday-Saturday 6 AM – 5 PM), the city’s farmer’s market.
Before continuing your road trip in Puerto Rico, consider quickly visiting the Hot Springs of Coamo (Open Monday-Sunday 6 AM – 9 PM), located just east of Ponce. Set on the banks of a river and heated by dormant volcanoes, the Hot Springs of Coamo offer natural, mineral-rich thermal waters. Since your road trip has included hiking, exploring, and swimming, refresh with a therapeutic soak in the rejuvenating waters. If the mood strikes you, you can also opt for an on-site massage before hitting the road again.
End Your Puerto Rico Road Trip in the Rainforest
While your Puerto Rico road trip map can differ, we’re taking Expreso Luis A. Ferré from Ponce to Fajardo, which is nearly a two-hour drive. Once you arrive, you’ll have easy access to all Puerto Rico’s eastern region has to offer, which is a lot. The amount of natural wonders in this region is hard to believe.
A night kayaking trip through a bioluminescent bay should be at the top of your bucket list. Dinoflagellates light up at night, shimmering with each paddle. Hit Ceiba to visit the Las Tinajas waterfall before heading to Maunabo to walk the black-sand beach of Playa Los Bohios. We suggest dining at La Estación (Open Monday and Friday at 4 PM, Saturday and Sunday at 2 PM), a gas station-turned-restaurant that reimagines U.S-styled BBQ using Caribbean flavor profiles.
Now that you’ve explored the coastal regions of Puerto Rico, it’s time to fully immerse yourself in the wonders of the El Yunque Rainforest. Much of the rainforest is in the Luquillo Mountain Range, which creates plenty of streams, waterfalls, and swimming holes to explore. While there are plenty of different hikes and rainforest trails, hiking to the La Coca Waterfall is a highlight for many visitors.
After a day or two exploring the El Yunque Rainforest, it’s a short drive on Route 3 to return to San Juan from Fajardo. Remember, your Puerto Rico road trip is yours to shape. Whether you spend two hours or two days at any of the destinations we mentioned will be up to you. Create a personalized road trip around Puerto Rico and allow yourself to steer your own Puerto Rican adventure.
Want to get a more personalized guide to Puerto Rico? Read our last installment of Meet the Locals about Javier Ruiz.