Boulevards & Byways

Puerto Rico Travel Guide

When there’s a chill in the air in New York, I know it’s time to go to Puerto Rico and warm up. But with the pandemic looming, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to traveling. I put together this comprehensive travel guide to Puerto Rico to help navigate the COVID rules and restrictions as well as highlight some of the best places to visit on the island for social distancing.

Be mindful and respectful that social distancing and mandatory face coverings in public areas are required, including on the beaches. Be sure to familiarize yourself with all of the COVID restrictions currently in force in Puerto Rico as of today.

Before you even enter Puerto Rico, visitors must fill out a Travel Declaration Form through the Puerto Rico Health Department’s online portal, get a molecular COVID-19 test (nasal or throat swab) no more than 72 hours prior visiting the Island, and show proof of a negative result or they must quarantine.

It’s important that visitors understand this requirement protects those who live on the island from getting COVID and limiting the stress on an already burdened health system. It is also the right thing to do. Why would anyone unknowingly want to carry COVID into airports and onto airplanes?

In light of the global pandemic continuing to loom over us, Boulevards and Byways reached out to ConsumersAdvocate.org to better understand just how travel insurance works in conjunction with the Covid-19 pandemic. With so many unknown stresses with your travel plans, you may want to deeply consider your travel insurance options so that you can travel worry and hassle-free.

The ConsumersAdvocate.org team researched what policies have which sort of coverage. The result is a guide on the best travel insurance featuring a side by side comparison of 4 different companies voted “best for” in various categories.  The insurances were assessed on their coverage, benefits, financial strength, and price and reputation. 

Whether you chose travel insurance for your future international or domestic trip, ensure you understand exactly what’s covered. There are different categories for the basic coverage, as well as limitations for coverage such as alcohol use and extreme sports. 

10 things to see in Old San Juan

A trip to Puerto Rico wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Old San Juan.  s the oldest settlement within Puerto Rico and the historic colonial section of the city of San Juan. This historic district is a National Historic Landmark District and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Old San Juan Historic District. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

El Paseo de la Princesa

Originally created in 1853, the Paseo features a broad brick walkway leading its visitors through a pleasant tree-lined sculptural and garden showcase. 

Raíces Fountain

sculpted by Spanish artist Luis Sanguino can be found along the path. This magnificent bronze fountain celebrates Puerto Rico’s rich cultural diversity and historical heritage through representations of Amerindian, African, and Spanish peoples.

La Puerta de San Juan 

admire the walls, they’re 15 feet thick. Between 1634 and 1638, the city of San Juan was turned into an impregnable fortress with the building of its walls. This massive door was closed at night to protect the city and its residents from attacks by land or sea.

Cathedral de San Juan Bautista.

This inviting cathedral contains the tomb of Ponce de León and something else that’s a bit unusual. The waxed-coated, mummified remains of Saint Pius (San Pio) is on display. The first Christian martyr of the Roman persecutions during the first century, his remains were brought to Puerto Rico from Spain in 1862.

The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture which houses the largest collection of Puerto Rican paintings from the eighteenth century to the 1960s.

El Totem Telurico at the Plaza del Quinto Centenario

Built in1992 to honor the 500-year anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas it was created by artist Jaime Suarez. This totem was built with clay from different areas of the Americas and is meant to signify the various origins of the people.

El Morro Fort

and admire the stunning vista of the ocean beyond. A National Historic Site and administered by the US National Park Service, this six-level fortress was completed in 1589 to protect the city from sea invaders.

Plaza de Ballajá,

or military barracks. Built in 1854 for the Spanish troops established on the island, and their families, this building is home today of the 

Museo de las Americas,  which contains pre-Columbian to modern art from the Americas.

Casa Blanca, built in 1521 as a “strong-house” for Ponce de Leon, who died before it was completed. Today, it’s a National Historic Monument and a museum.

La Fortaleza, built in the early 1500′s, was the first fort to protect the city from Carib Indian sea invaders. In 1846, the building was remodeled from a fort to a mansion. The oldest governor’s mansion still used in the Western Hemisphere and a World Heritage Site, it’s open Monday through Friday from 9:00 until 3:30 pm., but you need to make a reservation.

Capilla del Cristo, (Cristo Chapel), built in 1753, is dedicated to the Cristo of Good Health. Here, if you have a health issue, you can purchase the appropriate body-part-shaped piece of silver (promesas), and leave it at the church as an offering.

 Parque de las Palomas (Pigeon Park). Here you will be able to feed the hundreds of pigeons that make this park home.

Fort San Cristobal,  built in 1634 and completed in 1771, it was used to protect the city from sea and land invasions. The fort, 150 feet high, was constructed with a number of different units all connected by tunnels, and each self-sufficient. In the dungeon, you can see some of the prisoner drawings on the walls. A National Historic Site, it is administered by the US National Park Service.

For more information check out this self-guided walking tour of Old San Juan.

Luquillo Beach, a stunning crescent-shaped oasis on the northeast end of the island features shallow, calm waters, lifeguards, changing facilities, and food. With an awe-inspiring view of El Yunque National Rainforest, is also close to the famous Luquillo Kiosks where you can grab a bite to eat from one of the many local food vendors.

Pinones Beach, two miles outside San Juan, Pinones is an area where you can paddle kayaks around the mangrove lagoon and rent bikes as you cycle along the nature trail boardwalk. There is no shortage of food vendors selling local dishes like arepas, pinchos, and bacalitos.

La Posita Beach is protected from the rough surf by a natural rock wall running along the length of the beach, creating a clear shallow pool. Close to the airport, you can watch the planes as they fly overhead toward their next destination.

Dorado Beach, west of San Juan, is a white sand cove, and home of the 11-mile long Rockefeller Trail.

Ocean Park Beach, just east of Condado offers a mile-long stretch of sand offering a quiet oasis as well as opportunities to kite-surf, boogie board, and play beach volleyball.

Condado Beach, the island’s best hotels and resorts line this famous Puerto Rico beach which bustles with active beachgoers.  

Mar Chiquita, set on the north coast, is a stunning horseshoe-shaped beach. Waves crash over the stunning coral formations making this the most photographed beach.

Sandy Beach, in Rincon on the west coast, is a magnificent stretch of beach where surfers and boogie-boarders can be found waiting to catch a wave. Lined by apartments, hotels, restaurants, and beach bars it’s a great place to hang out, grab a drink, and watch the sunset.

La Playuela Beach, located along the southwestern coast in Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge is complete with hiking trail, a Lighthouse, and limestone cliffs.

La Chiva, (Blue Beach/#21) in Vieques (home to some 40 beaches) is maintained through the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. The west end of La Chiva offers great snorkeling and the east side has shallow waters for wading.

Arepas are around, puffed dough (some look like a small donut without the hole, while others remind me of an Asian bao or steamed bun), which can be grilled, baked, fried, or steamed and stuffed or topped with pork, beef, or fish. Arepas are one of my favorite foods in Puerto Rico.

Lechon or whole roasted pig is a traditional holiday food in Puerto Rico, but it doesn’t have to be a holiday for you to try it. There’s an entire town, Guavate, dedicated to cooking and serving this juicy and succulent meat all year-round. Take a ride along “pork highway” (la Ruta del Lechón), where you’ll find a party in the street along with several restaurants specializing in pork (lechoneras). With music blaring, salsa dancing in the street, and lechon roasting on the spit, you can’t go wrong.

Chillo Frito or whole red snapper is a must try if you’re a fish fan. Moist and tender on the inside and the crunchy skin on the outside, there’s no better place to try it than in Puerto Rico.

Tostones, thickly sliced fried green plantains are wildly popular in both restaurants and as a street food. These crispy fried plantains, (a very firm banana) are either served as a side dish or as an appetizer and can be dipped in catchup/mayo, a popular condiment in Puerto Rico.

Pinonos consists of ground beef and seasonings with fried plantains wrapped around the meat. Its sweet and savory combination is filling is delicious.

Alcapurrias are one of the many dishes served at kiosks or streetside stands. Consisting of dough surrounding ground beef, they are deep-fried in oil. The dough is generally green bananas (guineo) or grated cassava.

Pinchos is Spanish for spikes. Pork, chicken or shrimp shish-kebob grilled on roadside stands, gets your mouth watering while it cooks.

Bacalaitos are salt cod pancake-like fritters. Delicious. I found this one being fried in a beach-side stand in Manati.

Pastelillo is a flaky pastry which is baked or fried and packed with beef chicken or fish. Enjoy it as an appetizer or a main dish. The smaller version of this snack is often called an empanadilla.

Mofongo is Puerto Rico’s signature dish and if you eat only one local food, this is the one to try. Fried green plantains mashed in a wooden pilon, filled with pork, steak, chicken or seafood, and covered in garlic and olive oil, or a criollo (red) sauce. Yum. Delicious!

Surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, snorkeling, kayaking, kite surfing, and jet skiing are all popular water activities in Puerto Rico. My favorite, Pirate Snorkeling Shack in Fajardo, offers informative and educational snorkeling and kayaking tours of Seven Seas Bay and if you’re looking to paddleboard, they have that also. When you come back from your adventure, you can rent one of their fun and colorful swan or unicorn floats. Spend your afternoon floating on the bay and enjoying the beautiful vista. Great for the kids (and adults too)!

El Yunque is the only tropical forest in the United States National Forest System and is known for having one of the greatest concentrations of biodiversity anywhere, especially among its insects, mushrooms, and fern. Since the hurricane, it is unfortunate that most of the forest remains inaccessible, but La Coca Falls (Carr. 191) and Yokahu Tower (Carr. 191) are open until 4:30 pm each day. I was there a few months ago, and I strongly recommend a drive to La Coca Falls, taking a few photos and climbing the tower from which you’ll see a stunning view of the Atlantic, Luquillo, and the forest canopy. There are tour operators in the area where you can also zip line, horseback ride, or rent an ATV, all while enjoying the beauty of the rainforest.

3 Bio Bays

Visiting the bio bay is a must-do activity when visiting Puerto Rico. Tiny organisms in the bay make the water the glow. This bioluminescent glow is produced by a physic-chemical reaction that begins when the single-celled dinoflagellate organism is disturbed.

There are only five places in the world where you can see the bioluminescent bay and three are in Puerto Rico: Mosquito Bay in ViequesLaguna Grande on the northeast coast in Fajardo, and a third in La Parguera in the south.

2 Caves to Explore

Countdown to 12 Days of Puerto Rico

In northwest Puerto Rico in the town of Arecibo, there are two caves worth exploring. Guided tours of the Rio Camuy Caves are offered giving participants a first-hand view of the large network of natural limestone caves and underground waterways which have been carved out by the third-largest underground river in the world, the Río Camuy.

Unlike the Camuy caves which are underground, another cave stunningly located on the side of a cliff worth visiting is Cueva Ventana. Tours of this site will deliver insight into how the cave formed, the many creatures which call it home, the plants on site, (some of which are near extinction), and provide the history of the original Taino Indians who were the original inhabitants of the area.

Monthly temperatures average between 75 and 85 degrees so there’s never a bad time to visit. Easy to get to, especially from the U.S., there are direct flights from cities all along the East Coast. You can get to San Juan is just a little over 2 hours from Miami and less than 3.5 hours from New York. No passport? No problem. You only need a valid government-issued ID to travel to Puerto Rico from the U.S. While the primary language is spoken is Spanish, most locals know English too. So, beach bums and hikers, rum lovers and foodies, those who like water sports and exploring caves and of course, science geeks, history buffs, and art aficionados, Puerto Rico welcomes you. There really is something for everyone here.

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