An aerial view of the coastline of Puerto Rico and the Carribean Sea.

7 days in Puerto Rico: an itinerary for first-time visitors

In recent years, Puerto Rico has emerged as a significant hotspot in the Caribbean. Maybe it’s due to the rise of reggaeton stars from the island or its inherent natural beauty and culture, but whatever the reason, it remains a top destination.

And it’s easy to see why. Puerto Rico is packed to the brim with Latin culture, delicious food, and gorgeous beaches. Although the island is relatively small, there are many hidden spots, and with a coastline full of turquoise beaches, deciding how to spend a week here can be hard. So here are some ideas to get you started.

The white sands and turquoise waters of Flamenco Beach, Culebra

How long should I spend in Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico is one of those places where you can spend as much or as little time as you want, and you'll still have a grand time. In fact, many Americans can just pop down to San Juan for a weekend. Or, for those with a longer flight, you could spend two weeks exploring the island, getting to know places a bit more in-depth.

But I personally think seven days is the perfect amount of time to brush up on your Spanish, see all of the highlights, and not be extremely rushed during the visit.

Now I can't lie to you, the public transportation in Puerto Rico is no bueno, so I highly recommend renting a car.

This will give you ultimate flexibility and make your week much smoother because this itinerary involves exploring most of the island. I'm talking up, down, east, west, and a few places in between. So let's jump into it.

El Morro Fortress with Old San Juan in the background

Days 1-2: San Juan

Choosing a starting point in Puerto Rico is super easy because all international flights land in the capital city of San Juan. Start your day by immersing yourself in the history of Old San Juan.

You'll see the Spanish influence but with lots of colours and local flare. Walk the cobblestone streets, admire the stunning architecture, and take in the culture as you visit El Morro Fortress or Castillo San Cristobal.

The city is the perfect welcome to Borriqua culture, the local nickname for Puerto Ricans. The streets are full of music, laughter, bars, and restaurants.

If you're a big foodie, San Juan is about to steal your heart. In the morning, head to Café Cuatro Sombras for one of the best cups of coffee in San Juan, and try the guava toast. Enjoy some local Puerto Rican cuisine at Casita Miramar at night; there will likely be a wait, but it's definitely worth it. You can also do a food tour if you want to try a bit of everything.

After experiencing the city of San Juan, spend the second day enjoying the sun and the sand. You can join this guided snorkel tour off of Guaynabo Beach in the morning or just spend the day relaxing at Condado Beach. It's one of the best beaches in San Juan. It brings together island life and city living perfectly. Plus, there are plenty of restaurants and bars along the beach to grab a bite to eat.

Stay at DREAMCATCHER by DW. It's located outside of Old San Juan, right on Ocean Park Beach. The small boutique hotel is full of charm and will make you feel right at home in Puerto Rico. And who doesn't enjoy waking up to the sound of the ocean?

La Canoa Falls in Puerto Rico

Day 3-4: El Yunque National Forest, Luquillo and Culebra Island

Just 45 minutes from San Juan is El Yunque National Forest. It's the only rainforest in the US National Forest System, and it's full of stunning terrain.

This lush jungle ecosystem is home to more than 240 species of trees and hiking trails that range from easy to difficult. Explore stunning waterfalls, rivers, and panoramic jungle views while hiking. Slide into hidden rainforest pools, or if you're feeling really adventurous there are a few places for rope-swinging and cliff-jumping.

While in El Yunque, make sure to climb Mt. Britton Tower. It's one of the highest peaks in Puerto Rico and will give you views for days.

After leaving the National Forest, you'll head to Luquillo for the night. It's only about an hour away. I recommend taking a night kayaking tour through Laguna Grande Bioluminescent Bay. If you've never seen water shimmer and glow, then you have to do this. It's like a bunch of fireflies in the water, and the bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico are perfect for experiencing it first hand.

Stay the night in Luquillo, a charming beach town with a laid-back atmosphere. Check in to the Luquillo Sunrise Beach Inn and enjoy the ocean views from your room.

Turquoise waters on a white, sandy beach on Culebra Island, Puerto Rico.

A day trip to Culebra Island

On day three, head out to Culebra Island. It's definitely the most popular day trip in Puerto Rico. It's a small island off the east coast of Puerto Rico, but it feels like you're in an entirely different world.

The beaches are crystal clear, and the colours of the water look like blue Gatorade, just a bit saltier. You can go snorkeling with sea turtles, kayak around the bay, and just chill and catch a tan on Flamenco Beach.

Getting there is pretty easy as ferries leave from Ceiba every two hours. The ferry only takes 45 minutes and costs $2.25. There is a parking lot for you to leave your car and enjoy the day on the island! You can also take an organised day trip to the island.

There are many great seafood restaurants to choose from, but I highly recommend getting some fish tacos from Zaco's Tacos.

If you want to spend the night on the island, stay at Costa Bonita Private Villa 604 - it will have everything you need for a night in paradise.

A fountain in the Plaza Las Delicias in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

Day 5: Ponce

Make your way down south to visit Ponce, known as the pearl of the South. The town will give you major colonial vibes with its beautiful architecture and cobblestone streets.

Start your day at the historic Parque de Bombas. It's an old fire station that has been transformed into a museum. It's located in the public square, so you can walk around, stop at a coffee shop and get some empanadas from a local cart.

Afterwards, head to the Castillo Serrallés, a Spanish-style mansion overlooking Ponce's harbour. The views are spectacular, and if you are big into architecture and design, this is definitely a must-see!

No trip to Ponce is complete without visiting the La Guancha boardwalk. Not only can you take in the ocean views, but there are also delicious food vendors, live music, and street performances.

End your day by staying at the Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort. It's a massive hotel lined with palm trees and has an incredible pool if you just want to relax after a long day of sightseeing.

A yellow boat on a beach in Puerto Rico on a sunny day

Day 6-7: Rincon

For the best sunsets and surf in Puerto Rico, you must head west to Rincon. The drive is 1 1/2 hours from Ponce, but trust me, you'll be glad you went.

The beaches in Rincon are world-famous for their surfing, so if you're up for a challenge, rent a board and hit the waves. You can also take lessons here for those who have never done it. As an adult, learning to surf in Rincon has been one of my favourite things.

Explore the town's art galleries, like the Secret Garden Art Gallery and Galería Exodo in the evening. They showcase local artists' paintings and crafts. Other shops, such as Playa Oeste, offer a wide selection of original art and photography that are great souvenirs to take home.

Rincon has some of the best nightlife in Puerto Rico, so for your last night in the country, you must experience the places that have influenced reggaeton and Latin Trap music. The Beach House is my favourite place to enjoy happy hour and dance the night away.

The rugged cliffs and clear water in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico.

Day trip to Cabo Rojo

Take a day trip from Rincon to Cabo Rojo. It has 28 miles of coastline and is definitely one of the local's favourite spots on the island.

And it's understandable with beaches like Playuela Beach or El Combate, which are great for swimming and snorkelling. You'll also love the Cabo Rojo Salt Flats; they have a stunning pink and red hue that contrasts with the turquoise Playuela in the most beautiful way. The flats are vital wildlife habitats and a unique spot—be sure to take lots of pictures!

Treat yourself on your last nights in Puerto Rico at by staying at the Tres Sirenas Beach Inn in Rincon. It has beautiful day beds by the pool and a terrace where you can watch the sky turn orange and pink with a cocktail in hand.

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Carae Hilcher

Author - Carae Hilcher

Carae is a free-spirited Texan, an expert traveller, and an adventurous soul who is passionate about living life to the fullest. With a contagious laugh and a love for unforgettable experiences, she is full of stories from around the world that she loves to tell.

Carae has been writing about her adventures for the past three years and loves diving into different cultures and seeing all the new places. When she's not on the move, you can find her practicing yoga or enjoying the beach-—with a cocktail in hand, of course. She has an unstoppable zest for life and tries to make the most out of every day.

Last Updated 28 August 2023

Tourists on the beach in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

One of the most popular islands in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico is known for its pristine beaches, dense jungle and excellent coffee.