Backpacking In Puerto Rico: The Complete Guide (2024)

If you’re looking for a unique destination for your next backpacking trip, I highly recommend Puerto Rico.

In addition to having multiple options for hostels, there are plenty of low-cost camping options, some of them directly on the Caribbean Sea.

As someone who has backpacked across Puerto Rico, and hitchhiked across Europe and the United States multiple times, I consider myself an experienced backpacker. 

In this article, I will cover everything that you need to know about backpacking in Puerto Rico:

Can you backpack Puerto Rico?
How much does it cost to backpack Puerto Rico?
What are the best places for backpackers to go in Puerto Rico?
Best backpacking trails in Puerto Rico
One week in Puerto Rico backpacking itinerary

 

Can you backpack Puerto Rico?

Absolutely! 

After backpacking the island for years and working in various hostels, I opened a backpacker’s guesthouse in Rincón and hosted travelers from all over the world.

 
 
 
 
 
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I can tell you that Puerto Rico is a great destination for backpackers. 

With plenty of hiking trails, beautiful beaches, and historical sites to explore, there is no shortage of adventure to be found on the island.

It’s important to note that backpacking is not as common in Puerto Rico as it is in other destinations around the world. 

Around 2010 when I moved to the island, there wasn’t much variety in terms of hostels and low-cost accommodations, but over the years that has changed.

 
 
 
 
 
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If you want to get in touch with fellow backpackers for meetups and adventures on the island I recommend the group Mochileros PR.

For the best places to stay, check out our guide to the Best Hostels in Puerto Rico and Best Campgrounds in Puerto Rico.

 

How much does it cost to backpack Puerto Rico?

The cost of backpacking in Puerto Rico will depend on your travel style and budget.

As I mentioned earlier, the backpacking scene is less developed in Puerto Rico than in other places around the world, but that is what makes it special to travel this way on the island.

It’s definitely possible to travel on a budget in Puerto Rico.

Camping in Utuado, Puerto Rico at Lago Dos Bocas.

If you camp every day, hitchhike, and bring in inexpensive supplies or go fishing, you could spend as little as $15/day but a more realistic figure for most backpackers would be $45-$75/day.

If you have a little more time, consider volunteering at a farm or hostel in exchange for a free stay. This is what I did when I first arrived on the island.

You can find affordable accommodation, eat at local restaurants, and take advantage of free or low-cost activities like hiking and swimming.

While Puerto Rico has a lot of great restaurants, the key to staying on a budget is eating at the roadside stands you will find on almost every major highway and town.

Check out our guides to How Much Does it Cost to Travel to Puerto Rico and Free Things to Do in Puerto Rico.

 

What are the best places for backpackers to go in Puerto Rico?

With so many options, I narrowed this down to the top five best places for backpacking around the island:

 

1. San Juan

You will not fall short of things to do in Puerto Rico’s capital city.

My favorite parts of the city are Old San Juan and Santurce.

 
 
 
 
 
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From both of these neighborhoods, you can walk to a beach and there are plenty of unique cafes like the Poet’s Passage (Old San Juan) and Abracadabra (Santurce) where you can work, meet new people, or work on an art project.

 
 
 
 
 
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Many hostels offer low-cost day trips to popular destinations around the area like El Yunque. If you don’t have a car, this is also a good place to meet other backpackers and share the cost of the rental or tag along.

 

2. West Coast

As the previous owner of a backpacker’s guesthouse in Rincón, I can tell you that this is one of the best destinations for backpackers in Puerto Rico. 

 
 
 
 
 
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The town has a laid-back vibe, beautiful beaches, and plenty of opportunities for surfing and other water sports. You can also take day trips to nearby waterfalls and hiking trails.

You’ll also be close to Cabo Rojo, which is a town that is famous for its tranquil beaches and historic lighthouse.

If you are feeling adventurous, Aguadilla has some of the most beautiful and rugged beaches in the area and great opportunities for hiking.

 

3. El Yunque National Forest

I highly recommend visiting the El Yunque National Forest, and so would anyone who’s been there.

 
 
 
 
 
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The rainforest is home to several hiking trails and camping options. Here are some things to note if you plan on camping:

  • Reservations are required. 
  • Check the weather: The weather in El Yunque can be unpredictable, so it’s important to check the forecast before you go. Heavy rain can cause flash flooding and dangerous conditions, so plan accordingly.
  • Pack appropriately: When camping in El Yunque, be sure to pack appropriate clothing and gear for the tropical rainforest climate. This includes waterproof shoes, insect repellent, a lightweight tent, and a rain fly.
  • Follow park rules: El Yunque is a protected area, and it’s important to follow park rules to help preserve the environment. This includes packing out all trash, using designated campsites, and not disturbing wildlife.
  • Enjoy the park: El Yunque offers many opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hiking, swimming, and wildlife viewing. Take advantage of the park’s offerings and enjoy the beauty of the rainforest.

 

Get all the information you need on the USDA Forest Service website.

 

5. Vieques Island

Vieques is another must-visit destination. 

 
 
 
 
 
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I lived here in a campground for years in my tent, directly next to the ocean.

I highly recommend camping at Sun Bay, although now there may be restrictions on how long you can camp there. The fee to spend the night is very affordable.

 
 
 
 
 
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There are also plenty of opportunities for hiking, snorkeling, and exploring the island’s many historic sites.

Vieques is famous for its gorgeous beaches. It is home to the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world, where the water glows in the dark due to microscopic organisms. I wrote a guide where you can learn more about Mosquito Bay.

 

5. Utuado

If you are a nature enthusiast and have some time to explore the island’s interior, check out Utuado

 
 
 
 
 
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There is a beautiful river here called the Rio Tanama that you can go tubing on (with a guide) underneath the region’s famous caves.

The hike down to the river is the perfect way to start the day.

 

Best backpacking trails in Puerto Rico

There are plenty of amazing hiking trails on the island. Here are my top five picks:

 

1. El Yunque National Forest

Located in the eastern part of the island, this is the only tropical rainforest in the US National Forest System. 

 
 
 
 
 
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There are several trails within the park, including the popular La Mina Trail which leads to a waterfall, and Angelito Trail which leads to a swimming area.

 

2. Toro Negro Forest Reserve

This forest reserve is located in the central part of the island and offers several hiking trails. 

 
 
 
 
 
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The most popular trail is the Las Tres Picachos trail which is one of the highest points on the island and leads to three peaks with stunning views of the surrounding mountains.

Nearby, you can check out one of the world’s longest ziplines at Toro Verde Adventure Park.

 

3. Guajataca Forest Reserve

Located on the northwest coast of the island, this forest reserve has several hiking trails. 

 
 
 
 
 
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The most popular trail is the Cueva del Viento trail.

 

4. Bosque Estatal de Guánica
This dry forest is located on the southwest coast of the island and offers several hiking trails. 

 
 
 
 
 
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The most popular trail is the Bosque Seco trail which leads to a lookout point with views of the Caribbean Sea.

Check out our guide to Guánica for more information about the area.

 

5. Camuy River Cave Park

This park is home to the third-largest underground river system in the world and offers several hiking trails.

 
 
 
 
 
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The most popular trail is the Tres Pueblos Sinkhole trail which leads to a sinkhole with stunning views of the surrounding karst landscape.

For more information, read our guide to the Best Hiking Trails in Puerto Rico.

 

One week in Puerto Rico backpacking itinerary

If you have one week to spend backpacking in Puerto Rico (with a car), here is a sample itinerary that will allow you to experience some of the best the island has to offer:

 

Day 1-3: West Coast

Spend your first few days on the west side of the island, between Rincón, Aguadilla & Cabo Rojo.

The drive from San Juan will take you three hours.

image of Rincon's aerial view
Rincón, Puerto Rico is a beautiful beach town located on the west coast of the island known for its excellent surfing and stunning sunsets.

In Rincón, you can relax on the beach, try your hand at surfing, and explore the town’s laid-back vibe. 

Take a day trip to nearby waterfalls in San Sebastian or hiking trails, and enjoy the local cuisine at the many restaurants and food trucks in the area.

My favorite place to eat in Rincón is Kaplash, which is right on the ocean and serves an extensive variety of empanadas. You can watch the sunset from here and it’s fabulous.

Every Thursday the town has an art walk, where all the local vendors come out and there is usually live music. 

Cabo Rojo and Aguadilla are my favorite picks on the West Coast to continue exploring. 

image of Survival Beach 
A short hike in Aguadilla leads you to an amazing view of Survival Beach.

Aguadilla has many amazing beaches but my favorite one for a hike and seclusion is Survival Beach.

image of Cabo Rojo Lighthouse Trail
Don’t miss the sunset at the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse Trail.

The Cabo Rojo Lighthouse is not to be missed, and it’s right next to Playa Sucia, which is another beach I love that’s perfect for swimming and spending the day.

Cabo Rojo also has Playa Buye which is a bit calmer than the beaches you will find on the northwest coast.

 

Day 3-4: El Yunque National Forest & Luquillo

From the West Coast, it will take 3-4 hours to drive to El Yunque so plan for your trek. If you took the northern route from San Juan to Aguadilla, I recommend taking the south coast so you can explore a bit on your drive.

image of Cayey, Puerto Rico
The views of the mountains in Cayey, Puerto Rico are stunning, with rolling hills and misty peaks creating a picturesque landscape.

The mountains above Ponce in the Cayey area en route to El Yunque are stunning.

You can check out Charco Hippie in Naguabo which is a popular swimming hole, then drive around to the other side of El Yunque, and check into a hostel in Luquillo. I recommend you stay at Casa Coral.

 
 
 
 
 
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Luquillo is a small coastal town located on the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico, famous for its stunning beaches and mouth-watering food. Luquillo is often referred to as the “Sun Capital” due to its sunny weather.

image of La Mina Falls in El Yunque
La Mina Falls in El Yunque National Forest is at the end of a hike where you can cool off in the pools that surround the falls.

On day four, take a trip to the El Yunque National Forest, a short drive from Luquillo, where you can hike to waterfalls, go swimming, and explore the extensive forest.

Make sure to have lunch or dinner after you are done hiking at the Kioskos in Luquillo, located right on the beach.

Read more about the area in our guide to Luquillo Beach.

 

Day 4-6: Vieques

Spend the last leg of your trip on Vieques, where you can explore the bioluminescent bays, snorkel in clear, warm waters, and relax on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

 
 
 
 
 
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To get to Vieques from Luquillo, drive to Ceiba where you can catch a ferry to the island for a few dollars.

Once you get to Vieques, depending on where you are staying, you will take a public van to your destination which should cost under $20.

Stay in Esperanza, so you can walk to the beach and be close to where a tour will pick you up for the bio bay. 

I recommend camping directly on Sun Bay and booking a tour that will meet you in the parking lot of this campground.

 
 
 
 
 
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After you check out the bio bay at night, wake up to the ocean and start exploring the beaches.

All the beaches in Vieques are beautiful, and if you don’t have a car, you are honestly fine to just spend the day at Sun Bay. Hitchhiking is relatively safe here and I did it for years but don’t be disrespectful or attempt this alone or at night unless you are really familiar with it.

If your budget allows, I highly recommend taking a horseback ride with Jurutungo Farms.

For more information, check out this article I wrote about Places to Stay on Vieques and How to Get to Vieques by Dimary Hernández Soto.

 

Day 6-7: San Juan

Spend your last days exploring the colonial architecture of Old San Juan, or La Plactia at night in Santurce.

Day 6 should be reserved for mainly traveling from Vieques to Ceiba, and then driving from Ceiba to San Juan.

Plan to arrive in San Juan in the late afternoon on Day 6 if you leave Vieques on one of the first ferries.

image of a tourist in El Morro
El Morro, also known as Castillo San Felipe del Morro, is a historic fort offering panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and serving as a testament to the island’s rich history.

San Juan has plenty of hostels to choose from.

The top attractions in San Juan are the historic forts, such as Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristobal. 

These fortresses were built by the Spanish in the 16th and 17th centuries to protect the city from invaders. 

Here you can explore the maze-like tunnels and cannons that offer views of the city and the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, the Old San Juan neighborhood is a great place to stroll around and soak up the local atmosphere.

Depending on the time you fly out on Day 7, I highly recommend checking out Piñones which is right next to the airport and is basically the perfect place for your sendoff because you can have amazing street food here directly on the beach while sipping natural coconut water.

image of Shoreline along Piñones
Piñones is located right near the San Juan airport and has a beautiful beach and amazing street food.

We have written a lot about Old San Juan and San Juan, so I recommend checking out our guide with the best Things to Do in Old San Juan.

 

Getting around:

Puerto Rico has everything for backpacking except one key piece of the puzzle: an inexpensive way to travel around the island.

If you want to explore the island’s mountainous interior or only have one week, you will be better off renting a car.

If renting a car isn’t in your budget, you have options.

I highly recommend taking the Linea Sultana from San Juan to the West Coast. There is also a passenger van from San Juan to Ceiba then catching the ferry to Vieques so you can make the most of your trip.

Check out the video below on how to get from San Juan to Vieques:

Rincón and Vieques are nice if you don’t have a car because these places are hitchhiking-friendly for the most part. You can also take an Uber/walk-in Rincón or public vans/walk-in Vieques.

Tip: There are sometimes low-cost flights that fly directly into Aguadilla (BNQ) on the west coast.

Learn more in our guide to Renting A Car In Puerto Rico.

 

FAQ section

Is it safe to backpack in Puerto Rico?

Yes! There are many amazing places, hostels, and towns to explore here and they are all safe. However, if you camp in unauthorized areas or do any form of hitchhiking, it can be considered unsafe.

Do you need to speak Spanish to backpack in Puerto Rico?

You don’t need to because most Puerto Ricans are bilingual, but you will have a better experience if you try to learn along the way, even if it's embarrassing at times.

 

Final thoughts

As an avid backpacker, I can tell you that Puerto Rico is a great destination for your next journey. 

With its beautiful beaches, rainforests, and historic sites, there is no shortage of adventure to be found on the island. 

Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or a first-timer, Puerto Rico will not disappoint you.

While you’re planning your trip, check out our article about Puerto Rico’s Traditions and Holidays so you don’t miss out on something special.

Backpacking In Puerto Rico: The Complete Guide (2024)
Article by

Brittany Ashford

Writer at PuertoRico.com. After living in Puerto Rico for seven years, I opened a guesthouse in Rincón and welcomed over 400 guests to the island from around the world. When I’m not writing about travel or spending time with my dog, I’m working towards becoming a pilot with dreams of flying around the islands.

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