Most tourists don’t know where to stay when planning a trip to Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico’s main island is relatively large, and there are lots of places & areas that you could stay.
Most people think that the capital (San Juan) is the best area to stay while on vacation, but there are many other parts of Puerto Rico that are equally good, if not better.
I was born in Puerto Rico, and have spent many decades helping tourists decide where to stay during their vacations.
In this article, I will tell you about the 13 best places & areas to stay in Puerto Rico.
Note that I am writing about places and areas to stay in Puerto Rico, not specific hotels. If you want information about hotels, Vanessa Ramos wrote an excellent article titled 30 Best Hotels In Puerto Rico.
Important Tip: Rent a vehicle. Puerto Rico is a hundred miles (160 kilometers) long and 35 miles (56 kilometers) wide, so if you are not planning to stay only in your hotel, rent a car, and you can go anywhere on the island in less than two and a half hours.
Travel back to when Spanish Conquistadors, Pirates, and The British Empire fought for control of the Caribbean.
In Old San Juan, you will find history, great architecture, fine cuisine, and the birthplace of the Pina Colada, all within walking distance. San Juan offers museums, a Spanish Fortress (El Morro), and vibrant nightlife.
A group of women led by a bishop made the British Army flee (La Rogativa). A horse that miraculously stopped at the edge of a cliff when the rider asked for divine intervention (La Capilla del Cristo).
And a dog that turned into a rock formation at the beach waiting for its Master who sailed away (El Perro de Piedra) are some of the legends that Old San Juan has.
You must see the sunrise from El Paseo La Princesa and take an early morning tour in Casa Bacardi Cataño, where you will become a mojito expert and taste one of the best rums Puerto Rico offers.
And be sure to visit El Parque de Las Palomas (Pigeon’s Park), where you can see the magnificence of San Juan bay.
Learn more in our article Old San Juan – All You Need To Know.
Fajardo is 59 kilometers (one hour drive) east of San Juan.
There you will find a bioluminescent bay, dry forest, coral reefs, sandy and rocky beaches, mangroves, and one of the best hotels in the Caribbean (El Conquistador).
Go to Las Croabas to take a kayak tour you will never forget. A trip to Palomino Island could be pricey but is worth every penny.
Spend the day at Seven Seas Beach and eat great seafood from one of the many restaurants in the area.
Fajardo is also home to the Natural Reserve Las Cabezas de San Juan and has a Spanish lighthouse with a breathtaking view of the Caribbean Sea.
Before nightfall, many people will be arriving in the area to take the bioluminescent bay kayak tour. If you want to participate, be sure to book in advance.
Learn more in our article Fajardo – All You Need To Know.
Rio Grande is home to El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in The United States National Forest System.
When you see the mountains covered with clouds, you understand why the Taino Indians, Puerto Rico’s native inhabitants, believed that El Yunque was where the Gods lived.
In El Yunque, you will find breathtaking scenery, clear mountain rivers, a great diversity of flora and fauna, and three of the most beautiful waterfalls in Puerto Rico.
It is essential to know that you must buy tickets in advance to get to El Yunque. Book your visit by clicking here or visiting Recreation.gov.
Be sure to pack extra clothes because it is a rainforest that rains daily. For the most adventurous traveler, Rio Grande offers zipline parks.
Rio Grande has the most luxurious and expensive hotel on the Island of Puerto Rico, The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort by Marriott. From Rio Grande, you can visit the town of Luquillo; this small town has beautiful beaches such as “El Balneario de Luquillo” and excellent seafood.
Learn more in our article El Yunque National Forest – All You Need To Know.
Fun fact, Puerto Rico is not just an Island; it is an archipelago.
Vieques is one of the two inhabited smaller islands of Puerto Rico. In Vieques, you will find pristine beaches, wild horses, and, believe it or not, tropical deer.
Rumor has it that Navy officials brought the deer in for hunting. Vieques also has the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world, Mosquito Bay.
While in Vieques, you can visit Playa Negra, a black sand beach. You should also visit Esperanza in the southern part of the island; the turquoise water will make you want to stay there.
The seafood in Vieques is second to none. Don’t leave the island without tasting their famous bili; a drink made with quenepas (Spanish Lime, Melicoccus bijugatus), aged rum, cinnamon, and brown sugar.
The fastest and easiest way to get to Vieques is by plane from San Juan SJU Airport, it is a little expensive, but you’ll be there in half an hour.
Learn more in our article Vieques – All You Need To Know.
The smallest inhabited island in Puerto Rico’s Archipelago has its time zone, The Culebra time.
You will disconnect from the modern living rush in this small paradise.
There is not much to do in Culebra but relax on one of the 2015 Conde Nast top 10 beaches of the World, Flamenco Beach.
The beautiful turquoise water of Culebra’s beaches will make you want to spend your whole day. If you stay long enough in the water, sea turtles will come to greet you.
If you are a nature lover, then you must visit Culebra.
There are no big luxurious hotels or fancy restaurants in Culebra, but the guesthouse owners and the people in the restaurants will go above and beyond to help you have the time of your life.
Learn more in our article Culebra – All You Need To Know.
The southern east coast of Puerto Rico offers natural reserves such as Punta Santiago Nature Reserve in Humacao and Ines Maria Mendoza (Punta Yeguas) Natural Reserve.
You can walk, bike, or even kayak in these natural wonders. You can watch many endemic and migratory birds in these natural reserves.
Humacao is home to Palmas del Mar, one of the most beautiful resorts in Puerto Rico.
From Humacao, you can visit other southeastern towns like Maunabo and see the Playa Punta Tuna with its majestic lighthouse and white sandy beach.
Not far from Punta Tuna, you will find Playa Negra, Maunabo’s black sand beach.
The southeast of Puerto Rico is great to be in contact with nature and taste the freshly caught seafood in its restaurants.
“Ponce es Ponce y lo demás es parking” Ponce is Ponce, the rest of the Island is just parking space.
That is a phrase people from Ponce proudly say. Ponce has it all, beautiful beaches with a boardwalk at La Guancha.
Impressive colonial architecture at the town center, museums, universities, parks, and even Taino Indian ceremonial grounds called Tibes.
Ponce even has a small Island called Caja de Muerto because it resembles a dead person.
Ponce’s rich history includes voluntary firefighters exposing their lives to extinguish a fire in a gunpowder deposit, the invention of a musical genre “La Plena,” and the birthplace of Rum Don Q, by far the most sold Puerto Rican rum in the World.
Ponce has restaurants for all budgets and a nightlife that rivals San Juan’s. One thing you must know about Ponce is that the temperature rises, but don’t worry; you can get shaved ice with homemade syrups called piraguas.
Or you can have the best ice cream in the south at Los Chinos in Plaza Las Delicias town square.
Learn more in our article Ponce – All You Need To Know.
Guanica is a small town that has big wonders.
In Guanica, you can find one of the most extensive (around 9,000 acres) tropical dry coastal forests in the World.
El Bosque Seco de Guanica is a United Nations International Reserve. This forest is home to over 6,000 species.
The forest has twelve trails to walk in, but you must go to Fort Capron; the view will render you speechless. In Guanica, you will find Gilligan’s Island, a small island perfect for spending the day relaxing, swimming, or kayaking.
There are mangroves where you can see many fish and other marine life.
Guanica is close to the town of Lajas. Lajas has La Parguera, a fishing village where you can book fishing trips and take tours to Mata la Gata and Caracoles, two beautiful keys where you can swim, snorkel, or sunbathe.
Learn more about the area’s bio bay in our article La Parguera bioluminescent bay.
Cabo Rojo is in the southwest of Puerto Rico, 110 miles from San Juan, but believe me, it is worth the almost three hours trip.
The Lighthouse Faro Los Morillos is a must-see. There you will find one of the most spectacular views in Puerto Rico.
Within walking distance, you have playa sucia, a secluded beach with white sands and crystal clear waters.
The Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge hosts hundreds of endemic and migratory species.
Cabo Rojo has been producing sea salt for hundreds of years. Visit playa Rosada or Pink Beach.
Seawater processing to extract the salt leaves the water with a distinctive pink color.
Boqueron is a small village in Cabo Rojo where you will find a marina, boat trips, and what many rate as the best seafood in Puerto Rico.
If you like motorized water sports, Cabo Rojo is the place for you. You will see your share of JetSkis, and you could rent them there. For a great day at the beach, go to Playa Buye.
Learn more in our article Cabo Rojo – All You Need To Know.
Let me tell you a love story that involves beautiful sunsets, big waves, ocean breezes, leatherback turtles, and humpback whales.
This love story repeats itself over and over again. The person comes from The United States of America’s mainland to spend a few days in Rincon.
The person firsthand experiences why Rincon is called “El Pueblo de Los Bellos Atardeceres,” The town of beautiful sunsets.
The person feels the ocean breeze, surfs the waves, sees leatherback turtles and humpback whales, snorkels, kayaks, maybe scuba dives, and suddenly realizes that they want to spend the rest of their life in Rincon.
Rincon has a Rincon of The Seas Grand Caribbean Hotel, an excellent hotel, but if you want a more relaxed experience, try booking a guesthouse.
In these guesthouses, they will treat you like a good friend that came to visit. My only warning for you if you choose to visit Rincon is to be careful; you might fall in love with this town and want to stay.
Learn more in our article Rincon – All You Need To Know.
You will find Aguadilla on the northwest shore of Puerto Rico.
A two-hour drive from San Juan. Aguadilla is where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. The beaches in Aguadilla are beautiful and filled with history and legends.
You have Parque Colon, the place where many believe Christopher Columbus landed. You have Rompeolas Beach, which once housed a fortress that defended the town from pirates and British invaders.
You have Crash Boat Beach, one of the best beaches for snorkeling, swimming, and scuba diving.
The name Crash Boat comes from when the old United States Air Force Base (General Ramey Base) established the Crash Boat Rescue Unit on that beach.
You have Pena Blanca, a beach where you can swim with turtles and see plenty of tropical fish.
You also have surfing beaches like Wilderness, Surfer’s Beach, and a beach with unbelievable rock formations, Survivor Beach.
Aguadilla is more than beautiful beaches. It has the only municipal golf course, Punta Borinquen Golf Club.
There are many restaurants in Aguadilla, three hotels, and Las Cascadas Water Park. Make sure you see the sunset from Paseo Real Marina, a beachfront walk with restaurants and kiosks.
Learn more in our article Aguadilla – All You Need To Know.
Isabela offers Surfing Spots, Bike trails, a boardwalk that spans 3 miles along the north shore, a forest, an underwater cave system, horseback riding, seafood, and one of the best hotels on the island.
This peaceful beach town on the north shore is an hour and a half west of San Juan. Learn to surf at Jobos Beach.
Don’t leave Isabela without tasting their coconut water. And before you go back home, eat like a local surfer and try a seafood empanadilla at La Parada de Los Surfers Kiosk.
Learn more in our article Isabela – All You Need To Know.
Mountains and rivers cover the central part of Puerto Rico.
Home of Taino Indians, the towns of Utuado and Jayuya have a rich history. You can visit Caguana Ceremonial Indigenous Heritage Center to learn how Taino lived.
You can stay at one of the Haciendas, family-owned inns, and take a coffee plantation tour. Experience the typical cuisine in chinchorros.
Do not leave the central part of the Island without eating roasted pork in Guavate. Andrew Zimmerman from the tv show Bizarre Foods said that Guavate has the best pork he has ever eaten.
Spend the day in one of the rivers of this region. Go hiking on one of the many mountain trails. Fish, kayak, or swim in one of the artificial lakes the central zone has.
If you're looking for nightlife, excellent restaurants, shopping, culture and you don't mind walking, then Old San Juan is the best place to stay. It is a little pricey, but you will love it.
The west coast of Puerto Rico is best for families. Aguadilla, Isabela, and Rincon offer beaches, nature, relaxing places, and activities for the whole family. These small beach towns are far from big cities, so that you will enjoy a slow-paced experience. They are also very safe.
Puerto Rico has something for everyone.
Beaches, nightlife, outstanding cuisine, history, legends, friendly people, hotels for every budget, adventure, relaxation, and everything in between.
When you visit the Island, you can stay in San Juan or choose any other of these 13 places to stay in Puerto Rico.
My best recommendation to stay is in Rincon. It’s a whole different experience than staying in San Juan and you are closer to more beaches like Crash Boat in Aguadilla, Jobos Beach in Isabela and Cabo Rojo.
Check out our 45 best things to do in Puerto Rico article. We hope you have a great time when you come to visit.
Writer at PuertoRico.com. I was born in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. I’m passionate about Puerto Rican history and culture. I live on the west coast of Puerto Rico, and host an Airbnb for tourists. I also coordinate tours and concierge services for tourists. I authored “Eat Like A Local, Puerto Rico”, and have contributed to blogs and magazines with articles about discovering and enjoying what Puerto Rico has to offer.About the author