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It may be a capital city, but Puerto Rico’s San Juan is more than just urban sprawl with shopping, dining and electric nightlife. The capital city is also a perfect home base from which to explore Puerto Rico’s rainforest, beaches and natural phenomena. So if choosing has never been your forte, check out this itinerary that packs the best of both worlds all on the same trip.
When deciding which of the many hotels in San Juan to check into, consider InterContinental San Juan, which sits on a 2-mile stretch of white, sandy beach. The hotel has 397 guestrooms with 21 suites, which have been recently renovated. The resort also has six restaurants, including a newly remodeled indoor-outdoor Lobby Bar and La Bodeguita Cafe and Wine Bar. The hotel’s location on Isla Verde beach means oceanside lounging at the guests-only beach club. Follow it up with a night out on the town.
Start the trip off on your most active foot with an early start to El Yunque National Forest. About an hour from San Juan, El Yunque is Puerto Rico’s most well-known hiking experience, filled with waterfalls and 26 varieties of animal species found only in the area. El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System, and one of the most lush, as it receives more than 100 billion gallons of annual rainfall. Hiking trails wind deep into the jungle, revealing swimming-hole surprises along the way.
If beach-hopping is how you’d prefer to spend your morning, roll out of bed and hit Isla Verde, directly in front of the hotel. Isla Verde is a series of beaches that are tranquil during the week and vibrant on weekends, when locals come out to party under the sun. Isla Verde is also a top spot for parasailing, bodysurfing, water-skiing and Jet-Skiing.
Travelers can also head east of San Juan to Luquillo, one of the island’s most popular beaches for divers. Continuing east, about an hour from San Juan, you will hit Fajardo and its Seven Seas Beach, which is a great place to spot tropical fish, coral formations and other sea life. If you head to Luquillo or Fajardo, be sure to leave time to visit the Luquillo kiosks at lunch. Don’t be fooled by their ramshackle appearance: The Luquillo kiosks are a beloved part of Puerto Rico’s foodie culture and are a great spot to taste the real Puerto Rico. The 60 or so buildings line Route 3 along the beach. The vibe is casual as you hop from stall to stall, sampling local snacks and ice-cold beers. A number of places will have live music in the evenings, especially on the weekends.
Head back into San Juan for a quick refresh, nap or visit to the spa at the hotel before hitting the streets of Old San Juan for a taste of Puerto Rican nightlife. While the day calls for flip-flops and shorts, nighttime in San Juan is when you dress to impress. Many of San Juan’s neighborhoods are home to sexy, chic dining hot spots serving everything from Nuevo Latino to Caribbean fare. Consider Trois Cent Onze or the Parrot Club in San Juan’s SoFo district, where Latin fusion meets martinis. Over in Condado, you will find Oceano, a sleek multistory restaurant with open-air dining overlooking the ocean.
After dinner is when Old San Juan puts on the party. Late nights are the standard in this section of town, whether the playlist is salsa, techno or jazz. If modern, millennial-esque music is your scene, visit La Factoria, a speakeasy-style cocktail bar with secret back rooms and walls splashed with modern art. If dancing is more your style, salsa at Nuyorican Cafe. For VIP bottle service, head to Club Brava & Ultra Lounge, located in El San Juan Resort & Casino, a Hilton Hotel, which has a central dance floor and a balcony overlooking the action.
If it’s a quiet night you crave, consider a visit to one of the island’s bioluminescent bays. There are only five in the world, and Puerto Rico is home to two. If San Juan is your base, the closest bay to visit is Laguna Grande at Las Croabas, Fajardo. Kayak deep into the mangrove forests and emerge onto a glassy, secluded lagoon. The bay is home to large colonies of dinoflagellates that light up like fireflies underneath the water’s surface. It’s a different type of Puerto Rico night that is just as magical and memorable, all without the hangover.
Club Brava & Ultra Loungewww.bravamanagementgroup.com
El Yunque National Forestwww.fs.usda.gov
InterContinental San Juanwww.icsanjuanresort.com
The Parrot Clubwww.parrotclubpr.com
Puerto Rico Tourism Companywww.seepuertorico.com
Trois Cent Onzewww.311restaurantpr.com