If you are living in the states, Puerto Rico is a super easy destination to get a dose of culture, dreamy beaches, and lush jungles. All with minimal travel, and no passport needed!
Staying for 7 nights in November, we had beautiful weather, and just enough time to do it all. It only takes about 3 hours to drive across Puerto Rico. Personally, I would highly recommend renting a car, so you can move at your own pace. I did so through Enterprise, and it was about $500 for the week. Below I share all the secrets on how to make a magical lap around the island of Puerto Rico, and at the bottom I will break it down to a day by day itinerary.
We spent three nights in Isabela, on Jobo beach, a surfers paradise. Two nights in Canóvanas, at a magical Airbnb surrounded by its own tropical heaven. Then on to Old San Juan, where we spent two days immersed in history, food, and brightly painted buildings.
Isabela, Puerto Rico:
Located in the northwest region of Puerto Rico. Jobo Beach is sleepy little surfer town, where all the locals wander barefoot. The beach and restaurants were just a two minute walk from the Airbnb, giving us a taste of local living. A three nights stay cost us just under $600 for this Airbnb. They had everything we needed including a mini kitchen, AC, comfortable bed, parking, beach chairs, outdoor shower, patio, and hammock area. The only downfall being, you can hear a bit of the hubbub going on outside, including the roosters. I wear ear plugs to bed so it wasn’t too much of a bother, but consider this before booking. Make sure to catch sunset on the beach!
The little corner we stayed in was pretty well maintained and visually appealing. However, down the road a bit there were some hotels and homes that appeared run down or abandon. Due to hurricane Maria and the pandemic, there were the pockets of devastation all over Puerto Rico.
Heres a few restaurants to try, and one to avoid while in the Isabela area.
- Uma’s– Our go to breakfast spot, amazing views.
- Kai– Puerto Rican dishes, wings, ceviche & drinks!
- Sonio Del Mar– DO NOT GO. Horrible food.
- Table Salá– Best mojitos ever, and friendly staff.
- Jobo Food Stop– Food truck central.
- El Wagon Bar– Food truck bar, get the watermelon alien.
- The Lab– Mediocre service, great nachos. We hit this on the way back from Cabo Rojo.
Day trip to Cabo Rojo:
About and hour and 15 minutes from Isabela are some beautiful sites to see. We stopped for snacks and coffee, and hit the road at about 7am on a Sunday morning. I know 7am on a Sunday?! BUT as a result of arriving early, we had it all to ourselves.
Las Salinas, the pink sand! Water from the sea is brought in, and evaporated for the extraction of salt. Brine shrimp is abundant in the salt flats to help with the production of salt, and they are one of the factors in creating the pink colors we love to photograph. Not far from the entrance, we were able to park on the street and walk in. Since our body oils and sunscreen can contaminate the water, be sure to stay on the path provided.
Faro Los Morillos de Cabo Rojo aka Lighthouse– After wandering the salt flats, you can drive a bit further up the bumpy road, park, and hike up to the lighthouse. The massive waves dancing up the rugged cliffs, created the most beautiful landscape to photograph. There are a few trails in the area, one leading down to the beach with clear turquoise waters, La Playuela. It’s the most popular beach in Cabo Rojo. Make sure to bring lots of water for this adventure, because it is hot out there.
Canóvanas, Puerto Rico:
In the northeast region of Puerto Rico, sits one of the most magical Airbnb’s I’ve ever booked. Nike, the host will greet you at the gate with a warm welcome, he used to be a landscape architect, and used his many talents to create this paradise on his property. Coming in at around $120 a night, the room is clean and simple. Ultimately, we spent most of our time on the balcony, by the pool, and on the lush tropical trails. Unfortunately you could hear everything upstairs, so try to book the upper level apartment to avoid this.
El Yunque National Forest was only a 40 minute drive from the Airbnb. It is the only tropical rainforest in the US, and has a very diverse ecosystem, home too many plant and animal species. There are many hikes and waterfalls to consider visiting, I always use AllTrails when planning this portion of my trips. Certain areas, at certain times of the year will require reservations, we did not need one when we went, but you can check here.
We hiked El Yunque Trail a 5.4 mile out and back moderate trail. Aim to go on a clear day, so you can catch a glimpse of all the magical views. We had a little sprinkle on the way down, but what’s a hike in the rain forest without a little rain?
It took us about 3 hours, because stopped and enjoyed the views quite a few times. The abundance of plant life is just breath taking, look up once in a while! We got there pretty early and had no issues parking, it did get busier on our way down. There was a parking lot with rest rooms across the street, just a few hundred feet before the trail head. I wore sneakers with athletic wear, and was quite comfortable.
El Yunque Rainforest Cafe – Great lunch spot for lunch after a long hike. Super friendly staff, serving up delicious tacos and smoothies.
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico:
On the way from Canóvanas to Old San Juan, we stopped at Playa Piñones. Absolutely beautiful stretch of beaches running along this road. We also stopped for lunch at Mi Casita Seafood. According to google maps it looked like there were a bunch of restaurants open, however this was one of the few that was actually open. Staff was super welcoming, I had the shrimp dish and it was delicious. Next door there is a little hut selling fresh coconut waters, we grabbed one and walked the pier behind Mi Casita.
I would say Old San Juan had the best cuisine of the trip, but it was the least attractive stay. I booked Sheraton Old San Juan on Booking.com for $440 dollars for two nights, it was the most convenient location, with parking at a low cost that I could find. I will add, they did have a rooftop pool and hot tub that we enjoyed. Because it’s walkable city, the central location was key. We actually didn’t drive once, after parking the car in Old San Juan.
Food and drink recommendations for Old San Juan
- Zombie Coffee– Coffee & fro-yo.
- Pani Agua– Appetizers and cocktails.
- Raíces– The most locally recommended restaurant.
- La Casita de Rones– Cute cocktail bar overlooking cruise port.
- Mercado la Carreta– Best brunch.
- 352– Brunch and boutique hotel, very cute.
- Carli’s Fine Bistro and Piano– I’ve been dreaming of this pasta since we left. Amazing service. Go after 8 for live music, make sure to reservations!
Old San Juan’s must sees:
Umbrella street was closed, as a result of protests. And in all honestly, the umbrellas were just white, so it wasn’t super cute like I’ve seen in photos. While heading to Fortaleza Street, where the umbrellas live, we found Pigeon Park! If you don’t have a fear of birds, its such a fun, quirky corner of town. Theres a man selling bags of corn, take a handful and the friendly lil pigeons will FLOCK to you.
Can you go to Puerto Rico and not visit at least one of the forts? No! We went to Castillo San Felipe del Morro. It was pretty neat to walk around inside, you can see where the cannons were launched, the prison rooms, and all of the lookouts. It was a beautiful spot to wander, even if you aren’t into the history behind it. It only cost $10 to get in, and that got you in to all the forts in Old San Juan. We personally only visited this one, as it was quite hot.
Itinerary to Puerto Rico:
Day 1: Fly in early, and drive right to Isabela. Breakfast Uma’s. Enjoy the beach all day. Grab a bucket of Coronas at Kai’s!
Day 2: Day trip to Cabo Rojo. Pink sand. Lighthouse. Beach. Stop at The Lab on the way home for lunch. Mojitos on the beach till sunset.
Day 3: Relax, eat, read, beach all day. Walk down to Food Trucks for dinner.
Day 4: Sleep in and road trip to Canóvanas. Stop at Walmart on the way for groceries. Enjoy all the magic this Airbnb has to offer. (Balcony, trails, pool, etc.)
Day 5: Hike El Yunque Trail. Stop at some waterfalls, and view points on the ride back down. El Yunque Rainforest Cafe for lunch. Grill and chill the rest of the night.
Day 6: Road trip to Old San Juan, stopping at Playa Piñoes and Mi Casita Seafood along the way. Check into hotel and go wander!
Day 7: Breakfast at 352. Walk to Castillo San Felipe del Morro. Lunch at Raíces. Pigeon park. Pool at hotel. nap. Carli’s fine Bistro and Piano for dinner.
Day 8: Brunch at Merccao la Carreta and head to the airport.
Well friend, I hope this blog post “How to spend 7 Nights in Puerto Rico” has inspired you to book the flight and go explore! If Puerto Rico isn’t your jam, check out my guide to Zion and Bryce Canyon. Please let me know in the comments below if this helped you plan your trip. Thanks so much for reading.