For those who like some history, art, golf and spa pampering
along with their beach time, Puerto Rico offers a beguiling range
of activities. There’s great shopping in San Juan, including posh
designer boutiques and a lively gallery scene. From Saks Fifth
Avenue to Macy’s or Walmart, any retailer in the continental U.S.
can be found there. You can explore the historic district of Old
San Juan with its Spanish Colonial cobblestone streets, cathedrals
and forts and take in beautifully preserved Neoclassical and Art
Deco architecture in the town of Ponce. There’s tremendous bio-diversity on the island. It’s easy to go from beach to rain forest
to mountains within a day’s time.
Exploring the Natural Wonders
No trip to Puerto Rico is complete without a visit to El
Yunque National Rain Forest, which is located a 45-minute drive
east of San Juan. The 28,000-acre virgin forest preserve features
an extensive network of hiking trails maintained by the United
States Forest Service. The only U.S. rainforest, it is home to 240
species of tropical plants and wildlife. The forest still looks much
as it did in 1493, when Christopher Columbus first discovered
Puerto Rico. You’ll see spectacular waterfalls, wild orchids, giant
ferns (some grow as tall as 120 feet!), rare parrots and millions
of tiny tree frogs.
Puerto Rico has beaches to please all tastes—from the tranquil
crystalline lagoon of Luquillo Beach, located 30 miles east of
San Juan, to the world-class surfing beaches of Rincón along
the northwest coast, where winter waves can reach 20 feet. You’ll
find opportunities at beaches all over Puerto Rico to windsurf,
boogie board and body surf. Abundant coral reefs and under-
water caves make for captivating scuba diving, and a number
of companies offer luxury catamaran snorkeling outings off the
coast of Fajardo. The waters teem with rainbow-hued fish and
other marine delights.
Several ranches rent horses by the hour and offer guided beach
horseback rides. You can also just kick back on the shore with
a novel and a classic Puerto Rican piña colada (which usually
comes garnished with a maraschino cherry and a paper parasol).
The island sun is intense, so you’ll want to bring sunscreen with
a high SPF.
An hour and a half west of San Juan, Parque de las Cavernas
del Rio Camuy is a 268-acre underground park of caves, canyons
and sinkholes. A tram takes visitors down to a 180-foot high cave,
where a guide then leads a tour on foot. You’ll see impressive
stalactites and stalagmites, the third largest subterranean river in
the world, and light-shy wildlife, such as blue-eyed river crabs and
furry-legged tarantulas. The caves are said to house more than
100,000 bats, but they rarely make appearances during the day.
On the day that you explore the caves, you can also visit
the nearby Observatorio de Arecibo, site of the world’s largest
single-dish radio telescope that has a whopping 1,000-foot
diameter. Dubbed “an ear to heaven,” the observatory is part
of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, a national
research center operated by Cornell University under a cooperative
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