Lonely Planet has partnered with the San Juan-based travel community platea to provide comprehensive guides, curated lists and insider tips for your next trip to Puerto Rico.
Stretching over a picturesque coastline and bathed in tropical sunshine all year round, San Juan has all the attributes of a city where life is good. Active travelers need not leave the metropolitan area for thrilling activities.
The calm, clear waters offer spectacular scenery above and below the water, inviting snorkeling, paddleboarding and kayaking. At sunrise, the beaches and parks of Condado, Ocean Park and Carolina are populated by yogis, volleyball players and beach tennis enthusiasts.
An easy day trip from the capital reveals two of the island’s must-see attractions: kayaking in a bioluminescent bay in Laguna Grande and hiking in El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest on American soil. But that’s only a fraction of the exciting outdoor activities on offer in San Juan. Here is our list.
Take a surf lesson at Pine Grove Beach
Known for its small, consistent waves, Pine Grove in Isla Verde is the perfect surf spot for beginners. Take a class with a local legend and ABC reality TV show contestant – The ultimate surfer – Alexander Moreda.
Moreda started on Surf with a pro school, located in Isla Verde, in 2018. And since then has worked tirelessly to bring his love of surfing to the masses.
Another great surf spot for novices is La Pared in Luquillo. Located about 40 minutes from San Juan, La Pared is considered one of the Caribbean’s top rated sites for beginners. Advanced surfers invade the area in the fall (particularly October) when the biggest waves arrive.
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Kayak or paddleboard on the Condado Lagoon
Part of the San Juan Estuary, Condado’s mangrove-fringed lagoon is a protected nature reserve and one of the best spots on the island for kayaking and paddleboarding. While you’re on the water, it’s not uncommon to spot manatees, turtles, stingrays, turtles, and even the occasional dolphin.
At Velauno Paddle Board, located in Jaime Benítez National Park in Condado, you can rent paddleboards for $20, sign up for a 90-minute lesson ($75), or take a three-hour cruise ($99).
Biking the San Juan Coast
A great way to experience the terrain is to explore the San Juan coast on two wheels. To simplify the process, have a bike delivered to your hotel via Bike rental in San Juan ($30 per day).
Condado and east/west along the waterfront are the most bike-friendly areas of the city. There are designated bike lanes along Avenida Ashford and paved paths around Condado Lagoon.
Stop at Playita de Condado, a sheltered cove calm enough for young families to swim and snorkel. Take the oceanfront Paseo Caribe that bypasses Punta de Tierra and admire the tiny sandcastle-style Fortín San Gerónimo (currently closed for restoration) which offers sweeping views of the Condado Lagoon.
A short drive west, tree-lined walking and biking trails loop around the perimeter of the century-old Parque Luis Muñoz Rivera on Calle San Agustín. This historic green space, dotted with fountains and festooned with works of art, is part park, part arboretum and part botanical garden.
From there, follow the path west to Balneario El Escambrón (Escambrón public beach) and stroll around the evocative Bateria del Escambrón fort.
Work out at Ocean Park Beach
In the upscale enclave of Ocean Park, a wide crescent of palm-lined white sand is the backdrop for mind-body recreation.
Santosa Yogabased in Condado, offers yoga and meditation workshops/retreats that take a more philosophical approach to practice.
Sessions are held at Ocean Park Beach on Tuesday mornings at 9am and Thursdays at 6pm at Playa Escambrón ($10). You can also organize private lessons and join online classes. Seats are limited, so text in front to reserve a seat.
Similar to volleyball – but played with a racket and tennis ball – beach tennis has exploded in popularity in San Juan. At Ocean Park, you’ll find up to 20 games at the same time on weekends – weekday mornings are another popular time for lessons. To take part in a game or take a lesson, travelers can connect with beach tennis groups via Facebook and instagram.
Jog from Isla Verde to Piñones
In San Juan, runners can cover many miles along the uncrowded beachfront promenades. A four-mile, partly paved boardwalk hugs the waterfront from Isla Verde to Piñones, where there’s a beautifully rugged beach and a delicious lunch at the finish line.
Piñones is famous for its beautiful beaches lined with kiosks serving traditional Puerto Rican street food – our top picks are the bacalaitos (cod fritters) or alcapurrias (fried plantains stuffed with beef or crab).
After lunch, go barefoot into the ocean at La Pocita beach, take a coco frio (cold coconut water) to stay hydrated.
For a quick fix, loop around Laguna del Condado. Long-distance runners can venture from Isla Verde to Old San Juan and admire the city’s iconic landmarks along the way.
Go hiking in the forest of El Yunque
About 46 km (28 mi) east of San Juan, El Yunque National Forest is a hiker’s dream. Outfitters in San Juan and Fajardo offer day trips to El Yunque that include hotel pickup, but if you have an SUV and GPS, tours aren’t necessary.
The 28,000-acre accessible rainforest has 13 well-maintained hiking trails that immediately immerse hikers in a rich diversity of flora and fauna. Beginner paved trails to the north and more primitive dirt roads to the south pass through a biodiversity sanctuary of cloud peaks, cascading waterfalls, picture book streams and huge boulders.
Angelito Trail is one of the most family-friendly (and busiest) trails in the park (0.8 km/0.5 mi). You don’t even have to officially enter the park to access the trail. After about 40 minutes, the paved path ends in a photogenic series of small waterfalls that plunge into a popular natural pool on the Mameyes River.
The 4 km (2.5 mile) paved hike from El Yunque Peak (about four hours round trip) climbs through Palo Colorado forest, sierra palms, misty rainforest, and cloud forest. Depending on the season, expect to see a riot of wildflowers, bromeliads, ferns, birds and sonorous coqui frogs – Puerto Rico’s unofficial mascot.
The Mount Britton Paved Trail is a short (1.3 km) round trip hike teeming with orchid and fern species. On a clear day, you can see the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the eastern coastal plain from the tower’s observation deck.
Discover the wonders of bioluminescent berries
Kayaking through a sparkling ocean, witnessing the rare natural light show known as bioluminescence is an absolute must. Of the five phosphorescent bays in the world, Puerto Rico is home to three in Vieques, Laguna Grande and La Parguera. Every ripple in the water – from a skimming hand, a fish or an oar – ignites magical fluorescent blue sparks below the surface.
About an hour’s drive east of San Juan on the northeast coast, Laguna Grande is Puerto Rico’s most accessible bioluminescent bay. What sets Laguna Grande apart is that the bay is actually a lagoon, nestled in an area of spectacular natural beauty. Dinoflagellates put on their ethereal light show as they feast on the red mangroves surrounding the water.
Kayaking Puerto Rico offers two-hour Bioluminescent Bay tours that depart from Las Croabas at 6:15 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. daily ($55). Time-strapped travelers can combine a guided hike from El Yunque with an organic bay night tour ($149), including transportation from San Juan, a stop in Luquillo, and dinner at a local restaurant.