Lonely Planet has partnered with San Juan-based travel community Platea to provide comprehensive guides, curated lists and insider tips for your next trip to Puerto Rico.
Stretching across a scenic coastline and basking in year-round tropical sunshine, San Juan has all the attributes of a great lifestyle city. Active travelers don’t need to leave the metro area for heart-racing pursuits.
Calm, clear waters provide spectacular scenery above and below the water, inviting snorkeling, paddleboarding and kayaking. At sunrise, the beaches and parks of Condado, Ocean Park and Carolina populate with yogis, volleyballers and beach tennis enthusiasts.
An easy day trip from the capital unveils two of the island’s bucket-list attractions – kayaking through a bioluminescent bay at Laguna Grande and hiking in El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest on U.S. soil. But that’s just a fraction of exciting outdoor activities on offer in San Juan. Here’s our list.
Take a surf lesson at Pine Grove Beach
Known for its small and steady waves, Pine Grove in Isla Verde is the perfect surfing spot for beginners. Take a class with local legend and contestant on the ABC reality series TV show – The Ultimate Surfer – Alejandro Moreda.
Moreda began the 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 ideal surfing location 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 take over the area in the fall (specifically in October) when the bigger waves arrive.
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 places on the island to kayak and paddleboard. While out on the water, it’s not unusual 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 USD$20, sign up for a 90-minute lesson ($75) or take a three-hour cruise tour ($99).
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Cycle the San Juan coast
A great way to get the lay of the land is to explore San Juan’s coastline on two wheels. To streamline the process, have a bike delivered to your hotel via San Juan Bike Rentals (USD$30 per day).
Condado and east/west along the oceanfront are the most bike-friendly zones in the city. There are designated bike lanes along Avenida Ashford and paved paths around Condado Lagoon.
Stop at Playita de Condado, a sheltered cove that’s calm enough for young families to snorkel and swim. Take the oceanside Paseo Caribe which skirts around Punta de Tierra and see the tiny sandcastle-style Fortín San Gerónimo (currently closed for restoration) which has sweeping views of Condado Lagoon.
A short ride west, tree-lined walking and cycling 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 artworks, is a park, arboretum and botanical garden rolled into one.
From here, follow the path west to Balneario El Escambrón (Escambrón Public Beach) and stroll around the evocative Bateria del Escambrón Fort.
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Get physical at Ocean Park beach
At the upscale enclave of Ocean Park, a wide crescent of palm-fringed white sand is the backdrop for mind-body recreation.
Santosa Yoga, based in Condado, offers yoga and meditation workshops/retreats that take a more philosophical approach to the practice.
Sessions take place at Ocean Park beach on Tuesday mornings at 9am and Thursdays at 6pm at Playa Escambrón ($10). You can also arrange private lessons and join online classes. Spaces are limited, so text ahead to reserve a spot..
Similar to volleyball – but played with a racquet and a tennis ball – beach tennis has exploded in popularity in San Juan. At Ocean Park, you’ll find as many as 20 games going on at any one time on the weekends – weekday mornings are another popular time for lessons. To join a game or take a lesson, travelers can connect with beach tennis groups through Facebook and Instagram.
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Go for a jog from Isla Verde to Piñones
In San Juan, runners can log some serious miles along lightly trafficked oceanfront promenades. A four-mile, partly paved boardwalk skirts the oceanfront from Isla Verde to Piñones, where there’s a beautifully rugged beach and a tasty lunch at the finish line.
Piñones is famous for its beautiful beaches lined with kiosks that serve traditional Puerto Rican street food – our top picks are the bacalaítos (codfish fritters) or alcapurrias (fried plantains stuffed with beef or crab).
After lunch, go barefoot in the ocean at La Pocita Beach, pick up a coco frío (cold coconut water) to stay hydrated.
For a quick fix, take loops around Laguna del Condado. Long-distance runners can venture all the way from Isla Verde to Old San Juan and take in the city’s iconic landmarks en route.
Go for a hike at El Yunque Forest
Some 46km (28 mi) east from San Juan, El Yunque National Forest is a hiker’s dream. Outfitters in San Juan and Fajardo offer day tours of El Yunque which include hotel pick up, but if you have a sport utility vehicle and GPS, tours aren’t necessary.
The accessible 28000-acre rainforest has 13 well-maintained hiking trails which immediately immerse hikers in a rich diversity of flora and fauna. Novice paved trails in the north and more primitive dirt paths in the south traverse a biodiverse sanctuary of cloud-laced peaks, cascading waterfalls, picture-book streams and huge boulders.
The Angelito Trail is one of the park’s most family-friendly (and heavily trafficked) trails (0.8km/0.5 mi). You don’t even need to officially enter the park to access the trail. After around 40 minutes, the paved path culminates in a photogenic series of small waterfalls which plummet into a popular natural swimming pool on the Mameyes River.
The paved 4-km (2.5-mile) El Yunque Peak hike (around four hours roundtrip) ascends through the Palo Colorado forest, sierra palms, misty rainforest and cloud forest. Depending on the season, expect to see a riot of wildflowers, bromeliads, ferns, birdlife and the sonorous coqui tree frogs – Puerto Rico’s unofficial mascot.
The paved Mount Britton Trail is a short out-and-back hike (1.3km/0.8 mi) teeming with orchid and fern species. On a clear day, you can see the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and eastern coastal plain from the tower’s observation deck.
Experience the wonders of bioluminescent bays
Kayaking through a sparkling ocean, witnessing the rare, natural light show known as bioluminescence is an absolute must. Of the world’s five phosphorescent bays, Puerto Rico is home to three in Vieques, Laguna Grande and La Parguera. Each ripple in the water – from a skimming hand, a fish or an oar – ignites magical fluorescent-blue sparkles below the surface.
Around an hour’s drive east from San Juan, on the Northeast Coast, Laguna Grande is Puerto Rico’s most accessible bioluminescent bay. What sets Laguna Grande apart is the bay is actually a lagoon, nestled within an area of spectacular natural beauty. The dinoflagellates put on their ethereal light show as they feast off the red mangroves that surround the water.
Kayaking Puerto Rico offers two-hour bioluminescent bay tours that depart from Las Croabas at 6:15pm and 8:30pm daily ($55). Travelers short on time can combine a guided hike of El Yunque with an evening bio bay tour ($149), including transportation from San Juan, a stop in Luquillo and dinner at a local restaurant.
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