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3 days in Puerto Rico may not be a lot of time, but if you don’t get much time off work and you’re only able to travel on weekends, then sometimes you just have to work with it!
Since my friend was waiting on her visa and couldn’t leave the U.S., we wanted to go somewhere a bit different for our long weekend without leaving the country. An obvious choice was Puerto Rico – a Caribbean island that also happens to be an unincorporated U.S territory.
At 3.5 hours flight time, the journey from New York to San Juan is fairly short and you don’t have to take your passport since it’s a domestic flight. A U.S driver’s license will do. We stayed 3 nights in San Juan and rented a car for 24 hours so we could explore a bit more of the island.
Since the island is fairly big it’s impossible to cover everything there is to do in Puerto Rico in 3 days, so we stuck to the north and east coast. I really enjoyed my time in PR and fully intend to go back another time to explore other parts of the island.
If you plan to spend 3 days in Puerto Rico, here’s my suggested itinerary.
Where to Stay On Your 3 Days in Puerto Rico
First a little note on where to stay. We stayed in an Airbnb, specifically this one. It has a pool and an incredible ocean view. It’s also centrally located in Condado so you’re just a few steps from all the restaurants and bars, as well as the beach.
If you don’t stay at an Airbnb, there are a few hotels in San Juan area I’d recommend.
O:LV Hotel – This is without a doubt one of the nicest boutique Design Hotels I’ve ever seen. Situated in Condado, the OL:V has a trendy rooftop with incredible views of the lagoon, which you can visit whether you’re staying at there or not. This isn’t just your typical hotel – the interiors are to die for, with brass, marble and velvet accents a-plenty.
La Concha Renaissance – If you’re looking for a larger resort, La Concha Renaissance boats an infinity pool overlooking Condado Beach, several restaurants, a fitness center and a 24 hour casino. Rooms also have floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies with ocean views.
Villa Herencia Hotel – I you’d prefer to stay in San Juan Old Town, this boutique hotel has old world charm, funky interiors, local art work and a relaxing roof terrace. It’s also located just a short walk from Museum of the Americas and Santa Catalina Palace.
How to Get Around on Your 3 Days in Puerto Rico
For your 3 days in Puerto Rico I’d suggest getting a car so you can explore the island. You can find rental car deals using Kayak or Rentalcars.com. Don’t forget to bring your U.S driver’s license with you in order to rent the car. If you plan to stick around San Juan and Condado, then you can easily get around by Uber, which is fairly inexpensive.
Day 1 – Relax in Condado
Flying can be exhausting so plan to have a relaxing day the first day of your Puerto Rico itinerary. Once you land at San Juan Airport (SJU), either order an Uber or pick up your rental car and make your way to your accommodation.
San Juan is basically split into two parts. There’s the old town, which is full of colorful buildings and bars, then there’s the newer part, Condado, which is by the beach. I’d suggest staying in Condado so you can easily walk to the beach. You can then Uber to Old San Juan in the evenings.
Relax on Condado Beach
Once you’ve checked in an unpacked your stuff, head on over to San Juan’s main beach area, Condado, which is lined with hotels such as the Marriott and La Concha Renaissance.
Condado Beach is a windswept city beach lined with palm trees, hotels and high-rises. The water can get pretty wavy and the current is strong so it’s not really advisable to swim there. The beach gets lively in the afternoons, particularly on weekends, so it’s great for people watching. Spend the afternoon soaking up the sun and sip on a piña colada or two.
Lunch at Jose Enrique
If you’re feeling a bit peckish you can walk along Ashford Ave, which has plenty of restaurants offering everything from Puerto Rican food to sushi.
One great restaurant I’d recommend is Jose Enrique, which serves really good Puerto Rican food with a modern twist. The restaurant’s interior is bright and airy, with simple wooden tables and mirrors adorning the walls.
Dishes are designed for sharing and are made with ingredients from local producers. The menu changes daily but you can expect everything to be super fresh and delicious. I particularly enjoyed the tuna crudo and pork belly with shishito peppers.
Sunset Drinks at ARYA Rooftop
For sunset you can head on over to ARYA rooftop at the O:LV hotel, which hands down is one of the most stylish hotels I’ve ever seen. Artsy, bold and luxurious, the hotel is so beautiful that it was awarded Best Design Hotel of the World and Best New Boutique Hotel by London’s Boutique Hotel Awards. If you have the cash to stay there, then do it!
The rooftop has a beautiful pool/fountain and views of the Condado lagoon, so head on over at sunset to snap some photos and enjoy a cocktail or two. A highlight of the rooftop is the ’77 Rolls Royce that’s been converted into a DJ Booth.
La Placita de Santurce
If you still have some energy left in you, head over to La Placita de Santurce which is a bustling market area that comes alive after 6pm. Locals flock there to have food, cocktails and dance salsa – it’s super fun!
La Placita has been around for 100 years and started as a two-tiered marketplace where people could buy fresh produces such as fruit, vegetables and meat. Today it still functions as a marketplace during the day but it transforms into a vibrant local hangout at night. It’s particularly lively Thursday through Sunday, so make sure you visit on one of these days.
Day 2 – El Yunque Rainforest and Bio Bay
For the second day of your Puerto Rico itinerary you’re going to drive out to El Yunque Rainforest and visit the town of Fajardo, which is on the east coast of the island. You’ll need a car for this part, as it’s too far to Uber from San Juan.
Breakfast at Cafe Regina
For an Instagram-worthy (and healthy) breakfast, visit Cafe Regina in Condado/Ocean Park, which is located one block from the beach. This neighborhood cafe serves quality coffee and healthy menu items made with ingredients from local producers. You must, must, must get their avocado toast with black garlic, it’s so good!
Another must-try from the menu is the Cashew Milk Iced Latte, which is made with cashew milk, two shots of espresso, organic maple syrup, and cinnamon.
Cafe Regina is open daily from 8am to 4pm.
Address: 58 Calle Taft, San Juan, PR 00911.
El Yunque National Forest
If you haven’t already, pick up a rental car and drive to El Yunque rainforest, which is a tropical rainforest in the northeastern part of Puerto Rico. This diverse rainforest covers an area of nearly 29,000 acres and boasts breathtaking views, beautiful waterfalls, and plenty of hiking trails.
Access to the rainforest is managed and to enter you’ll need to book online from a choice of morning or afternoon slots. We chose the morning slot so we could beat the crowds and enjoy the rest of our day doing other things.
Since the entrance is timed, I’d advise booking in advance at a couple of days beforehand so that you aren’t disappointed. Tickets to El Yunque can be purchased on the Recreation.gov website.
You’ll enter El Yunque Rainforest at the visitor’s center and then drive up steep, windy roads stopping at various lookout points along the way.
If you get car sick at all (I definitely do) don’t go on an empty stomach and make sure you get out of the car for fresh air. The parking areas are super small so I can’t imagine how busy it would get if we had gone later in the day.
If you’re up for some exercise you could hike one of the trails, or if you’d rather do something more leisurely, you can take some photos and stop at one of the waterfalls for a swim.
After visiting El Yunque it’s time to relax, so drive over to Luquillo Beach, which is roughly 20 minutes away, just off Route 3.
This tranquil bay is great for swimming and snorkeling and is lined with palm trees that provide some shade. There are restrooms, showers and picnic spots, so you have everything you need right there. If you get hungry or thirsty, there are a number of kiosks next to the beach serving things like empanadas, ice cream and piña coladas. I loved the piña coladas here and thought they were much better than the ones I tried in Old San Juan.
Luquillo Beach has its own parking lot and parking is reasonably priced at $4 for the entire day.
Fajardo and Bio Bay
Finish your day by driving to Fajardo, which is on the east coast of the island. It’s about a 15 minute drive from Luquillo Beach. Fajardo is a popular place to do a bioluminescent bay tour. We were feeling peckish before the tour, so we stopped for some fried snapper and arepas at Pescaderia Don Candi, which is a tiny local spot on the water with a bar next door. Don’t expect anything fancy; this is a no-frills restaurant serving fresh seafood straight from the ocean. You order at the counter and then sit on bar stools overlooking the water. Make sure to bring cash!
Our Bio Bay kayaking tour with Kayaking Puerto Rico was seriously one of the highlights of our trip. We kayaked in almost complete darkness and it was so relaxing under the stars that I wished I could stay longer.
If you want to see bioluminescence then it’s best to go close to a new moon when the sky is as dark as possible. However, if you visit when the moon is out don’t fret! They give you a tarp to put over your head so you can create shade and see the sparkle. It really is magical, and looks like you’re holding glitter in your hand.
Day 3 – Pinones and San Juan’s Old Town
On the final day of your Puerto Rico itinerary, head to Piñones, which is an area close to San Juan airport that has beautiful, palm tree-lined beaches. It’s about a 15-20 minute drive from San Juan, depending on where you’re staying.
You can either take an Uber there or drive if you have a rental car. Two popular beaches are La Pocita and Vacía Talega, both of which are great for snorkeling.
Ocean Lab Brewing Company
Start by visiting Ocean Lab Brewing Company, an award-winning brewery that serves craft beers brewed on the beach in Puerto Rico! Popular beers brewed by Ocean Lab include Mambo – a hazy wheat beer with a delicious passionfruit aroma, and Blood Orange Blonde – a light, crisp beer infused with blood orange from California.
Personally I love a good IPA in the sun and their yellowfin tuna poke bowl is really fresh.
Drift Beach Bar
After Ocean Lab, grab some cocktails on the beach at Drift Beach Bar, which is slightly further along the coast. Their restaurant/bar Hook’d is right on the beach with oceanfront seating and a relaxing chill area.
Drift has some great happy hours and drinks specials, plus there are special events throughout the week. There’s salsa on Wednesdays, reggae on Fridays and a ‘Sundaze brunch’ on Sundays…you get the idea!
Old San Juan
In the evening, head back to San Juan to explore the city’s Old Town, which is known for its cobbled streets, and colorful buildings and historic attractions that date back to the 16th and 17th century. Old San Juan is home to the San Juan National Historic Site, which includes the old city walls, San Cristóbal fortress and a citadel called Castillo San Felipe del Morro.
Sip Piña Coladas
Puerto Rico is known for being the birthplace of the piña colada although from what I read online, people can’t decide on where it was invented. Some people say it was invented in 1954 by a bartender at the Caribe Hilton Hotel. Some say it was invented by a bartender at Barrachina – a cocktail bar located in the center of the Old Town.
We visited Barrachina to try their piña colada and I’m sad to say, it was not good. It tasted to me like it had come out of a machine and I was a tad disappointed. I’m guessing that since they get so many tourists coming through they perhaps rush or even have them pre-prepared.
To me a piña colada should be creamy and made with love (me and my friend love making them at home!), and this was just not like that, but you can find plenty of great pina coladas on the island! I haven’t tried the piña colada at the Caribe Hilton but you may want to give that one a try instead.
San Juan has lots of cocktail bars and restaurants – our favorite bar being La Factoria, which was super busy. It looks quite small when you first walk in but there’s actually a much larger area for dancing through the back.
A Final Word…
3 days in Puerto Rico will allow you to have a little taste of the island and see popular sights such as Old San Juan, El Yunque National Forest and some of Puerto Rico’s incredible beaches.
I really enjoyed my time on the island and it’s definitely worth renting a car so you can get out of San Juan and see the less touristy areas. There are all sorts of places to visit in Puerto Rico, such as Rincon, Vieques and the island of Culebra, so I’ll definitely be making a trip back at some point to see more. A long weekend in Puerto Rico is just enough to get a little taster but there are so many things to do.