Exploring Puerto Rico on a Caribbean Cruise

There is nothing like the excitement of sailing away on a cruise vacation. Cruises are great because for the most part you can just sit back and relax. You don’t have to worry about planning where you are going to sleep or how you are going to get from place to place. You can just kick back and relax.But some people aren’t content to simply have their vacation spoon-fed to them. They also want the thrill of exploring exotic lands. For this, you may have to do a little bit of advance planning.The island of Puerto Rico is a beautiful place filled with friendly people and intriguing cultures. It is also the jumping off point for many cruises to the Southern Caribbean.

Cruises to the Eastern Caribbean will also sometimes make Puerto Rico one of their first stops after departing from Miami or Fort Lauderdale.If you have the opportunity to get out and see this magical island, be sure to plan your attack ahead of time. If Puerto Rico is the first stop on your trip, you may only have a day to get out and see the sites. However, if you leave from San Juan, you should consider getting there a day or so early so you can get out and explore the countryside.Here are a few ideas for things to see in Puerto Rico, whether you only have an afternoon while your ship is docked, or if you show up a few days early and have plenty of time for adventure.

Old San Juan

Old San Juan is Puerto Rico’s oldest settlement, lying on a small island that is connected to the mainland by three bridges. This neighborhood is filled with historic colonial sites and is a must-see if you just have a few hours to spend in Puerto Rico.Hop on the free tourist trolley and explore the many open-air cafes, museums, and shops that this neighborhood has to offer. Admire the architecture and take a break in one of the many public plazas.For a little taste of history, you can check out the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista. This incredible building contains the tomb of the legendary Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon. These are just a few of the incredible sites that will be at your fingertips in historic Old San Juan.

El Yunque National Rain Forest

Even if you don’t have much time to spend in Puerto Rico, the incredibly pristine El Yunque Rain Forest is just an hour away from San Juan! While taking off into the jungle may seem a little intimidating to some people, El Yunque is actually a surprisingly peaceful land. In fact, there are no poisonous snakes in the entire forest!El Yunque is actually the only rain forest that is in the U.S. National Forest System. It sits on the rugged Luquillo Mountains and is the home of thousands of different native plants.Hiking opportunities abound at El Yunque. You can set off on your own or go on an hour-long guided tour with a park ranger. If you have extra time to spend, a free camping permit can even be procured through the park office.

Rio Camuy Caves

If you have time to make it to the Rio Camuy Caves on the western side of the island (still only a little over an hour from San Juan) you shouldn’t miss the opportunity! This is the largest cave system in the Western Hemisphere and one of the biggest in the whole world.No one knows how far these caves go down into the belly of Puerto Rico. To this day only ten miles of the caverns have been mapped. Just a small part of the cave is open to the public, but it is more than enough to pique your interest!At least 13 species of bats make their home in Camuy River Cave Park.Hundreds of other spiders, frogs, and insects live there as well. These caves are even home to a bizarre species of fish that is completely blind!

Snorkeling

There will probably be plenty of opportunities for snorkeling while you are on your cruise vacation, but exploring the waters of Puerto Rico might be among the best. Mona Island is a spectacular place for beginners and experienced snorkelers alike.The reefs around Mona Island are some of the most pristine that you will find in the entire Caribbean. You may encounter countless different fish, octopi, moray eels, puffers, rays, and clownfish. Just remember, if you are going to Mona Island you have to be sure to rent your snorkeling equipment in advance. You can’t rent any on the island.Puerto Rico is just one of the many gems that you will experience on your Caribbean vacation. But it is also one of the most beautiful. Make the most of your time on this magical island in the sun.

Austin Fales is a freelance writer who writes about travel and leisure topics and options such Caribbean cruises.