In 1493, on Columbus’s second trip to the Caribbean, he came upon the island of Puerto Rico. Along with Cuba and the Dominican Republic, it quickly became a Spanish stronghold in the Caribbean. Not only is Spanish the official language, but Spain’s influence on Puerto Rico is still seen today in churches and other historic buildings that date back to the 15th century.
Start on the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan, founded in 1509 by Ponce de Leon. You can still see glimpses of the blue stone, adoquine, brought over in ballasts by Spanish ships. Walk the towers and ramparts of Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, otherwise known as El Morro, a fort that was originally built in 1540. Then wander over to the Historic District, undoubtedly the best preserved neighborhood in the Caribbean. More than 400 Spanish-colonial buildings dating from the 17th century have been restored around the outdoor cafes and restaurants. For a taste of Spanish food in San Juan, stop at Picoteo at the Hotel El Convento. Tapas and paella, chockful of fresh, local seafood, are washed down with tasty and strong sangria.
If you have time, take a day trip into the mountains to visit San Germán, a smaller version of San Juan without the congestion. Founded in 1512, the town is the second oldest on the island and its historic zone houses a wonderful collection of buildings, spacious plazas, and monuments.
Once you’ve had your fair share of the city, head 45 minutes from San Juan to the Wyndham Rio Mar Beach Resort. The 672-room resort takes full advantage of its ocean locale, offering scuba diving, sea kayaking, sailing, tennis, a Greg Norman-designed golf course, a 3-mile jogging route, or just plain beach lounging. Don’t miss the opportunity to snorkel and sea kayak in nearby Bioluminescent Bay, which emits a neon blue color from the microorganisms found in the water.
Steve Jermanok As a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, adventure travel expert at Budget Travel, and regular contributor on outdoor recreation for Outside, Men’s Journal, Health, and Sierra, Steve Jermanok has written more than 1,000 articles on the outdoors.He’s also authored or co-authored 11 books, including Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England and Men’s Journal’s The Great Life. His latest book is Go Now! Put Your Life on Pause and See the World. He’s currently an adventure travel expert at Away.com and blogs daily at Active Travels.