Image source: WikiCommons - Per Aspera
Forget about El Morro, the gorgeous beaches, and even the salsa dancing lessons, these are the activities most travelers do when they visit Puerto Rico. Well, ok, do them since they are well worth doing and you will enjoy them; but take your trip a step further to discover more of the uniqueness of the island. To help you do that, I’m going to share with you six activities you probably didn’t know you could do there.
1. Whale watching
From December until mid-April, many north Atlantic humpback whales migrate to warmer waters to rest, mate, and care for their newborns before heading back north to feed during the summer. Many whales enjoy the water conditions in the Mona Passage,whichlies between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and decide to stay there for around three months. Luckily for us, this allows us to spot the humpbacks from anywhere on the west coast of the island – from the towns of Cabo Rojo to Aguadilla.A well-recommendedspot is at the lighthouse in Rincon.
2. Kayak on the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world
Did you know that Puerto Rico has three of the five bioluminescent bays in the world? That’s right! Most tourists visit the bioluminescent bay of La Parguera, since it is the easiest one to get to, but that is not the best bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico.
The best one is Puerto Mosquito (Mosquito Bay), which is located on the southern shore of Vieques Island. So distinctive is its brightness, that it was officially inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records in 2008 as the brightest bioluminescent bay ever recorded.The bay is shallow and it has a small entry, which makes it the perfect environment for the dinoflagellates (the microscopic organism in the water that glow when disturbed) to stay trapped and protected.
Don’t miss kayaking there at night, especially on a moonless night. You will see how the water will magically glow bright blue as you splash your paddle and move around.
3. Swim on the river next to ancient petroglyphs
You might not have heard about it, but Puerto Rico once had a native civilization called Tainos. They lived on the island for several hundreds of years before the discovery of the Americas. Unfortunately, after the Spanish colonized the island, the Taino civilization slowly disappeared due to sickness brought by the Spanish, displacement, and war.
Still, we can see some of their legacy in very peculiar places. Tainos loved to draw on stones, and they did so in caves and river. In the town of Jayuya, you can visit Piedra Escrita (written rock) recreation area, which has one of the best-preserved Taino carvings on a large rock in the middle of Saliente River. There is a wooden walkway leading to the rock so you can admire up close the spirals, faces and other shapes carved on the rock.
About 1km upstream on Saliente River, there is anotherrockcalled Piedra Taino. In this area there are several more petroglyphs and people can bathe and enjoy the river freely.
4. Go caving in the largest cave network in the Western Hemisphere
Puerto Rico might be a small island, but most of its northern and central regions hide a vast network of more than 220 subterranean caves stretching 286 acres.
The Cavernas del Rio Camuy is the third largest cave network in the world, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. You can enjoy over 10 miles of mapped trails running through the caves, with difficulties from a leisure stroll to challenging.
If you’re more into spelunking, there are several caves that will take you up for a challenge with their deep canyons, sink holes, subterranean waterfalls, and elaborate rappels.
5. Visit the oldest executive Mansion in continuous use in the Americas
Since San Juan is the second oldest European-established capital city in the Americas, it comes with no surprise that the Spanish had to establish some sort of political base there. As a result, there is La Fortaleza, a small mansion hidden at theendof Fortaleza Street in Old San Juan, which is famous for its baby blue and white color combination, and to this day is the oldest executive mansion in continuous use in the Americas. The tour of La Fortaleza is free with prior reservation.
6. Hike in a dry forest, just several miles from the only rainforest in the United States
It sounds odd that you can find a dry forest on the same tiny island that is mostly covered by rainforests and contains El Yunque National Forest – the only tropical rain forest in the United States National Forest System – which gets over 200 inches of rain per year. Yet, on the opposite end of the precipitation scale, the Guanica State Forest & Biosphere Reserve is the perfect example of a dry forest. While it gets less than 30 inches of rain per year, it is not desert-like and brown. It still shows green vegetation all around, yet in smaller sizes and mostly composed of cacti, in addition to a healthy wildlife.
There are several scenic hiking trails in the dry forest. It is recommended to use a good sun block and a hat, as it can get very hot and, um, dry.
Which of these activities make the top of your list?