Puerto Rico is known for having pristine beaches, the only tropical rainforest in the United States, and one of the brightest bioluminescent bays in the world. With four days on the Carribean island, you can experience all three of those things and more.
This Puerto Rico itinerary is ideal for first-time visitors who want to visit the island’s top three places and two of its most unique attractions. This post covers:
- 🗓️ A 4-day optimized itinerary
- 💡 Practical, firsthand tips
- ⭐️ Top attractions in 4 areas
- 📍 Map with key places pinned
- 🏠 Where to stay
Planning a trip? Here are things to know about Puerto Rico before going.
Disclosure: Lists By Lukiih is readers-supported. If you buy through an affiliate link on this post, I may earn a small commission. Thanks!
Puerto Rico Map
Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island located southeast of the United States. This map includes all the key places mentioned in this Puerto Rico travel itinerary.
4-Day Puerto Rico Itinerary
This four-day itinerary is the improved version of my Puerto Rico trip. It features beautiful beaches, a hike to the summit of the rainforest, the brightest bioluminescent bay, the oldest historic district, and other popular neighborhoods.
I’ve included some of my actual timestamps below, so you can plan and efficiently sequence activities.
|Old San Juan|
|Day 1||👟 Historic walking tour of Old San Juan (10:30 am–12:30 pm)|
🍛 Eat a Puerto Rican lunch (1–2 pm)
👸🏻 Walk along Fortaleza Street (2:30–3:30 pm)
🏰 Visit Castillo San Felipe del Morro (4–5:30 pm)
🍹 Explore Old San Juan at night (8:30–11 pm)
|Day 2||🌳 Hike El Yunque (10 am–3 pm)|
🚗 Grab a bite and drive to the ferry terminal (3–5 pm)
⛴️ Take a ferry (or local flight) to Vieques (5:30–6:45 pm)
🥘 Settle down and have dinner at Casa Nativo (7–9 pm)
|Day 3||🏝️ Visit Playa Negra (11:30 am–12:30 pm)|
🏖️ Swim and relax at Playa Caracas (1–5:30 pm)
🥘 Dinner in Esperanza (6–6:30 pm)
🌙 Bioluminescent bay tour at Mosquito Bay (8–10 pm)
|Luquillo & Santurce|
|Day 4||⛴️ Take a Vieques ferry back to the main island (10–10:45 am)|
🏝️ Explore Luquillo (11:30–3 pm)
🖼️ Explore Santurce (4–6 pm)
Old San Juan (Day 1)
Start your Puerto Rico trip in Old San Juan, or “Viejo San Juan” in Spanish.
🇵🇷 Why Visit Old San Juan?
With its colorful buildings and pedestrian-friendly cobblestone streets, Old San Juan is a great place to explore at your own pace on the first day.
Old San Juan is Puerto Rico’s oldest area and most popular destination. It’s renowned for its well-preserved historic architecture and nightlife. The entire district is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
🚙 Getting to Old San Juan
Old San Juan is located in the capital city of San Juan on the north side of Puerto Rico.
It’s a short 15-minute drive from Puerto Rico’s main international airport, Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. You can rent a car or grab a taxi from the airport to the district.
Old San Juan’s proximity to the San Juan airport makes it a great stop at the beginning or end of your trip.
⭐️ Old San Juan Itinerary and Top Attractions
Old San Juan is a small area. If you don’t stop, you can walk across the district in about 20 minutes. But it has enough things to see, eat, and do to keep you busy for at least two days.
Below are the best things to do when you only have a day. Given the small size of the district, you can change the order of some of these to better fit your mood and travel schedule:
Stop #1: Walking Tour
Start your trip with a historic walking tour to familiarize yourself with Old San Juan. This can be a self-guided walk if you’re mostly interested in sightseeing or a guided tour if you want to learn more about the rich history surrounding you.
Stop #2: Puerto Rican Lunch
Have lunch in one of Old San Juan’s traditional restaurants serving Puerto Rican cuisine.
One of my favorite restaurants in the area is Deaverdura, but be warned that they can have long waits.
Stop #3: Fortaleza Street and Paseo de la Princesa
Walk off your lunch on Fortaleza Street (called “Calle de la Fortaleza” in Spanish), Old San Juan’s most famous street. It’s a scenic walk filled with colonial architecture and the occasional live music.
Parallel to Fortaleza Street is the promenade, Paseo de la Princesa, which boasts coastal views.
Fortaleza Street leads to the iconic La Fortaleza building that’s usually decorated with umbrellas (though it was closed off when I visited).
Stop #4: Castillo San Felipe del Morro
If there’s one thing you can’t miss, it’s the massive, breathtaking park area surrounding Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a historical fort. You can stop here for a quick look or spend up to two hours in this area.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro has a $10 admission fee and closes at 5 pm, but I found that staying outside the fort (where it’s free) was nice as well. The park is massive and next to scenic, ocean views.
Stop #5: Old San Juan at Night
Make sure to see the district at night, as Old San Juan is known for its vibrant nightlife.
One of its most famous bars is La Factoría, which has several rooms with different themes. I had some difficulty finding the entrance, so ask around if you need some help.
Unlike the United States, the legal drinking age in Puerto Rico is 18 years old.
🏠 Where To Stay in San Juan
There are three neighborhoods close to Old San Juan that you can stay in:
- You can stay inside Old San Juan if you want to be within walking distance of all the action. It’s convenient to stay inside the historic neighborhood, but it can get expensive and noisy. I stayed at an Airbnb similar to this hotel in terms of location and atmosphere.
- Miramar is a quieter neighborhood that’s a 15-minute drive to Old San Juan. If you stay here, you’ll need a car to get around and see the attractions. I also stayed at an Airbnb (similar to this hotel) close to Laguna del Condado National Park and thought it was nice to be within walking distance of the lake.
- Condado is another nearby neighborhood that has nice hotels with open ocean views. Staying here gives you easy access to Condado Lake where you can kayak and paddleboard.
Condado has a famous Puerto Rican restaurant called Jose Enrique where you’ll likely need reservations. My dinner there was delicious, but it was one of the pricier meals I had. If you want a nicer meal, I recommend it, but if you’re on a budget, you can skip it.
🍀 My Overall Tips for Old San Juan
Here are my two overall tips for visiting this historical district:
- If you want to see a lot of things in a day, prepare to walk a lot and wear comfortable shoes. Remember that Old San Juan’s narrow streets with cobblestones aren’t conducive for vehicles.
- If you’re visiting during a weekend or the high season (December to April), be flexible with restaurants. Many of the well-rated restaurants will have long wait times, so be prepared to wait in line or have backup options.
One of the things I regret not doing in Old San Juan is going on a food tour. I found the Puerto Rican cuisine delicious and flavorful, and wished I had sampled a wider variety of dishes while I was there.
El Yunque National Forest (Day 2)
On your second day in Puerto Rico, head east to the El Yunque for a day trip.
🌳 Why Visit El Yunque?
El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rainforest in the United States, making it a great place for visitors to experience a lush atmosphere with a lot of biodiversity.
🚙 Getting to El Yunque
I rented a car and found the drive doable as an American. The roads are paved and relatively well-maintained between Old San Juan and El Yunque.
⭐️ El Yunque Itinerary
El Yunque has several hiking trails varying in difficulty. This itinerary focuses on doing a hike in El Yunque, but you can also do other activities like zipline over the lush rainforest, chase waterfalls, and cliff jump.
Stop #1: El Yunque
Explore the rainforest by hiking one, or combining several, of El Yunque’s hiking trails. If you hike to the summit, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views that will require a bit of rock scrambling with a rope.
Some of the trails will lead you to waterfalls (e.g., La Coca Falls, La Mina Falls) and man-made attractions (e.g., Bano Grande Pool, Torre Britton).
El Yunque has a $1 reservation fee that needs to be booked more than a month in advance. Tickets have a timed slot, so make sure to book a morning slot to give yourself enough time for the day.
Stop #2: Food and Ferry
After your activities, grab a bite in El Yunque or Palmer, a settlement located near the rainforest’s exit.
Then, drive to the ferry terminal to catch a ferry to Puerto Rico’s most popular island, Vieques.
Stop #3: Dinner in Vieques
Upon arriving in Vieques, settle down in your accommodation and grab dinner.
I recommend Casa Nativo which serves delicious Puerto Rican food, but note that they run on island time so there can be a long wait.
🍀 My Overall Tips for El Yunque
Here are my three overall tips when visiting El Yunque:
- El Yunque’s trails vary, but they’re generally accessible. Most of them have well-paved paths and you’ll sometimes have to walk on a flat dirt road. I wore my hiking shoes, but some of my friends were fine in regular sneakers.
- Make sure to pack accordingly for El Yunque. Bring bug spray, sports sunscreen, and a reusable water bottle (there are water fountains at some picnic areas). Don’t forget a bathing suit if you plan to swim in any watering holes.
- While Puerto Rico has good credit card infrastructure, it’s a good idea to carry some cash once you leave the San Juan area.
Vieques (Day 3)
On your third day in Puerto Rico, cross the ocean for a change of scenery on Vieques.
🏝️ Why Visit Vieques?
Excluding the main island, Vieques is Puerto Rico’s largest and most popular island. It is famous for having unique beaches as well as one of the brightest bioluminescent bays in the world, Mosquito Bay.
🚙 Getting to Vieques
From Puerto Rico’s main island, you can get to Vieques by ferry or plane.
⛴️ Option 1: Ferry
If you want to save money, the best way to get to Vieques is to take a ferry from the Ceiba Ferry Terminal.
The ferry ride takes 40 minutes and costs $4 one-way. You can buy the tickets online or in person at the terminal. If the online tickets are sold out, buy the tickets in person (they’re rarely sold out at the terminal).
You can leave your rental car overnight at the ferry terminal’s parking lot like I did. The lot is big and costs $8 a day. From there, you can take a free shuttle or walk to the port.
✈️ Option 2: Local Flight
I get motion sickness and I found the ferry ride choppy, so I recommend bringing medications or taking the short flight if you also get sick.
⭐️ Vieques Itinerary and Top Attractions
A great way to spend a day at Vieques is by visiting its many beautiful beaches and then visiting Mosquito Bay at night. Below is an optimized one-day Vieques itinerary.
Stop #1: Playa Negra
Your first stop should be one of Vieque’s many unique beaches. I started in Playa Negra, a beach named after its dark, volcanic sand that contrasts against the blue water.
Playa Negra is somewhat hidden, as you’ll need to do an easy, but non-obvious 15-minute hike to get there. When I visited, three free-roaming horses were blocking the path, but I was able to walk around them without disturbing them.
Stop #2: Playa Caracas
Spend most of your afternoon at a beach with soft sand. I recommend Playa Caracas, also called Red Beach, which has striking red-tinted sand. This beach is a good snorkeling and relaxation spot, and it isn’t as crowded as some of the other beaches.
Vieques has over 40 beaches. If you want to visit more beaches, other popular ones include Sun Bay Beach (Playa Sun Bay), Media Luna Beach, and Navio Beach. They’re all located on the south coast, near Playa Negra and Playa Caracas.
Stop #3: Dinner in Esperanza
Start getting dinner around 6 pm, so you have enough time to prepare for your bioluminescent bay tour, which often starts around 8 pm.
The southern town of Esperanza has several well-rated restaurants.
Stop #4: Mosquito Bay
End your day with a visit to one of the brightest bioluminescent bays in the world and one of Viques’s top attractions. Mosquito Bay was the highlight of my trip and one of the most surreal experiences I’ve had while traveling.
You can visit Mosquito Bay on your own or with a local guide. I booked a bioluminescent bay tour because it requires considerably more planning to do it on your own (e.g., the road to the bay is extremely dark and bumpy, you’ll need to rent a kayak, you need to time your visit with the moon cycles).
🏠 Where To Stay in Vieques
The best place to stay on Vieques is on the south side of the island where Mosquito Bay and many of the top beaches are located.
The town of Esperanza on the south side has a few accommodations, including this well-rated guesthouse that’s relatively affordable for the area.
I chose to stay on the north side in the Isabel Segunda area to be near the ferry terminal, but I felt far away from all the beaches.
🍀 My Overall Tips for Vieques
Here are my two overall tips when visiting Vieques:
- Determine how you’re going to get around Vieques (ask your concierge or accommodation host if necessary). Vieques is not a walkable island and taxis are not readily available everywhere like in the San Juan area.
- If you have no experience or exposure to horses, consider doing some basic research on them. Vieques is known for its free-roaming horses and you will see them everywhere. They’ll sometimes block your path or try to eat your food, so it’s good to know how to not disturb or approach them.
Luquillo & Santurce (Day 4)
On your last day in Puerto Rico, spend some time in Luquillo and Santurce as you head back to San Juan to be near the airport.
🖼️ Why Luquillo and Santurce?
Old San Juan, El Yunque, and Vieques are Puerto Rico’s top areas that are great for first-time visitors. After those three areas, Ponce and Rincón are the most popular. However, they’re located on the west and south sides of the island and too far away to comfortably fit into a four-day Puerto Rico trip.
Instead, while making your way back from Vieques to San Juan, stop in Luquillo and Santurce. They’re both conveniently located on the way and have attractions that make them popular destinations.
🚙 Getting to Luquillo and Santurce
The best way to get from the Ceiba Ferry Terminal to Luquillo and Santurce is by driving. If you don’t have a rental car, make sure you book a taxi in advance.
Luquillo is a 30-minute drive from the terminal and has a large parking lot.
Santurce is a 40-minute drive from Luquillo and has free street parking.
⭐️ Luiquillo and Santurce Itinerary and Top Attractions
Here’s how to spend your fourth and last day in Puerto Rico:
Stop #1: Return to the Main Island
Spend part of the morning making your way back to Puerto Rico’s main island from Vieques.
Stop #2: Luquillo
From the ferry terminal, drive to Luquillo where you can easily spend a solid four hours.
The town of Luquillo features Luquillo Beach, a beautiful beach lined with palm trees, and the kiosks of Luquillo, a set of food stalls and restaurants allowing you to sample Puerto Rican food (don’t forget to get a piña colada).
Stop #3: Santurce
Make your way back to San Juan and stop in the neighborhood of Santurce. Santurce is known as the art and culture center of the capital city. It’s home to the Puerto Rico Museum of Art and has streets lined with art murals (park near Calle Cerra for the street art).
Santurce is also home to many modern and tasty restaurants. I enjoyed the plant-decorated patio in El Axolote.
🍀 My Overall Tip for Luquillo and Santurce
Luquillo and Santurce offer very different atmospheres and activities. If you only have time to visit one of these two areas before you need to depart, consider whether you want another beach day or if you prefer doing a self-guided street art tour.
Wonder how much a four-day trip to Puerto Rico costs? I share all my travel expenses in this Puerto Rico cost breakdown.
If you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below.
🧋 This site is run entirely by me, Lukiih. I spend hours researching each destination to ensure its accuracy. If you find my tips helpful, say thanks by buying me bubble tea!