This Caribbean Island is an unincorporated territory of the United States. Its citizens, around 3.2 million, have certain rights in relation to the USA, including free movement between the island and the USA itself, but not the right to vote. The Spanish colonised Puerto Rico not long after Christopher Columbus arrived in North America, and it remained in Spanish hands until the United States took control at the end of the 19th century.
The influx of slaves from Africa, together with the indigenous population and Spanish settlers, meant that the population became a real mix, even before the USA arrived. The USA’s presence has allowed Puerto Rico to develop an industrial base not seen on other Caribbean islands. English and Spanish are both widely spoken and understood.
The main island is mainly mountainous, with the sub-tropical climate ensuring warm weather all year around, especially in the lowlands. Several small offshore islands make up the whole territory. Hurricane Maria caused significant damage to Puerto Rico in 2017, and the aftermath was so bad that even President Trump and his wife visited this USA territory then. Even the coolest month, January, sees pleasant temperatures between 70 to 83F (21 to 28C), with the months between December and March inclusive being peak season.
Here are some cities in Puerto Rico to choose as a base or visit during your time on the island. Cities in Puerto Rico are split into administrative districts, “barrios” and knowing their names makes navigating easy.
- Cities in Puerto Rico
Cities in Puerto Rico
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20 Puerto Rico Cities To Visit
1- San Juan
The largest city in Puerto Rico and its capital, San Juan’s origins date back to the early 16th Century and the Spanish.
That made it the third coldest European- founded city in the Americas.
Today’s reminders of those earlier times include Fort San Felipe del Morro, Fort San Cristobal and La Fortaleza.
San Juan, which has a population approaching 350,000, is an important seaport with the result that around 75% of the island’s population live in the immediate vicinity, with employment being an obvious factor.
The historical districts are one attraction, but Condado Beach, where many of the top hotels are located, is also an area where tourists congregate.
Ponce on the south coast was founded in 1692 and named after the Spanish conquistador Juan Poncede Leon’s great-grandson.
It remains a well-preserved city with an interesting old town and several grand mansions in a unique local Creole style.
The highlights include the Centro Cultural de Ponce, Carmen Sola de Pereira and the Museo de Arte de Ponce art museum.
Here you will find both European and local art collections.
The best place to find the bars and restaurants in the city is the seafront promenade., Paseo Tablado La Guancha.
Ponce has seen increasing tourist growth in the 21st Century because it is a stopping point for cruise ships.
Recommended tour: Guided Walking Tour in Ponce
Caguas lies in the valley of the same name within the Central Mountain Range, just a short distance to the south of San Juan.
Founded in 1775, the city’s population is just over 130,000 and its name remembers a former chief in the region, Taino Cacique Caguax.
The valley is one of the largest on the island, with the city relatively flat except on its edges.
Several landmarks are now on the US National Register of Historic Places, including the City Hall and Gautier Benitez High School, but it is worth looking further afield as well.
Several museums are worth your time as is the Dulce Nombre de Jesus Cathedral.
Recommended tour: Cold and Hot Spring Escape to Nurture Body and Soul
Gurabo is in the central east of Puerto Rico and in its early days, was simply part of Caguas.
Today’s population is just over 40,000, slightly down from a peak of over 45,000 in 2010.
There is a central square where you will find a large Catholic church as well as the city’s municipal buildings.
Gurabo has a manufacturing base with activities including plastics, chemicals, textiles and electronics.
Farming is important, largely dairy.
This city, “La Cuidad de las Escaleras” (city of the stairs) has brightly coloured steps that are over 20 floors high.
It also has 20 bridges so, all in all, it is a place with plenty to offer visitors.
This city close to San Juan has a number of interesting sights and landmarks for the visitor.
They include the Braulio Castillo Theatre, the Jose Celso Barbosa Monument, and the Francisco Oller Museum.
The Bayamon City Hall is built on either side of a highway with a connecting corridor below the road.
The park is a popular place where the locals relax, while the Parque de las Ciencias is science-based with several attractions and exhibitions.
There is an observation point in the hills which is a fantastic viewpoint over the city and its hinterland.
If you intend to go shopping in Puerto Rico, Plaza del Sol and Plaza Rio Hondo are the best options.
Arecibo on the north coast is 80 kilometres (50 miles) from San Juan and has a population of almost 90,000, with the city spread over a large area.
Its observatory housed one of the largest radio telescopes in the world but it collapsed in late 2020.
Its name is another remembering a former chief, Xamaica Arasibo.
The Spanish settled here in the mid-16th century.
The Cathedral of Saint Philip the Apostle is probably its most notable landmark, first built in the 17th century but the building you see today was rebuilt after an earthquake in 1787.
It was finished in the middle of the 19th century, only for another earthquake to strike and further work needed.
Recommended tour: Small-Group North Coast Beach Hopping Adventure in Puerto Rico
7- Aguadilla Pueblo
Aguadilla founded in 1775 by Luis de Córdova, sits on the northwestern tip of the country, facing the Atlantic Ocean.
Today’s largely multiracial population numbers 55,000.
Its economy relies on industry; rubber, plastics, textiles and food processing are just some of its activities.
The beaches and good surfing facilities attract significant visitors.
Indeed, there are 19 beaches, so there is plenty of choice.
In addition, Aguadilla has a water park and an arena unique to the Caribbean; it offers ice skating.
A golf course first ordered by President Dwight D Eisenhower is a further attraction.
Carolina is a city east of San Juan, where you will find Puerto Rico’s main airport, Luis Munoz Marin International Airport.
Spanish colonists founded Carolina early in the 19th Century, at that time named Trujillo Bajo, but mid-century, it was renamed Carolina after Charles II of Spain.
Spain ceded the island to the USA but the name stuck.
Today’s population is just more than 150,000, the third largest on the island, yet that figure is below the peak of 185,000 at the turn of the century.
The large beach attracts tourists and locals alike, with several quality hotels catering to the numbers in Isla Verde.
Recommended: Try a Beginner Surf Lesson
On the north coast, Guaynabo is close to San Juan and has a population of around 90,000.
It is regarded as an affluent city and it predated San Juan with the Spanish arriving during the first decade of the 16th century.
It suffered significant damage in 2017 when Hurricane Maria struck the island.
Several companies have headquarters in Guaynabo, including Toshiba, Microsoft and Total.
Guaynabo has an extensive calendar of festivals so check if there is one taking place during your visit.
The city has the most advanced hospital in Puerto Rico, incidentally.
Mayagüez in the central part of the west coast was founded as Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria de Mayagüez.
Its population is 73,000, with a further 140,000 living in the immediate hinterland.
Its origins date back to 1760.
Its industries suffered a downturn in the 1990s, so the population has fallen, yet it is a university city that attracts a significant number of students that benefit the economy.
The excellent range of beaches makes Mayaquez popular with tourists and there are several places of interest to see, both buildings and outdoor parks.
11- Río Grande
Río Grande is on the eastern edge of the Northern Coastal Valley, close to San Juan and grew in the 19th Century thanks to sugar cane and fruit.
Its beaches resulted in hotel construction, including some international brands, with the Hyatt Regency hosting the annual Puerto Rico Open, a permanent fixture on the golfing calendar.
El Yungue National Forest is nearby, the only chance to visit a tropical rainforest in the USA.
A city of 47,000, Rio Grande’s major appeal is the beach, although its economy also includes agriculture and livestock.
Recommended tour: Private Full-day Tour in Rainforest and Luquillo Beach
12- Trujillo Alto
Trujillo Alto on the northern coastal plain was founded early in the 19th century and grew in importance during the 20th, largely because of its location near San Juan.
Its population was less than 10,000 a century ago but has grown to 75,000.
The nearby Loiza Lake was formed when the Carrazo Dam was built in the 1950s.
The Bicentenary Walkway remodels the original steel bridge over the Grande de Loiza River.
Other things to see while in Trujillo Alto are the Carmelitas de San Jose Convent and Mountain Spring.
Agriculture remains the mainstay of the economy; coffee, sugar cane, tobacco and a range of fruits.
13- Vega Baja
Vega Baja on the north-central coast is another city that suffered during Hurricane Maria.
Its modern-day population is 55,000, with the city benefitting from the nearby rivers.
Ancient carvings reveal that this area has a long history, with spearfishing just one of the activities depicted.
There are several beaches for locals and tourists to enjoy.
In addition, the historic Casa Alcadia, museums, an artisan centre, and Migrants’ Square are popular attractions.
Those looking for outdoor attractions should look at Tortuguero Lagoon, Trinitarias Park and Cibuco Swamp.
Book your San Juan Airport (SJU) to Vega Baja (Round-Trip Private Transfer) before you go.
Cayey is a city of almost 42,000 in the mountains of Puerto Rico.
Its population has been gradually growing since the 1990s, bucking the trend of some other cities.
Its economy was based on tobacco, poultry and sugar, but increasingly, it has become more reliant on its industries.
Coca-Cola has a bottling plant here, for example.
The name means “place of waters” in the Taino Indian language.
Its location is beautiful, surrounded by mountains.
It means that anyone interested in outdoor activities will have lots to do.
Cidra lies north of Cayey in the centre of Puerto Rico.
Its early Spanish history is unclear, but a shrine built here in 1795 became the focal point for a settlement.
A church, city hall and two schools soon followed.
This has always been a fruit-growing region with few tourists visiting, but there are one or two historical attractions, such as the Parroquia Nuestra Senora del Carmen Church.
The nearby lake, Perico’s Waterfall and Frog’s Rock are bigger draws.
Families will find a children’s park with water features and skating available.
Isabela in the northwest honours Isabella I of Castille, and its nickname Jardín del Noroeste (“Garden of the Northwest”), identifies the beautiful flora found locally.
The sheltered cove just to the west and the excellent surfing conditions nearby are certainly attractive to anyone wanting and outdoor activity holiday.
There are underwater caves and reefs to explore as well.
If you head inland, there are hiking trails within the Bosque Estaatal de Guajataca, famed for its flora and fauna, which are unique to the area.
Isabela is also famous for its white cheese wrapped in banana leaves.
Humacao lies on Puerto Rico’s southeast coast, and after being settled by the Spanish, it was a region known for its cattle ranches.
Significant construction of the hospital, theatre and prison occurred late in the 19th century, just before the USA took control from the Spanish.
It is the largest resort destination on the island, with relaxing beaches, a nature reserve with interesting wildlife, and a bit of luxury to enjoy.
Its name is that of a local Indian chief from days gone by.
Other than tourism, its economy is based on light industries such as textiles and plastics.
Recommended tour: Snorkeling Lesson for Kids and Adults in Fajardo, Puerto Rico
18- Cabo Rojo
Cabo Rojo in southwest Puerto Rico has evidence of human life at the beginning of the 1st century.
In the early days of the Spanish, salt mining was important and some still survives today.
These days it is the long stretch of sand that ensures visitors can enjoy the warm sea without being crowded, hence its popularity with families.
Kiosks and restaurants cater for visitors and there’s a wooden pier where locals enjoy fishing.
Beach volleyball is a popular activity and if you enjoy sunsets, you will love the ones you will see from here.
Cabo Rojo has a current population of 47,000, slightly down from the peak a decade ago.
Recommended tour: Bioluminescent Bay & Cabo Rojo Southwest Full-Day Tour
19- Toa Alta
This north coast city of just below 70,000 is one of the oldest cities in Puerto Rico.
Its economy runs on agriculture, and the city benefits from the waters of the river Rio de la Plata.
Flood control measures have been implemented recently, the catalyst being Hurricane Maria in 2017.
The reminders of Spanish control in Tao Alta include the Tomas “Maso” Rivera Statue, the San Fernando Rey Parish Church and Egozcue Square.
Rivera is a famous musician born in the city.
Keep an eye out for Bala de Canon, a woody plant species found throughout South America and Africa but not anywhere else on the island other than Toa Alta.
Located in the northeast of Puerto Rico, Canóvanas is just over a century old and has a current population of 42,000.
It covers a relatively small area incorporating alluvial plains, hills, and rugged areas formed by volcanic activity.
This city in Puerto Rico has yet to be “discovered” by significant tourist numbers even though there interesting things to see, such as the Jesus T Pinero House, formerly the home of the island’s first Governor and now a museum.
Horse racing fans will enjoy the Hipodromo Camarero, and the Villaran Bridge is the only one of its type on Puerto Rico.
Traditionally, coffee and sugar cane sustained the economy though the mill closed half a century ago.
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