Puerto Rico is a US unincorporated territory in the Caribbean; an incredible island defined by its rich history and culture, breathtaking scenery and chances for relaxation. One of Puerto Rico’s main attractions is its national park, the San Juan National Historic Site.
As the only national park in Puerto Rico, it’s well worth visiting and should be on your to-do list. In addition to the San Juan National Historic Site, there are several national forests, natural protected areas, state forests and nature reserves. The San Cristóbal Canyon Natural Protected Area and El Yunque National Forest should be added to your Puerto Rican itinerary.
Puerto Rico is a super accessible vacation destination from the U.S, with direct flights from New York that take around four hours. So if you are visiting or living in the U.S., there’s no excuse not to explore the national parks of Puerto Rico.
- National Parks In Puerto Rico
- Top 3 Tours
- National Historic Site
- State Forest
- National Forest
- Natural Reserve
- Natural Protected Area
National Parks In Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a mountainous Caribbean island part of the U.S. territory system. This oddly square-ish island is a nature lover’s paradise and an ideal vacation destination for history buffs in search of cultural experiences. Puerto Rico was a former Spanish colony, embodying much of Spain’s architecture, culture and customs.
The island is home to more than 300 beaches, countless rainforest waterfalls, and many cultural sites. You can also experience the highly unique bioluminescent bays. Whether exploring the island’s nature reserves and forests, the only national historic site or sipping on local rum at a tasting, you will have an epic time in Puerto Rico.
Top 3 Tours
- Puerto Rico Guided Adventure in El Yunque Rainforest – Hike to waterfalls, slide down natural rocks and explore the jungle on this amazing rainforest adventure.
- Old San Juan Walking Tour – Explore the charming streets of Old San Juan with author David Rodriquez and see historic landmarks like the city’s gates, Plaza de Armas and Fort San Cristobal.
- San Juan Catamaran Sunset Sail – Go on a cocktail cruise around San Juan Bay past landmarks like El Morro Fort.
National Historic Site
San Juan National Historic Site
The San Juan National Historic Site is one of the most popular attractions in Puerto Rico and a top Caribbean site too.
When visiting this national historic site, you can visit three sites – the San Cristóbal forts, San Felipe del Morro and the San Juan de la Cruz (El Cañuelo) and city walls.
Explore tunnels at the San Juan National Historic Site, navigate ramparts and barracks, and get spooked in the dark dungeons.
San Juan National Historic Site is steeped in 500 years of history.
History buffs and those interested in colonial history will find this a fascinating place to visit.
San Juan was the final loading port for products being shipped back to the Spanish colonisers.
The area of San Juan and the fort was one of the most important Spanish outposts in the region in the 16th century.
This colonised city was ideally located for transporting all the gold and silver taken from the Caribbean back to Spain.
Because of this, San Juan needed a strong fortification, especially to fight against pirate invasions. A fun way to explore is on a Cocktail Walking tour, where you drink cocktails and learn about history as you stroll through Old San Juan.
Things to do at San Juan National Historic Site
1- Visit Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Also known as El Morro, this is an impressive citadel right in the heart of the massive fortification.
This large fortification was first built in the 16th century and consists of six staggered levels, all with their own unique elements.
The construction of El Morro began in 1539 by the Spanish and was the second fortification in San Juan to be built.
It wasn’t until 1790, 251 years later, that the fortification was complete.
By the time it was completed, there were six complex levels to the fort in a tiered design chosen to distract the enemy and make it confusing for attackers. You can also see EL Morro on a sunset cruise around the bay.
2- Visit Castillo de San Cristobal
The Castillo de San Cristobal is the largest European fortification in the Americas.
Construction on this part of the fort began in 1634 but wasn’t completed until 1790.
This fortification covers a whopping 27 acres at the easternmost gate of San Juan and was built to protect El Morro.
Castillo de San Cristobal is named after Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelled lands.
The original fort encircled the whole of San Juan until the 19th century when part of it was destroyed to make way for the city’s expansion.
During World War II, Castillo served as a U.S. military base; there was even an underground bunker that acted as a control centre. You may like this walking tour of Old San Juan.
3- Visit San Juan de la Cruz
San Juan de la Cruz is in Isla de Cabras across from El Morro and functioned together with El Morro to protect the bay.
You might also notice that this fortification is called El Cañuelo.
The sandstone walls of this fort date back to 1630. It even survived an 1898 bombardment by the U.S. Navy.
This is the smallest fort that protects the San Juan harbour.
3- Join A Ranger-Led Program
There is so much rich history to delve into at the San Juan National Historic Site that it is advisable to take a ranger-led program.
Here knowledgeable and engaging rangers will guide you around the fortifications so you can learn more about the island’s history and fort.
Visiting the fort, you will be able to see how the local soldiers used to live.
There are also several exhibitions where your ranger can guide you to explain the area’s history interactively.
If you are travelling to San Juan with kids, enrol them in the San Juan National Historic Site Junior Ranger Program; they will have a blast.
How to get there
The San Juan National Historic Site is west of the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport. If you are staying in San Juan, this historic site is just a short walk from downtown.
Where to stay
If you are looking to stay near all the tourist sites, then look for accommodation in Old San Juan.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay with your family, then Condado is a great destination.
Miramar is another good place that offers accessibility to top tourist sites without the hectic downtown feel.
Daily entrance fee: $10 (access for 24 hours)
Guanica State Forest
Although not technically a national park, the Guanica State Forest is a fascinating subtropical dry forest.
This state forest in southwest Puerto Rico has hundreds of fascinating plant and animal species.
This forest looks out over the coast and includes an impressive mangrove area.
There are 12 different trails in the state forest.
Fuerte Capron is one of the most popular forest trails and is six miles long, providing impressive views of Guanica Bay.
As well as hiking, you can also bring your mountain bike or rent one nearby and cycle around the forest trails.
State Forest of Guajataca
Locally known as Bosque Estatal de Guajataca, this state forest is in the northwest region of Puerto Rico.
If you want to spend some time in nature, this is a great place to go camping. It costs just $4 for adults and $2 for children to camp per night.
There are trails to explore as well as a recreational area and bathroom facilities.
The northwest is best explored by joining a guided small group tour like this one.
Tres Picachos State Forest
Tres Picachos State Forest in the Central Mountain Range (otherwise known as Cordillera Central) is on one of Puerto Rico’s highest mountain ranges.
This forest isn’t as ready for tourists as some other sites, however, there is a trail that takes you up to the Los Tres Picachos mountain summit.
To access this state forest, head to Coabey in Jayuya, the closest town to the forest.
El Yunque National Forest
This is the only tropical forest in Puerto Rico’s national forest system and has 29,000 acres (one of the smallest), and is the most biologically diverse.
You can explore the forest and mountain scenery and walk along the crystal-clear rivers.
Activities in the forest include hiking and swimming in natural pools.
This forest is less than an hour from San Juan, so adding it to your Puerto Rico itinerary is a great idea.
Head to the El Portal Visitor Center at the main entrance to the park on PR-191.
A trail encircles the visitor centre, which is interactive and allows you discover local flora and fauna. You can even try to spot the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot.
The La Coca trail is an excellent route to see some of the ponds.
Be sure to take a refreshing dip in the water.
Along the El Angelito trail, there is a rope swing where you can dive into a lagoon. Adventure lovers will marvel at the El Yunque National Forest. Try a guided adventure.
Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve
At the northernmost tip of Puerto Rico, you will find Cabezas de San Juan.
This area of land was acquired by the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust in 1975 and has since been afforded protection.
There is a bioluminescent lagoon, coral reefs, sandy and rocky beaches, mangroves and dry forest.
There is also a visitor centre onsite, an excellent place to start your trip to the reserve.
You can take guided tours from the visitor centre, including day and night tours on foot, bike, kayak or trolley.
Highly informative staff will guide you around the reserve and offer insight into the landscape and species found in the area.
While at the reserve, head to the Fajardo Lighthouse for spectacular views of the northeast part of Puerto Rico.
Natural Protected Area
San Cristóbal Canyon Natural Protected Area
Locally known as Cañón de San Cristóbal, this protected area is breathtaking, with topography that looks somewhat otherworldly.
The cliffs have formed depressions in the valley, these were caused by erosion from the Usabón River.
The area’s igneous rock is volcanic and around 100 million years old.
There are several hiking trails in the area, three of which stand out for their impressive views.
Vereda Suñé is a short .8 miles (1.3 km) out-and-back trail near Barranquitass.
Taking just under 30 minutes to complete, it’s a short but popular route for birding and enjoying the solitude of nature.
This is an ideal hiking route if you visit the area with young children.
Another brilliant route is the Lower Side San Cristóbal Canyon – La Niebla Waterfall route.
This is another out-and-back trail but a little longer at 1.6 miles (2.7 km).
On average, this hike takes around an hour to complete and the trail is open year-round, but you might have the whole route to yourself as it’s not very frequented.
The waterfall at the end is the reward for the hike is a lovely spot.
Finally, there is the Cañón San Cristóal hike, a 2.9-mile (4.7 km) out-and-back trail that takes around two hours to complete.
You’ll find that this is one of the more popular routes in the area, but you can still find some alone time along the pathway at quieter times of the day.
Puerto Rico might have one official national park, but this U.S. territory is worth visiting.
The San Juan National Historic Site and the various national and state forests and reserves make for a fascinating natural and cultural vacation.
Puerto Rico is an exciting destination that provides visitors with rich cultural and historical information and superbly beautiful geographical features.
When you are next thinking about taking a Caribbean holiday, head to Puerto Rico and visit its main national historic site.
If you love exploring national parks, you might like to read:
- Wyoming National Parks Guide
- Nevada National Parks Guide
- Michigan National Parks Guide
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- New Hampshire National Parks Guide
- 25 National Parks In Canada
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- 18 New Mexico National Parks
- 18 National Parks In Massachusetts
- 17 Colorado National Parks
- 4 Indiana National Parks
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- 9 New Jersey National Parks
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