Looking for sparkling high-rises and glitzy casinos? They’re here. How about stunning nature reserves and charming seaside villages? You’ll find those too. History? No problema. Best of all: This commonwealth territory of the United States is located close to home (between the US Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic), offers great airfare and hotel deals (due to its high tourist volume), and is a cinch to navigate. English is widely spoken, the US dollar is the national currency and no passports are required!
Before You Go: Need-to-know info
Language: Spanish and English
Flight time: 4 hours from New York City; 10 hours from LA; 4.5 hours from Chicago; 4.5 hours from Dallas
Getting around: Rental car, taxi, bus, ferry and “publicos” (public cars that operate between towns, stopping in each town’s main plaza)
When to Go: Puerto Rico at its best
Best weather: The average temperature is 83 degrees in winter and 85 degrees in summer.
Best prices: Mid-April to mid-June
What to Do
Mother Nature: Puerto Rico has 14 state forests, including the 28,000-acre El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the US National Forest System (bring a slicker!); Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve, which includes seven unique ecological systems and an “El Faro,” a 19th-century lighthouse with great views; and the Guajataca Forest Reserve, with 25 miles of trails.
Pina coladas and secret tunnels: Go on a stroll through the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan. This romantic walled city is one of the best-preserved Spanish colonial cities in the world and is full of candy-colored 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century buildings in which people go about their 20th-century life. Window-shop the boutiques of Fortaleza Street (Puerto Rico has no sales tax on most items); grab a piña colada at Barrachina Restaurant (where they were invented!); and wander the maze of secret access tunnels at the hulking El Morro fortress, where soldiers rebuffed Englishman Sir Francis Drake in 1595.