The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is characterized by a mist-shrouded interior mountain range, long stretches of sand beaches, and numerous forest reserves, including El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System. The route we’ll follow focuses on coastal towns and the regions encircling the central highlands with side excursions to interior sites and small neighboring islands.
Our tropical adventure begins and ends in San Juan, the capital city of Puerto Rico, founded in 1521 by the Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León. We’ll have the opportunity to travel back 500 years to Spanish colonial times by strolling down cobblestone streets, admiring ancient architecture, and visiting various museums, fortresses, and churches. You will spend the remainder of the tour circumnavigating the island on a 339-mile journey visiting beaches, snorkeling, enjoying local cuisine, and appreciating the beauty of this tropical paradise.
"I loved trying local foods, especially fresh tropical fruits in ice smoothies, practicing Spanish in an place where English still readily understood, seeing a dead tree FULL of iguanas, playing at one of the best Atlantic rocky beaches ever (Punta Maracayo), riding in a tropical rain (no jackets needed), and conversation with new, interesting friends from all over the U.S. at meals."
Day 1. Old San Juan, 0 miles (0 km)
Today we'll meet up in San Juan at our starting point where we'll begin getting oriented and acquainted. We should have ample time to explore Distrito Histórico del Viejo San Juan, the Old San Juan Historic District, which preserves the second-oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Western Hemisphere.
Day 2. Old San Juan to Luquillo, 32 miles (51 km)
Today's eastbound ride along the coast takes us through the exclusive residential and hotel areas of Miramar, Condado, Ocean Park, and Isla Verde. From there, we'll depart the metropolitan surroundings and roll onto a six-mile-long coastal bike trail that leads through mangrove forest. Later, we'll visit Paseo Piñones, comprising forest, small secluded beaches, seafood kiosks, and several overlooks. In the town of Loiza Aldea, the island's center of Afro-Hispanic culture, African influences abound. The day ends at the beach town of Luquillo, the "Puerto Rican Riviera."
Day 3. Luquillo to Fajardo, 21 miles (34 km)
We'll ride west for several miles to the entrance of El Yunque National Forest, formerly known as the Luquillo National Forest, or the Caribbean National Forest. This rain forest region encompasses the headwaters of eight major rivers, four distinct types of forest, and an associated wealth of plant and animal life. Numerous options for good hikes are at hand. We'll leave later in the afternoon to track down our dinner and overnight accommodations in Fajardo, a sleepy town that once served as a supplier to the sugarcane industry, as well as to the pirate "trade."
Day 4. Layover day in Fajardo, 0 miles (0 km)
Today we will have the option to catch the early ferry to Culebra Island, a seven-by-four-mile miniature archipelago where it's believed Christopher Columbus visited during his second voyage in 1493. Other opportunities include visiting Vieques Island or bicycling to gorgeous Flamenco Beach. Evening highlights feature a seafood dinner back in Fajardo, followed by an optional kayak trip to bioluminescent Laguna Grande, where living organisms emit light in the water.
Day 5. Fajardo to Maunabo, 41 miles (66 km)
Today's southbound coastal ride leads through the small town of Ceiba, home to the Ceiba State Forest Natural Reserve, then through the villages of Aguas Claras and Daguao. We'll end the day at Maunabo, where the lovely and often-photographed Punta Tuna Lighthouse, listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, began warning ships off the Sargent Reef in the late 1800s. At the adjacent primitive Punta Tuna Beach, strong currents forbid swimming but not long walks or simply meditating on your seascape surroundings.
Day 6. Maunabo to Ponce, 58 miles (93 km)
On this day, we'll ride westbound, passing through the small town of Patillas on the dryer and hotter side of the island. In Guayama, known as el pueblo de brujería, "the town of witches," the Spanish colonial roots run deep, as evidenced by numerous historical structures and sites. Our destination is Ponce, Puerto Rico's second biggest city, named for Juan Ponce de León y Loayza, a great-grandson of the notorious conquistador. It was the largest city, more populous even than San Juan, back in 1898, when the U.S. invaded and occupied Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War.
Day 7. Ponce to La Parguera, Lajas, 36 miles (58 km)
Similar to yesterday's riding, our route today is characterized by arid, hot conditions with little shade. Highlights include Yauco, a small hillside town featuring steep streets, colorful old houses, and great coffee. The area's traditional sugarcane and cotton farming eventually gave way to coffee cultivation and produces a low-caffeine coffee popular for its rich flavor and exceptional quality. Guánica, another pleasant coastal town, is where the Americans landed during the 1898 invasion. The nearby Reserva Forestal Guánica boasts a plethora of plant and animal species that can be searched for on any one of a dozen foot trails coursing through the reserve. An optional mile-long ferry ride can take us to tiny Gilligan's Island -- the official name is Cayo Aurora -- featuring mangroves bordered by white coral sand and a blue-green lagoon ideal for swimming or snorkeling.
Day 8. Layover day in La Parguera, Lajas, 0 miles (0 km)
We'll enjoy a well-deserved rest day relaxing on the beaches and seeing the sights around La Parguera. Perhaps we'll enjoy the day in a boat or go kayaking or diving.
Day 9. La Parguera, Lajas to Rincon, 45 miles (72 km)
Today we'll round the southwestern corner of the island, following backroads around the fishing village of El Combate. Spectacular views from jagged limestone cliffs capture the clashing of the Caribbean against rock walls below. Playa Santa, a "best-kept secret" beach, is located in the Bahia Sucia bay just below the lighthouse known as El Faro de los Morillos de Cabo Rojo. Nearby Boquerón is known for its seafood specialties, including raw oysters embellished with a squeeze of limón. Heading north up the western edge of the island, we'll pass through the fishing village of Puerto Real before entering the coastal areas of Punta Arenas and Joyuda, the latter heralded for its string of seafood restaurants. Small boat excursions to the tiny paradise island of Piñeros, located less than a mile offshore, may also be taken from here.
Day 10. Rincon to Hatillo, 45 miles (72 km)
In Aguada, the island's second-oldest settlement, we'll have the chance to stop in at El Museo de Aguada, a museum housed in a former train station that features native Taino Indian artifacts. Next up: Aguadilla, residing on the island's northwestern corner and boasting fine beaches and numerous historical sites. From there, we'll curve east, signaling our return approach to San Juan. Our destination for the evening is the coastal town of Hatillo, situated in an area recognized for dairy farms dating back to 18th century settlers who arrived from the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa.
Day 11. Hatillo to Manati, 26 miles (42 km)
Today we'll bicycle through Punta Maracayo, Arecibo, and Laguna Tortuguero, a natural reserve known for its caimans, an exotic crocodile species native to Central and South America.
Day 12. Manati to Old San Juan, 35 miles (56 km)
On this, our final day of riding on Borínquen -- the native name for Puerto Rico -- we'll pass through the alluring town of Vega Baja and return to the shoreline to ride to Dorado, the island's oldest destination resort. Soon thereafter, we'll re-enter the metropolitana of San Juan by way of Levitown and Sabana Seca, finishing up with a ferry ride into Old San Juan. There we'll toast to an unforgettable Caribbean adventure full of sun, sand, and salty air.