After living it up in San Juan for a few nights on my trip to Puerto Rico, I couldn’t wait to experience more of the island. As a small group of adventurous women, we headed northeast first. We immersed ourselves in relaxation, dining, aquatic activities, and the El Yunque National Forest: the U.S.’s only rainforest.
Where to stay near El Yunque in Puerto Rico
Stay at the incredible Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort on the northeast coast of Puerto Rico. The Wyndham Grand Rio Mar serves as an excellent base camp when exploring El Yunque National Forest.
Treat yo’self and bask in the soft sands, crystal clear waters, and tropical breezes on the private beach of this incredible oceanfront resort featuring three beachfront pools, delicious multiple dining options, a casino, relaxing spa, two world-class golf courses and more. Don’t miss the onsite daily morning iguana feeding.
Every room comes with a stellar view of either the ocean or the rainforest! I recommend ordering room service and dining al fresco while taking in the stunning vistas to start your day off right. You can also dine at one of the nine dining options onsite. We enjoyed Iguanas Cocina where we sipped on Iguanas punch, noshed on tasty pionono (sweet plantain stuffed with beef picadillo), Iguanas mofongo (one of Puerto Rico’s most popular dishes available at most restaurants – a tasty, well seasoned mashed plantain base covered in your choice of beef, chicken, or a variety of seafood), and more. We left full and happy!
Eat, drink, and be merry: ¡Salud!
For excellent local dining outside of Wyndham Grand Rio Mar, I suggest La Estación! After tasting over 10 menu items, I can see why Fodor’s listed La Estación as one of the top ten restaurants in the Caribbean. Located in the coastal town of Fajardo on the eastern-most tip of Puerto Rico, La Estación is a 30 minute drive from the resort. The trip is well worth it!
Husband and wife team Kevin Roth and Idalia Garcia serve up Nuyorican BBQ mixing traditional BBQ technique with Caribbean flavors. It’s cooked on open fires of wood smoke and natural charcoal with ingredients sourced from local farms and waters. The talented duo blend their own spices and make all dressings and sauces on site. In addition, they support the island’s farmers, fishermen, and commerce to offer a truly unique, local experience in their welcoming open air dining room.
The cocktails were superb, the brisket was perfectly moist and smokey, their mac and cheese was on point (Southern girl approved), and the seafood dishes were fresh and flavorful! Come hungry with plenty of time to sit and enjoy the eats and atmosphere of La Estación.
Another great option for dining, sun, sand, and fun is Luquillo Kiosks. Located along the PR-3, this oceanside destination offers over 60 vendors serving up a wide range of food, drinks, and souvenirs. Make a day of it toggling between dining, drinking, dancing and beaching or end your day here after exploring El Yunque Rainforest. Next, grab a drink at Mojito Lab (kiosk #42). They have a wide range of colorful, tasty cocktails that will keep you cool!
Enjoy a meal at Smoky Joe Caribbean Grill (kiosk #18), They have an excellent upstairs covered dining area where you can feast on award winning barbeque and shade yourself from the sun while you gaze upon beautiful Luquillo beach. The ceviche at Smoky Joe’s is fresh and flavorful!
Time for water sports
Hit the water and gear up for a sand and sea adventure via a Mini Boat Experience with Kayaking Puerto Rico in Fajardo. Ride your own Mini Speed Boat as you convoy along the coast of gorgeous Fajardo. The awesome guides at Kayaking Puerto Rico are on hand throughout the journey making this ocean adventure fun for everyone! The mini boats comfortably fit 3 people and we had a blast journeying out onto the ocean. First timer Kimmay manned our boat easily without any prior experience. You’ll enjoy guided snorkeling in the best coral reefs of La Cordillera Nature Reserve before relaxing on the white sand beach in Icacos. Your Mini Boat comes stocked with snorkeling gear, light snacks and water.
Pro tip: Bring extra sunscreen and water.
You’ll work up an appetite boating and beaching. After enjoying the mini boat experience , head over to nearby El Cayo – Puerto Rican Paradise Restaurant & Beach Club. El Cayo offers a wide range of eats with a focus on seafood and Puerto Rican fare. Grab a table by the water and enjoy the view! I recommend the pionono and a cocktail for starters.
An intro to El Yunque from above
Get a bird’s eye view of the beautiful rainforest at El Yunque Rainforest Zipline Tours. Suitable for all ages and skill levels, the friendly guides at El Yunque Rainforest Zipline Tours bring you through a guided two-hour zipline experience. It features a variety of ziplining spaces, high/slow speeds, ground to high, high to high, and high to ground lines. This is all while experiencing stellar rainforest views.
After the exciting zipline preview of the rainforest journey onward to explore more of Puerto Rico’s lush, tropical region. Located in the Northeast region of the island and occupying almost 29,000 acres, El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rainforest in the national forest system. Although El Yunque is one of the smallest forests in the National Forest System, it is more biodiverse than any other forest in the national park system. There are nearly as many tree species at El Yunque as on the combined 192 million acres of the other national forests!
The small but bountiful park boasts 250 different types of trees, 50 varieties of orchids, and more than 150 species of ferns. Plus, there’s a whopping 42 species of birds that inhabit the park year round. Begin your forest adventure at El Portal Visitor Center. Here you can learn about the plant and animal species of El Yunque before exploring the park. Be sure to plan your visit in advance to ensure admission and prepare for the hiking trails’ various levels of difficulty.
Learn about lovely Loiza’s cultural roots
It’s always worth a deep dive intro a destination’s rich history, told by those who’ve lived it for generations. into Puerto Rico with a visit to Loiza. Loiza is a vibe! Located just outside of San Juan, the charming seaside town of Loíza was settled in the 16th century by members of the Yoruba tribe. They were brought to the Island as slaves, and Loiza is now home to the largest black population on the Island. The Yoruba tribe’s cultural influence still beats strong. It’s evident throughout this unique area where African culture is exhibited in Loiza’s music, dance, culinary traditions, and art. Meander slowly through this gem of a place to take in its riches.
Plan for a full day or stay overnight to truly enjoy all Loiza has to offer.. Start at the beachside community of Piñones and sample the bounty of frituras (fritters made from indigenous vegetables), chicken and pork skewers, fresh seafood, and fruit frappes from the roadside stands. Arrive hungry and visit several stops to partake in a variety of yummy regional offerings.
Don’t forget your (Bomba) dancing shoes
Head down the main road a bit and dance off those frituras calories. Try a Bomba dance lesson from famed Bomba dancer Sheila Osorio (@taller_nzambi. Bomba is a soulful African rooted dance in which the dancers lead the musicians’ playing and style through improvisational dance creativity and emotional expression. It was my favorite experience in Puerto Rico – a moving moment that I will never forget. Book a lesson with Sheila in advance and dance your heart out while eliciting afro beats as you dance seaside among a ring of tall palm trees.
Dive deeper into Afro culture: Visit the gallery of naive artist Samuel Lind
Drawing inspiration from nature, people, culture, and diaspora of African people, Samuel Lind has been creating vibrant, powerful art in several mediums including oil paintings, sculptures and serigraph prints for more than fifty years. His expansive and captivating gallery is open from Wednesday through Sunday and by appointment when the artist is available. Snag a piece of his colorful art to brighten your home and remind you of your time in Loiza.
To explore Loiza even more, check out these suggestions from Discover Puerto Rico. An overnight stay would allow for a more leisurely pace and more time to take in this unique area of Puerto Rico.
Thanks so much to Discover Puerto Rico and Wanderful for this incredible trip! All opinions are my own.