San Juan Architecture Puerto RicoImage via Wikimedia Commons by Jmoliver

If you’re looking for a warm weather getaway that still has plenty of history, architecture, and “Untapped” potential, Puerto Rico has a little bit of everything. And by plane, it’s closer than the drive from New York City to Washington D.C. Here’s a list of experiences that shouldn’t be missed on a trip to Puerto Rico:

1. San Juan National Historic Site

San Juan was a key colonial outpost for the Spanish in the West Indies. The earliest fort, the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, was built starting in 1539, predating the first English Settlement in Jamestown by 68 years. Today, the San Juan National Historic Site is run by the US National Park Service and consists of several forts and three-fourths of the city walls.

2. Old San Juan

A walk through old San Juan will take you down cobblestone streets amidst colonial era architecture painted in bright Caribbean colors. There are many unique features that make the urban architecture specific to San Juan, including high ceilings to keep the buildings naturally cool, balconies to create shade, breathable brick walls, and interconnected rooms leading out to backyards and the streets. The narrowness of the streets also helps to provide shade in the warm climate.

3. Camuy River Cave Park

Camuy River Cave ParkImage via Wikimedia by Per Aspera

The Camuy River is the third largest underground river in the world and is carved out of a network of limestone caves and underground waterways. 220 caves and ten miles of caverns have been mapped, but that pales in comparison to the estimated 800 caves believed to exist. At Camuy River Park, you can enter caves, tour famous sinkholes, and see the underground river far below.

4. El Yunque National Forest

El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical forest in the U.S. National Forest system and has been a Federal Forest Reserve for over 110 years. It features nature trails, picnic and camping areas, scenic drives, and swimming spots.

5. Bioluminescent Bay at Vieques

The Bioluminescent Bay on the island of Vieques is a U.S. national natural landmark. The bioluminescence is created by a particular micro-organism that can only exist on its undeveloped and protected coast. Kayaking in the bay, your paddles stirring up clouds of blue, glow-in-the-dark water, is a uniquely unforgettable experience.

6. La Esperanza Beach

Puerto Rico has more than 270 miles of coastline and La Esperanza is one of its secluded beaches, surrounding a cove protected by large rocks. The path to this beach is surrounded by the natural vegetation of Hacienda La Esperanza. Keep in mind that visits are limited to weekends and holidays, and that the path that leads to it is in poor condition. But as soon as you get there, you’ll know the trip was well worth the effort.

7. Arecibo Observatory

Puerto Rico houses the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, spanning almost 20 acres. You might recognize it from the movie Contact with Jodie Foster. It’s the only radio telescope that can accurately predict when and where an asteroid might collide with Earth and was responsible for the first asteroid images in history.

As you travel around Puerto Rico, you can stay in downtown San Juan, in one of the small country inns known as paradores, or in one of the many 5-star resorts on the island. With beaches, outdoor escapes, great history, and beautiful architecture, there is something for everyone in Puerto Rico.