Puerto Rico’s east region offers secluded beaches, a legendary rainforest, and island excursions. This region of the island — comprised of 15 towns, two small islands, and a legendary rainforest — offers scenic views, leisurely beaches, rivers, and quaint food stands to enjoy after a day at the beach.
POINTS OF INTEREST
A great home base for exploring nearby islands and cays, as well as some of Puerto Rico’s best beaches. Fajardo is on the far eastern tip of Puerto Rico, and is only about 45 minutes away from the San Juan airport. Known for its breathtaking views, beautiful natural reserves, outstanding marinas, and stunning hotels, this city is perfect as a home base for day trips to nearby islands and other laid-back getaways.
This popular balneario is ideal for snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, and more. The crescent-shaped beach is lined with palm and almond trees that provide shade for a picnic or just to relax. The beach is surrounded by little food kiosks and restaurants at the entrance of Las Cabezas de San Juan, also known as Las Croabas. Seven Seas has gazebos, parking and camping areas, as well as restrooms and showers.
Perhaps one of the most “Instagrammable” places in the area is La Zanja (The Ditch), one of the town’s off-the-beaten-path wonders. La Zanja is a natural pool created when the waves from the Atlantic crash on the rocks and fill in the long, “ditch-like” indentation. If you like adventure, it’s about a 20 to 30-minute hike from Seven Seas to this secluded location, and you’ll get to enjoy some scenery along the road less-traveled.
Divided by a small peninsula called Cabeza Chiquita (Small head) are Playa Escondida and Playa Colorá, two of Fajardo’s hidden gems. They make up part of the Northeast Ecological Corridor and to get to them you will have to do a little bit of hiking. Playa Colorá earned its name because of its reddish-colored sand which is juxtaposed against the turquoise waters. Meanwhile, Playa Escondida is hemmed in by mangroves, and its golden sand makes it a great location to unwind.
One of the main attractions at Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve is Laguna Grande, one of the three bio-bays in Puerto Rico. The narrow and long canal that leads to the dazzling, glow-in-the-dark waters make this a lagoon, technically, rather than a bay.
You can kayak or cruise in a small boat and experience a surreal moment when the agitation of the water makes it light up thanks to microscopic organisms in the water. Although visitors are not allowed to swim in the lagoon, you can agitate the water with your hands and witness a magical natural spectacle. Be sure to book in advance and take into consideration that the less moonlight there is, the better the experience of this natural phenomenon will be.
Because of its location, Caguas is known as the “Heart and Center” of Puerto Rico. Situated at the western end of the east region, this town is only about 30 minutes from the San Juan airport, which contributes to its development as a major commercial center for the island, including more than 40 factories producing clothes, leather, electronics, and more. Also known as la Ciudad Criolla (“Creole City”), Caguas is home to a handful of museums and an ecological center. The town square is undergoing a revitalization, with new restaurants and events being added all the time.
The only establishment dedicated to the history of tobacco in Puerto Rico is situated in Caguas. Located in a neoclassical, colonial-era building, the museum showcases the development of a historic industry in the island. Pay a visit and discover how Cubans used to buy the tobacco cultivated in Puerto Rico to blend with theirs. Learn about the industry and its meaning to Puerto Rico, and observe replicas of old tobacco ranches. The educational experience is highlighted by local artisans that craft artisanal cigars for visitors.
Río Grande literally translates to “Great River,” and the town is known for its lavish hotels, championship-worthy golf courses, iconic restaurants, and the rainforest known as El Yunque. It’s one of the biggest towns in the east region, with a population of 54,253, and is only about a 30-minute drive from the San Juan airport.
El Yunque is the only subtropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System. Its 28,000 acres are crisscrossed with hiking trails, waterfalls, and streams, which is a mind-blowing journey for nature lovers. There are 150 native fern species and 240 tree species, as well as unforgettable views and fun activities.
Climb the spiral staircase at the Yokahu Observation Tower and enjoy the spectacular panoramic vistas. The name of the tower is rooted in Puerto Rican mythology and refers to the Taíno Indians’ belief that the rainforest was the home to Yukiyú or Yokahu, a benign fertility god that watched over nature.
There are myriad hiking trails crossing El Yunque, ranging from easy to expert. There is also La Paseadora, a small ferry that rides along the Espíritu Santo, the only navigable river in Puerto Rico. If you’re looking for something a little bit more daring, tour companies can take you to tierra adentro (inland), where you can practice canyoneering, rock climbing, rappelling, and ziplining.