Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands
Shaped by centuries of interlacing narratives, Puerto Rico is a delightful patchwork of cultural traditions, swashbuckling history, and precolonial roots set amidst dazzling scenery. Delve into the lore and legacy of the Spanish in Old San Juan where the monumental fortress El Morro presides, explore pre-Columbian Taíno ruins, or the historical haciendas of coffee and sugar plantations. The island is a riot of rainforest-cloaked mountains and palm-fringed beaches surrounded by the clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Spend your days golfing the elegant courses of Dorado and lively nights dancing salsa in Old San Juan, or head to Vieques for its tranquil beaches and bioluminescent bay. Head to the west coast beaches of Rincón for the best surf in the Caribbean, or hike through the rainforest of El Yunque National Park. Visit Ponce’s collection of local and European art, and then head inland to explore the cloud-wreathed trails and waterfalls of Toro Negro Forest Reserve. Puerto Rico is a beautiful island of fun-loving people and is a unique and exciting part of U.S. culture and history.
The alluring capital of Puerto Rico is steeped in history and resonates with modern energy. Home to incredible satin-sand beaches, sizzling nightlife, and colonial architecture, San Juan is a charismatic and resilient city that has weathered storms and battles for centuries. Founded in 1521, the city is one of the oldest European settlements in the Americas, and Old San Juan is a reminder of this legacy set in stone. The colossal 16th-century Spanish fort El Morro is one of the highlights of Old San Juan, and showcases the history of colonial powers vying for control of the Caribbean. The cobbled streets of Old San Juan are an endless delight, bursting with bars and restaurants, and even boast a picturesque palm-lined beach.
Just west of San Juan, Dorado is set along a majestic stretch of coastline known for its slew of legendary golf courses and luxury resorts. One of the island’s most elegant hotels sits along Dorado Beach—the Ritz-Carlton Reserve villa Su Casa, a beautifully restored hacienda-style mansion with a private oceanfront view and pool, once owned by the Rockefeller family. Golden-sand beaches and rolling hills mantled in palm groves are the stirring backdrop to Dorado’s excellent restaurants, top-notch resorts, and championship golf courses.
A region and town on the east coast of Puerto Rico, Fajardo is wonderland for water sports, and is surrounded by luxuriant wilderness and dappled with beach-fringed bays. Marine life and coral reefs abound in the warm Caribbean seas, making this a paradise for scuba diving and snorkeling. Sailboats pepper the sweeping bay of Seven Seas Beach, and town harbor hosts elegant yachts and offers access to the islands and cays sprinkled off the coast. Enjoy the bioluminescent waters of Laguna Grande in Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve, or head inland to hike trails through the rainforest of El Yunque National Forest.
A stunning coastline draped with beautiful beaches and graced with pounding waves, Rincón is the laid-back surf capital of the Caribbean. Once a sleepy, bohemian town, in recent years Rincón’s center has evolved to accommodate travelers looking for a taste of luxury, all while preserving its down-to-earth vibes. The town now boasts a number of quality bars, restaurants, and resorts that are the perfect urban accompaniment to its natural landscape of verdant hills and scintillating beaches. Surf or scuba dive in the waters of Tres Palmas Marine Reserve, or head offshore to snorkel or dive among the coral reefs of Desecheo Island.
Inhabited 1,500 before the Spanish arrived, shaped by a legacy of sugar plantations, and then serving as a bombing range for the U.S. Navy from the 1940s until 2003, this tiny island paradise is packed with history. Sitting a few miles off the coast from Fajardo, Vieques is a transcendent natural gem—the territory formerly owned by the US Navy was converted into the Vieques National Wildlife Reserve, which remains a wild, mysterious landscape. Float the phosphorescent waters of Mosquito Bay, surf the waves of Navio Beach, or wade in the calm, shallow waters of Media Luna. Though the resort scene is slightly less glamorous than other parts of Puerto Rico, Vieques’ untrammeled beaches and welcoming atmosphere are a natural kind of luxury.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Mountainous islands blanketed with transcendently green forests, set like emeralds in the impossibly clear waters of the Caribbean, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) are a world of luxury and natural brilliance. The three major islands are accompanied by more than 50 smaller cays and islets that make for secluded excursions; each island has a unique personality, but there is no wrong choice. Opt for the prolific resorts and water sports of St. Thomas, the onshore and underwater national park offerings of St. John, or the low-key atmosphere and spectacular diving of St. Croix. Swim along the underwater trails of Buck Island Reef National Monument, or stay on land and explore the islands’ checkered past—tour historic plantations and brush up on local pirate lore. Delicious food, abundant rum, and sun-drenched beaches make this scattering of islands a tropical paradise.
The largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix is peppered with historic architecture and preserved plantations from the 18th century. Wander the charming old churches, courtyards, and restored townhouses of Christiansted; opt for the quiet luxury of Cane Bay; play golf on championship courses; and for a taste of pristine beauty, Buck Island offers some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the USVI. Frederiksted, on the western side of the island, is the only port of call for cruise ships, which means that the rest of the island retains a remote and laid-back atmosphere.
The smallest of the major islands, St. John offers refined resorts and untrammeled nature unique to anywhere else in the Caribbean. Over half of the island is protected in the sprawling Virgin Islands National Park, which has 20 hiking trails winding through verdant hills and along pristine beaches. The park also encompasses more than 5500 acres underwater and safeguards extensive reefs. Stretch out on one of the island’s beautiful beaches after a morning hike, spend the afternoon snorkeling in crystal-clear waters, and enjoy evenings browsing boutique shops and dining in sophisticated restaurants.
A central stop for cruises in the West Indies, St. Thomas’ tourism economy has evolved to provide quality, luxury, and endless options to explore the outdoors. Center your visit on the lively harbor of Charlotte Amalie and have cobblestone streets, historic sites, and trendy restaurants at your disposal; head to the elegant sands and turquoise waters of Magens Bay, Secret Harbor, or Limetree Beach for a more secluded experience. The island’s calm, clear seas are ideal for sea-kayaking, snorkeling, and scuba diving.