Unfortunately, for some, the first encounter with Puerto Rico can be off putting. The congested roads and Americanised culture of this curious island can seem unpleasant, but be patient fellow escapists, for there is a side to Puerto Rico so wild and so beautiful the shopping streets and tower blocks will be jumbling into a distant blur in no time.
Located in the east of the mainland, El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the US. This misty, cloud-shrouded eco-park is a scenic fusion of cascading waterfalls, leafy ferns and blooming orchids, where parrots squawk, frogs croak and over 25 indigenous species roam free. Perfect for hikers and naturalists alike, you’ll find an abundance of hiking trails and cool tropical pools for bathing in to combat the humidity.
Cast off the coast of the mainland, Culebra Island is Puerto Rico’s quiet little sibling. Americanisation didn’t get this far, and sleepy Culebra has long ensconced itself in its own eccentricity and laidback way of life. Such lack of urbanisation has left the gorgeous little island entirely unspoiled, leaving nothing but forested slopes, beach shacks, and an outstanding shoreline. Yet it is remarkable Flamenco Bay that’s the real gem here; backed by thick forest and fronted by a kaleidoscopic coral reef, this incredible piece of paradise frequently makes the world’s top 10 beach list.
Vieques, the upmarket sister to Culebra, has all the qualities of a desert island with an added touch of class. Peppered with luxury boutiques yet still delightfully underdeveloped, its dusty tracks, lush forests and grassy pastures are best explored by bicycle; while the island’s chalky white beaches have all the splendour of its tropical neighbours. But what gives it that extra edge? Vieques cradles the world’s biggest bioluminescent bay: an enchanting lagoon that’s packed with tiny plankton that glow in the dark when disturbed, creating a psychedelic display like nothing else on earth.