Puerto Rico's 'Hidden Islands' Are An Underrated Destination For Your Next Tropical Escape

Puerto Rico is a cultural and natural gem of both the Caribbean and the United States. With its waterfalls, the only tropical national park in the country, historic landmarks, seemingly endless beaches, and exceptional resorts for all types of travelers, it's a tropical playground for beach and history enthusiasts alike. Located near the British Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico is a hot spot in the Caribbean, and the fact that there's no passport required for U.S. citizens to visit this unincorporated territory makes it an even more attractive vacation destination. Unfortunately, this can lead to overcrowded attractions. But while the masses are checking out the iconic fortresses in Old San Juan, you can discover some of Puerto Rico's best kept secrets.


For example, Puerto Rico has its own archipelago. Two of the most popular islands in the group are located just off the eastern shore — the still mostly undiscovered Culebra and Vieques, each of which reveals its own personality to those who visit. Both islands are easily accessible from Puerto Rico, so you can visit as a day trip. However, to really embrace all these islands have to offer, and to deepen your connection with the region, plan to stay a few days if you can.

What to know about Culebra

Just a 30-minute flight or 45-minute ferry ride will get you to Culebra, which is one of America's islands that just has an exotic feel about it. With its idyllic Flamenco Beach demanding attention, it's earned its place as one of the best beaches Puerto Rico has to offer. Between its gorgeous views, stellar snorkeling and swimming opportunities, and iconic tanks that hark back to a time when the island was a naval base, a day at Flamenco is its own reward. However, it isn't the best kept secret on the island. 


Carlos Rosario and Tamarindo beaches also deserve a visit, and if you really want to take the path less beaten head over to the uninhabited Isla Culebrita, Culebra's beach-rich offspring. While the stunning Caribbean beaches take center stage, the ocean beckons with a full offering of activities. Dive the nearby reef, search for sea turtles, or take a boat charter. Back on land, further explore the seabird nesting grounds and turtle refuge via the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge. If you're staying on the island, grab a dinner loaded with fresh seafood options, take a walk on uncrowded beaches, and meander around, looking for sculptures, murals, and other art. Also take the opportunity to learn more about the history of the island at Culebra's Historical Museum "El Polvorín".


What to know about Vieques

Only six miles from the east side of Puerto Rico, you can travel to Vieques with a 25-minute plane ride from San Juan or a 30-minute ferry shuttle from Ceiba. In addition to beaches and water activities, more than half the island hosts the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, where you might be lucky enough to spot an endangered Antillean manatee, brown pelican, or sea turtle while you explore the lagoons, forests, and wetlands that make up the refuge.


Vieques is also home to the world's brightest bioluminescent bay. While you can't swim with these glowing algae, you can kayak above them, allowing the glow from beneath the water to captivate you. These algae, called dinoflagellates, best show their colors when it's not competing with a bright moon, so aim to head to Mosquito Bay on a night when the moon is a new or crescent phase. Whether on land or sea, it's easy to see how these underrated jewels belong on your Caribbean or Puerto Rican itinerary.