Home to paradise-like beautiful beaches, alluring mountains, ample deserts, underground cave systems, and even a tropical rainforest (the only one that can be found in the entire United States), Puerto Rico is so much more than just a beach vacation. If you want to explore beyond Old San Juan, these are some road trips in Puerto Rico you don’t want to miss!
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The Most Scenic Road Trips in Puerto Rico For Incredible Views
While spending days on end lounging at the beach may sound tempting, the ultimate way to fully explore the mainland and get to know it in a more authentic manner is by hitting the road.
At only 100 miles long and 39 miles wide, you wouldn’t exactly expect Puerto Rico to boast a ton of highways, but don’t let the small size fool you. You’ll be surprised to know how many incredible scenic drives the island is home to!
From drives up into the mountains in search of authentic Puerto Rican food to roads across tropical rainforests and highways along the coast offering ocean views galore, these are the most scenic road trips in Puerto Rico you’ve got to consider hitting during your trip to paradise!
1. Ruta Panoramica
Ruta Panoramica means Panoramic Route, which pretty much describes the amazing views you will find along the way. Moreover, this drive will give you the opportunity to explore Puerto Rico beyond the main tourist highlights by taking you deep into the island’s lesser-visited countryside.
This drive is about 167 miles, so it can take anywhere from two to three days to complete depending on how many stops you make along the way. The route begins in the town of Mayagüez on Puerto Rico’s west coast and ends in Maunabo on the southeast coast of Puerto Rico. You are basically crossing this small island in just one go.
Listing every single stop worth making on the Ruta Panoramica would take days, but here are just a few of the ones you absolutely cannot miss out on:
Maricao State Forest
Maricao State Forest would be the first stop, where you’ll find a Stone Tower offering stunning views of the island from an observation tower. There are also plenty of hiking trails which are a great way to stretch your legs, and even a waterfall (Salto Curet) featuring a natural pool underneath it.
Guilarte State Forest
Guilarte State Forest near Adjuntas is the next stop and another gem. While here, you can pick from many hiking trails and rent a kayak to explore the gorgeous Garzas Lake.
Toro Negro State Forest
Next on this list is Toro Negro State Forest, a nature-filled park complete with a waterfall and seven natural pools you can actually swim in for an unforgettable experience.
Cañon San Cristóbal
As you continue onwards, take a quick detour to Cañon San Cristóbal, an awe-inspiring geological phenomenon of cliffs and deep valleys.
Not far from here is Aibonito, which boasts the famous Mirador Piedra Degetou, where you’ll get to gawk at views of boulders on top of a hill.
Next up is the town of Cayey, a part of Puerto Rico known for its parties (especially during the weekends). It is also the starting point of the famous Ruta de Loncheria, another incredibly scenic drive through the mountains that gives you the chance to fully immerse yourself in culinary adventure (more info on this drive below!).
In short, Ruta Panoramica is the absolute best place to take a Puerto Rico road trip if you don’t mind getting away from the main highlights and going in search of hidden gems instead.
This drive is long and will take away a few days out of your itinerary due to the many stops along the way. If you’re short on time, you can always pick a section to focus on instead of crossing the entire island.
As a tip, try doing a little planning ahead of time when it comes to where to sleep and the absolute non-negotiable visits to make along the way. However, be sure to leave room for unexpected stops and detours along the way!
2. El Yunque’s Route 191
El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rainforest in the United States, which makes it a one-of-a-kind experience that you can only have in Puerto Rico unless you’re willing to fly internationally.
If you want to explore this tropical gem in a short time, your best bet is to drive Route 191, which leads straight into the heart of El Yunque. During the drive, you’ll stumble across plenty of lookout towers, hiking trailheads, and striking waterfalls, giving you plenty of excuses to stop and stretch your legs to take in the views.
While this road is super short, it’s recommended to allow an entire day for it in order to enjoy all the stops along the way. Moreover, make sure you also dedicate a bit of your time to exploring the many amazing activities in El Yunque for a fully-rounded visit!
3. Rio Grande to Ponce
With plenty of worthy stops along the way, including one at Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve and another at Bioluminescent Bay, this coastal route is a wonderful one to visit for some of the most iconic locations in Puerto Rico.
From Rio Grande, the first stop you’ll make is Luquillo, which is considered one of the best beaches in Puerto Rico. Next, take Route 3 to Fajardo, where a stop at Las Cabezas de San Juan is called for. This is a nature reserve that features varied landscapes, including dry forests, sandy beaches, vivid coral reefs, lush mangroves, and even a striking bioluminescent lagoon. As a tip, try to stick around till dusk for a magical guided kayak tour to watch the wonderful natural spectacle that is bioluminescence!
After this point, you’ll notice a dramatic change in scenery as you continue driving through the mountains into drier lands. Once you get to Ponce, the final stop, you can explore the city’s magnificent historical sites or start heading back (check out the next scenic drive on the list, which starts in Ponce).
4. Ponce to San Juan via Highway 10
Highway 10 is a real one-of-a-kind gem that will give you a really good idea of Puerto Rico’s diversity. Most people logically think the island is only about palm-fringed beaches, but this scenic route is the perfect place to show just how much the island has to offer.
This scenic route will take you away from the coast and straight into the heart of Puerto Rico. You’ll pass through mountains, forests, coffee plantations, caves, and a whole lot of cultural gems that are unique to the island.
Moreover, you’ll also get a chance to explore Rio Abajo State Forest, where you can make a stop to stretch your legs by taking a hike, exploring some caves, or doing some birdwatching. Next, head to Playa Sardinera and Cueva del Indio Natural Reserve, an impressive cave among cliffs sitting right on the coast facing the Atlantic Ocean.
5. La Ruta del Lechón (Pork Highway)
Love food and great views? If trying authentic cuisine is a priority when you travel, there’s no better way to do that than by driving up Route 184 from Guavate in Cayey. Aside from its alluring mountain vistas, what makes this scenic highway so unique is the fact there’s good food galore. Like, everywhere.
Stretching several miles, this road is lined by lechoneras, which are food stalls that serve lechón asado (slow-roasted suckling pig), a local favorite, and a dish that must be experienced in Puerto Rico. Aside from that, you’ll also be able to try different goodies, including yuca al mojo, mofongo, and more.
The lechoneras begin at the base of the mountains and continue on for miles, so make sure you don’t fill up on your first stop!
Note: La Ruta del Lechón is a short drive from the famous Ruta Panóramica, so you can cover both of them if you get an early start!
6. Salinas to Ponce via the Luis A Ferré Highway
Taking you to the south of the mainland, this great drive will bring you up the mountains, crossing ridge after ridge on winding roads, all while providing insanely good views of the ocean below.
Even though this is a 30 minute drive, it provides plenty of stops along the way, so plan more time than you think you’ll need! The first stop is, of course, Salinas, which is famed for its great roadside kiosks and a seafood restaurant with ocean views galore.
Another interesting stop worth making is Aguirre, a ghost village that was once the center of a sugar mill back in the 19th century. Today, you can walk through the ruins of turn-of-the-century cottages and even a golf course!
Even though lounging at white sands beaches is definitely a top priority during any trip to Puerto Rico, there’s nothing quite like driving through this beautiful island in order to get to see how vastly diverse it can get as well as get the chance to get to know the region in a much more authentic way.
I hope this list of the best scenic road trips in Puerto Rico inspired you to take a couple of days away from the main tourist hotspots on your Puerto Rican road trip!