5 Major Landmarks in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico’s charms are many and quite unlike what you’ll find elsewhere in the United States. You can scale the steps of a 16th-century fort or journey through a tropical forest to find a world-famous seat of scientific research. Although the island seems designed for relaxation, with extensive white beaches and Caribbean-style nightlife, the curious explorer also finds plenty of landmarks of significance.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Because it’s likely you’ll begin your time in Puerto Rico in the capital city, San Juan’s Castillo San Felipe del Morro is an excellent first pick among the island’s principal landmarks. Tucked into the old quarter of the city, the fort has stood since 1540, protecting citizens from atop a craggy promontory jutting out from the northwest edge of the city. Since 1983, the fort has been a designated World Heritage Site, along with Castillo San Cristobal and Fortin San Juan de la Cruz, two additional fortifications located in San Juan and dating to the 16th century.
Iglesia Porta Coeli
In San German, the second-oldest city in Puerto Rico, visitors can wander among numerous historic sites. The city is on the National Register of Historic Places. Iglesia Porta Coeli ranks among the city’s chief landmarks, as the oldest church anywhere in the Americas, built in 1606. Masses are only held three times per year, but the church is open to visitors continuously, with many sacred objects and artifacts lining its walls.
Tibes and Caguana
Puerto Rico’s Taino hertiage is best preserved in two different locations, Tibes and Caguana. Tibes, located north of Ponce, has many replicas of Taino dwellings and is the location of historic ceremonies. Caguana, an ancient ceremonial site, is located just off Highway 111, near Arecibo. What it lacks in historical ruins it makes up for with dramatic botanical gardens. Visitors can also spot a few petroglyphs among the ruins of “bateyes,” courts used for sport by the ancient Taino people.
Observatorio de Arecibo
For a more modern landmark, head to the Observatorio de Arecibo, known locally as “El Radar.” Puerto Rico might be primarily a destination holding more rustic appeal, from its pristine beaches to low-key villages to historic fortifications. But it’s also home to the world’s largest radio telescope. From its lonely perch in the midst of the wilderness south of Arecibo town, the 20-acre dish serves in research into quasars as well as SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). Visitors have access to an ideally located lookout platform.
Also known as Bioluminescent Bay, Bahia Mosquito is filled with a species of phosphorescent dynoflagellate, making the waters glow — it’s a magnificent sight, particularly in the dark. The microorganisms are harmless. Avoid any cruise offers that use motor boats, though, as the pollution significantly kills off the phosphorescent organisms, minimizing the unusual effect. Instead, opt for one of the many eco-friendly kayak tours available.