Puerto Rico may be synonymous with rest, relaxation, and sunburns accidentally received during too much rest and relaxation (up your SPF, bro), but international adrenaline junkies will tell you there are more amped-up activities to be found both on and beyond the beach. We rounded up 10 great ones, with a few slightly less heart-pounding options just so you can catch your breath. Pick your favorite, and pack your suitcase.
Spelunking the Rio Camuy Caves
Where: About an hour's drive west of San Juan
Why: When the world’s third largest underground river carves out more than 10 miles of caverns and 220 caves for you, the least you can do is strap on some gear and go check it out, right? Skip the tram and well-lit paths and instead hook up with an adventure operator like Aventuras Tierra Adentro to experience caving and spelunking the way it was done when the subterranean river was originally discovered.
Bonus: Who knows, maybe you’ll discover one of the 800+ additional caves some experts say might be down there, and they’ll name it after you. “The Steve Cave” has a nice ring to it.
Kayaking the mangroves in La Parguera
Where: Southwest corner of Puerto Rico
Why: For getting up close and personal with tropical wildlife, it’s hard to beat a mangrove islet. Rare birds, crabs, lizards, manatees, dolphins, turtles, all manner of fish -- everything lives in these rich environments. In La Parguera, you’ll find upwards of 30 different islets, the closest around a mile offshore. In some places, the trees join above you, forming eerie tunnels and waterways that’ll have you wanting to film a movie, hopefully starring those manatees.
Bonus: La Parguera is also home to one of the world’s most vibrant bioluminescent bays. After a day of traversing the mangroves, see if you can get a local fisherman to take you out there, so you can jump in and make like a glow stick
Full-moon zip-lining in Mucaro
Where: Due south of San Juan on the edge of the Carite National Forest
Why: Zip-lining over boring terrain by day is so blasé. At night, under a full moon, in the heart of east-central Puerto Rico… that’ll suit your inner Batman MUCH more. Playing the role of Mr. Fox on this adventure is Acampa, who’ll outfit you with everything you’ll need to fly over the treetops in the still of the night.
Bonus: Upon successful completion of your night flight, Acampa fetes its guests with traditional stew, music, and Medalla beer around a campfire
La Vuelta cycling tour around Puerto Rico
Where: All around the entire circumference of Puerto Rico
Why: Because there’s hardly a better way to see every one of Puerto Rico’s 375 coastal miles than from the seat of a bike. More tour than actual competitive race, La Vuelta takes riders all the way round the island in just three late-January days when the temps aren’t quite so torrid.
Bonus: Cyclists are generally sexy, and people tend to party at night once the day’s ride is complete. You do the math. Then stop doing math and start working out your quads
Surfing in Rincón
Where: Northwest Puerto Rico
Why: The 1968 World Surfing Championship was held here, validating Rincón’s tasty waves for generations of surfers to come. Rincón means corner, which fits a northwest location where the rough and churning Atlantic meets the calmer Caribbean Sea. The effect creates conditions considered to be among the world’s best, with winter swells reaching the same 25-30ft heights you’ll find along Oahu’s celebrated North Shore.
Bonus: Whale-watching season coincides with peak surfing months during the winter, so when you’re not riding big waves, you can check out the ocean’s biggest beasts
Hiking and camping in El Yunque
Where: About 45 minutes east of San Juan near Rio Grande
Why: El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. Forest System. This rare beauty also has a great set of hiking and walking trails, some more rugged and taxing than others. Some lead to breathtaking views, others to waterfalls you’ll definitely agree are worth chasing.
Bonus: No bears, snakes, or threatening animals of any kind reside in El Yunque, so you can rest here overnight surrounded by nature without worrying about being eaten by anything except mosquitos
Hiking/birdwatching the Guanica State Forest
Where: Southwest Puerto Rico
Why: After all the madness, make a visit to the best dry forest in the Caribbean, designated a Biosphere Reserve by the U.N. in 1981. It’s not just the U.N. that thinks highly of it -- a bunch of birds are also super-keen, as more than 50 percent of Puerto Rico’s terrestrial species can be found here. With 36 miles of trails, you’ll have plenty of ground to cover to find them all.
Bonus: Guanica isn’t just for the birds. There are more than 700 plant species here as well, 48 of them endangered, so watch where you step. Extinguishing something forever isn’t the kind of thrill you want to take on
Diving Las Cuevas of Desecheo
Where: 13 miles west of Puerto Rico
Why: Technically this is another of Puerto Rico’s “Galapagos of the Caribbean”, but the wildlife-populated interior is off-limits, due to the military having long ago used it as a training ground and unexploded ordinance from the 1940s possibly still being about. The real attractions -- and the ones you can take part in -- lie underwater, in the many undersea canyons, caves, and arches that make Desecheo a wet ‘n' wild playground for scuba dudes who love to swim through stuff.
Bonus: A ton of Rhesus monkeys were dropped off here as part of a science experiment in the late ‘60s. By now, they might have grown so smart you’ll end up scuba diving next to one
Mona Island, the Galapagos of the Caribbean
Where: 41 miles west of Puerto Rico
Why: The entire 22-square-mile island (bigger than St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands) is an uninhabited ecological reserve. With the exception of a handful of park rangers, nature is fully in charge here, making for some seriously unspoiled eco exploring. Camping is allowed between May and November. For another, even more uncommon thrill, come between December and April when it’s hunting season.
Bonus: Within some of the island’s many caves you can find ancient carvings left by the Taino Indians who once lived there
Hell Mile extreme race
Where: Cerro de Nandy in San Lorenzo; east-central Puerto Rico
Why: “YOU MAY FAINT, ****, PUKE or DIE but GIVING UP is NOT an OPTION! DO you have the GUTS to make the CUT?” This is the challenge/warning for the Hell Mile, an extreme race put on annually by the fine folks at Exxtremixta Adventure Races. The course: A one-mile run up and down a steep mountain that you have to make three times. For round one, you simply run up and down the mountain. For round two, you do the same, lugging a weighted bag (15 pounds for the ladies, 25 for the men). Round three? You guessed it: up and down carrying an even heavier load (25 pounds for the ladies, 50 for the guys). Oh yeah, the race also takes place in July, when it’s sure to be good and steamy. You know, hellish.
Bonus: You just might survive… maybe.
PUBLISHED ON 7/28/2014 BY STEVE BENNETT