Puerto Rico by camper van is a traveller’s paradise! Did you know that it is actually an archipelago with a main island, 4 smaller islands, and hundreds of beautiful cays and islets? There is more than enough to keep you busy, so I’ve compiled everything into a fun-filled itinerary to help you with the planning.
Many North American tourists take a week’s vacation at a time, so why a 5-day itinerary? Well, you have the luxury of travelling in a camper van, which means that you can spend as little or as long as you’d like in a place! Take advantage of your turtle shell and add an extra day or two in the areas suggested below (or others that you find) that are the most appealing to you.
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Puerto Rico by Camper Van with Van del Sol
I travelled around Puerto Rico by camper van in a Van del Sol rig and had the best time exploring the main island. At home in Canada I own my own camper van and was curious to try out another van in a new location. Van del Sol is the largest camper van rental in Puerto Rico with a 7-van fleet. Unlike my van, theirs all have AC and showers and boyyy were those features mucho appreciated in the heat.
This itinerary is the one that I created for my trip. I spent 5 nights and 6 days circumnavigating the colourful streets, coastal cities, and trying as many Puerto Rican dishes as possible. Make sure to read all the way to the end for a downloadable Google Map with all of the itinerary stops (plus several extra ideas!). There are activities for each day, plus time factored in for rest and relaxation. As they say in Puerto Rico, Live Boricua!
Day 1 – San Juan: The Capital City
A city of 2.4 million people, San Juan is Puerto Rico’s capital. It’s also where you’ll pick up your decked out camper van at the Van del Sol headquarters! Conveniently, Van del Sol is a quick Uber across the street from the airport. At pickup, the staff walk through all of the different features of the van to make sure you know where everything is and how to use it.
Driving and Parking
Old San Juan is a popular place to begin your journey. If you’re not a confident driver or a fan of tight spaces, I suggest parking outside of the city limits where the streets are wider and parking is likely easier to find. Keep in mind that you will only be able to park in open air spaces, as the height of the vehicle is too tall for covered spots. There are a few important markings to look out for when parking on the street: Yellow curbs are for taxis and commercial vehicles, red curbs indicate fire hydrants, and blue curbs are for disabled parking. There are timed free parking spots around town, as well as metered parking spots labelled “Estacionamiento Pagando Metro”. Make sure to have cash on hand in case card isn’t accepted.
Overnight parking is another scenario. One option is to hunker down at a hotel or resort’s parking lot (for a fee). There are a few free options that include free street parking on Sundays or city public parking lots. If you’re a first time vanlifer, here are a couple other tips to keep in mind. First, always arrive to your overnight parking spot while the sun is up and you can feel out the area. Second, when in doubt or if something feels off, move on to somewhere you feel safe. Third, brush up on your Spanish skills and ask a local! They might know of a great parking spot you hadn’t considered and can advise if there are areas to avoid. Once you’ve parked for the night in a city, try not to draw too much attention to yourself. Impossible with the gorgeous Van del Sol wraps, you may say! However, I’m referring more so to reducing your noise level and leaving your spot cleaner than you found it. Nobody likes an annoying or dirty neighbour. Always be respectful of those around you.
Where to Eat in Old San Juan
Old San Juan has numerous excellent restaurants for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between! Add the suggestions below to your itinerary for a tasty starting point or sign up for a food tour to introduce yourself to the delicious culinary landscape.
Café Cuatro Sombras is a sustainable coffee shop in the heart of Old San Juan. Their coffee beans are grown in Puerto Rico and the service is friendly. Choose from a mixture of baked goods or fresh sandwiches to pair with your drink.
Food Trucks are a big part of Puerto Rico’s culinary landscape. You’ll find several of them parked along the Bay of San Juan next to Port 1 on Plaza Dársenas, selling favourites like alcapurrillas (plantain fritters), pinchos (kebabs) and pastelillos (turnovers). Since you’re travelling Puerto Rico by camper van you’ll have no shortage of opportunities to stop at roadside food trucks and try each of these dishes.
La Madre is a hip Mexican restaurant with tacos and cocktails that will have you cheersing all night. Go with lots of people so you can try all of their food and drinks too.
Tapea serves fantastic tapas. Enchant your tastebuds by ordering the Pumpkin and Goat Cheese Croutons. Actually, really do yourself a favour and place 2 or 3 orders of it. Their Sangria Tinta is muy delicioso as well.
The Cave was one of my favourite restaurants in Old San Juan. Understated on the outside, a live band greets you just through the doors and the surprises continue from there. The front area has intimate bar seating and a small, cozier area to eat and enjoy the music. Walk down the hall and the restaurant opens up into a courtyard-like area with high ceilings, colourful chairs, and string lights for the perfect ambiance. And then there’s the food… Order one of everything, including the drinks, because each item has the “wow factor”. When I return to Puerto Rico, I will be eating here at least twice, if not more.
Barrachina is home to the world’s first Piña Colada. In 1963, a traditional Spanish bartender named Don Ramon Portas Mingot mixed the coconut concotion and the rest is history. The restaurant is also a popular place for Spanish paella, “creative” Puerto Rican dishes, and international dishes. Whatever you eat there, order a Piña Colada too.
Los 3 Cuernos is a super funky bar that catches your eye as you walk by. Curiosity pulls you inside and the high energy atmosphere keeps the night going strong. The conference that I attended in San Juan hosted an event here so I didn’t get to mingle with the locals, however I did try several flavours of the homemade “chichaitos de sabores”. It’s a strong drink made with Anisette liqueur and rum that’s typically served as a shot. They also sell it in glass to go jars. If you enjoy playing Where’s Waldo, there’s a little piece of Travel with TMc on the bar’s walls!
Distrito T-Mobile is a modern day plaza where you can go to the movies, see a concert with up to 5,000 other music lovers, enjoy local art, eat at several restaurants, or fly overhead the urban park on a 2x-Guinness Book of World Records holding longest zipline in the world. The conference’s opening night was held here and the energy was electric. My only regret is that I never got to try the zipline. It’s now on my to do list when I return to Puerto Rico. How could you not want to fly across a concert like a superhero mega star?!
Señor Paleta is where you will find the most delicious, dare I say somewhat healthy, frozen treats! They’re so scrumptious that even Bad Bunny collaborated with them. As he says, “Simple goes a long way”, and it’s true. The ingredients are a mix of fresh fruit, premium nuts, chocolates, and pastries. Quality ingredients and wicked branding has earned Señor Paleta the #1 artisan ice pop (“paleta”) spot in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
Since it’s the beginning of your trip, you may also want to fill your fridge with groceries for the road. There are plenty of places to stock up, like SuperMax, Freshmart, local grocery stores, or the weekend market.
What to See and Do in Old San Juan
From morning to evening there are a variety of activities for travellers in the old town. Walking tours are one of my favourite ways to see a new place, especially on the first day or two. There are all sorts of companies that will introduce you to the city through food or history.
Take a walk along the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s cobblestone streets, making sure to look up, down, left and right. The colourful buildings are full of life, music, and stories to share. You never know what you’ll see around each corner, like this umbrella street!
Many tourists and travellers make a stop at the historic forts along the old town’s seaside. Castillo San Felipe del Morro (“El Morro”) is the most iconic of all the Spanish forts, with an impressive 6 levels. It took 250 years to build, with construction finishing in 1790. Castillo San Cristobal is just as impressive, especially considering that it was built to protect El Morro and the city from land attacks. Interestingly, it was designed by an Irish engineer! You can take yourself on a self-guided tour or explore the grounds with a knowledgeable guide. Castillo San Cristobal is also a popular wedding venue. Can you imagine getting married at a former Spanish fort?
Day 2 – El Yunque & Fajardo
Less than an hour drive away from San Juan are El Yunque National Forest and the east coast town of Fajardo. Get ready to be in complete awe of nature as Puerto Rico reveals some of its most stunning features.
What to See and Do in El Yunque National (Rain)Forest
Did you know that El Yunque National Forest is the only rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System? For this and several other reasons, it is a must-visit during your Puerto Rican road trip. To experience the full scope and scale of its hikes and waterfalls, make sure to book your visit in advance. I made the mistake of not doing this and was kicking myself when we arrived. Book in advance!
The stunning open air Visitor Welcome Centre has a bilingual help desk, interactive child-friendly displays, a cafe, accessible washrooms, and a viewing deck with a panoramic vista of the rainforest. You’ll find plenty of parking at the entrance, along with extra long parking spaces in case you want a little extra wiggle room for your vacation rig. Travelling Puerto Rico by camper van may not be as trendy as on mainland USA (yet), but there are already many things in place, like these parking spots, for it to be accessible and fun for visitors.
Calling all swimmers! There’s a watering hole rope swing you’re not going to want to miss on the 4km (2.5 mile) El Angelito trail. Birders will be just as content feasting their eyes on the national park’s multitude of winged animals. Love an adrenaline rush or unique vantage point? Zip-line through the lush canopies or explore on horseback or ATV riding tours.
What to See and Do in Fajardo
To end the day, drive east to Fajardo and join a Bio Bay Kayak Tour. Paddle through a mangrove tunnel that leads to an evening show put on by none other than Mother Nature. Here, you’ll catch the sunset from your kayak before the bioluminescent waters light up. After swishing your hand through sparkling water, you’ll kayak back to shore through the mangrove tunnels as fireflies light the way. I visited Puerto Rico in the off-season which meant that the bioluminescence didn’t shine as bright. However, when I say the final kayak felt like something out of a Disney movie, I am not exaggerating. The mangroves were pitch black, save for thousands of fireflies leading the way. It’s a wonder I didn’t bust out into song like Ariel when she regains her voice.
A natural phenomenon, bioluminescence is truly something to put on your Puerto Rico bucket list. There are 3 locations here where you can witness the water world’s wizardry – Fajardo’s Bio Bay, La Parguera which I’ll share more about below, and Vieques, a smaller nearby island, that is home to Mosquito Bay. If you are going to take pictures (which won’t do the experience any justice), definitely use a waterproof carrying case.
Where to Eat in Río Grande and Fajardo
Degree 18 Juice Bar is a colourful vegan joint in Rio Grande, close to the rainforest, with outdoor seating and a stylish resident dog. I could have ordered one of everything off this menu, however I only have one stomach. I did, however, order a satisfying Back to Balance smoothie and a Lentil Wrap Bowl. My travel companion and self-dubbed Passenger Seat Princess ordered a burger and a juice and you better believe I tried those too! I wish I could have ordered a smoothie and a juice from here every day of the trip. Oh, did I mention there may be a wee piece of Travel with TMc left behind there as well? Where’s Waldo continues!
Sweets Temptation by Dayra is the spot to go if you’re itching for something sugary. Newly opened in 2022, it’s located down the street from Degree 18 Juice Bar. They’re open 7 days a week and have everything from coffee and tea, to milkshakes and frappés, to ice cream sandwiches, cones, and cake. They also offer cookies, cupcakes, and other confectionary delights.
Ocean View Restaurant is one of many fresh seafood restaurants along Fajardo Bay. I only was there for one night so I didn’t get the chance to try the others. If you do, please let myself and your fellow readers know about it in the comments below. I had several Langosta (lobster) Pastelillos, Carrucho (conch) Arepas, and Pulpo (octopus) Arepas. Yet again, I wished I had a second stomach to accommodate my desire to order more from the tantalizing menu. In addition to seafood and meat, they also offer vegan options, smaller portions for the kiddos, and dessert.
Day 3 – La Parguera
On day 3 of your Puerto Rico by camper van journey, the pace slows for a little dilly-dallying. Your route will take you along the southern coast to La Parguera in the western corner of the island.
Where to See and Do in La Parguera
Out of the 3 bioluminescent bodies of water in Puerto Rico, the only swimmable one is in La Parguera. If there is only 1activity that you do in Puerto Rico, this is 1 million percent it. As I mentioned, I visited Puerto Rico during the off-season. Because of the timing, I didn’t think too much of what I saw on the bioluminescent kayaking tour. If I’m honest, it was neat but not mind-blowing. In fact, because of the underwhelming kayaking experience, I nearly didn’t sign up for the bioluminescent swimming. I was going to stay in the van and work. That would have been the worst decision!
I’m so grateful to my friend Fay for giving me a kick in the pants. The minute the boat took off from the dock, I started smiling. The night sky was clear and the sky a blanket of stars, with the full moon lighting our watery path. We arrived to the bay, hopped in the water, and started treading. Fay had the foresight to bring her snorkelling mask and was kind enough to share it with me. In that moment, I became a real-life Disney princess. My arms and legs were shimmering like nothing I’d ever seen or experienced. To add to my childlike wonder and excitement, the timing of everything was perfection. My birthday was the next day and the live action version of my favourite Disney movie, The Little Mermaid, was opening in theatres. (The original is still better, by the way, though I do love the inclusivity.)
As a lifelong documenter it is extremely odd to have zero pictures or video from this experience. Even more surprising is that I would encourage you to leave your own cameras and devices behind. Besides the fact that it’s unlikely for them to capture much of what your eyes will be able to see unless you’re rocking heavy duty gear, if you lose your phone or camera in the lake it’ll be sayonara to the rest of the memories from your trip. This experience was one of the absolute coolest ones that I’ve had in recent years, and I can assure you that the core memory will be safely stored in your brain too.
Where to Eat in La Parguera
There are plenty of stops along the way to enjoy the scenery while grabbing a bite at the numerous food trucks, stands, and restaurants. Alternatively, you can cook in the van and enjoy the seaside views from your mobile front porch.
Day 4 – Aguadilla
The next stop on your Puerto Rican road trip is the second largest city, Aguadilla. It is also (in my opinion) the most colourful. Although it is a larger city, Aguadilla is a surfer’s paradise and locals and tourists alike flock here for the beaches. The best known sandy spot is Crash Boat with its crystal-clear water. If you can, head there during the week to avoid crowds. Surfers will love Wilderness Beach, Wishing Well, and Surfer’s Beach. You can rent an inflatable paddle board or boogie boards with Van del Sol and there are plenty of rental shops for surfboards in town.
South of Rompeolas Beach and across the street are 2 very special places in Aguadilla. The first is a park named El Parterre on the National Register of Historic Places. For hundreds of years before it was called El Parterre, the natural spring at the centre of the park was known in the 1500s to Spanish soldiers as Ojo de Agua (literally translated as “eye of water” and figuratively known as “water eye” or “water source”). It was their source of drinking water, as well as a place to recoup their energy. There’s also Chico River (“little river”) in the park that empties into Aguadilla Bay.
Over time, the spring became a community gathering place to do laundry, to swim in, and to connect with neighbours and family. In 1852 a German engineer named Heinrich Hau (Enrique Hau) built an enclosure around the spring, as well as a shallow pool and water channel. Thirteen years later, the Puente de la Reina (“The Queen’s Bridge”) was added. In 1882 the final additions were completed with the support of the mayor at the time.
I must admit, I didn’t notice the park at first because of what faces it across the street. It was only thanks to a conversation with a local man who suggested I check it out. In the intense Puerto Rican heat, El Parterre was a cool mini oasis, sheltered by the most magnificent tree. This picture doesn’t even begin to do it justice. Its strong arms stretched much farther than seemingly possible. Standing underneath it made me feel like a little bird under a mother’s wing – calm, quiet, and content.
The second intriguing place to check out in Aguadilla is right across the street from El Parterre: Las Casas de Colores. This neighbourhood caught me by surprise as we were leaving town and I’m so happy we pulled over to explore! I was fortunate to meet a few other local men who shared its history and told me to climb the stairs all the way to the top. I thought I reached the top, only to learn once I descended that I’d missed the basketball court, of all places. By that point though, I had be out in the hottest part of the day sweating my badonk off with my friend patiently waiting in the van. This too is on my to see list when I return to Puerto Rico.
Thanks to the artistic vision of Samuel González and Proyecto Pintalto, many towns around Puerto Rico have been graced with these macromurals. The beauty of them lay not just in the visual aspect, but that they are created with local muralists and communities. If you love outdoor art like this, add Las Piedras, Río Grande, Manatí, and Yauco to your itinerary.
Where to Eat in Aguadilla
Aguadilla’s has plenty of outdoor bars and open-air restaurants, with most everything situated along the boardwalk. The cherry on top is the free parking along the ocean!
For nearly a day I hunkered down at Sal de Mar, eating, drinking, and working away on the blog. With views of the ocean from both inside the restaurant and on the patio and free parking across the street, not to mention delicious food and drink, I didn’t even mind that I wasn’t out exploring Aguadilla. The staff were friendly and at night the restaurant has a rooftop bar that I bet is a lot of fun during peak season. It’s definitely a restaurant I’ll return to in the seaside town.
Ostra Brava is a hip, spacious, and colourful lounge restaurant a short walk away from Sal de Mar along the coastal road. It was pretty quiet when we went, though I’d attribute the calm to the time of year. Their menu is a collection of inventive cocktails, tapas, and seafood, and is even kid-friendly. Ostra Brava also host live music, salsa, and painting nights. Sign me up!
A perfect summer night isn’t complete until you’re indulging in something cool and sweet. While in Aguadilla, follow the boardwalk to Cafelados and order a refreshing paleta (ice pop). It’s the perfect way to end your day as you watch the sun set over the ocean.
Day 5 – Arrive back in San Juan
If today is the end of your journey, it’s roughly a 2-hour drive back to San Juan from Aguadilla. That being said, leave yourself extra time to stop along the way whenever you see something interesting. If, on the other hand, you have a couple of days left in your trip, take your time and meander! I’m sure you’ll come across many other treasures in Puerto Rico that are worthy of your attention and curiosity.
Preview this itinerary in action and check out the reel below!
BONUS Travel Tips for Travelling Puerto Rico by Camper Van
1: Stay Hydrated!
Puerto Rico is HOT! Take advantage of the fact that you’re travelling around with a fridge and freezer and stock up on liquids. I suggest buying a 4L bottle of water and topping up your reusable personal water bottle to place in the fridge.
2: Keep Cool
Plan your driving time for the afternoons so that you escape the hottest part of the day. All of the Van del Sol camper vans have air conditioning, which makes driving easy and comfortable. Another suggestion is to minimize the use of the van’s “home AC” and selectively use it while sleeping. The units consume quite a bit of power and you don’t want to drain your battery. It’s likely that you will be outside the van, exploring and sightseeing, during waking hours so this is an easy consideration. If it’s a chill day, head to a public indoor place like a mall or restaurant and enjoy their AC instead of sitting in the van and using its power reserves. You’ll be grateful for these decisions when enjoying a cool sleep!
3: Practice Your Spanish
Being the conscientious and friendly traveller you are, it’s likely you’ve already practiced a few key phrases in the local language to use while on your trip. A little bit goes a long way in life and this is especially true when you begin a conversation with “buenos días” instead of “English??”. It doesn’t matter how rough your pronunciation is or if you mix up your words. Locals, wherever you are in the world, appreciate your effort to connect with them in their homeland in their native tongue(s). It should be noted that many Puerto Ricans speak English as well as Spanish, but go on and push yourself out of your comfort zone! There’s nothing like the satisfaction of connecting with a human in a different language or miming your way through a situation. If anything, you’ll come away with a laugh and a fun story to share back home. Speaking of home, travelling and communicating in a language that isn’t your own is also a wonderful piece of humble pie to savour and appreciate when someone in your hometown is practicing your native language. Grace and a smile go a long way for both sides!
If you’d like some ideas for how to practice Spanish (or any other language) before your trip, check out these blog posts I wrote on the best language learning games and the best language learning apps.
4: Relish the Flexibility
Vanlife travel is the ultimate in comfort and ease for a road trip. There are so many positive aspects of travelling this way, that I don’t even know where to start! For one, the money you will save is enough to have you jumping up and doing a happy dance. Travel is generally seen as an expensive endeavour. Luckily, you and I have crossed paths and I’ve created a travel coaching course to teach you how to travel more and spend less in the process! You’ll find all of the tips and tricks I’ve been using for the past decade to find superbly affordable flights, like the $46 business class flight I took home from Puerto Rico to Canada. No, that was not a typo! I also once stayed in an apartment and had access to a vehicle for a week and paid $0. In addition to what you will learn in the travel coaching course, another great travel hack is renting your accommodation on wheels. Vanlife is definitely a cost-effective way of travelling.
A second win is the time you will save in not having to research both accommodation and transportation options. Two for one, baby! The third high five is that any time you’re tired and need a nap, all you need to do is pull over somewhere safe, hop into your bed in the back of the van and get some shut eye until you’re ready to head back on the road. Sure, you can do that in a normal vehicle, but can you lay stretched out with pillows and blankets and AC in your rental car? Then there’s the convenience and luxury of having an onboard toilet, shower, and kitchen. Everything you could need and want in a day is at your fingertips everywhere you go.
Truly luxurious is the option to rent a WIFI router for your travels. If you’re like me and working wherever you are in the world, unlimited WIFI is a godsend. Rent the wifi. It’s so worth it. On the other hand, don’t rent it and savour the offline time! Either way, you’ve got whatever option works best for you.