Best Places to Live in Puerto Rico: Five Top Expat Havens 

Best Places to Live in Puerto Rico: Five Top Expat Havens 

May 14, 2024 1 min read

Fuerte El Morro, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

With its vibrant culture, stunning beaches, rich history, and convenient ties to the United States, Puerto Rico has become an increasingly popular destination for expatriates seeking a blend of Caribbean lifestyle and American comforts. 

As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico provides expatriates with the benefits of American infrastructure, healthcare standards, and legal status. It offers a unique advantage to expats by allowing them to reside and work in the territory without additional visas or work permits, making relocation straightforward for U.S. citizens. And while Spanish is the official language, English is widely spoken, particularly in urban areas and tourist hubs. 

If you’re thinking about relocating, consider these five best places to live in Puerto Rico. 

1. San Juan 

San Juan is renowned for its vibrant mix of history, culture, and modernity, making it a captivating destination that blends colonial charm with contemporary flair. These are some of its main attractions: 

  • Old San Juan: As the historic heart of the city, Old San Juan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its well-preserved colonial architecture, narrow cobblestone streets, and iconic forts. Visitors can wander through colorful buildings adorned with intricate balconies, explore centuries-old churches and museums, and marvel at the panoramic views from the walls of El Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal fortresses, which offer glimpses into Puerto Rico’s colonial past and strategic importance in the Caribbean. 
  • Beaches: San Juan is blessed with some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. Isla Verde Beach, located just east of the city, is a popular spot for sunbathing, swimming, and water sports such as jet skiing and parasailing. Condado Beach, with its soft golden sands and clear turquoise waters, offers a more upscale atmosphere, surrounded by luxury hotels, restaurants, and beachfront bars. Ocean Park Beach is favored by locals and visitors alike for its relaxed vibe and excellent surfing conditions. 
  • El Yunque National Forest: Just a short drive from San Juan, El Yunque National Forest is a tropical paradise renowned for its lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls, and diverse wildlife. Visitors can hike along well-marked trails to reach picturesque spots like La Mina Falls and Yokahu Tower, which offer panoramic views of the forest canopy and the surrounding mountains. The forest is also home to unique flora and fauna, including the coqui frog and the Puerto Rican parrot, making it a haven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. 
  • El Morro Fortresses: San Juan’s historic fortresses, El Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal, are iconic symbols of the city’s colonial heritage and strategic importance. Built by the Spanish in the 16th century to defend against naval attacks, these imposing structures overlook San Juan Bay and provide visitors with insights into the city’s military history through interactive exhibits, guided tours, and breathtaking views from the ramparts. A walk along the fortified walls offers panoramic vistas of the ocean and the city skyline. 
  • Puerto Rican cuisine: San Juan is a culinary hotspot, offering a diverse array of traditional Puerto Rican dishes influenced by Spanish, African, and indigenous Taíno flavors. Visitors can savor classic dishes such as mofongo (mashed plantains), lechón (roast pork), and arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), as well as fresh seafood specialties like ceviche and grilled fish. The city’s bustling food markets, known as “chinchorros,” offer a taste of local street food, while upscale restaurants and chef-driven eateries serve innovative takes on traditional favorites, displaying the island’s rich culinary heritage and creativity. 
  • Festivals and events: San Juan hosts many festivals and events throughout the year, celebrating the island’s vibrant culture, music, and traditions. The San Sebastián Street Festival, held annually in January, is one of the largest and most colorful festivals in the Caribbean, featuring parades, live music, dance performances, and street vendors selling arts, crafts, and local delicacies. The Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest highlights world-class jazz musicians from around the globe, while the San Juan International Film Festival highlights the best in independent cinema from Puerto Rico and beyond. These events offer visitors a chance to experience the excitement and energy of San Juan’s cultural scene, forging lasting memories and connections with the local community. 

2. Dorado 

Known as the “Golden City,” Dorado boasts exclusive gated communities, upscale shopping, and fine dining establishments, attracting affluent visitors and expatriates looking for a sophisticated beach getaway. These are some of its main attractions: 

  • Luxurious Resorts: Dorado is renowned for its luxurious resorts that offer upscale accommodations, world-class amenities, and impeccable service. Resorts like Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, and the Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve Puerto Rico provide a haven of relaxation and luxury for discerning travelers seeking an unforgettable tropical escape. 
  • Pristine Beaches: Dorado boasts some of the most pristine beaches in Puerto Rico, with soft golden sands and clear turquoise waters perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and water sports. Playa Cerro Gordo and Balneario Manuel Morales are popular beach destinations known for their calm, family-friendly atmosphere, and picturesque surroundings.  
  • World-Class Golf Courses: Golf enthusiasts flock to Dorado for its world-class golf courses set against stunning tropical backdrops. The Dorado Beach Resort features several championship courses designed by renowned architects such as Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Robert Trent Jones Jr., offering challenging play scenic ocean views, and lush landscapes. Golfers of all skill levels can enjoy teeing off amidst the beauty of Dorado’s pristine surroundings. 
  • Fine Dining: The dining scene in Dorado is characterized by upscale restaurants, gourmet eateries, and waterfront dining experiences that display the best of Puerto Rican and international cuisine. Acclaimed restaurants like Mi Casa by Jose Andres and Zafra Restaurant offer innovative menus crafted from locally sourced ingredients, complemented by creative cocktails and impeccable service. 

3. Rincon 

Rincon is renowned as a laid-back surf town nestled along the island’s picturesque west coast, celebrated for its world-class waves, bohemian vibe, and stunning sunsets. Rincon attracts surfers, beach lovers, and nature enthusiasts seeking an authentic and tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of urban life. These are some of its main attractions: 

  • World-Class Surfing: Rincon is renowned as a premier surfing destination with some of the best waves in the Caribbean. The town’s iconic surf breaks, including Domes, Maria’s, and Tres Palmas, attract surfers seeking challenging swells and consistent surf conditions.  
  • Beaches: Rincon has stunning beaches with pristine sands, crystal-clear waters, and breathtaking coastal scenery. Sandy Beach, with its golden sands and turquoise waves, is a popular spot for sunbathing, swimming, and beach volleyball. Playa Domes is known for its dramatic rock formations and excellent snorkeling opportunities. Visitors can also explore secluded coves, hidden gems like Steps Beach, and remote stretches of coastline, offering a tranquil retreat from the crowds. 
  • Whale Watching: Rincon is a prime whale-watching destination, particularly during the winter months when humpback whales migrate through the waters of the Mona Passage. The town’s strategic location along the migration route offers unparalleled opportunities for up-close encounters with these magnificent marine mammals. 
  • Bohemian Vibe: Rincon’s laid-back atmosphere and bohemian vibe attract artists, musicians, and free spirits from around the world, creating a diverse and welcoming community with a unique cultural identity. Visitors can explore local art galleries, artisan markets, and eclectic boutiques displaying handmade crafts, jewelry, and artwork inspired by the town’s natural beauty and creative spirit. Live music performances, open mic nights, and cultural festivals further contribute to Rincon’s vibrant arts and music scene, offering cultural exchange and connection. 

4. Vieques 

Vieques offers visitors a secluded island paradise away from the hustle and bustle of mainland Puerto Rico. With its untouched natural beauty, laid-back vibe, and ecological treasures, Vieques captivates travelers seeking an off-the-grid escape. These are some of its main attractions: 

  • Bioluminescent Bays: Vieques is renowned for its bioluminescent bays, where microscopic organisms called dinoflagellates emit a mesmerizing blue-green glow when agitated. The island’s most famous bioluminescent bay, Mosquito Bay, is considered one of the brightest in the world, offering visitors the chance to kayak or take guided boat tours through its glowing waters under the starry night sky. Bio Bay, another bioluminescent bay on Vieques, also offers magical nighttime experiences, with the opportunity to witness nature’s light show. 
  • Beaches: Vieques boasts some of the most pristine and unspoiled beaches in the Caribbean, with powdery white sands, clear waters, and stunning natural scenery. Playa Sun Bay, located in the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, is a popular destination for sunbathing, swimming, and picnicking. Playa Flamenco is renowned for its crescent-shaped shoreline and vibrant marine life, making it ideal for snorkeling and beach combing. Other must-visit beaches on Vieques include Media Luna Beach, Navío Beach, and Secret Beach. 
  • Vieques National Wildlife Refuge: The Vieques National Wildlife Refuge encompasses over 18,000 acres of protected land and coastline, providing habitat for a diverse array of flora and fauna. Visitors to the refuge can explore hiking trails, mangrove forests, and coastal wetlands, where they may encounter native wildlife such as iguanas, sea turtles, and migratory birds. The refuge also includes pristine beaches and scenic overlooks, offering opportunities for wildlife viewing, nature photography, and environmental education. 
  • Historical Landmarks: Vieques is home to several historical landmarks that offer insights into the island’s rich cultural heritage and colonial past. Fortín Conde de Mirasol, located in the town of Isabel II, is a historic Spanish fortress dating back to the 19th century, which now houses a museum displaying Vieques’ history and maritime heritage. The Punta Mulas Lighthouse, built in 1896, offers panoramic views of the coastline and surrounding islands, while the Sugar Mill Ruins provide a glimpse into Vieques’ former sugar plantation era. 

5. Ponce 

As Puerto Rico’s second-largest city, Ponce boasts a wealth of cultural attractions, including historic landmarks, colonial architecture, and lively festivals. These are some of its main attractions: 

  • Historic Architecture: Ponce is renowned for its rich architectural heritage, featuring a stunning array of historic buildings, landmarks, and monuments. The Ponce Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is a magnificent neoclassical church dating back to the 17th century, known for its elegant facade, ornate interiors, and religious significance. Other architectural gems include Casa Armstrong-Poventud, a restored mansion highlighting Spanish colonial and Caribbean architectural styles, and Parque de Bombas, a vibrant red-and-black firehouse-turned-museum that has become an iconic symbol of the city’s history and culture. 
  • Museums: Ponce is home to a wealth of museums and historic sites that offer insights into the city’s storied past and cultural significance. The Museo de Arte de Ponce is one of the finest art museums in the Caribbean, featuring works by European masters such as Velázquez, Rubens, and Rodin, as well as Puerto Rican artists like Francisco Oller and José Campeche. The Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center preserves the archaeological remains of an ancient Taíno village, providing a glimpse into the island’s indigenous heritage and pre-Columbian history. 
  • Historic Coffee Plantations: Ponce is surrounded by lush coffee plantations that offer a glimpse into Puerto Rico’s coffee-growing heritage and agricultural traditions. Hacienda Buena Vista, a restored 19th-century coffee plantation, provides guided tours that showcase the history of coffee cultivation on the island, from the harvesting and processing of coffee beans to the production of traditional coffee products. Visitors can explore the plantation grounds, visit historic buildings and machinery, and learn about the cultural and economic significance of coffee in Puerto Rican society. 
  • Scenic Drives and Landmarks: Ponce is surrounded by scenic landscapes and landmarks that are best explored by car or on guided tours. The La Ruta Panorámica, or Scenic Route, offers breathtaking views of the southern coast of Puerto Rico, with winding roads that lead to picturesque vistas, mountains, and coastal cliffs. The nearby Guánica Dry Forest, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, features hiking trails, birdwatching opportunities, and stunning views of the Caribbean Sea. Other notable landmarks include the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse, known for its dramatic seaside location and panoramic views, and the Toro Negro State Forest, home to waterfalls, rivers, and tropical rainforests. 

About the author

Gabriela Solis

Gabriela Solis is Ria's Senior Content Writer. Located in Querétaro, México, she focuses on telling stories that show the myriad human faces of remittances.

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