Did you know that there's a National Park in Puerto Rico? It's true, and a visit to the San Juan National Historic Site should be on every visitor's bucket list! Keeping reading to learn more about these unique forts, plus some other parks, rainforests, and wildlife refuges you won't want to miss while visiting this beautiful Caribbean island!
Headed to Puerto Rico? There are so many interesting things to do on the island! And if you're history lover like me, you may be wondering ... does Puerto Rico have a National Park?
The answer is yes! There is one official U.S. National Park in Puerto Rico: the San Juan National Historic Site. This fascinating park is comprised of fortifications that Spain built to protect the island, and it's one of the best places to learn about Puerto Rico's colonial history.
While it's not considered an official park, El Yunque National Forest, a rainforest that's managed by the U.S. National Forest Service, is also very well known and popular with visitors. The island has a number of National Wildlife Refuges, too.
Read more about these amazing parks below!
San Juan National Historic Site
To protect Puerto Rico (and the rest of its New World colonies) from other colonizers, Spain spent over 250 years building a series of fortifications to guard what is now Old San Juan.
These forts shielded Puerto Rico from Dutch, French, and English invasions. After remaining under Spain's control for nearly 400 years, the island was captured by the U.S. in 1898 during the brief Spanish-American War.
The San Juan National Historic Site was established in 1949 to preserve the historic fortifications. These Old San Juan forts are Puerto Rico's only National Park, and they're also a UNESCO World Heritage Site (along with La Fortaleza, the Spanish Governor's palace).
This fascinating Historic Site includes numerous fortifications:
- Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro)
- Castillo San Cristóbal
- Fortín San Juan de la Cruz (El Cañuelo)
- City Wall
- San Juan Gate
All of these forts are located in Old San Juan (with the exception of Fortín San Juan de la Cruz), making them easy to see in one day or even an afternoon.
El Yunque National Forest
While not an official National Park, El Yunque National Forest (which is managed by the U.S. National Forest Service) is an amazing natural resource, and it's one of the most popular places to visit in Puerto Rico.
El Yunque, which is beloved by Puerto Ricans and tourists alike, is the only tropical rainforest in the national forest system. While small in size, the huge array of biological diversity found there makes up for its small footprint.
The rainforest is known for its stunning scenery, diverse wildlife, excellent hiking, numerous waterfalls, and natural pools. It's also one of the best places to hear the distinctive call of the island's famous coquí!
National Wildlife Refuges
In addition to the San Juan National Historic Site and El Yunque Rainforest, Puerto Rico has numerous National Wildlife Refuges. While not official National Parks, the refuges (which are managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) are excellent places to learn about the island's amazing natural resources!
- Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge
- Culebra National Wildlife Refuge
- Desecheo National Wildlife Refuge
- Laguna Cartagena National Wildlife Refuge
- Navassa Island National Wildlife Refuge
- Vieques National Wildlife Refuge
You can read more about these refuges by visiting the Fish & Wildlife Service website.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Still curious about Puerto Rico's National Park? Check out these frequently asked questions:
Puerto Rico has one National Park, the San Juan National Historic Site, which is located in Old San Juan. While not an official National Park, El Yunque Rainforest (which is managed by the National Forest Service) is extremely popular. The island also has number National Wildlife Refuges (managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service).
The name of the National Park in Puerto Rico is the San Juan National Historic Site (or Sitio Histórico Nacional de San Juan in Spanish). It preserves and interprets colonial-era forts built by Spain.
Castillo San Felipe del Moro, Castillo San Cristóbal, La Fortaleza, and El Cañuelo are the most well-known forts in Puerto Rico. Beginning in 1539, Spain began building these fortifications to protect Puerto Rico and their other colonies.
Spain built the forts in Puerto Rico to protect the island (along with their other New World colonies) from invasions by Dutch, French, and English colonizers.
The coquí (pronounced co-kee) is the unofficial national symbol of Puerto Rico. There are 16 different species of this tiny frog found in the Commonwealth, including 13 species in El Yunque rainforest. Although hard to spot, you can hear the coquí's distinctive song (which sounds like its name) everywhere on the island.
U.S. citizens do not need a passport to visit the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, which is an unincorporated territory of the United States. However, if you are visiting from anywhere outside the U.S., you will need a passport.
There are 424 National Parks in the U.S. managed by the National Park Service. These sites—which include 63 major National Parks, plus hundreds of Battlefields, Historic Sites, Monuments, Seashores, Memorials, and more—span all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and numerous territories, including Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa, and Guam.
Map of National Parks in Puerto Rico
This Google map of the San Juan National Historic Site will help you locate all the various fort locations, plus a few other sights of interest. Open it on your phone during your visit to make getting around easy!
Ready to start checking these parks off your bucket list? Then this printable Puerto Rico Parks list is for you!
Click anywhere on the image below to download the free printable list.
Other Things to Do in Puerto Rico
There is so much to see and do in Puerto Rico! Make sure to add these ideas to your bucket list, too:
- Visit some of the islands's other parks. Puerto Rico has a long, diverse history, and there are many other parks where you can experience its vast cultural and natural resources, including the Cabezas de San Juan Natural Reserve, three bioluminescent bays, Cuevo del Indio, and Cavernas del Río Camuy to name just a few.
- Explore the rest of San Juan. Puerto Rico's capital city is fun and vibrant. Check out my guide for all the Best Things to Do in Juan Guide!
- Check out colorful, historic Old San Juan. After visiting the San Juan Historic Site, you'll want to spend some time exploring the rest of the old, colonial city. Read my guide covering all the Things to Do in Old San Juan that you won’t want to miss.
- Get off the beaten path in Santurce. Check out the artsy side of San Juan! My Santurce Guide has all the best things to do there.
- Hit the Beach. You can’t go to Puerto Rico without spending a few days at the beach. Some of my favorites are Isla Verde Beach and the Piñones, both of which are just outside San Juan, and Luquillo Beach, which is located near El Yunque and is one of the best beaches on the island.