Puerto Rico is a beautiful place and we come back year after year. Like most, our first visit to the island was on the north coast near Old San Juan, where we stay in Isla Verde. And it’s a great place to enjoy the city side of Puerto Rico. However, if you’re considering exploring outside of that area, Isabela is an ideal location. So, in this blog post we’ll talk all the great things to do in Isabela Puerto Rico, and therefore you’ll know what to expect from this side of the island and can plan your visit.
Where is Isabella, Puerto Rico
Isabela is located on the Northwest coast of the island of Puerto Rico. It is considered the garden of the northwest and for good reason. It is full of beautiful beaches and natural beauty. You’ll find it nestled between the towns of Aguadilla, Quebradillas and San Sebastián.
And while Isabela’s beaches may be the initial reason you decide to visit this side of the island, the small beach town charm with friendly people and culture will keep you coming back year after year!
How to get to Isabela
There are a few ways to get to Isabela. First, if you are traveling from a location that has direct flights into Aguadilla, then you can fly into the Aguadilla Airport. From there you only have a 20 minute drive to get to the town of Isabela. You can easily rent a car at the airport, and I would advise so. Because on this side of the island, ride share is not available like it is in the San Juan area.
Another option is to fly into San Juan to the San Luis International Airport. This is what we had to do. So we rented a car in Isla Verde and drove. It’s a couple hours drive from San Juan to Isabela, just depends on traffic. The road is mostly highways so its easy to navigate on google maps and other similar apps. However if you can get a flight into Aguadilla, it is worth it.
Best things to do in Isabela, Puerto Rico
Isabela is a low key beach town. It has enough to keep you entertained with outdoor activities, tourist attractions, nearby day trips and great restaurants paired with perfect relaxing days on the beach. For me, Isabela is the perfect place for a laid back tropical beach vacation.
Isabela also makes a great day trip from San Juan if you want to explore the northwest coast. I recently recommended a friend to come to Isabela, and it was her favorite part of the island! So lets jump in and find you the best things to do in Isabela, Puerto Rico.
1. Visit the Guajataca Tunnel
The Guajataca Tunnel is a unique piece of history and it was better than I expected. It is an old carved out railroad tunnel that connected the cities of Isabela and Quebradillas. Being a significant part of railway history, it was claimed a historical site in the year 2000.
The tunnel is open to the public. So you can walk through it to the other side that will lead you down to a Pelicano Beach . The trail is very easy, however it is still advised to wear proper walking shoes because of the uneven terrain at times. Along the way you will see beautiful rock formations, beach landscapes and lush tropical forests. It is a very picturesque walk and we really enjoyed this experience.
You can easily navigate to the Guajataca Tunnel where there is a large parking lot. Here you can spend time after the tunnel at Guajataca Beach, where there are picnic areas, food and local craft vendors and restrooms. You can also rent a boat or kayak to explore up the nearby Gauajataca River that flows from the Guajataca Lake. This area, surprisingly had a lot of other things to do.
2. Stop at La Cara del Indio (the face of the Indian)
One of the must-stop places in Isabela is the Cacique Mabodamaca. This roadside sculpture welcomes visitors to Isabela and is the sun portal of the west region. The stop only takes a few minutes. However worth it, to get a up close view of the chief of Guajataca, who died in battle on against the Spaniards in 1511.
The sculpture is located at the intersection of Rt 2 with 113. Although it’s visible from the car, it’s easy to miss. You can park on the side of the road and take a photo. On the weekends, when its open, you can grab a local treat at the food kiosk.
3. Isabela Beaches
The beaches are endless in Isabela. Some are developed a little and some not at all. I think its worth exploring a few to find your favorite. For us, Montones Beach is our favorite because its usually not busy, has nice shallow waters and also a snorkeling area.
And really, the best things to do in Isabela, Puerto Rico, are enjoy the beautiful beaches!
Unless its a weekend, Montones Beach is usually not busy. And in normal conditions it has calm shallow natural pools which makes it perfect for families and small children playing and relaxing in the water. To get to Montones Beach you either have to park on the street near Montones Beach Apartments and walk down to the beach. Or pay to park at Villas del Mar Haus and access the beach just behind the restaurant.
On the opposite side of the shallow water, there is a bay that is great for kite boarding and wing foiling when the wind is right. And when the waves are small, its a fun place to paddle board.
Jobos Beach is where all the beach action is in Isabela. The Jobos beach area is filled with restaurants, bars, places to stay, and local shops. And Uma’s is one of our favorite go to restaurants on the beach. And Jobos is one of the best places where you’ll find nightlife on the beach.
So, if you want to be in the middle of the action, this is your place, especially on the weekends. Keep in mind, this beach is not great for swimming due to its strong currents. It is however a great place to watch the surfers and learn to surf.
Another great beach for surfing is Middles Beach. This beach too, is not recommended for swimming because of the strong currents, however it offers entertainment to watch the surfers or just relax on the shore. Middles beach is host to the most important surfing competition in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, the Corona Pro. You can find this beach across from the Paseo Lineal scooter rental on PR-466.
El Pastillo Beach
Playa El Pastillo is a remote beach located at the end of a residential road. The parking is limited, so I would guess it gets busy on the weekends. It is said that the Mabodamaca profile can be found carved out by nature on one of the cliffs at the end of the beach. However, we did not get to see it. And while I liked this beach, there were others I liked better.
4. Walk the Isabela Boardwalk (paseo tablado de Isabela)
The Isabela boardwalk is a raised platform that connects Jobos Beach to Montones Beach. It is a beautiful walk along the dunes were you have gorgeous views of the water and beach. Along the walk, make sure to climb the observation tower, so you get a birds eye view of the ocean from above. And also don’t miss the Pozo de Jacinto.
The Pozo de Jacinto is blow hole near the Jobos beach side of the boardwalk. Folklore has it, that Jacinto fell into the hole with his cow and if you call his name and mention the cow, the ocean will churn and become angry.
On calm days you can see the blow hole and get close to it. However, when the ocean is rough, waves will spill over from above. So be cautious when you are walking around, as the ground is rocky and it’s easy to lose your footing.
5. Learn to Surf in Isabela
Isabela is an ideal place to surf. The conditions are great for both beginner and advanced surfers. And there are many surfing beaches. Beginner lessons are offers at numerous places on Jobos Beach. So, if you ever wanted to try surfing, now many be the perfect opportunity.
6. Ermita San Antonio de Padua de la tuna in Isabela
Located in the middle of a residential neighborhood you will find the ruins of a church from 1700’s. This little gem of history is a short stop however an interesting one. You can watch a short film about the history and tour the small museum.
They are only open limited hours on the weekends, so it can be tough to time it correctly. However, you can still view the ruins through the gate, if they are closed.
7. Visit the local Farmers Market
We love visiting local farmers market. The one here keeps getting better and is located in Aquidilla. It is an easy to spot roadside market with local products. There you can find produce, baked goods and other food items along with handmade goods. My favorite find is the lions mane infused honey. We were so happy to find it again at the market this year.
8. Walk or Scooter the Paseo Lineal Costero de Isabela
Isabela is full of outdoor activities including the coastal linear walk . This 4.5 mile path goes along the beach from Jobos to Pesquera Beach and is perfect for walking, jogging, biking or even renting a scooter. Scooter rental is available along PR-466 on the weekends for $12 pr hour and is a very popular activity. It is a great way to see the coastline, just keep in mind, there is little shade. So make sure to apply sunscreen before heading out.
9. Bosque Estatal de Guajataca
If you can’t make it to El Yunque National Forest, then consider hiking the Guajataca State Forest. The Guajataca Forest is over 2,000 acres of forest with two well known hiking trails.
The first one is a 2 mile loop interpretive trail that leads you to a side trail with an observation tower. And the second trail takes you to the Cueva del Viento or Cave of the wind. In this cave you will see stalactite and stalagmite formations along with possible bats. The cave is dark, so wear proper footwear and bring flashlights if you want to explore, because cell phone lights aren’t bright enough.
If you plan to explore this area make sure to pack essentials such as water, snacks and bug repellent because there are no stores or restrooms here.
10. Visit the Center of Isabela
The town square is surrounded by a church, stores and restaurants. When you drive by during the week, the plaza looks a little sleepy. However on Wednesday and Friday nights it comes to life. Friday nights have live music and salsa dancing with local food and craft vendors.
You can grab a bite at one the local restaurants like the Wine Experience or Las Central and then finish the evening with salsa dancing and some Mais flavored ice cream from Rex Cream. You’ll see both locals and visitors enjoying the evening and it ‘s a fun way to partake in the local culture.
11. Arecibo Observatory
For something unique and a little off the beaten path, you can explore the country side on a drive to the Arecibo Observatory. Here you can visit what remains of the worlds largest radio telescope.
You get to observe the telescope of how it remains today and watch a video showing the collapse. Also explore the small museum with interactive exhibits. So, if you have the time and an interest in unique things and science, it’s worth the drive to see it.
12. Gonzolandia Falls
Located in the nearby town of San Sebastian, Gonzolandia is one of the most popular and also accessible waterfalls in Puerto Rico. It consists of two waterfalls with swimming holes just a few minutes walk form the parking lot. Water shoes can be helpful here, because the walkways down can get slippery and they are needed if you plan to jump off any rocks.
The first waterfall is the larger of the two with a 50 ft cascade and a relaxing swimming area. There are also areas to climb up and jump off into the water. And for the adventurous, there is an underwater cave, however check the water levels before attempting and never go into the cave alone. The second waterfall is smaller and located another 1/4 mile down from the main waterfall. It also has cliffs for jumping, a rope swing and is an ideal place for photographs.
If you want to experience the falls without crowds then arrive before 10am on the weekdays. Otherwise yo can expect it to be busy especially during the summer months. Th entry fee is only $10 per car and you can stay as long as you like. They open at 9am and close around 4pm.
13. Horse back ride on the beach
Another fun outdoor activity is horse back riding on the beach with Tropical Trail Rides. They offer 2 rides a day lasting approximately 2 hours in duration, with one in the morning and one in the late afternoon. And also with beginner and advanced riding options, there is something for everyone.
14. Visit other nearby beaches
This side of the island is filled with awesome beaches. So if you feel like exploring outside of the town of Isabela, you have a large selection of breathtaking beaches. Truly the list of beaches to visit can be endless. However, here are a few located not that far away to consider.
- Shacks Beach also known as the blue hole beach has calm clear water and is great for snorkeling. Just be aware of the many rock formations and sea urchins.
- Playa Pena Blanca is also a great place for snorkeling. The shoreline here can be very narrow depending on time of year and sometimes its closed due to that.
- Borinquen Beach is not great for swimming but it has beautiful views of nearby cliffs.
- Crash Boat Beach is a very popular beach and an ideal spot for swimming and snorkeling in its clear calm beautiful water.
15. Explore nearby town of Rincon
Rincon is a great place for a day trip if you want explore a nearby city. It has many great beaches, a town center with shopping, great restaurants and a farmers market. We enjoyed great meals at Nacho Libre, La Sirena and Capriccio Trattoria.
Another fun thing to do in Rincon is the Thursday night art walk. You can also find live music at Nacho Libre on Tuesdays and the Lighthouse on Friday nights.
16. Visit a Bioluminescent Bay
There are 3 bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico. The closest to Isabela and arguably the best, is in the southern tip of Lajas in La Parguera. Here you can actually swim in the water unlike the others. There are many options for tours including: glass bottom boat, swimming, snorkeling, kayak and private tours. So if you have time and don’t mind driving in the dark or can plan on overnight stay in La Parguera, this is worth visiting.
Where to stay in Isabela, Puerto Rico
Even though Isabela is a small beach town, there are plenty of places to stay including AirBNB, resorts and quaint hotels. Here are our favorite suggestions:
- Royal Isabela for an upscale experience with world class golf and cliff backdrop beaches.
- Villa Montana Beach Resort for luxury accommodations at a great price with many on property activities. And an awesome on site restaurant, The Eclipse.
- Parador Villas Del Mar Hau for its unique boho village vibe on the water. With direct access to Montones Beach. This is where we always stay because of the incredible views and proximity to Jobos Beach.
If you click on my affiliate links above, I am going to receive a tiny commission. AND… you will find a great place to spend your time in Isabela. Win/Win! The places that I advertise are the ones I believe in.
Isabela, is a wonderful place and there are so many things to do in Isabela Puerto Rico. Truly, the entire island is wonderful. And every part of the island has wonderful things to see and do! So enjoy your time in this paradise of a place.
I hope you found this guide on the “Top things to do in Isabela, Puerto Rico” helpful! So, please SHARE with a friend who would enjoy Puerto Rico.