Last updated on December 5, 2022 by Wandering our World
Idyllic beaches, lush green forests, and fascinating culture are the norm in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Both destinations feel like a piece of paradise and promise a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, so choosing between them can put you in a bit of a dilemma. Especially as they are actually quite different.
If you’re looking for a vibrant and culturally rich place full of natural wonders, Puerto Rico may be the better choice, as we explain more on below.
On the other hand, if you want gorgeous beaches with a relaxed atmosphere, as well as a good shopping scene, the US Virgin Islands could be ideal.
To help you make the best decision possible, we will compare Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands in depth right here!
We look at the differences between their beaches, activities, cost, vibe, accommodation and other significant aspects, all so you can find out which is the best fit for you.
Let’s get started!
- A Quick Overview
- Which Has The Better Beaches?
- Which Has The Better Activities & Attractions?
- Which Has Better Accommodation?
- Where You Should Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Has Better Nightlife?
- Which Is Cheaper
- Which Is Safer
- Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
- Which Is Better Honeymoons
- Our Final Thoughts
A Quick Overview Of Puerto Rico vs USVI
Puerto Rico and the USVI are two dependent nations of the United States of America. US citizens highly favor them as vacation spots as they don’t need a passport or visa to enter these destinations.
While they are close to each other geographically, they are actually worlds apart in terms of the experiences they offer.
Over a hundred islets make up The US Virgin Islands, the main ones being St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix.
With little to no big hotel chains, the beaches in the USVI are pristine and preserved in their natural state, and overcrowding is rarely a problem.
On the other hand, Puerto Rico has a more developed hotel area, which attracts more tourists and offers more beach services.
Water sports, beach fun and lots of culture-packed activities are the usual occurrences in Puerto Rico, making for a more energetic atmosphere in contrast with USVI’s laid-back charm. Puerto Rico also tends to have more adventurous land activities, as we’ll get to later.
Which Has The Better Beaches?
Both Puerto Rico and the USVI boast an incredible, awe-inspiring coastline. However, while equal in beauty, their vibes are very different from each other.
As the name indicates, the beaches in the US Virgin Islands have that untouched feel. You may not believe your eyes when you see what a beautiful landscape the turquoise water, white sand, palm trees, and greenery creates. In addition to the stunning views, the laid-back atmosphere there will give you that away-from-it-all feel, offering up a truly relaxing holiday.
So, in the USVI, you get the classic tropical island experience, with less crowded beaches and loads of space to chill on the sand. On the other hand, Puerto Rico offers a more active vacation. For instance, you can play volleyball, practice kitesurfing and surfing, and enjoy the all-inclusive resorts with all their amenities.
However most beaches in Puerto Rico can get quite crowded. There are a few less frequented exceptions that resemble the USVI’s more isolated beaches in this regard. We will mention them below, along with some of the best beaches in both regions!
US Virgin Islands: Best Beaches
The most popular beach on these islands is Trunk Bay Beach. It is part of the Virgin Islands National Park, so it is preserved and well-maintained. Its incredible natural beauty is why many consider it the best beach in the Caribbean. However, its popularity causes it to get crowded, especially at the weekends.
So if you are looking for a truly deserted beach, visit Limestone Beach. Visitors describe it as a “hidden gem” for adventurers and anyone looking for an off-the-beaten-path relaxation spot.
It is not your typical postcard beach but an authentic, rugged one. Cliffs and lush vegetation surround it, and the sand is rocky. But it is very beautiful. We recommend taking your shoes with you if you plan to take walks through the shore and the forest.
If you prefer powdery white sand beaches, Gibney Beach has long stretches of it and gorgeous sights to offer. This beach is everything you can imagine and more. The water is crystal clear, it has some big rocks and cliffs here and there, and enormous palm trees line the shore. And the best part is, because there are no resorts or big hotels in Gibney, it is very rarely frequented!
Being one of the most protected areas on the island, Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge has the brightest sand and the bluest water. It has no amenities, which means no crowds, but you can only visit it on the weekends.
Wildlife preservation is the priority at Sandy Point, which explains why you can’t visit it from August to April: it’s nesting time for turtles.
Trunk Bay Beach and Gibney Beach are located in St. John, Limestone Beach in Water Island, and Sandy Point Beach in St. Croix.
Puerto Rico: Best Beaches
Playa Sucia is a not-so-popular beach ideal for walking. It has a trail that leads to a panoramic lookout point where you can take in the dreamy view. It is also only a 15-minute drive from the Cabo Rojo National Park, where you will see a lighthouse, wildlife, mangroves, and salt flats.
If you prefer more crowded, lively beaches, Playa Luquillo and Playa Boqueron will be more to your liking. Apart from the contrast between the white sand and the aqua-blue sea, they have small beach volleyball courts and an array of kiosks that sell quality traditional and international food to make your visit even more memorable.
One of the exceptions to the crowded beaches rule in Puerto Rico is Playa Tamarindo. It has no buildings in its surroundings since it is located in the Guanica Forest.
The natural pools, wildlife, tall cliffs, and calmness are unique assets that make it a must-visit when in Puerto Rico. (Recommended: Shark Attacks In Puerto Rico).
Which Has The Better Activities & Attractions?
Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands offer excellent snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities since the sea is mostly calm in both — except for the few beaches that have surfing waves.
The extensive coral reefs are home to hundreds of marine species. And in Trunk Bay Beach, USVI, you can observe them from a self-guided underwater snorkeling trail.
There are lots of water activities available in both destinations, such as kayaking, hiking, and catamaran or powerboat sailing excursions. But there are also many experiences specific to each place which we will elaborate on below. Knowing those can help you decide which destination will suit you best!
But simply put, if you’re looking for fun and activities away from the sea, Puerto Rico will be the best choice as we show you below:
US Virgin Islands: Activities & Attractions
While sea adventures predominate USVI’s activity offerings, there are also endless shopping and cultural opportunities in this region too.
St. Croix offers a tour through its history and culture on the Heritage Trail. You will see churches, ruins, and some of the island’s most emblematic historical sites, such as St. George Village Botanical Gardens. You can also grab a bite and flavor of St. Croix’s African-Caribbean heritage by trying out the local cuisine.
Regarding shopping, St. Thomas is where most of the commercial activity goes on. The Yacht Haven Grande Marina has high-end brands and restaurants with international gastronomy options, such as Thali Indian Grill and Enkai Sushi Bar.
There are also picturesque colorful malls like Havensight, with craft shops, grocery shops, and cash machines.
When you finish your shopping spree, make your way to Blackbeard’s Castle, where you will learn about the island’s pirate legacy. It is St. Thomas’ main historic site: five acres extend on the top of the hill, where the manor houses, Haagensen House, Villa Notman, and Hotel 1829, stand. You can also take a swim in one of Blackbeard’s pools and visit the Skytsborg Tower. It now functions as a lookout point where you will get amazing views of the harbor.
Plus the proximity of the US Virgin Islands to the British Virgin Islands creates the perfect opportunity for island hopping. You can easily do that by ferry and enjoy yet another dreamy Caribbean nation.
Puerto Rico: Activities & Attractions
While the US Virgin Islands is a slow-paced, tranquil place, Puerto Rico’s natural wonders allow tourists to engage in more adventure sports and a wider selection of activities than the USVI.
One of the most magical experiences Puerto Rico offers is bioluminescent bays. Laguna Grande and La Parguera are close to San Juan, making it easy to get there. However, that also means the bays get overcrowded sometimes.
To get a real bioluminescence experience, visit Mosquito Bay. Get on your kayak and watch the water light up with the most incredible blue color! Mosquito Bay is one of the only and brightest bioluminescent lagoons around the globe, and it looks like a scene out of a fairytale. You won’t want to miss it!
Nature lovers will also have a blast in El Yunque Rainforest. It is a tropical rainforest where ziplining, ATV rides, bathing in natural pools, and hiking are all possible. All this while admiring the lush green landscapes, hills, waterfalls, and diverse fauna.
And if you are interested in immersing in Puerto Rico’s culture, you must visit Old San Juan. The well-kept colorful houses and cobblestone streets give the city a nostalgic and scenic feel, but they also represent its Spanish heritage.
Old San Juan is home to historic sites of great importance for the island’s history, such as the San Felipe del Morro Castle and La Fortaleza, built during the conquest period to protect the bay.
The San José Church and San Juan Bautista Cathedral, two exponents of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, were also built during that time and are still open for daily services.
Recommended: Exceptional Hiking Trails In Puerto Rico
Which Has Better Accommodation?
Both Puerto Rico and the USVI have something for everyone in terms of accommodation. There are luxury, budget, mid-range, and eco-friendly options.
For those who want a luxurious lifestyle, all-inclusive resorts are available in both destinations, but you will find more in Puerto Rico. On the other hand, if you prefer a simpler lodging alternative, there are inns and hotels that are great for families and groups too.
Family-run guesthouses are a prevalent form of accommodation in Puerto Rico and are usually the cheapest because hostels and actual budget options are not the norm in either destination. Puerto Rico does, however, offer a few official camping sites on forests and public beaches. Keep in mind that to use them, you need to apply for a permit.
If you want to sleep in the middle of nature but tents are not your thing, look for cabañas or villas that sit on the beach facing the ocean. Their price varies according to the quality and size of the property.
Accommodation in Puerto Rico and USVI is pretty similar. The only thing that varies is the cost, and in that respect Puerto Rico tends to be cheaper – more on that later.
Where You Should Stay According To Your Budget
Shoestring: This hostel, just one minute from the beach, has some of the best reviews we’ve ever come across. The location is unbeatable, the vibe friendly, the decor modern, and you can hire kayaks and surf boards directly from the hostel – or even take lessons from the staff! If you’re traveling on a shoestring, Casa Coral is hard to beat. See reviews, images, prices and more by clicking here.
Budget: Two outdoor pools, hot tubs, tennis courts, an on-site spa, beach access and rooms with ocean views, all set in a lush 20-acre tropical garden. Staying at Copamarina Beach Resort & Spa is one of the most affordable ways to enjoy Puerto Rico in luxury but still on a budget. See pictures and rates here.
Luxury: Imagine every luxury and facility imaginable, and then place that right beside the stunning Bahia Beach and only 15 minutes drive from El Yunque Rainforest. That’s what you get with St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, which is the sort of place that has to be seen to be believed. See pictures here.
Shoestring: Just a short walk from the beach, and with a lovely outdoor pool which has sea views that you’d expect at a far more expensive hotel, the Green Iguana Hotel is a wonderful option. Set in Charlotte Amalie, it’s also close to the action and may be perfect for those who want to explore more and sunbathe less. See rates and photos here.
Budget: The Waves at Cane Bay may be a three-star resort, but the aesthetics are five star. Not only is this one of the most affordable beachfront hotels in the USVI, and one of the top rated too, but they also have a private beach and unbeatable sea views. Expect to wake up to the sounds of the waves every morning in this intimate and peaceful hotel. See photos here.
Luxury: The Ritz-Carlton St Thomas may be the most luxurious and beautiful resort in the USVI. Expect breathtaking ocean views and celebrity treatment at this five-star resort complete with gorgeous swimming pools, bars and restaurants. See photos here.
Which Has Better Nightlife?
While nightclubs and bars are available in both destinations, Puerto Rico’s nightlife is more energetic and pumping than in the US Virgin Islands. The salsa and fun locals make for a far more authentic night.
However the USVI is ideal if you are looking for a low-key night with less dancing and action than in Puerto Rico. Nightlife there is more about dining and having a few drinks in trendy bars than dancing till dawn.
St. Thomas is the most populated island of the USVI’s, so is the one with the best nightlife. However, St. Croix and St. John don’t fall behind — rum shacks, breweries, restaurants, and beach bars are distributed across the three main islands and serve quality drinks and meals.
Gastronomy plays a big part in Puerto Rico’s nightlife too, but it is better known for late-night partying rather than fine dining.
If you are looking for nightclubs, Mayagüez (Western Puerto Rico) and Ponce (Southern Puerto Rico) offer La Naza and La Pulga. Expect young partygoers, cheap drinks, and DJs playing Latin beats all night long. You can also find clubs in Condado Beach.
Old San Juan hosts street parties in La Placita de Santurce and has intimate bars with multiple dance floors that various celebrities have attended.
As you can see, the nightlife scene in Puerto Rico is nearly opposite to USVI’s. However, as we have already mentioned, neither of them lacks fun. At the end of the day, choosing between the two comes down to a matter of taste.
Which Is Cheaper?
Cost is where Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands differ the most.
Everything — food, clothes, accommodation, transportation, etc — is pricier on the USVI. There are a few exceptions to the rule, but the average vacation cost in this destination is significantly higher.
In fact a week in the USVI can be up to 100% more expensive than in Puerto Rico! Of course, the prices vary according to the season, and the cost gap can close slightly, but the disparity is usually felt for those traveling on a smaller budget.
If you have a more limited budget, then Puerto Rico will be the most convenient destination for you and your wallet.
Which Is Safer For Tourists?
Regarding safety, there’s a clear draw between Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. They are both completely safe for tourists and have a low crime rate.
Puerto Rico is considered one of the safest destinations in the Caribbean. That doesn’t take away the fact that the USVI is a secure place too (almost as equally as Puerto Rico), but it is good information to keep in mind.
The best advice we can give you when traveling anywhere is to take basic safety measures, such as keeping your valuables out of sight. Although there’s no real need for extra carefulness or suspicion when vacationing in these two destinations.
Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
So, you’ve decided to bring your family along on the trip. Great! It will be an unforgettable experience for everyone, whether you travel to the USVI or Puerto Rico. However, in this case, there may be one destination more suitable for a family trip than the other: you guessed it! It is the US Virgin Islands.
The laid-back vibe of the beaches in the USVI and its urban area, the calmness of the sea, the low-impact activities, and the family-friendly nightlife make it the perfect family destination.
You will likely not have to worry about your kids playing in the sea, getting lost in the crowds, or not being able to participate in some activities.
Puerto Rico is perfectly suitable for a family trip as well, but the energetic nightlife, crowded nature of most of the beaches, and sea conditions are a better fit for an adult-only trip.
Which Is Better For Honeymoons?
Many newlyweds choose Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands as their dream honeymoon destination.
If you want to experience island life with your spouse — exploring remote virgin beaches, going out on romantic date nights, and disconnecting from everything — then the Virgin Islands will gift you your ideal honeymoon.
On the other hand, Puerto Rico might be the best fit for you if you want a more adventurous and active trip. It is ideal for those couples that don’t like to sit still — you’ll get to learn about foreign cultures, interact with locals, see gleaming lagoons, and dance to the rhythm of salsa.
Should you want to avoid big family groups and children, know that adult-only hotels are available in both regions. The only detail you have to pay attention to is that some of them are not all-inclusive in the US Virgin Islands. If the all-inclusive resort life is what you want for your honeymoon, you are more likely to find it in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico vs USVI: Which Is Better?
Because Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are such different destinations, there is no saying which one is better. The decision comes down to your preferences.
But as a rule of thumb, if you’re looking for a vibrant and culturally rich place full of natural wonders, Puerto Rico is the way to go.
On the other hand, if you want gorgeous beaches with a relaxed atmosphere, as well as a good shopping scene, definitely choose the US Virgin Islands.
Enjoy your vacation!