San Juan, Puerto Rico, is likely one of the most-visited cities within the Caribbean. Town’s historical past dates again greater than 500 years; it was based by Spanish colonists in 1521 who named it “Ciudad de Puerto Rico,” or “wealthy port metropolis,” although the Indigenous Taino individuals referred to as the world dwelling lengthy earlier than that.
In the present day, San Juan is a vibrant metropolis that is a preferred port for Caribbean cruises – but it surely’s properly price visiting by itself, cruise or not. Just some of the distinctive issues you are able to do in San Juan embody:
- Discover Spanish fortresses from the 1600s
- Drink a piña colada within the place the place it was invented
- Go avenue art-spotting in Santurce
- Have a seaside day
- Tour Casa BACARDÍ
- And far more!
Puerto Rico has been a US territory since 1898 (after the Spanish-American Conflict), which implies that it’s extremely simple for People to go to. In the event you’re from the US, you do not want a passport to go to Puerto Rico. You additionally need not change cash or fear about your mobile phone plan.
When to go to San Juan, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico has a tropical monsoon local weather, which means that it is sizzling and humid just about year-round (temperatures keep a reasonably constant low- to mid-80s F). The preferred months to go to San Juan are through the North American winter, i.e. December-March, when it is barely cooler and drier.
April-June can also be a super time to go to, when the climate continues to be good however there are barely fewer vacationers since it is a shoulder season.
The most affordable months to go to San Juan are through the summer time, however that is additionally wet/hurricane season (hurricane season often runs from June-November). I’ve visited San Juan throughout each of its “seasons,” and must say that February might be my favourite!
The most effective issues to do in San Juan
Puerto Rico is after all far more than simply San Juan. There are different nice areas to go to, too, just like the cities of Ponce and Rincon; islands like Vieques and Culebra; and pure areas like El Yunque Rainforest and the central mountains.
However the majority of Puerto Rico’s inhabitants lives within the San Juan area, and it is town everybody arrives into. So you might as properly get out and discover!
Learn on to find out about all the most effective issues you are able to do in and round San Juan. (And I’ve organized this record into varied elements of San Juan, beginning with Previous City.)
Prime issues to do in Previous San Juan
Viejo San Juan, AKA Previous San Juan, is essentially the most historic a part of town, the place you will discover colourful colonial buildings, Spanish forts, bars, and nightlife. That is the preferred and touristy a part of San Juan, too – however for good motive.
There are various issues to do in Previous San Juan, whether or not you are all in favour of historical past, meals, or simply some good cocktails. Listed below are the most effective issues to do in Previous San Juan:
1. Go to Castillo San Cristóbal
The most effective issues to do in San Juan is to go to Castillo San Cristóbal, a part of the San Juan Nationwide Historic Web site. The historic website includes two totally different fortresses, in addition to previous metropolis partitions and gates. I like to recommend beginning with Castillo San Cristóbal on the northeast finish of Previous San Juan, as a result of it is inside simple strolling distance from most lodges.
Castillo San Cristóbal is likely one of the fortresses constructed by the Spanish to defend Puerto Rico. Building on this fortress started within the 1600s, and it was used right through WWII, when US troops used the sentry bins and lookouts to scan the waters for German U-boats.
This fortress was the one which protected the land entrance into Previous San Juan, again when it was a wholly walled metropolis. It is massive, too, overlaying 27 acres – it is the most important fortification constructed by the Spanish within the New World, the truth is.
Entry to the historic website is simply $10 per particular person, and there is a lot to see. You possibly can go to former jail cells, stand in sentry bins, and discover a lot of the 27 acres that the fortress covers (San Cristóbal is the most important fortification constructed by the Spanish within the New World).
You can even get some implausible views over San Juan in all instructions.
Professional tip: Get to Castillo San Cristóbal as near opening time as you’ll be able to; the cruise ship tour buses will begin rolling in 1-2 hours after opening, so get there early if you wish to have the location largely to your self.
2. Castillo San Felipe del Morro
The opposite Spanish fortress in San Juan is Castillo San Felipe del Morro, or El Morro. This more-famous fort up on a hill overlooks the doorway to San Juan Bay. The Spanish began constructing this in 1539, and continued including onto it till 1787. It was attacked a number of occasions, most just lately struggling injury through the Spanish-American Conflict, when Puerto Rico nonetheless belonged to Spain.
You possibly can go to El Morro with the identical ticket you used to go to San Cristóbal, however notice that it is a lengthy stroll throughout the garden to the fort itself! On the fortress, you’ll be able to go to casemates, a chapel, and naturally see the ocean views.
In entrance of El Morro, additionally be sure you go to Cuartel de Ballajá, a constructing from the mid-1800s that was initially constructed as navy barracks. The constructing was bought by the federal government, and refurbished/reworked within the Nineteen Nineties. In the present day it’s dwelling to the Museo de las Américas, in addition to faculties devoted to bounce, music, and Spanish language.
3. Take a historic strolling tour
One other one of many prime issues to do in San Juan is to take a strolling tour round Previous San Juan to actually study in regards to the metropolis’s historical past. Regardless that Puerto Rico is technically “half” of the US, the connection is a tenuous one, and it appears like a very totally different nation.
And this is sensible, after all, due to its historical past. A strolling tour of Previous San Juan will cowl a variety of that historical past – from Columbus’ “discovery” of the island right through to the current day – and provide you with a style of what makes town so particular.
A strolling tour like this will not delve too deep into the difficult relationship Puerto Rico has with the US (I invite you to learn extra about it by yourself), but it surely’s nonetheless an incredible introduction to the island, and particularly to San Juan.
4. Go on a San Juan meals tour
One factor that you may’t miss in San Juan is a meals tour! I really like taking meals excursions once I journey; you study a lot about an space’s historical past and tradition by way of its meals.
In San Juan, the go-to meals tour firm is Flavors of San Juan, and the tour I might advocate is the traditional Previous San Juan Meals Tour. This 3-hour small group tour is a superb introduction to Puerto Rican food and drinks. It mixes historical past and good eats – and a little bit of strolling that will help you burn off a few of these further energy!
I will not give away all the things included on this tour, however you will go to not less than 5 totally different locally-owned spots and style all the things from Puerto Rican espresso to pastries to chocolate. My favourite a part of the tour was after we made our personal mofongo!
The Previous San Juan Meals Tour is obtainable a number of occasions all through the day. I like to recommend going with a late afternoon possibility (there’s often a 3 p.m. tour), which can fill you up sufficient that you just will not must exit for a separate dinner.
5. Get a piña colada at Barrachina
In your wanderings, be sure you cease at Barrachina, a restaurant in Previous San Juan that claims to be the birthplace of the Piña Colada. That is contested by the Caribe Hilton, which additionally claims to have invented the drink. Regardless, although, Barrachina does combine up a really tasty drink.
Different nice spots for cocktails in Previous San Juan embody:
- La Vergüenza – Not removed from Castillo San Cristóbal, this spot has a rooftop terrace and drink specials all through the day.
- La Factoría – Whether or not you are searching for craft cocktails or an evening of dancing, you will discover it right here in one among seven totally different bars.
6. Go to La Fortaleza
La Fortaleza means “The Fortress,” and the present governor’s home wan certainly constructed to be a fortress again in 1540.
Brief, 30-minuted guided excursions are supplied of La Fortaleza (AKA Palacio de Santa Catalina) Monday-Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The excursions are free, but it surely’s suggested you name prematurely to verify excursions are working. (Extra information right here.)
And even for those who do not plan to tour La Fortaleza, it is price it to go to the road main as much as the mansion, generally known as Calle de la Fortaleza. In previous years, this avenue has been hung with colourful umbrellas and big Puerto Rican flags, and is a favourite Instagram spot in San Juan.
7. Stroll the Paseo del Morro at sundown
You will not wish to miss watching the sundown whereas in San Juan. I like to recommend strolling down the tree-lined Paseo de la Princesa after which strolling alongside the Paseo del Morro for sundown. You possibly can really stroll alongside Paseo del Morro all the best way from La Fortaleza to Castillo San Felipe del Morro, and watch the solar set over the Bay of San Juan.
Prime issues to do in Santurce
Santurce is a hip and classy space in San Juan, dwelling to numerous sub-barrios (smaller neighborhoods) like Condado and Ocean Park.
The fashionable Condado neighborhood is fashionable with vacationers due to its nice lodges and seashores. Nonetheless, there’s far more to see on this vibrant and inventive a part of San Juan.
Listed below are the most effective issues to do in Santurce:
1. Go to the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico
The most effective issues to do within the Santurce space of San Juan is to go to the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico*. This artwork museum showcases and celebrates Puerto Rican and Caribbean artwork spanning from the seventeenth century to the current, and is a must-visit for artwork lovers.
*Observe: The museum constructing is at present solely open Thursday-Sunday.
I am not really an enormous fan of artwork museums, however the number of kinds represented on this museum (plus seeing a lot work by Puerto Rican artists!) held my curiosity for a few hours. There are a number of indoor galleries, in addition to an out of doors sculpture backyard.
The most effective half is that tickets for this museum are simply $6 per grownup.
2. Stroll and admire the road artwork
From the artwork museum, you’ll be able to simply stroll to different elements of Santurce, retaining your eye out for the colourful avenue artwork that the neighborhood is thought for.
Typically in comparison with Miami’s Wynwood Arts District, Santurce has unimaginable murals to be discovered round each nook. Stroll up Calle Cerra or Calle Loíza for the best focus of artwork – and artsy cafes. Learn extra about Santurce’s avenue artwork right here.
3. Have a seaside day
Santurce is dwelling to Ocean Park seaside (AKA Playa Último Trolley), a protracted public seaside that is laid-back and never very touristy in any respect. It is a excellent spot to take a stroll alongside the sand, or go in for a dip for those who carry your swim gear.
You can even watch individuals attempting out windsurfing, kiteboarding and different water sports activities, as this can be a fashionable seaside for all of these.
Different good seashores a bit of additional east alongside the coast embody Isla Verde Seashore, Carolina Public Seashore, and La Posita de Piñones.
4. Expertise La Placita
In the event you’re searching for an incredible nightlife expertise in San Juan, head to La Placita de Santurce after darkish.
Throughout the day, this two-tiered market sq. is fairly quiet with a farmer’s market and a few eating places. At night time, although (and particularly on weekend nights), it is the place locals flock for avenue meals, drinks, and dwell salsa music (and dancing) within the sq..
Not all elements of Santurce are thought to be being protected after darkish, however La Placita is an exception; the ambiance on a weekend night time is so vibrant. I like to recommend taking an Uber there/again out of your resort, and working towards primary security precautions to hold your self and your stuff protected. However this spot makes for a really enjoyable night time out.
5. Get out on the water
Choose up a rental paddleboard or kayak from VIP Adventures to discover the Condado Lagoon by yourself.
Or, you might ebook a sundown cruise from the San Juan Bay Marina to go out into the Bay of San Juan. This sundown catamaran cruise consists of 2 hours of crusing, plus cocktails.
Prime issues to do in Cataño
Cataño sits throughout the Bay of San Juan from Previous San Juan, and there is one very talked-about factor to do there:
1. Tour the Bacardi manufacturing facility
In the event you’re all in favour of rum, then you definately will not wish to skip a go to to Casa BACARDÍ, or the “Cathedral of Rum.” Even for those who do not like ingesting rum very a lot (responsible), touring Puerto Rico’s Bacardi manufacturing facility to study in regards to the firm’s historical past is fairly fascinating.
Casa BACARDÍ is positioned in Cataño. You may get there by taxi or Uber, or it can save you some cash by taking a ferry throughout the bay from Previous San Juan. Ferries go away from Pier 2 in Previous San Juan (sandwiched between the cruise ship docks) roughly each 15-Half-hour. Tickets value solely 50 cents per particular person (sure, actually, $0.50!), and the ferry journey takes about 10 minutes.
When you get to the Cataño pier on the opposite facet of the bay, you’ll be able to both catch a taxi or name an Uber for the brief journey to the Bacardi manufacturing facility. (There is a taxi stand simply exterior the ferry terminal, but it surely was empty after we visited; we referred to as an Uber, and it solely value $5 to get to Bacardi.)
At Casa BACARDÍ, you’ll be able to select from quite a lot of excursions. We opted for the Legacy Tour, which is a 45-minute tour that covers the historical past of Bacardi and their rum manufacturing course of. This tour prices $35, and features a free cocktail from the outside pavilion bar.
Different tour choices embody a 90-minute rum tasting tour ($75 + tax) the place you get to style a handful of rums; or a mixology class ($75), the place you discover ways to make three traditional rum cocktails – together with a mojito, after all! Extra information on present excursions right here.
Regardless that I do not actually love rum, I actually loved the historic tour at Casa BACARDÍ. We realized all in regards to the model’s historical past (do you know it was began in Cuba, and continues to be owned by the Bacardi household?), and the way Bacardi has advanced in Puerto Rico. I particularly beloved studying how the manufacturing facility has labored to scale back waste, and the way it produces nearly all of its personal power.
Professional tip: Not all in favour of Bacardi? You would additionally take into account visiting the house of Ron del Barrilito, a small-batch rum made on the oldest distillery in Puerto Rico. Ron del Barrilito only in the near past opened up a customer heart in Bayamón referred to as Hacienda Santa Ana, which is just a few 15-minute drive from Previous San Juan.
Day journeys from San Juan
Whereas there may be lots to do in San Juan, you also needs to dedicate a few of your journey to day journeys that mean you can discover extra of Puerto Rico.
These are the most effective day journeys from San Juan that I like to recommend:
1. El Yunque Rainforest
El Yunque Nationwide Forest is the one tropical rainforest within the U.S. Nationwide Forest System, and makes for an incredible day journey from San Juan. The forest was largely closed for years after injury from Hurricane Maria, however is now open once more to the general public!
The preferred factor to do in El Yunque is to go to waterfalls and swimming holes – and that is greatest performed on a tour. This El Yunque tour consists of some enjoyable water play in El Yunque (waterfalls, pure waterslides, and extra!), plus a go to to Luquillo Seashore. Choose up/drop off in San Juan is included for a small further price.
2. Catamaran journey to Culebra
On my first journey to Puerto Rico, I went on a day journey to Culebra island by catamaran. Culebra is a smaller island off the coast of the primary island of Puerto Rico. It is not tremendous touristy or commercialized, and is thought for its lovely seashores.
This present day journey included a few snorkeling stops, lunch, drinks, and music on the boat, and a cease at Flamenco Seashore on Culebra, usually listed as among the best seashores on the earth.
A day journey to Culebra does require extra time on a ship for the reason that island is additional away, although, so hold that in thoughts.
Most excursions can embody pick-up in San Juan for an additional price.
3. Catamaran journey to Icacos
On my second journey to Puerto Rico, my husband Elliot and I booked one other catamaran journey. This time, we booked a day journey to the abandoned island of Icacos.
There have been two totally different choices for this tour: to ebook onto an even bigger boat (with a water slide!) with extra individuals, or to ebook onto a smaller boat with fewer individuals. We went for the smaller boat possibility, and it ended up being excellent!
We did not really get to Icacos due to tough seas and dangerous climate on the day we sailed, however our captain nonetheless discovered us a pleasant seaside and a separate spot for snorkeling. And the crew was implausible, retaining the pina coladas and rum punch flowing, and cooking up an incredible BBQ lunch for us all.
Professional tip: Do not forget your solar safety! Whereas most catamarans supply up a little bit of shade, you will be out within the solar lots. Sun shades, a hat, UV-blocking clothes are all must-haves!
4. La Parguera Bio Bay
Lastly, one other distinctive journey you’ll be able to take from San Juan is to La Parguera to go to the one bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico that you may swim in. A bioluminescent bay “glows” on account of tiny creatures referred to as dinoflagellates, which emit a blue-ish glow when the water round them is disturbed.
Essentially the most well-known bio bay in Puerto Rico is Mosquito Bay on Vieques, however if you need a novel swimming expertise, today journey to La Parguera is a cool possibility. It consists of dinner, a ship journey by way of mangroves on the best way to the bay, after which time to swim after darkish.
(Simply notice that the bay will likely be brightest across the New Moon every month, and that that is a night tour, so you will return to San Juan fairly late!)
The place to remain in San Juan
There are a pair totally different areas the place vacationers will keep in San Juan, with the preferred being Previous San Juan and the resort strip in Condado.
1. Previous San Juan
If you wish to keep within the coronary heart of the motion, then you definately wish to keep in Previous San Juan. Resorts on this a part of San Juan are usually historic (and barely costlier), however the space may be very protected, and you may stroll to a lot of the main websites.
My resort picks in Previous San Juan are:
- Lodge El Convento – If it is historic you need, you’ll be able to’t go mistaken with this boutique resort housed in a former convent. The luxurious resort is true subsequent to San Juan’s Cathedral sq.. (Guide a room right here)
- The Decanter Lodge – That is the place Elliot and I stayed on our go to collectively. The small boutique resort is present in an historic constructing, and lots of the rooms have lovely terraces (see the picture above). There’s additionally an incredible rooftop bar to take pleasure in at night time. (Guide a room right here)
- CasaBlanca Lodge – This small resort is in an incredible location, and comes full with a rooftop terrace and native art work all through the property. (Guide a room right here)
This hip and classy seaside district is east of Previous San Juan. It is recognized for fancy lodges and nightlife, together with its stretch of seaside and ocean views.
My resort picks in Condado are:
- Condado Ocean Membership – The primary new resort to open in San Juan after the 2017 hurricanes, this resort is the one Elliot and I selected for our 2020 journey. It sits proper on the seaside, with a small infinity pool that overlooks the ocean. The ocean view rooms right here have unimaginable floor-to-ceiling home windows, and the beachy vibe extends all through the entire property. (This was once referred to as the Serafina Seashore Lodge.) (Guide a room right here)
- Condado Vanderbilt Lodge – Often ranked as among the best lodges in Puerto Rico (and definitely in San Juan), this luxurious resort sits proper on the seaside and delivers a resort-like expertise. (Guide a room right here)
- La Concha – The La Concha is a Renaissance property, and is likely one of the iconic lodges in Condado. The resort was just lately renovated, and has a contemporary design and nice on-site eating choices. (Guide a room right here)
- Caribe Hilton – I stayed at this property on my first journey to Puerto Rico, and particularly beloved the pool space. The Caribar right here is thought to be the birthplace of the Piña Colada, and this is likely one of the extra family-friendly lodges in Condado. (Guide a room right here)
Different neighborhoods you might take into account embody:
- Santurce – A extra “native” neighborhood, crammed with avenue artwork, galleries, and retailers. It is a bit grittier, and you will find extra trip leases obtainable right here than lodges.
- Ocean Park and Carolina – These are extra residential neighborhoods, however they’re proper on the seaside.
In the event you’re searching for inexpensive rental choices with ocean views, listed here are just a few:
Have you ever ever been to San Juan, Puerto Rico?