15+ Memorable Things to Do in San Juan, Puerto Rico

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San Juan, Puerto Rico, is among the most-visited cities within the Caribbean. The metropolis’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 “rich port city,” although the Indigenous Taino individuals known as the world dwelling lengthy earlier than that.

Today, San Juan is a vibrant metropolis that is a well-liked port for Caribbean cruises – but it surely’s nicely value visiting by itself, cruise or not. Just a number of of the distinctive issues you are able to do in San Juan embody:

  • Explore 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 seashore day
  • Tour Casa BACARDÍ
  • And far more!

Puerto Rico has been a US territory since 1898 (after the Spanish-American War), which signifies that it’s totally simple for Americans to go to. If you are from the United States, you do not want a passport to go to Puerto Rico. You additionally needn’t change cash or fear about your cellphone plan.

Sunset at the Caribe Hilton
Sunset on the Caribe Hilton

When to go to San Juan, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has a tropical monsoon local weather, that means that it is sizzling and humid just about year-round (temperatures keep a reasonably constant low- to mid-80s F). The hottest 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 remains to be good however there are barely fewer vacationers since it is a shoulder season.

The most cost-effective 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 need to say that February might be my favourite!

The greatest 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.

But the vast majority of Puerto Rico’s inhabitants lives within the San Juan area, and it is the town everybody arrives into. So you could as nicely get out and discover!

Colorful street in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Street in Old San Juan

Read on to find out about all the very best issues you are able to do in and round San Juan. (And I’ve organized this record into varied components of San Juan, beginning with Old Town.)

Top issues to do in Old San Juan

Viejo San Juan, AKA Old San Juan, is essentially the most historic a part of the town, the place you will discover colourful colonial buildings, Spanish forts, bars, and nightlife. This is the most well-liked and touristy a part of San Juan, too – however for good purpose.

There are many issues to do in Old San Juan, whether or not you are enthusiastic about historical past, meals, or simply some good cocktails. Here are the very best issues to do in Old San Juan:

1. Visit Castillo San Cristóbal

Castillo San Cristóbal in San Juan
Castillo San Cristóbal

One of the very best issues to do in San Juan is to go to Castillo San Cristóbal, a part of the San Juan National Historic 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 Old San Juan, as a result of it is inside simple strolling distance from most inns.

Castillo San Cristóbal is among the fortresses constructed by the Spanish to defend Puerto Rico. Construction on this fortress started within the 1600s, and it was used all through WWII, when US troops used the sentry bins and lookouts to scan the waters for German U-boats.

Amanda at a sentry box at Castillo San Cristóbal
The sentry “boxes” supply up nice views!
Devil's Sentry Box at Castillo San Cristóbal
“La Garita del Diablo,” or the “Devil’s Sentry Box” – you may’t go to this one

This fortress was the one which protected the land entrance into Old San Juan, again when it was a wholly walled metropolis. It’s massive, too, overlaying 27 acres – it is the biggest fortification constructed by the Spanish within the New World, in reality.

Entry to the historic website is simply $10 per particular person, and there is a lot to see. You 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 biggest fortification constructed by the Spanish within the New World).

You can even get some incredible views over San Juan in all instructions.

View from Castillo San Cristóbal
View from Castillo San Cristóbal

Pro tip: Get to Castillo San Cristóbal as near opening time as you may; 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 principally to your self.

2. Castillo San Felipe del Morro

El Morro seen from the air
El Morro from the air

The different 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 lately struggling harm through the Spanish-American War, when Puerto Rico nonetheless belonged to Spain.

You can go to El Morro with the identical ticket you used to go to San Cristóbal, however observe that it is a lengthy stroll throughout the garden to the fort itself! At the fortress, you may go to casemates, a chapel, and naturally see the ocean views.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro lit up at night
Castillo San Felipe del Morro lit up at night time

In entrance of El Morro, additionally you should definitely 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 Nineties. Today it’s dwelling to the Museo de las Américas, in addition to faculties devoted to bounce, music, and Spanish language.

Cuartel de Ballajá in San Juan
Cuartel de Ballajá

3. Take a historic strolling tour

Another one of many high issues to do in San Juan is to take a strolling tour round Old San Juan to actually study in regards to the metropolis’s historical past. Even although Puerto Rico is technically “part” of the United States, the connection is a tenuous one, and it looks like a totally totally different nation.

And this is smart, after all, because of its historical past. A strolling tour of Old San Juan will cowl quite a lot of that historical past – from Columbus’ “discovery” of the island all through to the current day – and offer you a style of what makes the town so particular.

Amanda in Old San Juan
Exploring Old San Juan on foot is the way in which to go!
La Puerta de la Bandera mural
La Puerta de la Bandera

A strolling tour like this will not delve too deep into the difficult relationship Puerto Rico has with the United States (I invite you to learn extra about it by yourself), but it surely’s nonetheless an ideal introduction to the island, and particularly to San Juan.

Book a San Juan strolling tour right here.

4. Go on a San Juan meals tour

One factor which you can’t miss in San Juan is a meals tour! I really like taking meals excursions after 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’d suggest is the basic Old San Juan Food 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 additional energy!

Narrowest house in Puerto Rico
You’ll additionally make some photograph stops, like this one on the narrowest home in Puerto Rico.

I will not give away every little thing included on this tour, however you will go to not less than 5 totally different locally-owned spots and style every little thing from Puerto Rican espresso to pastries to chocolate. My favourite a part of the tour was once we made our personal mofongo!

Self-smashed mofongo

The Old San Juan Food Tour is obtainable a number of occasions all through the day. I like to recommend going with a late afternoon choice (there’s often a 3 p.m. tour), which can fill you up sufficient that you simply will not need to exit for a separate dinner.

Book your meals tour prematurely right here.

5. Get a piña colada at Barrachina

On your wanderings, you should definitely cease at Barrachina, a restaurant in Old San Juan that claims to be the birthplace of the Piña Colada. This is contested by the Caribe Hilton, which additionally claims to have invented the drink. Regardless, although, Barrachina does combine up a really tasty drink.

Other nice spots for cocktails in Old 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 you are in search of craft cocktails or an evening of dancing, yow will discover it right here in one in all seven totally different bars.
Drinks at La Vergüenza
Drinks at La Vergüenza
Bar at La Factoría
Bar at La Factoría

6. Visit La Fortaleza

La Fortaleza means “The Fortress,” and the present governor’s home wan certainly constructed to be a fortress again in 1540.

Short, 30-minuted guided excursions are provided 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. (More information right here.)

And even when you do not plan to tour La Fortaleza, it is value it to go to the road main as much as the mansion, referred to as Calle de la Fortaleza. In previous years, this avenue has been hung with colourful umbrellas and large Puerto Rican flags, and is a favourite Instagram spot in San Juan.

Calle de la Fortaleza in San Juan
Calle de la Fortaleza in 2020

7. Walk 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 can really stroll alongside Paseo del Morro all the way in which from La Fortaleza to Castillo San Felipe del Morro, and watch the solar set over the Bay of San Juan.

Paseo de la Princesa
Go for a stroll down Paseo de la Princesa
Paseo del Morro in Old San Juan
Sunset at Paseo del Morro

Top issues to do in Santurce

Santurce is a hip and classy space in San Juan, dwelling to varied sub-barrios (smaller neighborhoods) like Condado and Ocean Park.

The trendy Condado neighborhood is well-liked with vacationers due to its nice inns and seashores. However, there’s far more to see on this vibrant and creative a part of San Juan.

Here are the very best issues to do in Santurce:

1. Visit the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico

One of the very best 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.

Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico

*Note: The museum constructing is at present solely open Thursday-Sunday.

Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico
Inside the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico

I’m 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 better part is that tickets for this museum are simply $6 per grownup.

Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico

2. Stroll and admire the road artwork

From the artwork museum, you may simply stroll to different components of Santurce, protecting your eye out for the colourful avenue artwork that the neighborhood is understood for.

Often 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. Read extra about Santurce’s avenue artwork right here.

Santurce street art
Santurce avenue artwork
Santurce street art

3. Have a seashore day

Santurce is dwelling to Ocean Park seashore (AKA Playa Último Trolley), an extended public seashore that is laid-back and never very touristy in any respect. This is an ideal spot to take a stroll alongside the sand, or go in for a dip when you convey your swim gear.

You can even watch individuals making an attempt out windsurfing, kiteboarding and different water sports activities, as it is a well-liked seashore for all of these.

Ocean Park Beach
Ocean Park Beach

Other good seashores a bit of additional east alongside the coast embody Isla Verde Beach, Carolina Public Beach, and La Posita de Piñones.

4. Experience La Placita

If you are in search of an ideal nightlife expertise in San Juan, head to La Placita de Santurce after darkish.

During 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 stay salsa music (and dancing) within the sq..

Not all components of Santurce are considered 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 practising fundamental security precautions to preserve your self and your stuff protected. But this spot makes for a very enjoyable night time out.

5. Get out on the water

Pick up a rental paddleboard or kayak from VIP Adventures to discover the Condado Lagoon by yourself.

Or, you could possibly guide a sundown cruise from the San Juan Bay Marina to go out into the Bay of San Juan. This sundown catamaran cruise contains 2 hours of crusing, plus cocktails.

Sunset over the Bay of San Juan
Sunset over the Bay of San Juan

Top issues to do in Cataño

Cataño sits throughout the Bay of San Juan from Old San Juan, and there is one highly regarded factor to do there:

1. Tour the Bacardi manufacturing facility

If you are enthusiastic about rum, then you definately will not wish to skip a go to to Casa BACARDÍ, or the “Cathedral of Rum.” Even when you 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 situated in Cataño. You can get there by taxi or Uber, or it can save you some cash by taking a ferry throughout the bay from Old San Juan. Ferries depart from Pier 2 in Old San Juan (sandwiched between the cruise ship docks) roughly each 15-Half-hour. Tickets price solely 50 cents per particular person (sure, actually, $0.50!), and the ferry journey takes about 10 minutes.

Cantano ferry tickets
Proof which you can nonetheless purchase issues for 50 cents!

Once you get to the Cataño pier on the opposite facet of the bay, you may both catch a taxi or name an Uber for the brief journey to the Bacardi manufacturing facility. (There’s a taxi stand simply outdoors the ferry terminal, but it surely was empty once we visited; we known as an Uber, and it solely price $5 to get to Bacardi.)

At Casa BACARDÍ, you may select from a wide range 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 out of doors pavilion bar.

Casa Bacardi tour

Other 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 basic rum cocktails – together with a mojito, after all! More information on present excursions right here.

Even although 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 remains to be owned by the Bacardi household?), and the way Bacardi has developed in Puerto Rico. I particularly liked studying how the manufacturing facility has labored to cut back waste, and the way it produces virtually all of its personal power.

The “Cathedral of Rum”
Bat Bar Pavilion at Casa Bacradi
A wind turbine and the Bat Bar Pavilion (Bacardi’s emblem is a bat)

Pro tip: Not enthusiastic about Bacardi? You may additionally think about 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 middle in Bayamón known as Hacienda Santa Ana, which is barely a couple of 15-minute drive from Old San Juan.

Day journeys from San Juan

While there may be a lot to do in San Juan, you also needs to dedicate a few of your journey to day journeys that let you discover extra of Puerto Rico.

These are the very best day journeys from San Juan that I like to recommend:

1. El Yunque Rainforest

El Yunque National Forest is the one tropical rainforest within the U.S. National Forest System, and makes for an ideal day journey from San Juan. The forest was largely closed for years after harm from Hurricane Maria, however is now open once more to the general public!

The hottest factor to do in El Yunque is to go to waterfalls and swimming holes – and that is greatest achieved on a tour. This El Yunque tour contains some enjoyable water play in El Yunque (waterfalls, pure waterslides, and extra!), plus a go to to Luquillo Beach. Pick up/drop off in San Juan is included for a small additional price.

Book a day journey to El Yunque

2. Catamaran journey to Culebra

Flamenco Beach on Culebra
Flamenco Beach on 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’s not tremendous touristy or commercialized, and is understood for its stunning seashores.

This day journey included a few snorkeling stops, lunch, drinks, and music on the boat, and a cease at Flamenco Beach on Culebra, usually listed as among the finest seashores on the earth.

Snorkeling in Puerto Rico
Snorkeling off the catamaran

A day journey to Culebra does require extra time on a ship because the island is additional away, although, so preserve that in thoughts.

Most excursions can embody pick-up in San Juan for an additional price.

Book this present day journey to Culebra.

3. Catamaran journey to Icacos

Ocean in Puerto Rico
That water!

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 guide onto a much bigger boat (with a water slide!) with extra individuals, or to guide onto a smaller boat with fewer individuals. We went for the smaller boat choice, 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 seashore and a separate spot for snorkeling. And the crew was incredible, protecting the pina coladas and rum punch flowing, and cooking up an ideal BBQ lunch for us all.

Drinking on a beach in the rain
Drinking Piña coladas – and getting caught within the rain. Literally.

Book a day journey to Icacos.

Pro tip: Don’t overlook your solar safety! While most catamarans supply up a little bit of shade, you will be out within the solar a lot. Sunglasses, a hat, UV-blocking clothes are all must-haves!

4. La Parguera Bio Bay

Lastly, one other distinctive journey you may take from San Juan is to La Parguera to go to the one bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico which you can swim in. A bioluminescent bay “glows” resulting from tiny creatures known as dinoflagellates, which emit a blue-ish glow when the water round them is disturbed.

The most well-known bio bay in Puerto Rico is Mosquito Bay on Vieques, however in order for you a singular swimming expertise, this present day journey to La Parguera is a cool choice. It contains dinner, a ship journey by way of mangroves on the way in which to the bay, after which time to swim after darkish.

(Just observe that the bay shall be brightest across the New Moon every month, and that that is a night tour, so you will return to San Juan fairly late!)

Book a bio bay tour right here

Where to remain in San Juan

There are a pair totally different areas the place vacationers will keep in San Juan, with the most well-liked being Old San Juan and the resort strip in Condado.

1. Old San Juan

Decanter Hotel balcony
Decanter Hotel balcony in Old San Juan

If you wish to keep within the coronary heart of the motion, then you definately wish to keep in Old San Juan. Hotels on this a part of San Juan are typically historic (and barely costlier), however the space could be very protected, and you may stroll to a lot of the main websites.

My resort picks in Old San Juan are:

  • Hotel El ConventoIf it is historic you need, you may’t go improper with this boutique resort housed in a former convent. The luxurious resort is true subsequent to San Juan’s Cathedral sq.. (Book a room right here)
  • The Decanter HotelThis 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 stunning terraces (see the photograph above). There’s additionally an ideal rooftop bar to take pleasure in at night time. (Book a room right here)
  • CasaBlanca HotelThis small resort is in an ideal location, and comes full with a rooftop terrace and native paintings all through the property. (Book a room right here)

2. Condado

Serafina Beach Hotel oceanview room
Room with a view on the Condado Ocean Club

This hip and classy seashore district is east of Old San Juan. It’s identified for fancy inns and nightlife, together with its stretch of seashore and ocean views.

My resort picks in Condado are:

  • Condado Ocean Club The first 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 seashore, 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 known as the Serafina Beach Hotel.) (Book a room right here)
  • Condado Vanderbilt HotelUsually ranked as among the finest inns in Puerto Rico (and definitely in San Juan), this luxurious resort sits proper on the seashore and delivers a resort-like expertise. (Book a room right here)
  • La ConchaThe La Concha is a Renaissance property, and is among the iconic inns in Condado. The resort was lately renovated, and has a contemporary design and nice on-site eating choices. (Book a room right here)
  • Caribe HiltonI stayed at this property on my first journey to Puerto Rico, and particularly liked the pool space. The Caribar right here is considered the birthplace of the Piña Colada, and this is among the extra family-friendly inns in Condado. (Book a room right here)
Caribe Hilton pool
Part of the pool space on the Caribe Hilton

Other neighborhoods you could possibly think about embody:

  • Santurce – A extra “local” neighborhood, stuffed with avenue artwork, galleries, and outlets. It’s a bit grittier, and you will find extra trip leases accessible right here than inns.
  • Ocean Park and Carolina – These are extra residential neighborhoods, however they’re proper on the seashore.

If you are in search of reasonably priced rental choices with ocean views, listed below are a number of:

READ NEXT: 5 Days in San Juan, Puerto Rico: A San Juan Itinerary


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