San one puerto rico: San Juan Tourism / Tourist Offices / Centers — Location
San Juan, Puerto Rico | Ultimate Guide (By a Local)
Super useful & totally free travel guides, written by locals who love San Juan, Puerto Rico
- ✨ Things to Do
- 🗺️ Where to Stay
- 🛎️ Best Hotels
- ⛱️ Beaches
- 🍽️ Restaurants
- 🚗 Day Trips
- 🏘️ Neighborhoods
- 🍸 Bars
- 🏛️ Museums
- 📜 Historical Sites
- 🗓️ Best Time to Visit
- 🚌 Getting Around
- 👉 Tips & Things to Know
- 🧳 What to Pack
Old San Juan
Why We Love San Juan: San Juan is a clash between history and modernity. You will find areas like Old San Juan, where you can walk between colorful colonial houses and historical forts that date back to the Spanish colonial era in Puerto Rico. But, San Juan also sports modern Miami-style neighborhoods like Condado and Ocean Park, with luxury hotels, fine dining restaurants, and nightclubs. And if that isn’t enough, you can always find a beach close to you. All these landscapes get mixed with a friendly and lively local culture that will make you want to stay on the island forever!
Best of San Juan
Things to Do
El Morro is a top attraction in San Juan
San Juan sports a heritage site, museums, restaurants, and beaches, for every type of traveler, so you will always find something to do. Some of the top attractions are:
- El Morro – A fort with more than 400 years of history, built to protect San Juan Bay from invaders.
- Castillo San Cristobal – The biggest fort built by the Spaniards in the New World, with a great view of the city.
- Calle Fortaleza – The most famous street in Old San Juan, sports dozens of shops and restaurants to enjoy.
- Condado Lagoon – Great lagoon to kayak, or paddleboard side by side with manatees while soaking in the sun.
- La Placita – Local reunion spot with live music and restaurants, where locals spend the night dancing and eating.
👉 Explore all things to do in San Juan.
Where to Stay
If you’re traveling to San Juan, these are some of the best areas and neighborhoods you can stay at:
- Old San Juan – Great place to stay to visit important San Juan landmarks and enjoy local culture within walking distance.
- Condado – Neighborhood with luxury hotels, fancy restaurants, and bars all between a beach and a lagoon.
- Ocean Park – Best area to find a cheap stay while staying close to the beach and all main attractions.
👉 Read the complete guide to where to stay in San Juan
Old San Juan is a walkable city
🛎️ Best Hotels
The Sheraton San Juan (photo: refrina / Shutterstock)
San Juan sports all kinds of hotels for every type of traveler. Here are some of the best you should try:
- Sheraton Old San Juan – This hotel sports the best location for visitors to explore Old San Juan on foot.
- La Concha Renaissance Resort – La Concha sports restaurants, salons, bars, and prime location on the beachfront.
- Condado Vanderbilt – A 4-star luxury hotel with a spa, fine dining restaurant, and infinity pool facing the Condado Beach.
You don’t have to go out of the capital city to enjoy one of Puerto Rico’s beaches. Here are the best beaches in San Juan :
- Escambron – Find clear waters for snorkeling, diving, or swimming on this beach right at the entrance of the city.
- Condado Beach – Enjoy a family day on this beach with golden sand and blue waters right by your hotel.
- Playa Peña – Just minutes away from El Morro, Playa Peña is a getaway from the crowds with scenic views.
- Ocean Park – Perfect beach to do beach bumming or do watersports without the crowds of Condado.
- Isla Verde – This urban beach is ideal for a relaxing beach day while staying close to the airport.
👉 Read all the best beaches in San Juan.
Isla Verde Beach
Inside Princesa Gastro Bar
What to eat will be the least of your problems, since San Juan sports a variety of restaurants with local and international cuisine. Make sure to visit:
- Café Manolin – Old-style restaurant with traditional Puerto Rican food within a budget.
- Café Cuatro Sombras – Great local coffee shop with fresh brewed Puerto Rican coffee to warm your mornings.
- Lote 23 – If you’re hungry late at night, head over to this food truck park with great Puerto Rican snacks.
- Princesa Gastrobar– Enjoy Puerto Rican cuisine right on one of the most important landmarks, Paseo de la Princesa.
- Casita Miramar – This restaurant picks ingredients from its yard and offers a meal in an Instagram-worthy location.
👉 Read full list of best restaurants in San Juan.
Travel Lemming writer Vanessa with wild horses in Vieques
- El Yunque National Rainforest – The only rainforest in the USA, El Yunque is home to beautiful waterfalls and scenic views.
- Culebra – Culebra is home to pristine beaches like Flamenco Beach, and it’s perfect for a Caribbean escape.
- Vieques – Vieques sports a bioluminescent bay, breathtaking beaches, wild horses, and wonderful hiking routes.
- Bacardi Rum Factory – A short ride away from San Juan, you can take a tour of an internationally known rum distillery.
- Ponce – A historical city with the oldest fire station, an art museum, and a castle, worth visiting.
👉 Read full list of best day trips from San Juan.
San Juan’s skyline
- Old San Juan – Best neighborhood for sightseeing, with a historical site, museums, bars, and restaurants.
- Condado – Top hotels, restaurants, and bars along the coast with amazing views and family fun.
- Ocean Park – Chill neighborhood centrally located, close to bars, restaurants, and the beach, but away from crowds.
- Santurce – A great area with bars, restaurants, and nightclubs, great to enjoy nightlife and local culture.
- Miramar – A perfect area for business travelers looking for a central location without the rush of tourist sites.
You can go bar hopping at night
- El Techo Rooftop – This rooftop bar in the famous La Placita sports a casual and lively ambiance.
- ARYA Rooftop– You can enjoy a drink while looking at Condado’s skyline from the top of Olive Boutique Hotel.
- La Factoria – One of the world’s top 50 bars, this LGBTQ-friendly bar is great to enjoy a cocktail at night.
- La Taberna Lúpulo – If you’re looking for a craft beer, head over to this bar in Calle San Sebastián to refresh yourself.
- The Mezzanine – Enjoy a drink in one of the balconies of this cocktail bar while looking at Old San Juan’s streets.
Museo Las Americas (photo: refrina / Shutterstock)
- Museo Las Americas – This impressive structure across El Morro is a museum with collections about the history of America.
- Museum of Contemporary Art – Because not everything is about the past, this museum hosts contemporary art exhibitions.
- Museum of Art of Puerto Rico – Located in the heart of Santurce, this museum’s collection starts from the outside of the museum.
- Casa Blanca Museum – Juan Ponce de León’s last house, now hosts an impressive 16th and 17th century collection.
- History, Anthropology and Art Museum– Museum that hosts the famous Puerto Rican painting El Velorio.
📜 Historical Sites
Fort San Felipe del Morro (“El Morro”)
- El Morro – Historical fort built during the 16th century to protect the capital city from incoming sea attacks.
- Castillo San Cristobal – The biggest fort built by the Spaniards, it protected the capital city from multiple land attacks.
- La Fortaleza – Dating back to 1540, this palace continues to house the governors of Puerto Rico up to today.
- Capilla del Cristo – This small chapel on a dead-end street sports a few urban legends plus a unique altar.
- San Juan’s Cathedral – The Cathedral sports centuries of history plus a breathtaking interior.
San Juan Travel Advice
🗓️ Best Time to Visit
Puerto Rico is home to great beaches and warm weather all year round, so the best time to visit is up to the type of vacation you’re looking for:
- 🌼 Spring – The spring is part of the dry season and temperatures and tides are great to enjoy the beaches.
- ❄️ Winter – Perfect season to find lower and fresh temperatures on the island, without the constant rain.
- 🌞 Summer – The rainy season starts, but it’s also the time with the warmest temperatures and the best tides.
- 🍂 Fall – Best season to avoid the crowds, and get cheap prices but it’s also Puerto Rico’s hurricane season.
If you don’t want to rent a car, San Juan sports multiple transportation options, so you don’t have to stick to your hotel:
- 🚶♀️ Walking – Old San Juan and Condado are walkable areas, so you don’t need a car to explore.
- 🚗 Driving – You can rent a car to maximize your time and comfort while moving around. Read our full guide to driving in Puerto Rico.
- 🚇 Public Transit – Public transportation runs frequently, it’s a cheap option, but it isn’t reliable.
- 📲 Ride Share – If cars and taxis are too expensive, you can use Uber to get cheaper rides.
- 🚴♀️ Biking – Bikes are a cheap and safe option to move around Old San Juan, Condado, and Ocean Park.
- 🛴 Scooters – If bikes are too tiring, you can rent a scooter with the Skootel app.
Tips & Things to Know
- 💰 San Juan is expensive – San Juan isn’t a cheap destination, but you can get cheaper prices by traveling between May and June, or during the fall.
- 🌧️ There’s a hurricane season – The risk of storms and hurricane impacts is higher from late June to November, but the island isn’t always affected.
- 🏘️ Avoid caserios – Caserios are public housing buildings, and they aren’t safe for tourists, so you shouldn’t stay nor visit them.
- 🌊 Beaches can be dangerous – San Juan beaches are beautiful, but they can be dangerous with the wrong weather, so always watch out for riptides.
- 👨 Basic Spanish helps – Not everyone speaks English, so visitors should learn basic Spanish phrases that help them get along.
👉 Read more Puerto Rico travel tips.
🧳 What to Pack
- 🦟 Mosquito Repellent – Mosquitoes in Puerto Rico can transmit dengue and other diseases, so use repellent, especially on the beach.
- ☀️ Sunscreen – The weather is hot, and even when it’s cloudy you’ll get tanned, so you need to protect your skin.
- 🥾 Sneakers or Hiking Boots – Besides flip flops, you’ll need comfortable sneakers to discover different nature attractions like El Yunque.
- 👙 More than swimwear – You will need both swimwear and normal clothes, since locals don’t visit restaurants and shoppings with beach clothes.
- 💊 Medications – The air quality changes frequently, so people with asthma and respiratory problems should pack their medications.
👉 Read full Puerto Rico packing list.
🤓 Facts & Info
- Census Population (2020) – 355,181 (city), 973,230 (metro area)
- Time Zone – AST (UTC/GMT -4 hours all year) No daylight saving time.
- Area Codes – 787
- Airports – Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU)
- Nickname – La Ciudad Amurallada (The Walled City)
- Demonym – Sanjuaneros
- Territory – Puerto Rico
- Country – United States of America
💵 Costs & Budgeting
- 3 Star Hotel Room – $150-350/night
- 1 Bedroom Apartment Rental – $50-$300/night
- Rental Car – $40-$150/day
- Public Transit Ticket – ~$1.50 ($1.50 to airport from center)
- Ride Share from Downtown to Airport – $12-18 depending on different variables
- Take Out Meal for Two – $10-40
- Sit Down Dinner for Two – $30-$200
- Draft Beer – $3-10
FAQs About Visiting San Juan
Is San Juan safe for tourists?
San Juan is one of the safest cities in Puerto Rico. Visitors can walk around comfortably and most people understand English. As with every trip, travelers should take basic safety precautions and avoid wandering alone at night. Read our full guide to safety in San Juan for more information.
Is San Juan expensive?
San Juan can be more expensive than other cities in Puerto Rico for being the capital city, but visitors can save money by traveling off-season, eating where the locals eat and exploring the city on foot.
Does travel to Puerto Rico require a passport?
Visitors from the United States do not need a passport to visit Puerto Rico since the island is an unincorporated territory of the United States, but international travelers will need the same entry requirements they need to enter the USA.
What you should avoid in San Juan?
In San Juan, visitors should avoid walking out alone in dark places at night, swimming on the beach when the tide is high, leaving their belongings unattended, and visiting public housing buildings.
Can you use US dollars in Puerto Rico?
Puerto Rico uses the US dollar as currency. Visitors from the United States can bring their cash and international travelers can make the currency exchange at the airport. Travelers can also use their credit cards to pay at stores, restaurants, and for tours.
📰 Puerto Rico Travel Guides
If you’re planning a trip to Puerto Rico, check out all of my guides about Puerto Rico, with all my local’s insight so you don’t miss out on anything in this Caribbean paradise:
- 11 Best San Juan Excursions for 2022 (By a Local)
- 11 Best El Yunque Tours in 2022 (By a Local)
- 9 Best Places to Go Camping In Puerto Rico (By a Local)
- 17 Best Puerto Rico Tours & Excursions (By a Local)
- 9 Best Coffee Farms in Puerto Rico (By a Local)
- Puerto Rico Family Vacation (12 Local Tips + Where to Stay)
- 35 Best Things to Do in San Juan, PR (By a Local)
- Puerto Rican Fruit (13 Best to Try, By a Local)
- 21 Best Puerto Rican Drinks to Try (By a Local)
- Bioluminescent Bays in Puerto Rico (Ultimate Guide to All 3)
- Snorkeling in Puerto Rico (Local Guide + 13 Best Spots)
- 13 Things to Do in Puerto Rico for Couples (By a Local)
- La Fortaleza (A Local’s Guide to Visiting)
- 21 Best Puerto Rican Desserts to Try (By a Local)
- 13 Best Things to Do in Caguas in 2022
- 23 San Juan Landmarks & Historical Sites (A Local’s Picks)
- 13 Best Things to Do in Luquillo (in 2022)
- 13 Best Things to Do in Rio Grande (in 2022)
- Puerto Rico Road Trip (A Local’s Ultimate Itinerary)
- Puerto Rico Flag (History, Design, & Facts)
- 42 Facts About Puerto Rico (Things to Know, By a Local)
- 13 Best Puerto Rico Islands (Picked By a Local)
- Where to Stay in Aguadilla (Best Places & Areas for 2022)
- Is Puerto Rico Safe for Travel? (Honest Local Advice)
- Puerto Rico Honeymoon Planner (Tips & Advice By a Local)
- Vieques vs Culebra Compared (By a Puerto Rico Local)
- Where to Stay in Vieques (Best Places & Areas for 2022)
- 13 Best Waterfalls in Puerto Rico (Written by a Local)
- Where to Stay in San Juan, By an Area Local (2022)
- 11 Best Beaches in San Juan (By a Local)
- 13 Best Cities in Puerto Rico in 2022 (A Local’s Picks)
- 11 Best Museums in Puerto Rico in 2022 (By a Local)
- 16 Best Festivals in Puerto Rico (By a Local!)
- Where to Stay in Puerto Rico in 2022, by an Area Local
- Puerto Rico Weekend Itinerary (3 Epic Days, By a Local)
- 18 Best San Juan Restaurants (Where to Eat, By a Local)
- 17 Best Things to Do in Carolina (By a Puerto Rico Local)
- 11 Best Puerto Rico Mountains to Explore (By a Local)
- 9 Best Things to Do in Manatí (in 2022)
- San Juan to Rincon (3 Best Ways to Go, By a Local)
- 11 Best Towns in Puerto Rico to Visit in 2022 (By a Local)
- 21 Famous Landmarks in Puerto Rico (By a Local)
- 15 Best Things to Do in Isabela, PR (in 2022)
- 17 Best Things to Do in Bayamón (in 2022)
- San Juan to Fajardo (4 Best Ways to Go in 2022, By a Local)
- San Juan to Culebra (4 Best Ways to Go, By a Local)
- San Juan to Vieques (4 Best Ways to Go, By a Local)
- Do You Need a Passport to Go to Puerto Rico? (Quick Answers)
- 15 Best Things to Do in Cabo Rojo, PR (in 2022)
- 11 Best Caves in Puerto Rico for 2022 (By a Local)
- 15 Best Things to Do in Aguada (in 2022)
- 11 Best Culebra Beaches in 2022 (By a Puerto Rico Local)
- 15 Best Things to Do in Guanica (in 2022)
- Is San Juan Safe for Travel? (Honest Local Advice for 2022)
- 9 Best Rincon Beaches in 2022 (By a Puerto Rico Local)
- Is Vieques Safe? (Honest Advice for Safety in 2022)
- 15 Best Vieques Beaches in 2022 (By a Puerto Rico Local)
- 11 Best Fajardo Beaches in 2022 (By a Puerto Rico Local)
- 15 Best Things to Do in Utuado
- El Yunque National Forest (A Local’s Guide to Visiting)
- Puerto Rican Food (A Local’s Guide to 47 Best Dishes to Try)
- Hurricane Season in Puerto Rico (What to Know, By a Local)
- Castillo San Felipe del Morro (A Local’s Guide & History)
- 15 Best Hikes in Puerto Rico (By a Local)
- Where to Stay in Rincon (Best Places & Areas for 2022)
- Renting a Car in Puerto Rico (A Local’s “How to” Guide)
- How to Get Around Puerto Rico (13 Best Ways, By A Local)
- Puerto Rico Packing List (19 Things People Forget to Bring)
- 27 Best Things to Do in Vieques (in 2022)
- 19 Best Things to Do in Ponce, PR (Fun Activity Ideas)
- 17 Best Things to Do in Fajardo (Fun Activities & Sites)
- 19 Best Things to Do in Rincon (Fun Activities & Top Sites)
- 15 Best Things to Do in Aguadilla (Fun & Unique Activities)
- 7 Day Puerto Rico Itinerary (Pre-Planned By a Local)
- Puerto Rico on a Budget | How to Stay, Eat, and Travel Cheaply
- 23 Puerto Rico Travel Tips from a Local (for 2022)
- Driving in Puerto Rico (A Local’s Guide, for First Timers)
- The Best Time to Visit Puerto Rico (By a Local)
- 24 Best Puerto Rico Beaches for 2022 (By a Local!)
- 39 Places to Visit in Puerto Rico in 2022 (By a Local)
- 64 Best Things to Do in Puerto Rico (By a Local)
- 15 Day Trips from San Juan for 2022 (By a Local!)
Meet Our San Juan Travel Expert
Vanessa Ramos is a travel and lifestyle writer from Puerto Rico. Vanessa has traveled for international work exchange, backpacking, and solo traveling around three continents. When she’s not writing about the best things to do, places to visit, or where to stay on the island of Puerto Rico, she’s hunting airplane tickets for her next trip abroad. Vanessa also writes her own lifestyle blog, Existence as I Know It.
👉 Read Vanessa’s Articles
🗺️ San Juan Map
18 Top Things to Do in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico – Sand In My Suitcase
Colorful! If there’s one word that captures the essence of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, that’s it.
The city is full of color.
Colorful buildings. Colorful food. Colorful people.
But wait, there’s more. This Caribbean capital of Puerto Rico is dripping with history and culture.
There are more than enough things to do in Old San Juan to keep you busy for an entire week!
If you’re a cruise visitor, though, and only have a day, don’t worry – you can cover most of the top sights in the time you have in port.
Old San Juan is so colorful!
Things to do in Old San Juan
We’ve visited many Caribbean islands on various cruises and vacationed on several islands too – from swanky St. Barts and Barbados to the dual nation island of St. Martin and St. Maarten.
Old San Juan was an eye-opener for us.
It’s pretty well recovered from the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
The city is full of life and bustling just like normal. We had to look hard to spy remaining evidence of hurricane damage.
There are lots of lovely places to see in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
In-the-know tourists are enjoying Old San Juan’s comeback.
And if you’re visiting on a cruise, we promise you the city will turn out to be one of your favorite ports-of-call.
Colorful buildings in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Best things to do in Old San Juan
About Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
18 Top things to do and places to visit in Old San Juan
Map of Old San Juan
Where to stay in Old San Juan
About Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Wonder where these stairs lead?
Founded by Spanish colonists back in 1521, San Juan is the oldest city under U. S. sovereignity and the second oldest European-established capital in the Americas.
The old fortified city (partially encircled by an ancient wall) – Old San Juan – is quite compact, comprising some seven square blocks.
You can easily see everything in a day.
Another colorful building in Old San Juan
What’s particularly convenient for cruise passengers is that the Old San Juan cruise port is right in Old San Juan.
Simply walk off your ship, and the old city and its historic landmarks are right there for you to explore, just a short walk away.
Do you love exploring walled cities? Then you’ll get high walking the Dubrovnik city walls in Croatia!
What to do in Old San Juan
Ready now to visit Old San Juan?
1) Explore the colorful streets of Old San Juan
One of the best things to do in Old San Juan is simple.
Just walk – and gawk.
The cobblestoned streets, lined by colonial churches and historic buildings, are made for walking.
Look up! We love the wrought iron balconies on the buildings
In the Old Town, there are some 400+ restored Spanish colonial-style buildings, all dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries.
Plaza de Armas, with the city hall on the north side, is the main square in Old San Juan.
Delight in the ornate wrought iron balconies, the profusion of flowers and the lemon, pink, peach, baby blue, mint green and other splashes of color the buildings sport.
Nuns stroll down the street
We joined a guided walking tour (maximum of 12). It was excellent and helped orient us and fill us in on the years of history that have shaped the old town.
If you’d like to try some of Puerto Rico’s food at the same time, here’s a highly-rated culture-and-cuisine walking tour.
But with a map (or even without one), you can get around on your own.
Another colorful scene
2) Stroll along Fortaleza Street
As you walk around the historic district, you’ll come across Fortaleza Street – one of the prettiest streets in Old San Juan.
And you never know what art you might see overhead!
We saw pink, purple and blue umbrellas floating above the street.
The art installation, known as the Umbrella Sky Project, was intended to bring color back into the lives of the people after the hurricane.
Umbrella art on colorful Fortaleza Street
Now the umbrellas have been replaced by pink kites.
But the umbrellas were apparently more popular with locals, so who knows, maybe they’ll come back!
3) Take a peek at the governor’s house (La Fortaleza)
Dating back to the 16th century, La Fortaleza is the governor’s mansion in Old San Juan
At the end of Fortaleza Street, you reach the governor’s mansion known as La Fortaleza (or Palacio de Santa Catalina).
Originally built in the 16th century as part of a huge fortress structure to defend the island, it was remodeled in 1846 and turned into the official residence for the sitting governors.
The frothy blue-and-white confection, with its tiled roof and lots of wrought iron curlicues, has housed every Puerto Rican governor since then.
Guided walking tours (30 minutes) are offered Monday through Friday.
You see the gardens and can get a short peek inside when the government isn’t in session.
4) Admire the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan
A blue cobblestone street
As well as looking up, you must look down – at the cobblestones on the streets themselves.
Do you notice that they’re blue?
Called adoquines, these cobblestones were the blocks of ballast (made from the waste of iron smelting) placed in the early ships that sailed over from Spain.
When the ships reached San Juan, the ballast was dumped and replaced with gold, which was taken back to Spain.
And the streets of Old San Juan were paved with the ballast.
5) Sip a pina colada
Yes, pina coladas originated in San Juan!
Did you know that San Juan is the birthplace of pina coladas?
Back in 1954, a bartender working at the Caribe Hilton blended a mix of rum, coconut cream and pineapple juice – and the refreshing frothy pina colada was created.
Today, the pina colada is the official cocktail of Puerto Rico.
You can sashay over to the iconic Caribe Hilton, located between Old San Juan and the oceanfront Condado beach area to try the drink there.
But many bars in Old San Juan also serve pina coladas.
Hey, interested in making pineapple cocktails at home? See these 15 margarita recipes, including a pineapple jalapeno margarita (#5) and frozen pineapple margarita cocktail (#13)
6) View the sculpture at Rogativa Plaza
Plazuela de la Rogativa (Rogativa Plaza) is a small corner of the city near the San Juan Gate. In the plaza, a large weathered bronze sculpture overlooks the Bay of San Juan.
The sculpture shows several women, led by a priest, holding torches up high in their hands.
The story goes that in 1797, the British were planning to invade San Juan.
However, they abandoned their attack when they thought a religious procession of women walking through the streets were actually reinforcements of soldiers who’d arrived to help defend the city.
7) Pop into the historic San Juan Cathedral
Cathedral of San Juan Bautista in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
The oldest cathedral in the United States is actually on Puerto Rican soil – in Old San Juan.
Originally built from wood in 1521, then refashioned over the years, the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista (Cathedral-Basilica of Saint John the Baptist) is where the Spanish explorer and former governor Juan Ponce de Leon is buried.
The cathedral is free to visit, so you can walk inside and admire the vaulted ceiling and beautiful stained glass windows.
8) Browse the shops in Old San Juan
Old San Juan has some lovely independent boutique shops.
Jewelry, souvenirs, clothing, arts and crafts. You name it. You’ll find it.
Needless to say, one of the top things to do in Old San Juan is to browse the many interesting stores.
Keep an eye out for a good guayabera, the traditional Cuban linen shirt for men with four pockets.
We poked our heads into several shops. But without room in our suitcases (we packed light), we resisted the urge to buy, deciding to collect only memories of this trip.
9) Visit Castillo de San Cristobal
The Castillo de San Cristobal was built between 1765 and 1785
You may have heard of the military fort, El Morro (see #12 below) – probably the most famous attraction in Old San Juan.
But there are actually two impressive forts you should see.
Visiting the impressive Castillo de San Cristobal is one of the best things to do in Old San Juan
Saint Christropher’s Castle (Castillo de San Cristobal or Castillo San Cristobal) is the other younger fort.
It was built between 1765 and 1785 to protect the city from a land invasion.
A peek inside
Castillo San Cristobal – together with El Morro, La Fortaleza (#3 above) and a large part of the old city walls – is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The castle fortress is operated today by the U.S. National Park Service. (Castillo San Cristobal, El Morro, most of the city walls, the San Juan Gate and Fort San Juan de la Cruz across the bay are together known as the San Juan National Historic Site. )
There’s a small entrance fee – $10 USD gets you into both this fort and El Morro.
An old wooden cart in the Castillo de San Cristobal
Walk the parapets, take in the beautiful views of Old San Juan below, hold a bayonet in the soldier’s barracks and squeeze through dark tunnels burrowing below the fort.
One tunnel leads to a dungeon.
There are incredible views from the Castillo de San Cristobal!
Oh, and can you see your cruise ship in the distance?
The cruise ship, Viking Sea, docked in Old San Juan
10) Eat at a food truck
The food in Puerto Rico is a real treat.
The local food trucks, especially, serve up some tasty traditional dishes that are fun to try.
You must try tostones!
Check out the different food trucks that line the waterfront off Plaza Darsena (near the cruise ship dock). Food trucks and street food vendors are often found on Paseo de la Princesa too (see #14).
You can pick up pinchos (kebabs), alcapurrillas (plantain fritters stuffed with ground meat), empanadas, tostones (deep fried plantain slices) and the like.
Quench your thirst too with some great fresh lemonade.
When your stomach is growling, but you don’t feel like a proper sit-down meal at a restaurant, Puerto Rican street food is the perfect answer.
11) Walk the Paseo del Morro
The Paseo del Morro is a seaside promenade around the old city walls
Designated a National Historic Site in 2001, this scenic seaside path leading to El Morro (see #12) is part of Old San Juan’s larger UNESCO site.
From the San Juan Gate, the flat walkway skirts the city walls.
To the right, you look up at the soaring stone walls – imagine the enormity of the task to build such mammoth fortifications centuries ago!
To the left, you have gorgeous views of the San Juan Bay and the blue sea.
The trail is about ¾ mile from the San Juan Gate to the end of the Paseo del Morro, where it currently dead-ends, so from there, you must turn around and walk back. (Good thing the views always look different on a return walk.)
We walked this path late in the afternoon when the sun wasn’t as strong and the heat of the day had waned. With the sea breeze, it was a very enjoyable walk.
But as there’s no shade, if you do this walk any time other than early morning or late afternoon, know it will be hot – so wear a hat and bring water.
12) Wander about El Morro
El Morro fortress
Perched on the northwestern tip of Old San Juan, the Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) was constructed to protect the city against attacks from the sea.
It’s the older of the city’s two forts – dating back to 1539.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Divided into six levels, the imposing citadel includes dungeons, storerooms, barracks, ramps and towers.
To reach the fort, you walk along a path that crosses a giant lawn in front of the fort.
Like Castillo San Cristobal, there’s an entrance fee of $10 USD (the ticket allows you to visit both El Morro and Castillo San Cristobal).
Of all the things to see in Old San Juan, these two forts are quite fascinating, especially if you’re interested in military history (and even if you’re not).
13) Photograph the kitties
There are lots of wild cats outside El Morro
One curious thing we noticed on the Paseo del Morro was all the wild stray kitties.
It’s cat heaven there!
We read that the fur balls are lovingly looked after by a non-government cat rescue group (which helps to neuter and feed them).
Volunteers leave lots of kibble piles for the kitties to eat, and there are plenty of rocks for the felines to shelter under or sunbathe on.
But, we discovered, the kitties don’t like to be petted. They’re feral. Fair warning!
14) Enjoy the Paseo de la Princesa
A very pleasant walk can be had on the Paseo de la Princesa.
The tree-lined promenade is sprinkled with fountains and sculptures, and you usually find street vendors and food-trucks.
If you’re visiting Old San Juan on a cruise and looking for some exercise, make your way from the cruise ship dock to the Paseo de la Princesa, which then turns into the Paseo del Morro (# 11).
You can go for a great run or walk along this combined path.
Mofongo is one of the tastiest Puerto Rican dishes!
You can’t go to Puerto Rico and not try mofongo.
This popular savory dish – one of Puerto Rico’s most-loved dishes – consists of green plantains, mashed with garlic and crispy pork rind.
The mixture is then formed into balls and fried. It’s often topped with (or accompanied by) pork, beef, chicken or seafood.
Some of the best mofongo in Old San Juan can be had at El Jibarito (known for its local Puerto Rican fare) and Café Manolin (a simple cafeteria-style Old San Juan institution).
Cobblestone street in Old San Juan with outdoor cafes
16) Listen to live music
Fancy a free sunset concert?
One of the most delightful things to do in Old San Juan at night is to listen to some live music outside.
On Sunday evenings, locals and visitors alike gather at Plaza Darsena between 5:30 and 8:00 pm to listen to local bands playing a mix of traditional and modern music.
And if you get into the groove, don’t be shy. Shake those hips and join the locals dancing in the plaza.
17) Soak up the sun at Isla Verde
One of the most beautiful beaches in Puerto Rico is at Isla Verde
True, Isla Verde isn’t located in the heart of Old San Juan. But it’s pretty close (about 7 miles away). You can get there by taxi in less than 15 minutes.
We’re telling you about Isla Verde because it would be a shame to miss this beautiful stretch of beach. After all, you are on a Caribbean island!
Isla Verde (Green Island) is a resort strip, lined by hotels, all fronting one of the best beaches in San Juan (indeed all of Puerto Rico).
The water is usually calm, so it’s perfect for swimming.
Trees provide lots of shade, and plenty of restaurants and bars welcome you for a bite to eat or a drink. You can rent beach chairs and an umbrella to enjoy a beach day.
18) Hike and swim in El Yunque
Visiting El Yunque rainforest is a great day trip from San Juan
No list of things to do in Old San Juan isn’t complete without at least mentioning El Yunque rainforest.
The only rainforest in the U.S. National Forest Service system, El Yunque is about 45 minutes to an hour away from San Juan (depending on traffic).
Comprising some 29,000 acres, the lush forest is home to 240 tree species, waterfalls, rivers and freshwater pools.
As for wildlife, you may spot lizards, the scarlet-crowned Puerto Rican parrot and singing coqui frogs.
Several hiking trails lead to waterfalls and natural rock pools, where you can cool off with a swim.
Climbing the Yokahu Observation Tower is also popular.
Evocative of a Scottish castle, the tower is perched at an elevation of 1,575 feet and offers expansive views of the surrounding green hills and blue ocean in the distance.
You get great views from the Yokahu Observation Tower in El Yunque National Forest
To get to El Yunque, it’s possible to take an Uber from Old San Juan.
But finding a return Uber can be difficult because cell service isn’t the best in the park.
If you don’t have a rental car, your best bet is to take an all-day guided tour.
This adventurous full-day El Yunque tour (under $100 USD p.p.) includes hiking to watering holes and rocky waterslides, rope swinging and a stop for a late local lunch.
Or you might like this hiking, swimming and kayaking tour from San Juan (which combines El Yunque and Laguna Grande Bio Bay).
Map of Old San Juan
Here’s a good map of Old San Juan that you can print off as a PDF from your computer (courtesy Moon Travel Guides).
See also this interactive Google map. Zoom in or out for various Old San Juan attractions.
Where to stay in San Juan?
The following are our picks for the two best luxury hotels in San Juan if you’re staying overnight in the city.
(And if you’re wondering whether you should tack on a few days in the city before or after a Caribbean cruise, wonder no more – just do it!)
Hotel El Convento guest room
El Convento is a 350-year-old Carmelite convent that’s been turned into a lovely boutique hotel.
Smack-dab in the old city, it’s perfect if staying for just one night before or after a cruise.
El Convento: Check rates and availability
Condado Vanderbilt terrace
For two or more nights, we’d probably prefer to stay in a hotel by the sea, with a larger pool too.
Originally built in 1919, the uber-luxurious Condado Vanderbilt is now open again and shining like new after its post-hurricane restoration. It looks gorgeous!
Condado Vanderbilt: Check rates and availability
More Puerto Rico travel information
See the official Puerto Rico tourism website.
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Photo credits: 3 to 5, 7 to 11, 15, 18, 19, 26 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | Hotel photos courtesy of the two respective Old San Juan hotels
About the authors:
Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.
Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!
The most powerful fortress of both Americas (San Juan, Puerto Rico): puerrtto — LiveJournal
Do you know the name of the oldest city in the USA, if, of course, in the States, in principle, something can be called «old»? San Juan, capital of Puerto Rico. And do you know where the largest fortress of both Americas is located? That’s right, also in San Juan. By the way, the second largest fortress is in Havana (Cuba). A large and beautiful tropical island with a rich history in the heart of the Caribbean, and it is not exactly the United States, namely that it is a dependent territory under the control of the United States. Everyone here speaks Spanish, and most of the population knows English even worse than schoolchildren in the city of Sredneuralsk, Sverdlovsk Region. Still from here come such pop stars as: Ricky Martin, Via Con Dios, Jennifer Lopez; many Hollywood artists, such as Beniso Del Torro, or Joaquin Phoenix. In a word, Puerto Rico is a place worthy of a trip, it is even surprising that a few travelers of our blogosphere have marked this wonderful island.
Generally speaking, I was supposed to arrive in Puerto Rico a day earlier, but I got so carried away by Haiti that I decided to postpone the flight by a day. In addition, instead of flying from Punta Cana (Dominican Republic), I changed it to a flight from Santiago. Surprisingly, it only cost $38. I thought that I would spend the whole day (400 km) on a trip to Punta Cana, and besides, there was nothing to do there — solid hotels and beaches. And the sea at my house is a five-minute walk; I did not come to these parts across the sea. And then the day of departure arrived. I rushed to the Santiago airport about an hour before departure, somehow very quickly went through all the checks, passport control and soon took a seat on the plane —
Mir to you, Dominkana —
minutes after 20 flights Dominican Republic is left behind —
Some islands —
Slide to Puerto Rico 35 minutes, nothing at all! As soon as we fastened our seat belts, we are already starting to descend —
Puerto Rico is already visible below —
We are starting to descend for landing at the San Juan airport. You know what’s amazing? I did not expect that there are also whole huge slum areas here, as if we are not in the USA, but somewhere in Brazil, or Peru —
One -story America with a Latin aftertaste —
San Juan —
We sit down —
Then a quick passport control, then a minibus directly to the hotel in the Old Town. Do you know what’s funny? Buses run from the airport, but there is no direct bus to the city center. You have to go with a transfer, and the buses run about once every 40 minutes. The fare on them costs a dollar, for two buses — two. Well, in total, you lose an hour and a half for a ride with transfers. At the same time, for $ 8 you can take a seat in a minibus that will take you directly to the hotel. I did just that and 25 minutes after leaving the airport I was already in my hotel room. Dropped things, took a shower and let’s explore the walled city!
Fortress of San Juan is located on an island, the choice of location is obvious, the fortress is absolutely impregnable —
So, about the fortress of San Juan. Its construction began in 1508, 15 years after Christopher Columbus discovered this island during his second trip to America. Of course, these powerful walls that we see today were erected and strengthened much later, in the 17-18 centuries, when the struggle between the colonial powers for the Caribbean became especially aggravated. Incidentally, at 159In the year 5, San Juan was stormed by the famous English pirate Francis Drake, and the hero of the novel by Rafael Sabatini, Captain Blood, also visited here. Remember this? The Spaniards held the island and the city until 1898, when the markedly increased power of the United States forced the Spaniards to surrender their positions in the region. In addition to Puerto Rico, the Americans chopped off Cuba, many Caribbean islands and even the distant Philippines from the Spaniards. Twenty years later, in 1917, the US government decided to give citizenship to all the inhabitants of the colony, and to remake the status of the colony itself into a controlled territory.
It is noteworthy that Puerto Rico until 1965 actively defended the right to independence and self-determination, not wanting to be part of the United States. Moreover, there were even partisan detachments that in the 60s attacked American troops on the island and mined the roads. True, now the passions have subsided. A recent referendum showed that 60% of Puerto Ricans want to become the 51st US state at all.
And it is a chic and monumental fortress —
The fortress walls encircle the old city and stretch for almost 7 kilometers, plus 4 powerful citizens, plus the walls are several levels of protection. The coolest place for any connoisseur of castles and fortresses —
The poor area begins immediately under the walls. It’s a paradox, because there are elegant colonial houses, reputable boutiques, hotels, restaurants 200 meters away. Three minutes walk to the side and you will be easily robbed at night —
Imagine, this is the United States —
You can go around the fortress along the walls for two hours, but it is much more interesting to move slowly, rising to bastions —
once here There were guns —
Probably the burning question is where to stay cheap in San Juan and what to eat without taking out a stash. Personally, I stayed at the hostel «Fortaleza San Juan» (if you need it, you can find it on Google), this is in the very center of the Old Town. Own room without neighbors, but with facilities on the floor costs $34 per day. The hostel has a kitchen and a fridge so you can cook. There is a decent-sized supermarket 500 meters from the hostel, where prices are quite affordable, there are ready-made food sets (chicken + rice + salad, pork + rice + salad), or fruit cuts. Well, and everything else that you expect to find in a supermarket.
The summary is this: if you like castles and fortresses, then this is a must for you! Puerto Rico, I liked it here and I will definitely come back!
p.s and I also have nothing to please those who were interested in what kind of entry seal they put in Puerto Rico. The seal is ordinary US, nothing original —
But tomorrow and the day after tomorrow I promise more interesting collectible seals: from St. Martin (French-Netherlands) and Anguilla (British protectorate). Well, Belize next week. Mexico and Canada do not differ in originality, I don’t even mention them.
Other articles from the trip to the Americas:
call them handsome, but you can’t refuse charm (Peru)
3. Open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue: you are waiting for a tasting of salt from the “Sacred Valley of the Incas” (Peru)
4. Beautiful Cusco and a great way to avoid robbery (Peru)
5 For the first time in my life I experienced, albeit mild, symptoms of altitude sickness: Cusco, 3450m above sea level (Peru)
6. It turns out that American civilian planes are quietly flying over Cuba? What about the boycott?
7. How does the average American middle class live? (USA)
8. Washington Central Station — Union Station (USA)
9. By car around Cusco: Indian villages and mighty mountains (Peru)
10. Quito — the pearl of South America (Ecuador)
11. On the roof of the Cathedral of Quito (Ecuador)
12. How to conquer the Pichincha volcano (5000 meters) without any effort? (Ecuador)
13. Exhibition of rare cars in the former international airport of Quito (Ecuador)
14. A day in damn dangerous but beautiful Lima on the way from Cusco to Ecuador (Peru)
15. Gloomy catacombs with the bones of 70 thousand citizens (Peru)
16. The lost world of the Amazon at the junction of the borders of Colombia, Brazil and Peru. Part one — the border
17. How to travel around Latin America and not be brutally robbed? Practical advice
18. Life on the Amazon, or on a pie between three countries (Colombia, Brazil, Peru)
19. Why Colombians live behind fences and pay $200 for security (Colombia)
20. The Dominican Republic you didn’t know: the hard border with Haiti as a place not for the faint of heart (Haiti)
21. The Dominican Republic you didn’t know : fortress, tanks, colonial architecture and… I’m going to Haiti
22. First day in Haiti: old Cap Haitien, wonderful simple Haitians and fucking Haitian cops
23. On a romantic gondola through Haitian Venice (Haiti)
24. Rape the girl is bad, it is necessary to seduce her with a drink! Funny PSA in Haiti
25. The most powerful fortress of both Americas (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
What will happen next on the journey:
Thanks to the guys from momondo.ru for help in organizing the trip, without whom I would not only not have visited Haiti, but would hardly have been in the Caribbean at the moment.
San Juan, Puerto Rico — Frankazoid’s Travel
Puerto Rico was discovered by Columbus in 1493, but it was not until 1508 that a governor was appointed there — Juan Ponce de León, who in 1521 founded the city and named it its Rich Port (City of Puerto Rico). The location of the city turned out to be strategically important for the Spaniards, since it was the “port of entry” to all the Caribbean and they approached the organization of defense very carefully.
Circumstances were such that I went to Puerto Rico (PR) alone. And even at the planning stage, the idea arose to make this trip relatively budget-friendly (no, it didn’t work out, of course, but I tried). Therefore, at the airport, I stubbornly waited for the bus, brushing off the annoying flies of taxi drivers and courageously ignoring the heat. To be honest, after the first 40 minutes I was ready to give up, but there was another person hanging out with me at the bus stop, so I decided that the bus would come someday. It happened about an hour and a quarter later. The driver was very understanding (also speaking English) and did not drop me off, despite the fact that I did not have change to pay (and they only accept American coins, 75c), and even took me to the transfer point for another bus, telling in detail what I need and how much to ride on it, as well as advising me to exchange small things.
I already had the address of the hostel in San Juan on my navigator for $16 per night in the dorm, so when I got as close as possible to the point, I got off the bus and walked 5 minutes. I liked the hostel, the workers, of course, relaxed, but very friendly, told all the interesting things, but a tiny room the size of my bathroom, containing both a shower with a toilet and 4 beds, was quite suitable for sleeping in it.
From non-budgetary — immediately order a tour to the luminous beach (Luminescent Bay), supposedly one of the wonders of the world, which can be seen in only 5 places on the planet, and, of course, Puerto Rico is one of such places. I ordered it on the first day because of the new moon, because the brighter the Moon, the more nothing is visible on this beach.
At the appointed time, a black Lincoln drove up to the hostel, appropriate in the area, like a Bentley in the village of Mamonovo, Kirov Region (if there is one). I was sure that this was an accident, but I was politely greeted and offered to sit down 🙂 After 45 minutes, we arrived at the port city of Fajardo, from where our boat departed. Well, that’s what I thought.
A bunch of kayaks hinted at a completely different perspective, but I was generally not against physical exercise, besides, the group (with the exception of two pairs of girls) steered the kayaks tolerably well, and these two exceptions were sent to the back of the column and shoved with oars so as not to crash into the shore and other boats.
A line of kayaks stretched along a narrow channel towards the Laguna Grande, focusing on the light of the kayak in front and the shouts of the guides — it was already dark outside. Periodically bumping with oars and heads on low-growing trees for half an hour, we sailed along a winding river, until we finally got out into the Laguna — a large lake. Here, on the advice of the guides, they sprinkled water on their kayaks — it really sparkles. If you muddle the water well with an oar, it glows, but we couldn’t capture it — we didn’t get out on the shore, you can’t put a tripod on a kayak, and a shutter speed of 5-10 seconds with your hands does not imply a clear picture at the exit. The guides put forward two theories of the glow of water — a nuclear power plant nearby and some microorganisms. It was easier to believe in the first version 🙂
In general, the charm of this attraction is somewhat exaggerated, but some fun and exercise are present. I saw reviews about a hundred kayaks colliding with each other, but this is in season, and also about the option with an electric motor boat (such a sailed past us) — but it’s completely boring and more expensive.
For the next two days, the plan was simple — to walk around Old San Juan, which was highly praised by everyone on triadvisor. The town is really pretty, which I will tell you now.
The main attractions are the two fortresses that once made up the defense complex of the city — Fort San Felipe del Morro (FSFM) and Fort San Cristobal (FSK).
I woke up early out of habit, so I saved money on the bus and walked 5 kilometers to the FSFM, although by the end of the walk (8:30) it was already very hot.
I was not walking along the main street, but along the backyards (but along the embankment), so I saw some things from the inside out. For example, the building of the National Guard.
And the capitol with an incomprehensible monument on the shore and coats of arms of noble Puerto Ricans.
The police here, judging by the sign, are combined with a taxi. Convenient 🙂
But they also have the coolest bikes and motorcycles!
Directly next to the FSFM there is a cemetery, I don’t know for what reasons it was made right on the shore of the raging ocean, but it seems that there are no serious damages.
I liked the fort itself — around every corner there is a passage to another level or some hidden rooms.
Wall thickness 3 meters.
There is a pedestrian embankment below, but you can’t go down to it from the castle — you need to return to the city and look for a way out there. Somewhat unexpected.
On the way, I looked into the port, once again I was amazed at the size of cruise ships — more than a house.
Well, of course, I saw a bit of the city. By the way, not far from the port there is a cafe where they sell frozen yogurt — a crazy tasty thing and very suitable for the local climate.
on the other side of the Capitol, there are a mass of monuments — police, and firefighters, and dead in the catastrophe, and simply presidents.
These are small tugboats carrying hefty barges with cars and cargo.