San Juan. Puerto Rico’s capital city and only major metropolitan area, with well over half of the population of the island. It is Caribbean, Latin, American, and more, all rolled into one amazing city.
In this guide, we will explore what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to experience this incredible destination, so whether you have a single day as part of a cruise or a couple of weeks, you will have a basis for just how to make the most of your time in San Juan. Make sure to click the links throughout the guide for more detailed information.
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Being on an island, the only ways to get to San Juan are via ship or plane. Small cruise ships dock right in Old San Juan, while larger ones are a bit further out.
Luis Munoz International Airport is just east of the city. The airport is easy to navigate, and mid-sized, with some nice shopping, including duty free even on domestic flights back to the mainland US. Get some rum. An Uber from here to Old San Juan is $20 give or take.
Public transportation in San Juan is not the best. There is a single light rail line, one that really doesn’t benefit tourists. Buses run fairly infrequently. Your best bet is either to Uber or to walk. From Condado (most top hotels) to Old San Juan is about a two mile walk or a $10 Uber.
If you plan on seeing other parts of the island (click here to read about some other great spots to see), you’ll need a rental car or to go as part of a tour.
What to Do
Let’s start with Old San Juan. This is the highlight of the city. An old colonial fortified city, Old San Juan is headlined by two massive fortresses, an incredible cathedral, cool museums, and a beautiful waterfront on two sides. If you have only a single day in the city – or even two days – spend it/them here. Click here to read my guide on Old San Juan.
If you’re going to be on a tropical Caribbean island, you’ll want to visit the beach. While the best beaches in Puerto Rico are outside San Juan, there are some lovely beaches right here in the city. Condado Beach is the most popular with tourists due to its proximity to hotels and shopping, but my favorite is Ocean Park Beach, just east of Condado. Here you’ll mostly be with locals on wide sands with beautiful waters. Watch the kite surfers and racket ball players and enjoy. It is important to note here that rip tides can be very severe in Puerto Rico. Please exercise extreme caution when swimming, especially in winter months.
San Juan is more than just beaches and the old city. Take a day and explore some of modern San Juan. You can click here for my introduction to a few of the neighborhoods I was able to experience.
If you have an extra day or two, get out of the city. The most popular day trips are to El Yunque rainforest or to Fajardo to go kayaking on a bioluminescent bay. I tried the latter and wrote about it here.
Where to Stay
There are hotels in Old San Juan, but most American brands are in Condado or by the airport. To be part of history, stay at the Caribe Hilton, where the pina colada was said to have been invented.
For my money, though, an Airbnb in Ocean Park or Santurce is a better option. I stayed in Ocean Park, half a block off of Calle Loiza with its shops and restaurants, and two blocks from the beach. It was a terrific way to immerse into local life and culture.
What to Eat
The food here is great. Click here to read my full guide to my favorite bites and sips in San Juan.
Other Useful Information
Puerto Rico is part of the US. Those here are US citizens. It is a domestic flight from the mainland. The dollar is the currency. That said, Spanish is the language spoken, and while English is usable in most places, it won’t be spoken everywhere. Learning a few basic Spanish phrases will help you immensely.
Politics here are complicated. There is a statehood movement and an independence movement, and while tourists are very welcome, an influx of mainland Americans for tax benefits has caused some negative feelings among the locals. Click here to read my introduction to the political situation on the island.
A tropical island, it is warm and humid here all year. For the best weather, visit in winter in the northern hemisphere. Fall can bring hurricanes. Expect sudden rain showers at any point, although they aren’t necessarily unpleasant.
Alcohol can be carried on the street here, and marijuana is commonplace. However, I saw relatively few cigarette smokers, which was nice.
San Juan, Puerto Rico is a wonderful place, one I feel lucky to have explored for a couple weeks. I hope this guide helps you to plan your perfect trip here!
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