There are so many amazing things to do in San Juan Puerto Rico. Whether you want to enjoy all of the best restaurants, sample more traditional Puerto Rican foods, sit by the beach, or understand the history, there’s a plethora of things worth your time in Puerto Rico’s capital city.
If you’re planning a trip around the whole island, I recommend checking out my full Puerto Rico itinerary article so you don’t miss any off-the-beaten-path spots during your trip.
Where to Stay in San Juan
There are so many options when it comes to hotels and Airbnbs in San Juan. I spent my first night in San Juan at La Concha Resort.
La Concha Resort is a beautiful and huge resort with seriously plush beds, views of either the ocean or the pool, an adult-only pool, a kids pool, and plenty of bars to choose from. It’s also attached to a casino which can make for some fun (or not so fun) evenings. It also has it’s only private beach access and the ocean views from the rooms are stunning.
Alternatively, you can book an Airbnb, like I did for my last few nights in Puerto Rico. I stayed in the gated community of Ocean Park and it was exactly what I was hoping for. My Airbnb was one block from the beach, two blocks to loads of cafes and restaurants, and right in between Old San Juan and the airport so no more than an $8 Uber in either direction.
That was a one bedroom place, so perfect for couples or a solo traveler like I was at this point in my trip. It had a full kitchen and nice strong air conditioning. It cost less than $70 per night and was super easy to check into and out of thanks to a key lock-box. You can read more about that Airbnb here.
Getting Around San Juan Puerto Rico
The easiest, safest, and in my experience, the cheapest way to get around in San Juan is to use Uber. I had excellent experiences with Uber in Puerto Rico and I used it a lot while I was in San Juan.
One thing to note is that you cannot get an Uber from the airport into San Juan (or anywhere else). The taxis have a stronghold on that and you need to get in line when you come out of arrivals and pay the flat rate to wherever you want to go. A taxi from the airport into the hotel zone costs $21 (as of April 2019).
Thankfully, you can take an Uber TO the airport, which from the same location costs about $10-12 USD. From Ocean Park where I was staying, it only cost me $6.50.
Things to Do in San Juan Puerto Rico
Castillo San Felipe Del Morro
This is perhaps my favorite thing to do in San Juan. When you first turn the corner you see the fort at the edge of what has been turned into a huge city park and behind it all is the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. It one of the best views in San Juan in my opinion and you haven’t even entered the fort yet.
The entrance to Castillo San Felipe Del Morro is $7 (as of April 2019). This price includes both this castle as well as Castillo San Cristobal. Make sure you keep your ticket so that later on in the day you can visit the other for the same price.
Once you’re inside, you can explore every level of the fort that was built by the Spanish to protect not only the island, but what they felt was the entrance to the Caribbean. This was one of the most important areas that they needed to protect in order to really protect all of their conquests in Latin America. Later, the US used this fort during WWII. So there’s a lot of history here to learn about.
Castillo San Cristobal
This fort was actually busier than El Morro when I visited, although that could be because of the time of day. I visited El Morro in the morning and headed to San Cristobal in the afternoon after touring around Old San Juan. This fort was also built by the Spanish during their occupation and colonization of the island, but was used for different purposes over the course of their time in Puerto Rico.
I would say if you only have time to visit one of the two forts, El Morro should be your top priority. It’s slightly larger, has tons of different rooms and great informational plaques all over the place, and the view from there is truly breathtaking. While San Cristobal is certainly worth a visit and has a ton of history of its own, I preferred El Morro.
Viejo San Juan / Old San Juan
Old San Juan is an entire neighborhood with so much to see. I spent basically an entire day exploring all of the different side streets, taking photos of the colorful buildings, and reading tiny plaques all about the different historical areas of the city.
If you are spending the majority of your trip to Puerto Rico in San Juan, then you’ll no doubt find yourself in this neighborhood several times. However, if you are exploring more of the island, I highly recommend spending at least half a day simply wandering the streets and checking out some of the sites I list below while you’re there (and don’t forget to have ice cream at Señor Paleta!)
This is the street where you’ll find all of the umbrellas overhead. It’s a fun little place to take some photos and to also get some much-needed shade on those hot and humid afternoons. The buildings that line Fortaleza Street are incredibly colorful and those bright umbrellas are a fun addition to the neighborhood.
Around here, you’ll also find tons of cute boutique and independent souvenirs shops. I bought a cute pair of earrings from a shop just across from the umbrellas. There are also art shops, cafes, and a few restaurants where you can sit outside on the street and have a beer or taco.
Parque Las Palomas
My mom actually recommended I come to this little park that faces the sea. When my mom used to visit her grandparents in San Juan over 30 years ago, they would come here, buy some pigeon food, and feed the plump pigeons a bit of bird seed. The park is literally full of these birds and while I’m not a huge fan of pigeons, it’s a fun little detour, especially if you have kids.
Ocean Park Beach
This was my favorite beach in all San Juan for relaxing and swimming. If you want to spend a day at the beach and you aren’t staying at a resort, this is definitely the beach I recommend heading to. The water has waves, but they aren’t too big, making it a great swimming beach. It’s really long, so you’ll always find a good amount of space to spread out your towel and cooler. It’s also a really nice place to watch the sunset.
I actually stayed in Ocean Park on my last few days in San Juan. It’s in a gated community (but the beach is public so you have no problem getting in and using the beach) and is close to tons of great cafes and restaurants for lunch or dinner.
Playa el Escambrón
This is a much smaller beach than Ocean Park, but I like that it’s surrounded by a park. It’s also where to head if you plan to do any snorkeling or scuba diving trips. There are a few places where you can book for a day tour and they head off straight from here. If you do want to snorkel or skydive, head to Try Scuba Diving in the park near the beach and they’ll set you up for the day.
Playa Peña Beach
This is different to most of the other beaches in San Juan because it has ruins from the nearby fort along the sand.
It’s not exactly the sort of beach where you want to set up for the day. There isn’t much sand and it’s quite rocky compared to the other beaches in San Juan, but it’s definitely worth checking out because of the views from the cliffs above and for the ruins along the beach.
Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico
If you want to experience a bit of culture or it’s a rainy day and you’re looking for something interesting, I really recommend checking out the Puerto Rican Museum of Art. It’s a very reasonable $6 to enter and you could easily spend two hours exploring the different galleries and rooms.
It’s one of the few museums on the island where you can find a huge collection of pieces by Puerto Rican artists both past and present. There are, of course, works of art from a lot of different nationalities, but there is a heavy influence of other Caribbean artists here as well.
I LOVE distillery and brewery tours, so when I found out that you can tour the Bacardí distillery in San Juan, I couldn’t wait to check it out (spoiler, I didn’t end up having time, but I will definitely be back to check it out).
There are three different tour options to choose from – a historical tour, a tasting, and a mixology class. You can book all of those on their website. The historical tour seems most interesting to me since you get to have a tasting as well as learn all about the history of the Bacardí family. The tasting room tour also sounds really interesting and for those that love making cocktails, the mixology class would definitely be worth your time.
Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery
As you tour around Old San Juan, be sure to take a moment to see one of the most famous cemeteries in Puerto Rico. The Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery is a colonial-era cemetery where many of Puerto Rico’s most prominent natives have been buried. I’ve only ever seen cemeteries like this in Mexico, so I was fascinated to also see these above-ground style resting places in Puerto Rico. It’s not a bad view for your final destination.
Museo de las Américas
The thing I liked best about the Museo de las Américas is that it’s housed inside a 1800s army barracks. Inside you’ll be able to see pre-Columbian to modern art from all over the Americas, which as a mild Latin-America history buff I found seriously cool. Sure, it’s art, but there is so much storytelling happening in the art here and I really loved being able to see expressions of emotion from these different North and South American countries.
San Jose Church
There are SO many churche around San Juan that you’ll no doubt stumble into, especially around Old San Juan. This is one that you should definitely check out, even if you aren’t religious. The San José Church was not only one of the first churches in Puerto Rico, but it was one of the first significant works of architecture on the entire island. The church is one of the earliest surviving examples of 16th-century Spanish Gothic architecture in the Western hemisphere, so be sure to stop in and see a slice of history.
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