San Juan Puerto Rico: Best Things to Do in San Juan (2023)
Last Updated on December 16, 2022 by Dana Berez
San Juan Puerto Rico
Rich history, beautiful beaches, and delicious cuisine just scratch the surface when talking about San Juan Puerto Rico. This oceanfront city has so many activities and things to do for all kinds of travelers. Whether you want to take in the rainforest, sample new cocktails, or spend a full day in the sun, San Juan Puerto Rico is for you.
I visited San Juan Puerto Rico in January and I want to share with you the inside scoop on the best things to do in San Juan, where to stay in San Juan, and restaurants in San Juan you can’t miss in this complete travel guide.
If you are spending a few days in Puerto Rico, and want to discover beyond San Juan, highly suggest visiting the western part of the Island to Rincon. Read my Rincon, Puerto Rico Post for more details.
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Things to Know before you go
- Passport: Do you need a Passport to go to Puerto Rico? All US citizens do not need a passport to enter Puerto Rico as it is a US territory.
- Currency: USD
- Weather: Puerto Rico is warm all year round, but the rainy season is from April-November. (November being the rainiest) The sunniest days with lower humidity and less rain are from December to March.
- Language: The official language is Spanish. However, in popular areas like San Juan, you will be able to communicate in English. I do recommend learning the basics for greetings and thank you’s.
- Cell Phone: If you have a US cell provider, your service will work in Puerto Rico. I had no issues with my Sprint Service in San Juan.
- Tap Water: It is safe to drink tap water in San Juan, however, it will taste a little chlorinated. You may want to stick to bottled water to be safe.
- Time Zone: AST Atlantic Standard Time (one hour ahead of New York)
- Outlets: Same as the USA
Puerto Rico Travel Update
As of February 2, 2022: There are some travel restrictions in place for travel to the island.
Vaccinated travelers are no longer required to test but must upload an official vaccination card to the Travel Declaration Form.
Unvaccinated travelers must show a negative Covid-19 PCR or Antigent test taken 72 hours before arrival and fill out the Travel Declaration Form.
To learn more about the travel guidelines for Puerto Rico, see Discover Puerto Rico’s entry requirements.
Where to Stay in San Juan, Puerto Rico
There are three popular areas to stay in San Juan: Isla Verde, Condado, and Old San Juan.
Each neighborhood offers a different kind of vibe and experience. Here are the pros and cons to each area you can stay in to help you decide which part is best for your kind of trip:
Don’t let the proximity to the airport deter you from booking in Isla Verde. While furthest from Old San Juan, Isla Verde offers stunning beachfront resorts like the Fairmont El San Juan. There aren’t as many shops and restaurants in Isla Verde compared to Condado & Old San Juan, but you can uber to both those locations within 15-20 minutes.
- Pros: Best Beach in San Juan, Relaxed Feel, Larger resorts, Better Value
- Cons: Furthest from Old San Juan, Fewer restaurants & shops nearby
Condado is a centrally located beachfront & pedestrian-oriented neighborhood with plenty of resorts, restaurants, bars, and shops within walking distance. It’s also a quick ride into Old San Juan.
- Pros: Beachfront, Lots of restaurants & shops within walking distance, closer to Old San Juan
- Cons: More commercial & touristy, can be more expensive
Old San Juan is a historic neighborhood with plenty of history and culture. The buildings date back to the 16th Century and you’ll be surrounded by plenty of restaurants and bars. You can find some awesome boutique hotels with lots of character and charm.
- Pros: Best location for culture, food, shopping, great nightlife & bars
- Cons: No beach, not as family-friendly, no large resorts
Hotels in San Juan Puerto Rico
- Fairmont El San Juan (Isla Verde) Gorgeous property spanning 4 pools, luxury cabanas, beachfront access, and multiple food and beverage options.
- Condado Vanderbilt Hotel (Condado) 5 Star Spanish Revival beachfront hotel with beautiful views and lots of history.
- Condado Ocean Club: (Condado) Adults only oceanfront hotel with infinity pool and modern decor
- Dreamcatcher (Ocean Park) Vintage style boutique hotel with great value that won Tripadvisor’s ‘Traveler’s Choice Award’ in 2020. Just a 10-minute walk to Condado.
- Hotel El Convento (Old San Juan) Apart from Small Luxury Hotels, this boutique hotel is located in a 17th-century convent in Old San Juan in the heart of the town.
Find more hotels here:
How to Get around San Juan Puerto Rico
No matter what neighborhood you are staying in, you’ll probably want to explore other parts of San Juan for new restaurants, the beach, etc. The best way to get around is by Uber.
The Uber experience in San Juan is relatively inexpensive and you don’t have to worry about parking or driving. I stayed in Isla Verde and took an Uber to Old San Juan and Condado throughout my stay. The prices varied from $9-$16 per ride depending on time and traffic.
There is no need to rent a car if you are just planning on touring around San Juan. Parking is an issue in the historic Old San Juan, and expect to pay a fee at your hotel for parking.
Note: However, if you are booking a tour like the Bioluminescent Kayak or a Culebra Day trip that requires you to meet in Fajardo, Puerto Rico (one hour from San Juan) be sure to arrange a shuttle to pick you from your hotel.
If you Uber to Fajardo, you can be looking at a $125 Uber ride one way, while a shuttle can cost $25 a person one way.
Usually, the tours will offer a shuttle to your experience and I recommend you look into it to save some money, and to be on time for your tour.
Best Things to do in San Juan Puerto Rico
One of the great things about San Juan is the vast range of activities you can do while visiting.
If you just want to spend your time in the sun at the beach or your hotel pool, you have the option! But if you like to tour and learn about history or want to experience the natural habitat in a tropical rainforest you have the option.
There is something for everyone in San Juan which makes it a great destination. Here are some ideas of things to do in Puerto Rico, beyond spending time at the beach (which is completely acceptable).
Tour Old San Juan
Visiting Old San Juan, the historic neighborhood dating back to the 16th century is a must-visit on every itinerary. You can wander the colorful streets with Spanish Colonial homes in every bright hue and cobblestone streets.
In Old San Juan you will find plenty of shops, restaurants, bars, and boutique-style hotels along with historical sights. Here are some things to do in Old San Juan:
- Take a Walking Tour: To get the most out of your experience in Old San Juan, taking a walking tour with a professional guide will give you way more insight into this historic part of the island. Learn more about the cuisine and history with a tasting walking tour of Old San Juan.
- Visit Casa Blanca: Not to be confused with the Casablanca hotel, Casa Blanca is a house museum built in 1512 for Puerto Rico’s first governor Juan Ponce De Leon. You can now tour this home and gardens with artifacts from the 16th and 17th centuries.
- Entry is $5 | Hours: Wednesday- Sunday 8AM-11:45AM & 1PM-4PM
Did you know that Old San Juan is actually an island? There are only two highways that access this small part of San Juan.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro
The Castillo San Felipe del Morro, or commonly referred to as El Morro is a citadel built in 1528 and finished in 1790. This fort was used to protect the island from attackers approaching the sea.
You can now visit and see various barracks, kitchens, and rooms used by the soldiers. You can take guided tours, or roam around as you please.
Hours: Sunday – Saturday 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM
Fee: Adults $7 Children under 15 Free
La Forteleza- Governors Mansion
La Forteleza is a beautiful blue mansion completed in 1540. This mansion is still used as the governor’s mansion today.
Previously umbrellas lined the street leading to the mansion. Now you can find a large Puerto Rican flag lining the street.
While you can’t visit here on a whim, they do offer 30-minute tours Monday- Friday 8:15 AM- 3:30 PM. However, since it’s a government building it can be subject to closures. It is best to call ahead the day of for a time schedule.
Take a Puerto Rican Cooking Class
Learn how to cook the flavors of Puerto Rican in an immersive cooking class from Spoon. This Taste of Puerto Rico cooking class starts locally in a farmers market where you pick fresh ingredients for your class. You then head to Chef’s home to learn how her grandmother used to cook. Sip on rum punch while cooking your meal.
If cooking is not your thing, you can also take other food and cocktail walking tours in Old San Juan.
Tour the Bacardi Factory- Casa Bacardi
Get an inside look at how Bacardi is made and learn more about the history of this rum founded in 1862. You can take multiple kinds of tours like a mixology class, historical tour, a premium rum tasting, or bottling your own Bacardi bottle.
Be sure to book your tour tickets in advance to secure your spot.
How to get there: Casa Bacardi is located in Cataño, just across the water from Old San Juan.
You can take an Uber from your hotel to Casa Bacardi. The price depends on where you are staying.
Or you can take a ferry from Old San Juan Pier 2. The ferry departs every 30 minutes and costs 50 cents each way. Once you arrive at the Cataño pier, you will find taxis near the bus stop which you’ll need to take for a short 2 miles to get to Casa Bacardi.
Try Puerto Rican Coffee
Coffee in Puerto Rico has over 200 years of history, so if you are a coffee lover like me, you will be very happy to know that in San Juan you can try delicious coffee. (And buy lots to take home with you!) Be sure to order a cafe con Leche (latte)
If you don’t find beans in Old San to take home with you, you can find multiple varieties at the SJU airport.
Coffee Shops in San Juan:
- Cafe Cuatro Sombras
- Don Ruiz
- Cafe Cola’o
Day Trips & Tours from San Juan
El Yunque Rainforest
El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the USA National Forest Service with a diverse ecosystem with hundreds of unique plants and animals. A visit here is definitely worth a day trip from San Juan.
There are two ways you can tour the rainforest: self-tour with your own car transportation, or a guided tour. If this is your first time visiting El Yunque, I think it’s best to take a guided tour to get the most out of your experience and learn more about the rainforest.
If you are using a guided tour, transportation may come with your ticket price, but be sure to book transportation with your guide.
For self tours, you will need a car. The ride is approximately 45 minutes from San Juan, and the exact GPS address to map your way to the front entrance is: El Portal Visitor Center, PR-191 Río Grande, PR 00745
There are many hiking trails and places to discover in El Yunque, so be sure to map out your desired places to see before you get there. Some attractions may cost $4 additional per adult/ $2 for seniors.
Update: Self-tours you need to book a timed reservation in advance to visit El Yunque.
Visit Culebra Island
Culebra Island is known for its beautiful white-sand, turquoise blue beaches, including Flamenco Beach (ranked one of the top beaches in the world). And a visit on a day trip from San Juan is a great way to see the natural beauty of this island.
There are two ways you can visit: booking a boat tour ($100+) or using the public ferry ($2+).
While the ferry option is less expensive, the ferries leave from Fajardo, a town an hour away from San Juan. If you don’t have a car, transportation here via Uber can be over $100.
In addition, you have to book your ferry tickets in advance, and the coveted weekend spots fill up days in advance.
Booking a tour, in my opinion, is an easier, stress-free option for a fun day trip. Tours usually provide a hotel transfer to and from the tour to the designated ferry port in Fajardo. Tours include snorkeling, a small lunch, and a scenic route to Culebra island.
Popular Tours to Culebra:
Note: Because this is a water activity, all tours are dependent on weather and may be canceled.
Kayak Bioluminescent Bay Tour
There are only five bioluminescent bays in the world, three of them are in Puerto Rico. You can tour these bio bays via kayak tours and see the natural wonders of microorganisms light up when agitated in the water. Basically, you can see water that glows, a must-do in Puerto Rico.
To see most of the organisms, it’s best to book your tour when the moon is not bright. That way you’ll see more and get the most out of your experience.
Kayak tours leave from Fajardo, and many tour operators provide transportation from San Juan.
Horse Back Riding
Experience a two-hour tour on horseback at a ranch in Puerto Rico. This horseback tour is perfect for beginners on horseback. Because this tour mainly takes place outside. It is advised to wear long pants.
More Tours in Puerto Rico:
Where to Eat in San Juan Puerto Rico
(Left: Luisa, Right: Caña)
Cafe Manolin: $ (Puerto Rican) Popular traditional Puerto Rican restaurant located in Old San Juan. Delicious food, great prices, and generous portions win over both locals and tourists alike.
El Jibarito: $ (Puerto Rican) Another popular traditional authentic Puerto Rican restaurant with great prices and delicious cuisine. Located in Old San Juan.
Santisímo: $$$(Puerto Rican) Located inside the Hotel El Convento Santisímo offers a beautiful dining experience with an open-aired kitchen.
Luisa: $$$(Spanish Style Tapas) Lusia is a new restaurant in Condado offering a fun dining ambiance: colorful booths, greenery, and bright cocktails. While on the pricer side, the burrata, fish, paella, and are a must-order.
Caña: $$$ (Puerto Rican) Inspired Puerto Rican cuisine, with fresh ingredients and innovative dishes, Caña by chef Juliana Gonzalez is a must-visit. Located inside the Fairmont El San Juan
Traditional Puerto Rican Food to Order
- Mofongo: Mashed fried plantains
- Arroz con habichuelas: traditional rice and beans
- Tostones: Smashed fried plantain served with dipping sauce
- Pasteles: Green plantains filled with a variety of meats
- Platanos Maduros: sweeter fried plantains
- Cuchifritos: restaurants that sell fried Puerto Rican food
Where to Drink in San Juan Puerto Rico
La Factoria: (pictured above) Hands down the spot to have a cocktail and enjoy. La Factoria is an unmarked bar. Once inside you can find passageways to six bars, each with its own drink menu. You can try inventive craft cocktails for a great price. I sipped on a classic rum cocktail called “Peligrosa” which means dangerous. A few of those, it certainly will be.
Cubanita: Another well-known speakeasy bat in Old San Juan, known for Cuban-inspired cocktails.
Patio De Las Flores: Looking for delicious cocktails in a fun environment? Patio De Las Flores has an inventive menu with gorgeous drinks that taste equally as good.
Best Beaches in San Juan Puerto Rico
Isla Verde Beach: (pictured above) Large beautiful white sand beach. A popular favorite amongst locals and tourists alike.
Ocean Park Beach: Beautiful low key beach in San Juan
Balneario El Escambron: Public picturesque beach just outside Old San Juan. It is protected by coral reefs sp it’s perfect for snorkeling. Parking is available from 8:30 am-5 pm.
Condado Beach: Lined by hotel resorts, Condado beach is beautiful but be aware that riptides and currents are strong and can be very dangerous.
What to Pack for Puerto Rico:
Hope you enjoyed this San Juan Puerto Rico Guide!
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