What to Do in San Juan, Puerto Rico
We just returned from a week in San Juan, Puerto Rico and had a great time! After Hurricane Maria, the island was hit hard so we weren’t sure what to expect. The island is just starting to recover and desperately needs tourism to help their economy re-build, so when the Puerto Rico tourism board and Travelocity invited us to visit, we jumped at the opportunity.
What we discovered was a vibrant, colorful capital and resilient, hard working locals. Although the island isn’t 100% back on its feet, the capital of San Juan is much recovered and hotels, restaurants, shops, bars and tours were all operating.
In today’s post, I wanted to share some fun things to do in San Juan as we loved our trip! Here are 6 fun and unique things to do while on vacation in Puerto Rico!
Where to Stay in San Juan
Travelers visiting Puerto Rico have a lot of choices when it comes to where to stay in San Juan! Here are 3 hotels we explored during our stay and would recommend:
Here are 3 of the best hotels in Puerto Rico:
1 | Intercontinental San Juan – Friendly staff, clean rooms and 24/7 pool and hot tub. The Intercontinetal is located on the Isla Verde strip with the beach as its backdoor. Make sure to try the on site restaurant SAKI for a great Asian-themed meal and fun cocktails.
2 | El Convento – This stunning old world hotel is located in Old San Juan, in a building that was once a monastery. Relax in the interior courtyard with a drink!
3 | La Concha – The hotel sits right on the beach, with several swimming pools and on site restaurants. La Concha is quite packed, with an on site casino, lively hotel bar and great location in Condado San Juan.
For an in-depth neighborhood guide and tips on where to stay in San Juan, check out this post.
The 9 Best Puerto Rico Sights & Attractions
We spent one week in Puerto Rico and had plenty of time to eat, sightsee and shop. Old San Juan can easily be done in a day if you have limited time from a Caribbean cruise but the island of Puerto Rico has much more to offer. From beautiful beaches to eclectic shopping, from incredible cocktails to flavorful local cuisine, I’ve narrowed it down to 9 must do things in San Juan and greater Puerto Rico.
1. Explore Colorful Old San Juan
Old San Juan is the colorful, colonial section of the island that was originally settled by the Spanish. The quaint cobblestone streets and pastel buildings are meant to be explored on foot and luckily, cruise ships dock right in town for easy access!
From great restaurants, good shopping and street side bars, there’s lots to do in Viejo San Juan.
2. Try Puerto Rican Food
We were so impressed by local Puerto Rican cuisine! Puerto Ricans lovingly call their home the ‘Dining Capital of the Caribbean’ and dishes like mofongo (mashed plantain), aroz con dulche (sweet sticky rice) and arroz con gandules y lechón (rice with pigeon peas and pork) are a delicious blend of Tahino, Spanish and American influences.
We tried lots of different restaurants on our Puerto Rico vacation and have compiled a list of our favorite spots in this post.
3. Explore a 500 Year Old Fort
Old San Juan is the oldest city in the Western hemisphere. Set on an island and walled on 3 sides, the Spanish constructed massive walls and several forts to protect their colony. Remnants of the thick walls and ballasts still protect the western harbor today and a must visit is Castillo San Cristóbal.
This fort was the largest fortress built by the Spanish in the New World and has over 6 stories across 27 acres of land. Check out the guerites, sentry boxes, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean!
4. People Watch with A Cup of Puerto Rican Coffee
If you’re a coffee lover, Puerto Rico is the place to visit!
Puerto Rican coffee has a distinctive smooth, rich flavor thanks to the island’s rich volcanic soil and mountainous farmland. Most of the coffee is made for export (the Pope drank it as the official Vatican coffee for centuries) and it was one of Puerto Rico’s main crops until the 1900s, when sugar plantations took over.
It’s only recently that coffee production is growing again and Old San Juan has many worthwhile coffee shops if you need a break! Try Alto Grande, a premium bean ranking up there with Jamaica’s Blue Mountain Coffee and Hawaii’s Kona beans. If you don’t want to carry it home, no worries you can buy it here on Amazon too. Yaucono is another great Puerto Rican coffee brand.
My personal favorite coffee drink to order is a cortadito, espresso with steamed milk, or you can also ask for a café con leche, a simple latte with warm milk.
5. Browse Outdoor Art Galleries
Puerto Rico has a vibrant art scene, with galleries all over the island and especially in Old San Juan. Whether you like contemporary fine art, modern art or local Caribbean influenced artwork, you’re sure to find it!
Many of the local boutiques can be found near Calle San Sebastian.
6. Join a Puerto Rican Festival
Puerto Ricans know how to let loose! There are festivals each month throughout the year as well as year long celebrations, with the best time to visit San Juan being in December / January.
We happened to be in town during the festival of San Sebastian, or Sanse as the locals call it. The 4 day long celebration includes street parades, dancing, free flowing beer and food trucks. My favorite? The huge paper mache masks that people wore! (I included a photo of it at the very top of this article).
If you want to check out a festival in Puerto Rico, I recommend visiting during the day. At night, things can get much rowdier and extremely crowded and it turns into a packed drinking fest.
Here’s a video of the festival if you want to feel right there with us!
7. Snorkle & Scuba Dive in Culebra
Water lovers simply have to take a day trip out east. Culebra offers beautiful blue waves, soft white sand beaches and sunny skies. We took an all day boat tour to snorkel in Flamingo Beach and relax on Culebrita island.
8. Tour the Bacardi Rum Factory
I think the most fun we had was the day we took a tour of the Bacardi Rum Factory! This is Bacardi’s largest rum factory in the world, where up to 100,000 bottles of rum can be bottled per day.
Opt for the tasting tour so that you can properly learn about and taste 5 different Bacardi sipping rums! It’s an in-depth tasting held after the factory tour in a private room and I loved learning about the different types of rums, bottling and tastes.
9. Try a Rum-based Cocktail
Puerto Rico is the king of rum. Not only has this island invented the Piña Colada, its mixologists are continuing to innovate! We tried so many incredible cocktails and each day only got better and better.
Local bars emphasize local fruits (like passionfruit, papaya, mango, chironja, soursop, star apple and pineapple) and local garnishes so it’s quite a refreshing, unique take on the drinks you might be used to. One of my favorites was a passion fruit punch cocktail with cilantro. The herb kicked in right at the end for a zesty after taste.
We also discovered that many local bartenders enter mixologist competitions so they’re quite talented! Bars were constantly changing up their menu and bartenders were also working on new signature drinks so they often suggested creating their own, off-the-menu drink for us to try and it was always a hit.
If you like great drinks, check out La Factoria, a fun speakeasy; La Concha where the hotel lobby bar is always packed anytime of day and Zest at Water & Beach Club, where we had a 6 course food and drink pairing.
Fun Day Trips from Puerto Rico
If you don’t have a car, you can still take advantage of Puerto Rico’s nature and biodiversity by booking a tour to handle all the logistics. Here are some great Puerto Rico attractions you have to do:
- Culebra Snorkle & Beach Day Trip: Culebra and Playa Flamenco are 2 of Puerto Rico’s perfect sand beaches. We got picked up from our hotel in Condado, then cruised on a catamaran to Culebra for the day, sipping rum punch, snorkeling and sun bathing in paradise. The beaches were beautifully deserted and the coral reefs were all over! We spotted barracuda in the crystal clear water. Check here for availability and rates.
- El Yunque Rainforest Tour: El Yunque is the only rainforest in the US, with stunning nature trails, beautiful waterfalls and more than 240 species of plants and animals. This half day tour picks you up from your hotel in San Juan, covers all park entrance fees and includes a guide to share the area’s history and biology. Check here for availability and rates.
- Vieques Bioluminescent Bay Tour: There are only a couple bioluminescent bays in the world… and Puerto Rico has 3 of them. This tour takes you to Laguna Grande, where you can kayak through the lagoon under a dark night sky and watch the organisms glow from up under the water! The entire experience feels like a magical Disney attraction. Check here for availability and rates.
- Bacardi Rum Tasting Tour: This was my favorite activity from the trip! After a quick tour of the Bacardi factory, we got to the real deal: a private tasting of 5 different Bacardi rums. If you love rum or have never tried it, this tasting tour will bring out different notes and depths in Bacardi’s legendary sipping rums. You can even choose to buy and bottle your own rum if you have a favorite! Check here for availability and rates.
Enjoy visiting the San Juan, Puerto Rico! Let me know if there are any restaurants or sights you think I missed in the comments.
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