Most visitors of Puerto Rico stay in the San Juan area, especially in Old San Juan. And although to get a full experience of Puerto Rico I always recommend exploring other places of the Island there is no wonder why many decide to stay in the capital. There are so many things to do in San Juan Puerto Rico! So for those who stay for a short time exploring San Juan is the perfect place to stay and get a taste of Puerto Rico’s enchantments.
Old San Juan
Besides Puerto Rico’s white-sand beaches, Old San Juan is the next iconic place featured in travel magazines. But this is not surprising since Old San Juan’s time seems to have stopped in the Spanish colonial era. Picturesque pastel houses of colonial time, cobblestone streets, military forts, and walls dating to the 16th century encompass Old San Juan. Furthermore, Old San Juan represents our history and the presence of the European’s in our island, this with its still intact architecture have conferred Old San Juan as a National Historic Site by UNESCO.
Did you know that this grandiosity is just a small part of San Juan’s isleta?
Things to do in Old San Juan
Although Old San Juan is small-scaled there are many historic and modern places to visit that will leave you beat for a day. Here are the most emblematic places but I assure you there are many more things to see.
- Walk el paseo de la princesa
Strut besides the Atlantic ocean, pass through the fountain Raices which commemorated our Puerto Rican heritage of Tainos, Spaniard, and Africans. It will lead you to in front of the San Juan gate, you can stroll the other way and start from the gate as well. If you are lucky you will find artisans lining up both sides of the paseo.
The building along the La Princesa boardwalk was a former jail named La Princesa as well, currently, it is the headquarter of the Tourism Company in Puerto Rico.
- Go through La Puerta de San Juan
I mentioned this above but you have to pass through San Juan Gate, the old entryway to the Island during colonial times. When passing through the gate you will be entering Puerto Rico’s Spanish colonial past.
- Explore the Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristobal
A visit to these iconic Spanish forts is a requirement for a glimpse of what it used to be life in Old San Juan during the Spanish regimen. Canyons, dungeons, and tunnels intact from old Spanish time to protect the Island. The price for el San Felipe del Morro is $10.
- Recharge in Señor Paleta
When planning on visiting Puerto Rico the last thing on your mind is probably eating ice cream. And sure, it’s not like you are going to Italy. But Señor Paleta made a boom in Puerto Rico since 2014 and it’s here to stay. Now they have many other locations including one in Florida. Make sure to visit this small shop in Old San Juan and try one of their tropical fruit flavors while strolling Old San Juan. The Caribbean sun doesn’t have mercy and a refreshing dessert like this is just what you need to keep exploring San Juan.
- Visit 16th Century Historic Cathedrals
During Spanish colonials time Puerto Rico like many other Latin American places adopted Catholicism for their religious practices. Therefore the island is a house many antique cathedrals dating from the early 16 century.
Both churches mentioned here are not located in Old San Juan, rather, they form part of San Juan Antiguo. Also, the religious practices in Puerto Rico are mixed with that of spiritual believes from our African ancestry as well but the historic landmarks are those from the Christian Catholic believes.
- Catedral San Juan Bautista
This is the first church constructed in Puerto Rico and one of the oldest buildings in San Juan. It contains the remains of Juan Ponce de Leon, the first Spanish governor of Puerto Rico.
2. San José Church
A 16th-century Spanish church, it is one of the few examples of Spanish Gothic architecture still present in America. It is the second church constructed in Puerto Rico.
Things to do in Condado Puerto Rico
- Paddleboard in the Condado lagoon
Even if you are not into water sports I recommend this. Or you can opt for kayak too. But if you are intrigued by manatees you will be delighted to know that more than often manatees can be seen in Condados lagoon.
Just remember to not interact or disturb this one’s endangered species.
For great prices rent in San Juan Paddleboarding.
- Sunbathe in Condado Beach
Golden sand, palm trees, waves, and background hotels characterize this beach. It is a public beach so no fees to pay here. The tide tends to be strong and hight so it’s better to lay in the sun and keep safe.
- Playa Ultimo Trolley (Ocean Park)
This is a local favorite for those who live in San Juan. It’s also a public beach with parking in front if you’re lucky to find space. Like Condado Beach, here the waves and currents are also particularly strong, needless to say swimmers need to be very cautious.
- Relax in La Ventana al Mar (Window to the Sea)
This small park located between strongly paves Condado offers a nice change of scenery when strolling down Condado. Because of the dense hotel scene, you hardly get a glimpse of the sea, that is where Ventana al Mar comes in place and reminds you that you are still in the Caribbean.
Things to do in San Juan Puerto Rico at Night.
- La Placita
Market by day, hot hanging spot by night. La Placita is the place to be for different ambiances in one place. From the LGBT scene, commercial music, reggaeton to salsa ambiance surely you will find your spot in this place. That’s why we locals love it so much.
- Taberna Los Vazquez for live salsa
- La Placita LGBT friendly Karaoke bar
- Walk through the port: Plaza de los viejitos
- Calle San Sebastián
There are countless reasons for strolling San Sebastián street, especially during night time. This is home to the famous Calle de San Sebastián Festival, better known as Las Sanse in January. But don’t worry, even if you aren’t visiting during this month this street always has something going on. It is filled with bars and pubs on each side of the street playing salsa, reggaeton, and other tropical music. Nevertheless, it offers something to everyone looking for a good time. From the beer lovers to the salsa lovers, you name it. I recommend these top places but it is better you go exploring San Sebastián and decide which is your favorite place.
- La factoría
If you know something about mainstream music of Puerto Rico then you probably have heard Despacito. Well one of the places where it was filmed it La Factoría, this made the pub a massive hit for tourists. But for us locals, it is the place to be for dancing salsa. At first, it appears like a small crowded place but then another room appears, then another, and although they are all crowded with locals and tourists attempting to dance without stepping each other’s feet you will see this local was ones a spacious house transformed into today’s hot spot.
- Taberna de Lúpulo
Like the name implies this place offers a variety of craft beers for the beer lover in all of us. It has the best American brews and some less-known but still worthy of trying.
- Calle Loíza
This hip upcoming street is not only known for its variety of restaurants but for its’ lively night ambiance.
- Tántalo- Comercial music
- Piso Viejo – Salsa music
Fun things to do in San Juan.
- Kitesurf and surf in Condado
Although I’ve never tried it since I consider myself to clumsy to try it that doesn’t mean you should give it a go and it’s an option for those interested.
Try the lessons with Kite Puerto Rico.
- Bacardi Tour
If you enjoy rum this is the place to be. Learn about the different flavors and Bacardi’s history in this intoxicating tour.
- Hacienda Campo Rico
Although it is not located in San Juan you find the Hacienda in nearby Carolina so you can go for a quick escape from the capital. The Hacienda will give you a glimpse of the countryside in Puerto Rico although it is still located in our “metropolitan” area. Enjoy the fresh smell of grass, zipline through the trees, and adventure yourself through the caves of Carolina.
Afterward, treat yourself to some Puerto Rican food in the location’s Mojito Bar.
Check the Hacienda Campo Rico page for different activities and tours such as horseback riding and archery tag.
Free things to do in San Juan Puerto Rico.
You might have noticed that I already mentioned some free things to do in San Juan. But I still want to mention some things that we love doing in Puerto Rico that are free!
Relax watching the Choritos of Old San Juan
Ok, so maybe this is more for the people who travel with kids although I’ve seen free-spirited adults refreshing in this FOUNTAIN. Yes, it is a fountain and I might add it is not always turned on. But if you are lucky head to La Plaza del V Centenario and see the local kids cool down while the parents eat a piragua, or sometimes join the fun too.
Tip. Although many people do enjoy getting soaked in this fountain I will not recommend it and instead, just enjoy it while eating piragua.
- Fly a kite in el Morro
Flying a kite on the green grass that stretches from the Morro is a traditional activity for most Puerto Ricans. The best part is you only need to buy your kite and your set! And yes, I know buying is not free but they are don’t even reach the $20 price.
The beaches in San Juan are free unless you decide to head to a Balneario where you pay a fee for parking. The balnearios also have public bathrooms and showers. If not, then head to one of our majestic public Caribbean oceans.
San Juan Beaches:
- Pine Grove- in Isla Verde
- Playa el Ultimo Trolley – in Condado
What locals do in San Juan Puerto Rico.
Honestly, we enjoy Puerto Rico to it’s fullest and we do about the same things I’ve written here. As a matter of fact, I consider them a must when being in San Juan. But being a local gives you the advantage of knowing where to drink and go out at night especially in Old San Juan at great prices.
- Tres Cuernos
A local’s favorite located in Old San Juan in SJDFKK. It the place to go for chichaitos shots, a mixture of rum and anise. What we love is the variety of chichaitos flavor ranging from coconut to passion fruit and many other tropical fruits. This might not appear in many tour guides but for locals, this is the place to go chichaitos and because of it’s great prices.
Tip. Chichaitos are very strong, don’t be fooled by there fruity flavors.
- El Cafetín
Best mojitos for only $5. We just can’t have enough of the tropical fruits on our drinks. But that’s what you get when visiting a tropical island. They have a great variety of flavors, my favorites are coco and passion fruit but it is always good experimenting and they are so good!
Tip. They go down easily, but drink carefully or you might start dancing salsa like a crazy local without realizing it.
Where to eat in San Juan?
Located in front of Fela’s Public parking lot in Old San Juan. You will recognize this place just by the white African costume the waitress wear and the wooden seats on the sidewalk. Inside the history of Puerto Rico unravels through paintings and scenes of the jíbaro life in Puerto Rico. Full disclosure the prices are high and service is a bit slow. What most attractive of the place is the decorations and the fried samplers are good.
Jíbaro: What we call people from Puerto Rico, more specifically people from the mountain. Sometimes people use it as despitefully for someone uneducated.
- Bebo’s Café
Bebo’s is a place for everyone. You will see the traditional family having their traditional lunch, to the loner on the corner, the tourist, and the students. At first glance it is unusual, located in a pricey neighborhood, and well presented. But then you see this jumble group of people. This let you know one thing, the food here deserves a try, everyone wants a piece of it. As far as prices they are manageable from $15 and higher.
Tip. Try the “pastelón de Platano Maduro”. It resembles a lasagna but instead of pasta, you have ripe plantain layers.
- Chocobar Cortés
The innovative chocolate gastro experience located in Old San Juan where everything has at least a hint of the island’s favorite Chocolate Cortés. Here you will find traditional Puerto Rican meals with a chocolate hint or explosion. If that sounds a bit too risky opt for a chocolaty dessert or drink. There is something for everyone in this sweet gourmet experience. Make sure to visit the second and third floors where they usually have art exhibitions of the island life.
- Punto de Vista Rooftop Restaurant
Another favorite located in Old San Juan, as you can see not only tourists love Old San Juan. I don’t know what I love more about this place, the people, the view, the food, or the drinks. I just know I kept coming back for more. By day you will have the sun shining over your head while you cool off with a mojito, by night the windy Caribbean night and the view of old San Juan lights. Either way, I assure you will the best of times here.
Brunch in San Juan
Our way of life is a mixture of Spanish colonial history with a modern American view. Therefore the brunch trend has made its way in Puerto Rico and we love it! There are vast places where to indulge. The above mentioned Choco Bar is a great place for brunch. Here are other places that you will love as much as I do.
A shabby surfer vibes space for the healthy eater. It is a very small place and like any other brunch spot can get crowded although in my experience I have never had to wait.
- Bistro Café
Another Isla Verde favorite. It gets ridiculously packed so you might have to wait a bit during the weekend.
Located in hip Calle Loiza near the food truck scene. Like with Bistro Bar there might be some waiting time, especially during the weekend. Treat yourself to a walk on Calle Loiza but don’t wander too much or you’ll lose your spot.
Where to stay in San Juan?
San Juan is the capital of tourism in Puerto Rico, therefore there are endless accommodations for every style. If budget is not a problem to you opt for Condado where the luxuries all-inclusive hotels are. For example, the Condado Vanderbilt and La Concha. You can also find less expensive places like the Verdanza Hotel, Holiday Inn, and Marriot.
A sustainable stay in Puerto Rico
- Casa sol bed and breakfast
Located in San Juan and well known for its hospitality as well as for its sustainable energy and recycling program. And that’s not all, they have a fresh variety of ingredients from their orchard. It is more on the pricy side but for those who can afford it, this is one of the top accommodations of the Island.
Hostels in San Juan Puerto Rico
- Conturce Hostel
Located in Calle Loiza, San Juan. The already mentioned up-coming block where you will find lively nightlife and a well-developed food street.
- Santurcia Hostel
Another Santurce location near the touristy Ocean Park and the hype Calle Loiza. You’ll have your typical hostel accommodations: shared kitchen, table games, a coffee maker, and a terrace.
How to move in San Juan?
My recommendation is Uber. Finding parking spaces in San Juan is painful to say the least. And on the other hand parking fees are high if staying a long time. If you only plan to visit San Juan opt for Uber services or taxis.
Is San Juan Safe?
I think this is the question on many people’s minds. San Juan has its good parts and more risky parts. But overall most of it is safe. Like with any foreign place take safety measures and stay on illuminated places during the night. Use your better judgment to stay safe, don’t go flashing your money and drink responsibly.