The birthplace of the Pina Colada, the popular port region of San Juan is home to miles of beautiful beaches, bustling cities and old town charm. The perfect mix of sun, sea and culture, San Juan has a little bit of everything for everyone.
With its melting pot of Spanish and American influences, Puerto Rico’s capital is one of the most vibrant stops when cruising in the Caribbean. If you’re departing from San Juan, arrive a few days early to get to know the city. There’s so much to see, taste and explore. Here are some of the best things to do in San Juan on a cruise.
WHAT TO VISIT IN SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO
There’s no shortage of sights, monuments and colonial architecture in Puerto Rico’s capital. Here are just some of the sights to see and places to visit during your stay.
SAN JUAN OLD TOWN
The Old Town is the heart of this capital city and is not to be missed. Take a stroll along the old cobbled streets and admire the beauty of its multi-coloured buildings. This area dates back to the Renaissance and is the island’s oldest settlement. Hidden among the old churches and quaint plazas, you’ll find plenty of boutique shops, cafes and bars. If you want to ensure you don’t miss a thing, you could always book yourself into a city tour.
CASTILLO SAN FELIPE DEL MORRO
This 16th Century citadel overlooks the ocean and is the most beloved landmark in Puerto Rico. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fortress is a place that is steeped in history. Many come here to take photos of the beautiful surroundings, and families will come along at the weekends to fly kites.
MUSEUM OF ART OF PUERTO RICO
Art lovers will be in their element at Puerto Rico’s Museum of Art, located off Route 26 in Santurce. Visitors can enjoy a guided tour, or explore the permanent collections and rolling exhibitions on their own. There’s also a stunning theatre, a tranquil outdoor garden, and a museum shop to pick up souvenirs.
Less than 10 minutes from the city centre is the popular Condado Beach. Often compared to Miami Beach in Florida, there’s an air of glamour down at Condado beach. The beach is excellent for surfing and water sports, and there are some stylish private resorts if you want loungers and waiter service with your Pina Coladas.
Note: The water can get choppy, so it’s not suitable for inexperienced swimmers.
Escape the bustling capital and take a walk on the wild side at El Yunque Rainforest. It’s just over 40 minutes by car, or an hour by bus. There are a number of scenic hiking trails to the top of the mountain. You can also book a rainforest excursion and get driven to the stunning waterfalls, the Tourist Visitation Center, and the Observation Tower.
WHAT TO DO IN SAN JUAN IN LESS THAN A DAY
When you only have a few hours to explore San Juan on a cruise stop, you’ll want to make sure you don’t miss the best bits. Of course, Old San Juan and the San Juan National Historic Site is a must. But the city’s many neighbourhoods are all worth exploring if you have time.
Head to Puerta de Tierra for beautiful parks and oceanfront views, Isla Verde for shopping and beaches, or Rio Piedras to experience the hustle and bustle of the local market. If you can’t decide where to go, a guided tour can be a great way of getting more sights covered in one day.
Whatever you do, make sure you spend some time people-watching at one of the many coffee shops in the city. Puerto Rican coffee is famous for its smooth, full-bodied flavour and the local cortadito (espresso with steamed milk) is a travellers’ favourite.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK LIKE A LOCAL
Puerto Ricans often refer to their island as the “dining capital of the Caribbean”. Food here is big part of their culture. If you’re wondering what to do in San Juan, be sure to add a culinary tour to your itinerary.
Traditional cuisine takes inspiration from European, African and native Tainos cooking. One of the most popular dishes is mofongo, made with pickled fried plantains. Other local foods include asopao (a seafood or meat stew made with rice), pasteles (stuffed plantain cooked in banana leaves), lechon (whole roosted pig), and pinchos (meat skewers).
Street food stalls on every corner sell fritters and filled pastries for those who want to grab a delicacy on-the-go. And there are some fine bakeries in San Juan for anyone with a sweet tooth. Great food is just about everywhere, but some of the best areas to dine are the Old Town, Condado beachfront, the Miramar harbour area, Milla de Oro and Hato Rey, and Ocean Park.
When it comes to wine, you won’t be disappointed either. San Juan’s wineries are unpretentious and low-key, and there are many wine bars in the city to choose from.
Interested in visiting San Juan on one of our Caribbean cruises? Check out NCL’s range of Caribbean cruises.