San Juan City Guide
About San Juan
The vivacious city of San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico, the Caribbean island and is also an unincorporated territory of the United States. San Juan is an important center for business and commerce, which hosts industries like petroleum, sugar refining, brewing and distilling, manufacturing and more while providing employment opportunities to much of Puerto Rico’s local population.
Aside from it business profile, San Juan is also known as a vacationer’s paradise and its many visitors either access this beachside by air or by sea via its busy port, which is an immensely popular port of call for cruise liners.
Where to stay in San Juan
San Juan is divided into three main districts Old San Juan or Viejo San Juan, the resort areas of El Condado and Isle Verde and the outlying suburbs like Santurce.
Old San Juan
Most visitors to San Juan like to be based near the historic old city of San Juan for the duration of their stay in San Juan. Old San Juan or Viejo San Juan, the historic walled city is connected to greater San Juan City by various bridges highways and the largely residential area Puerta de Tierra. Old San Juan is the heart of San Juan and hosts many restaurant, shops, entertainment venues and beaches.
Located east of Santurce, close to the San Juan International Airport, Isla Verde whose name translates as ‘Green Island’, is a beach front community that is populated by many upscale resort hotel properties. Besides hotels, Isla Verde also offers a wide variety of dining and nightlife establishments, which make it a favorite with the stylish crowds.
El Condado lies over the bridge from Old San Juan and Puerta de Tierra and offers a good beach along with many restaurants, bars and bistros. This neighborhood also offers much luxe shopping opportunities at its many luxury goods stores. However for such a ritzy neighborhood, El Condado surprisingly offers mostly mid-range hotels rather than luxury hotel properties.
Places to see in San Juan
Old San Juan (Viejo San Juan)
The walled section of Old San Juan is the heart of San Juan, which extends over seven blocks and dates back more than five hundred years, to the times of the Spanish occupation. At that time, the city was a fortified settlement that repelled the attacks of the British under Sir Francis Drake. The old city today is made up of narrow crooked, cobble stone streets which are populated by numerous restored Spanish colonial buildings and piazzas that feature statues and other monuments along with shops and restaurants. You may want to visit this place during vacations to San Juan for a little revisit to the past.
The magnificent edifice that is La Fortazela; is today a UNESCO world heritage site and the oldest executive mansion in the world that was originally built as a fortress to protect the San Juan harbor in 1540. It was then converted into the governor’s residence. This building was renovated and remodeled in 1846 and continues to host the governor of Puerto Rico until today.
Saint John the Baptist Cathedral
The Saint John the Baptist Cathedral was originally built in 1521 by Puerto Rico's first Spanish bishop and it initially occupied a rustic building, which was topped by a thatched roof. However this building was destroyed by a hurricane in 1526 and the present-day Cathedral that stands in its place dates back to the year 1540. This building features Doric columns, elliptical vaults and contains the marble tomb of the first governor of Puerto Rico.
Museo de Arte
Puerto Rico’s Museo d’Arte is a fairly recent attraction housed in a building that was once a city hospital in the city’s Santurce suburb. This museum features the work of local artists in both its permanent and temporary collections and aims to highlight the island’s heritage through these superb artworks. The Museo D’Arte should be considered a must-see attraction on any visit to San Juan.
Casa del Libro
The Casa del Libro is yet another old world attraction of Peurto Rico that is housed in an 18th Century mansion. The Casa del Libro collection of artifacts includes rare sketches, illustrations, ancient manuscripts and rare books; many of which date back to colonial times. The collection’s star attraction is the exhibit that features the two Royal mandates signed by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain in 1493 that sanctioned Christopher Columbus’s second voyage to the New World, which resulted in the discovery of Puerto Rico.
Best time to visit San Juan
San Juan, like the rest of Puerto Rico, experiences a warm and sunny and dry climate all year round. This tropical climate is characterized by average temperatures of 80°F (26°C) and a relatively humidity of approximately 80%. However, the island does experience rainy spells during the annual hurricane season that extends from August to November.
The peak tourist season in San Juan generally extends from December from April. During this time, most North Americans choose to book a vacation to San Juan to escape the ravages of a frigid winter season. During this peak tourist season, air fares to San Juan as well as hotel rates are quite high, but if you are making your travel bookings with Fare Buzz, you needn’t worry for it offers a wide array of cheap flight and hotel deals for San Juan all throughout the year.
Getting around in San Juan
The best way to get to San Juan is to travel to Seattle by air and take ferries from there. While there are chartered planes as well, reaching an island is best enjoyed through ferry rides. For booking air tickets to Seattle and save money, you can explore the umpteen cheap air flight tickets offered by fare Buzz.
Once you have reached there, you might find moving around the island a little expensive and challenging. San Juan doesn’t have much of a public transport system. The city’s skeletal public transport is made up of public buses called ‘guaguas’, taxis and a small metro system which basically serves the outer suburbs of the city.
While most visitors to San Juan enjoy exploring the old city on foot and aboard the free trolley service provided in the old town, they also tend to use the local taxis as the public buses are erratic and do not follow a schedule.
Taxis are quite easy to find in San Juan especially in the old city and around the city’s many hotels. However, it is advisable then to fix the fare with the driver before you set off on your journey, for even though taxis in San Juan have meters, most drivers hate to use them. Therefore, do fix the price before setting off to anywhere during your vacations to San Juan.
If you need to rent a car while on vacation in San Juan, Fare Buzz can provide that service as well, for along with flight and hotel deals, Fare Buzz also offers many affordable car rental deals for San Juan, which are available through its main booking platforms.
Where to shop in San Juan
San Juan offers ample shopping opportunities in its Old Town area. Streets like Calle San Francisco and Calle del Cristo are some of the most popular shopping locales in the Old City.
Local handicrafts like ceramics, lace products, and religious wooden carvings called santos, hammocks and papier-mâché arts and crafts and Puerto Rican coffee all figure on the shopping lists of visitors on a vacation to San Juan.
Aside from stand-alone stores that specialize in local products, San Juan hosts a few huge malls like the Plaza Las Américas, in Hato Rey which is the largest mall in the Caribbean that has over 250 stores and many restaurants.
Yet another shopping destination worth exploring in San Juan, if you want to experience a bit of local flavor, is the Plaza del Mercado de Santurce. It is one of San Juan’s main markets that are held every day from 6am to 6pm.
This market consists of several small kiosks that seem to sell all things Puerto Rican, including exotic tropical fruits like mangoes, papayas, oranges and soursop. After 6 pm, as the vendors are shutting shop for the night, the bars and restaurants that surround the market come alive as they draw in the after-work crowd who head here for some much needed entertainment.
Where to eat in San Juan
San Juan’s dining scene is very varied and well developed and it offers a veritable smorgasbord of global cuisines along with excellent local eats. Steakhouses, Italian pizzerias, Japanese, Chinese and gourmet Indian restaurants, as well as Lebanese and Middle Eastern restaurants, San Juan has them all for vacationers.
Mention must also be made of San Juan’s excellent bakeries and cafes which serve a variety of baked goods accompanied by some excellent Puerto Rican coffee. One such café which should be considered a must-do on your visit to San Juan is La Bombonera which is located on Calle San Francisco. This bakery serves a wide array of baked goods and is a family run institution that dates back to 1902.
Other popular highly acclaimed restaurants in San Juan, according to recent surveys, include eateries like St Germain Bistro and Café, the Marmalade Restaurant and Wine Bar, Al Dente, Trois Cent Onze, Jose Enrique and Sofia Italian Kitchen and bar.
Nightlife in San Juan
San Juan has an especially vibrant nightlife scene that features bars, cocktail lounges, dance clubs and live music venues. These nightlife haunts in San Juan stay open until late every night.
Some of the most popular boîtes in San Juan according to popular surveys include joints like Auroritas (live music bar in Puerto Neuvo) Babylon (cocktail lounge in Isla Verde), Café Berlin (old San Juan), Café Matisse (EL Condado) and Maria’s (Old San Juan).