Christoper Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, and in '93, he set foot in San Juan, Puerto Rico. As the second oldest European-founded city in the Americas, San Juan has strong ties to the region's history. Explore the classic architecture and famous sites, then head for the sun-drenched beaches and bustling urban hotspots nearby. The city also has a thriving tourism industry catering to outdoor enthusiasts, shopaholics, foodies and art lovers alike. Celebrate the Old and New Worlds by exploring some of the many things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
San Juan claims some of Puerto Rico's most picturesque beaches, each with its charms. Condado Beach extends for more than a mile down the Atlantic coast. Lined with several high rise hotels, Condado is well-maintained and convenient to restaurants and shopping. A scenic walk over Dos Hermanos Bridge will take you to Punta Escambrón, a favorite beach of locals and visitors. Coral reefs make it a popular destination for snorkeling and scuba diving, as well as for families with small children. If you prefer a quiet beach far from the resorts, head to Playa Ocean Park for surfing, swimming and socializing.
Old San Juan is a historic gem in Puerto Rico. With Colonial architecture and historic structures, the entire sector is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Self-guided walking tours are available online, but a guided tour provides local insight and context to your surroundings. Book a private food or cocktail tour and taste the flavors of San Juan, or opt for a historic tour. The Old San Juan Free Walking Tour is available with reservations through the Civitatis website. Learn about the history of Spanish rule, see spectacular views, and tour the ancient fortifications. Don't forget to tip your tour guide afterward.
The Casa Blanca, which translates to the White House, is the oldest residence and fortification in Old San Juan. Architects designed the house for Juan Ponce de León and his family, but the Spanish conquistador died before he could take up residency. Now, the home is a museum with 16th and 17th-century artifacts and an informative exhibit. A modest admission fee pays for a guided tour, revealing the secrets and surprises of this centuries-old home. The adjoining hidden gardens, a spectacular sight, are free to access. Come on a hot day to escape the sun and relax near the fountains.
For lovers of rum and unique adventures, the perfect destination awaits across the Bay of San Juan in Cataño. Casa Bacardi is the world's largest premium rum distillery and often referred to as the Cathedral of Rum. For the price of admission, you'll roam the distillery grounds in a shuttle and learn about the facility's history while enjoying a cocktail. The tour is reasonably priced, but for a bit more cash, you can take the rum tasting tour or a mixology class. To get to Casa Bacardi, take a taxi or the ferry from Pier 2.
When traveling abroad, cemeteries aren't usually at the top of your itinerary. The Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, however, is unlike others you'll see in your lifetime. Perched on a hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, this peaceful 19th-century memorial park bears a stunning view. Upon seeing the Colonial-era mausoleum, intricate sculptures, and elaborate tombstones, you'll understand why locals pay top dollar for a gravesite here. Admission is free during opening hours, so feel free to wander the grounds.
The San Juan National Historic Site, including three forts and the city walls, reveals hundreds of years of history and war in Puerto Rico. Castillo San Felipe del Morro, or El Morro for short, overlooks the entrance to San Juan Bay. A tour of the stronghold's darkened passages and open spaces is an absolute must if you're in Old San Juan. Admission also includes entrance to Castillo San Cristóbal, the largest fortress in the New World. Spend the day exploring these massive fortifications before enjoying a picturesque walk along the ancient city walls. Check online for hours and more information.
San Juan nightlife is as vibrant as the pastel buildings in the old quarter. Get your kicks at a nightclub or casino, or sway to the rhythms of a live band at a lounge on San Sebastian Street. Music lovers may want to stop at La Factoría, the cocktail bar made famous in the music video for Luis Fonsi's Despacito. Head to Old San Juan for a more romantic vibe and stroll the lamplit, colorful streets in search of a party. If you're in town on Sunday, walk along Paseo de la Princesa for delicious street foods and live music.
San Juan has many historic sites and tourist havens to keep you occupied, but some travelers may prefer a more local experience. Calle Loíza is the perfect destination for mingling with the neighborhood. Located in the working-class barrio of Santurce, restaurants, bars, clubs, and coffee shops generously populate this growing hipster community. Walk the mile-and-a-half length of road from Condado, stopping to photograph the colorful murals and building facades along the way. Don't miss out on Libros Libres, an open-air collection of free books. Afterward, head for an art gallery or catch a free movie at Cinema Paradiso.
If you've ever vacationed at the beach, chances are you've tasted a piña colada. The popular drink originated in San Juan, and no trip to Puerto Rico would be complete without an authentic taste of the tropical treat. Several bars claim to be the birthplace of this tasty beverage, including Barrachina and the Caribe Hilton Hotel. A visit to either locale promises the perfect cocktail. Visit the Discover Puerto Rico website for a list of recommended Coladas all over the island, and don't forget to use the hashtag #coladaculture on social media.
San Juan is a food lover's destination and often cited as the gastronomic heart of the Caribbean. There is no shortage of delicious eateries in town, with plenty of options for frugal foodies as well as vegetarians. Walk the waterfront paths for a wide selection of seafood restaurants, or head to Loíza for a taste of Afro Puerto-Rican cuisine. Also in Loíza is the community of Piñones, known for the many kiosks selling tasty street foods. Try the mofongo, a popular dish made with fried plantains, then head to El Boricua for the best fritters in Piñones.