Why come to Puerto Rico?– Because it seems like you are in another country. Everything is different. The road distance is measured by kilometer, gas is sold in liters, and Spanish is spoken (and you are still in the United States). With breathtaking mountainscapes, tropical rainforests, and Caribbean beaches, a trip here is a three-for-one bargain. And on top of all this, there are three bioluminescent bays which are a one-of-a-kind feature. There is plenty to see and do in Puerto Rico to keep you busy for weeks.
San Juan, the lively capital city where the bulk of the island’s tourists arrive. It should be at the top of every Puerto Rico travel plan. This is the oldest European-established settlement in the United States and the second-oldest in America, founded in 1521. The pastel-colored Spanish colonial structures and narrow cobblestone streets of the Old Town are covered by 17th-century encampments and a 15-foot-thick zigzagging wall. To get the full effect, take a walking tour of Old San Juan. Also noteworthy is the fact that the piña colada was discovered here.
San Juan, however, is more than just quaint old buildings and tourist traps. It is a patchwork of ever-changing communities, such as Santurce’s hipster bars and street art or Condado’s cosmopolitan Miami vibes. We’ve listed some of the best things to do in San Juan. Keep on reading.
What to See on a Trip to San Juan?
Take a tour to relax on the beach, zip through a tropical rainforest, and walk through San Juan’s rich past.
The Rotunda in the Puerto Rican Capitol is a must-see
The capitol building, located near Fort San Cristobal, is a marble structure that faces the Atlantic. From Monday till Friday, admission is free.
Do not forget to look up at the ceiling, where a beautiful, thorough mosaic depicts Puerto Rico’s past. You will be surrounded by glass-encased versions of the Puerto Rican and US constitutions as you stand in the rotunda’s middle. The Puerto Rican and American flags fly side by side outside the Puerto Rican Capitol.
Fruity drinks – a great way to unwind
Do not hesitate if you see a small kart with the word “piraguas” written on it! Piraguas are crushed ice cones with flavors including lemon, coconut, tamarind, strawberry, passion fruit, and peach, made with local fruit syrups. Although you can’t find these karts much around the streets in the modern days as they are a dying tradition, they can be found near Paseo la Princesa and El Morro.
At La Puerta de la Bandera, take a selfie
After 2012, a rundown building on San José Street’s entry doors has served as a powerful symbol for Puerto Ricans suffering from the island’s ongoing economic crisis. The doors were initially adorned with the Puerto Rican flag by artist Rosenda Lvarez, who returned four years later to erase the flag’s red and blue colors and paint them black instead. It was a rebuke to the island’s notorious fiscal oversight board, which is now in charge of its finances. Tourists and locals alike love to take selfies in front of the hotel.
Visit the beach
It is difficult to visit Puerto Rico without going to the beach as outside of San Juan, some of the island’s most beautiful beaches can be found. However, many well-known beaches are worth visiting within the area, including Pine Grove Beach, Ocean Park Beach, and Condado Beach.
Try a tasty Tripleta
Delicious street food abounds in Puerto Rico, particularly now that the food-truck craze has swept the island. Tripleta means three, and it is a sandwich. This sandwich contains marinated chicken, pork, or ham and grilled cube steak and is served with ketchup, mayonnaise, and chips, on a sweet potato bread loaf. The most common place to find Tripleta is El Churry, in Isla Verde.
In La Perla, you can dance to the beat of “Despacito”
For decades, La Perla has had a poor reputation. Former homeless servants and house slaves who were not permitted to live within the city walls built this historic shantytown in the 19th century. The area has gained newfound attention as the location for Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” music video. Hurricane Maria has wreaked havoc on the island, and it is still recovering. On a Sunday night, visit La 39 Bar, a temporary bar located on the roof of a partially demolished house during the hurricane, and order a Medalla, Puerto Rico’s most popular beer. You will not be disappointed.
Explore Puerto Rico’s oldest cathedral
Visit the Casa Blanca Museum that was built by Spanish explorer Ponce de León and his family. De León, who legendarily (and ineffectually) pursued the Fountain of Youth, died on a voyage before he could settle down.
Take a short walk to the San Juan Bautista Cathedral, where Ponce de Leon is entombed and will remain for all eternity. The architecture isn’t awe-inspiring, but San Juan Bautista in Puerto Rico is the oldest cathedral and the world’s second-oldest. It also houses the shrine to Carlos Manuel Rodrguez Santiago. He’s the first Puerto Rican and layman to be beatified in American history.
Plaza Las Americas is a perfect place to go shopping
If you are looking for a place to spend some cash, head to Plaza Las Americas. It’s the Caribbean’s most extensive and Latin America’s second-largest shopping center. This mall has it all, from small arts and crafts to high-end shops, over 300 stores in total.
Live the Caribbean version of Miami Beach
With its Miami-style architecture, beachfront cafes, stylish hotels, and high-end shops, Ashford Avenue looks like a Caribbean version of Miami Beach. Listen to live music at the Hard Rock Café, party at the historic La Concha Resort, relax at the beachfront Ventana del Mar Park, or take a stroll down the avenue to soak up the scenery.
Visit a well-known speakeasy cocktail lounge
The speakeasy La Factoria is also featured in the “Despacito” music video. This spot is so well-known among locals that it doesn’t even need a sign. It is in the same spot as the famous Hijos de Borinquen bar (the original name is still painted on the wall inside), and La Factoria has the same low-key vibe as the original. It is touristy, but you will notice that there are more than tourists drinking and dancing once you are inside. Furthermore, there are four more distinct spaces outside the secret back door, including a cellar-like bar, dance floor, and wine bar, each with its own food, drinks, setting, vibe, and music. You could also treat yourself to a $9 cocktail.
Tour of the incredible street art throughout the city
There are plenty of impressive, vibrant murals all over San Juan, but if you are looking for street art, drive to the Santurce. Santurce es Ley, an international modern art festival, draws some of the world’s most creative street artists to paint large-scale murals on abandoned buildings and vacant lots in the neighborhood. A stroll down Calle Cerra and its side streets will reveal the bulk of these vibrant masterpieces. It is frequently linked to Miami’s Wynwood District, and some of the same artist’s work can be found there.
Dance at La Placita, San Juan’s best street party
The Little Market, also known as La Placita, is the most famous hangout for locals on weekends, chiefly Friday nights. La Placita, in Santurce, is a colonial-style produce market by the day. But when it shuts down in the afternoon, the pubs and clubs that surround it come alive until the early hours of the morning. Thus, everything from upscale restaurants, gay bars, salsa dance floors to reggaetón music clubs can all be found in one location. The best aspect is how the crowd interacts on the street and moves between different places depending on their mood.