United States: travel guide to San Juan, Puerto Rico

To the point Discover our travel guide to San Juan, the vibrant capital of Puerto Rico, and the things to do there.
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Are you looking for a sunny destination, far from the cold and snow? Just a few hours’ flight away, you’ll find Puerto Rico’s friendly capital and perfect weather.

Why choose Puerto Rico?

Part of the United States, San Juan is a Caribbean gem offering a unique cultural experience, magnificent beaches and fine dining. Moreover, it’s an accessible destination for families, thanks to its convenient flight distance from Canada.

San Juan - Puerto Rico

Introducing San Juan

San Juan is a city in Puerto Rico, a beautiful Caribbean island with a soul and history. Colonized and founded by the Spanish in 1521, the town of San Juan erected fortifications and forts to counter European invasions during the discovery of the New World, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site:

  • La Fortaleza (seat and current residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico),
  • Fort San Felipe del Morro
  • Fort San Cristoal
  • Fort San Juan de la Cruz

Since then, visitors have flocked to this city to discover its colonial architecture, vibrant atmosphere, colorful markets, and lively nightlife.

Top 10 activities in San Juan

Plan to visit San Juan over two to four days to get a taste of its essence. Start at the Port, then let yourself be carried away by the rhythm of the Condado and Isla Verde neighbourhoods, where the beaches invite you to relax as much as to party. From historic visits to lively evening events, San Juan will charm you with its diversity. Save time for cultural activities and evening events, as the atmosphere is at its best when night falls.

The pretty town of San Juan is trendy, with thousands of tourists visiting every day on cruise ships. Why not visit it yourself on a cruise?

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San Juan National Historic Site esplanade

Visit Fort San Felipe Del Morro at sunset over the fortifications. The esplanade of the National Historic Site of San Juan is a beautiful playground for children! Many people fly their kites and our children loved it; sometimes a butterfly, sometimes a fish etc… stars in your eyes.

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The Paseo de El Morro walk

Take the beautiful walk Paseo de El Morro along the sea. Five gates led through the city wall. There’s only one left, “La puerta de San Juan“.

Fort San Cristobal

Visit the Fort San Cristobal, built after the fortress of San Felipe Del Morro. It’s smaller but no less interesting and offers magnificent panoramic views over San Juan.

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The Paseo de la Princesa promenade

Then continue towards the promenade of the Paseo de la Princesa in order to reach the beautiful fountain installed to commemorate the arrival of Christopher Columbus 500 years ago in America.

The old town of San Juan

Wander through the narrow streets of the old town, observe the colonial architecture of its restored houses with their bright colours combined with silvery blue cobblestones, and stroll through the craft shops or take advantage of the outlets.

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Sporting activities in San Juan

With its clear waters, surf lovers will be delighted with the waves that crash from the west coast onto the beaches of Rincon, for example. Why not take an introductory course?

The rich marine biodiversity and colourful coral reefs in the vicinity also make for exceptional diving sites. Escambron Beach, near San Juan, is perfect for beginners. At the same time, more experienced divers can head for Fajardo or Isla Palomino on the east and west coast for the waters around Desecheo Island, a world-renowned dive site or La Parguera. In this fishing village, divers can descend along underwater “walls” or vertical walls covered in coral and sponges.

Art and culture

Admire the street art, murals and historical landmarks throughout the city. But also enter the Gothic San Juan Bautista Cathedral, the 2nd oldest church in America. Here you’ll find the tomb of Juan Ponce de Léon, Spanish explorer and first governor of Puerto Rico. The church faces the oldest square.

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Museum of the Americas and Casa Blanca Museum

If you’re a history buff and want to know more about Puerto Rico’s birth and development, or if time is on your side, I suggest the Museum of the Americas or a visit to the Casa Blanca Museum.

Cocktails near Placeita de Santurce!

Have a glass of Piña Colada at happy hour and don’t miss out on the delicious local specialities, the atmosphere is festive as soon as night falls! You’ll spend a delightful evening on the terrace of the T.tuan Old San Juan tapas bar, right next to the town’s smallest house, with its live music.

PS: American Express American Express cards are accepted everywhere in San Juan (restaurants, grocery stores…).

The American Express Cobalt® Card delivers 5 points per dollar at restaurants, bars and grocery stores in Puerto Rico.

amex cobalt san juan

One more reason to have this card for purchases, even in foreign currency! More explanations on this card in this article.

Another place to visit to celebrate is the Placita of Santurce!

Escambron and Del Condado beaches

There’s no shortage of beaches in Puerto Rico. Go to Escambron beach or Playita del Condado beach if you want to bask in the sun, or take an Uber or even an early ferry from Cieba to one of the most beautiful Flamenco Beach on the island of Culebra.

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Discovering the island of Puerto Rico

To visit the rest of the island, a rental car is the obvious choice. The island is full of beautiful places to see. Go for a swim in a waterfall like Canon de Tanama, or relax on Luquillo beach.

The nearby Spanish towns are also well worth a visit. Colorful and lively, Ponce is worth a visit for its majestic architecture, art museum and La Guancha waterfront promenade. From here, you can take the ferry to the island of Caja de Muertos for a day’s diving.

San German, the second oldest town after San Juan, is just as interesting to visit, although more difficult to access. In the past, the island was divided between these two cities. Its neoclassical architecture and historic churches will take you back in time, as will the Dominguez Pharmacy Museum and the Aurelio Tio house-workshop.

For the more sporty, try your hand at hiking in El Yunque National Forest, kayaking in the bioluminescent Fajardo Bay amidst mangroves, or soaring over magnificent landscapes on America’s longest zip line at Parque Toro Verde in Orocovis.

The island is also famous for its rum. The opportunity to visit Casa Bacardi, the world’s largest rum distillery in Catano, or to taste Puerto Rico’s famous signature cocktail, the Pina Colada!

Finally, end one of your days with a sunset at the Punta Higuero lighthouse.

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Save on accommodation with points

You’ll find plenty of accommodation options. But to save money, nothing beats checking out our favorite loyalty programs like Marriott Bonvoy.

For our part, we visited The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort hotel in Puerto Rico,one of our best travel memories! Admittedly, this trip had cost us a lot of points. But, we had maximized the benefit of the fifth night free with Marriott Bonvoy points.

Marriott Bonvoy credit cards each offer an excellent welcome bonus. And, for each of your expenses, you can earn Marriott Bonvoy points.

Whether you’re a couple or a family, Marriott offers a range of hotels to suit every type of traveller for a stay in Puerto Rico. Here is a summary of the most interesting and advantageous options:

  • La Concha Renaissance San Juan Resort is located directly on the beach. This hotel offers luxury, modernity, and romance with its outdoor pools, casino, and upscale dining options. Couples will appreciate the luxurious suites and the proximity of Old San Juan for romantic evenings.
  • The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort hotel in Puerto Rico,For an exclusive getaway, this resort offers an intimate setting with access to an idyllic beach surrounded by the natural beauty of El Yunque. It’s the perfect place for couples seeking tranquillity and prestige service, as well as for families, with its golden pools and kids club.
  • San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris CasinoLocated near the beach, this hotel offers activities for all ages, with outdoor pools, a waterslide and close proximity to family attractions. Spacious rooms and on-site dining options make for a convenient and enjoyable stay for families.

Practical tips for visiting San Juan

Getting around San Juan is easy thanks to a network of buses, uber and cabs. However, exploring Old San Juan on foot remains the best way to discover its hidden charms. Free trolleys run constantly throughout the city.

Take the season and climate into account. The peak tourist season runs from December to April, offering ideal weather but also higher prices. It has a tropical climate, which means that hurricanes can occur. Generally, the risk period is between June and December.

Bottom Line

We’ve been charmed by the capital of San Juan and think you’ll love its history, culture and gastronomy just as much as we do. It’s the perfect place to recharge your batteries as a couple or family and create beautiful memories.

Come to discuss that topic in our Facebook Group!
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Jean-Maximilien is an expert in Canada and France about Loyalty programs, Credit cards and Travel. He is the Founding President of Milesopedia.

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