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Categories: Caribbean > Puerto Rico > San Juan

San Juan

San Juan is the capital of the island of Puerto Rico, a self-governing commonwealth of the United States. It has a population of around 433,700 people and is the second-oldest city established by Europeans in the Americas. It is a bustling cosmopolitan city (as bustling as a laid-back Caribbean city can be) and features many high-rise hotels, beautiful beaches, and also a unique colonial history. San Juan is also the economic center of the island, and is home to many banks, manufacturing factories, and cultural institutions such as the University of Puerto Rico, the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico, and the Museum of Puerto Rican Art. The city is home to one of the busiest and most important seaports in the Caribbean; it hosts over 90% of the tourism and commercial ships that dock in Puerto Rico.

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The city of San Juan is located in the northeastern part of the island of Puerto Rico. It borders the Atlantic Ocean and stretches over an area of about 77 square miles (about 200 square kilometers). San Juan Bay is the main body of water near the city, along with two natural lagoons, the Condado and the San José.

The city is split into 18 different wards, but the area of Old San Juan is the most historic the most visited. It is where the original Spanish settlement was located and contains most of the city's colonial-era buildings, cobblestone streets, and old-world charm. Some of the most notable buildings here include the El Morro fort, La Fortaleza (originally a fort, and now the governor's mansion) and the San José church.

Quick Facts

  • U.S. travelers:
  • No passport needed for entry
  • Official language:

    Spanish (English is widely spoken)

  • Official currency:

    U.S. dollar

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Categories: Caribbean > Puerto Rico > San Juan



San Juan, Puerto Rico, with stunning beaches, is one of the busiest leisure and business travel destinations in the Caribbean. It is especially convenient for U.S. citizens, because they do not need a passport to go to Puerto Rico and the currency there is the U.S. dollar.

Old San Juan's walled enclave delights visitors with a treasure trove of Spanish colonial architecture. The venerable San Juan Cathedral, gray cobblestoned streets and pastel-colored buildings give the Puerto Rican city the glamorous look of a movie set. Visitors will find a deep respect for the past combined with passion for the trends of the present.

San Juan houses cultural attractions such as the stunning Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, the state-of-the-art Coliseo de Puerto Rico that has welcomed major superstars and athletes, and a multimillion-dollar convention-center facility—the largest in the Caribbean. Historic neighborhoods offer sophisticated restaurants that combine Latin, Caribbean and Asian flavors. Cosmopolitan lounges, restaurants and nightclubs all around town fuel the city's reputation as a late-night haven for beautiful people.

Must See or Do

Sights—Castillo de San Felipe del Morro and Castillo de San Cristobal; Catedral de San Juan for its beautiful stained-glass windows; the Bacardi Rum Distillery; the popular beaches of Isla Verde and Condado; the lush vegetation of El Yunque National Forest in nearby Rio Grande.

Museums—The regional art and sculpture garden at Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico; the Museo de las Americas, located inside the 19th-century Spanish-built Cuartel de Ballaja; contemporary works by Puerto Rican and Latin American artists at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo.

Memorable Meals—Arroz con pollo (chicken and rice), mofongo (mashed plantains and garlic) or other classic Puerto Rican dishes at La Casita Blanca; extraordinary tasting menus and wine pairings at Marmalade; excellent French food at Trois Cent Onze (311).

Nightlife—Grab an icy Medalla and sign the wall at El Batey, the city's oldest pub; roll the dice at any of the swanky hotel casinos; mingle with the local elite at La Concha Lobby Bar & Lounge; dance at the eclectic La Respuesta music venue.

Walks—Explore Old San Juan on foot; catch a breath of fresh air while passing by the oceanfront at La Ventana al Mar in Condado; take in the fresh ocean breeze on a stroll through the Luis Munoz Rivera park at the entrance of Old San Juan (opposite side of Escambron beach area); a walk along the Paseo Pinones Recreational Trail in nearby Loiza; the pleasant surroundings of the Rio Piedras Botanical Garden.

Especially for Kids—A bike ride at the Luis Munoz Rivera park in Hato Rey; feeding the birds at Plaza de las Palomas; an afternoon exploring the Museo del Nino and riding the go-karts.

San Juan Travel Agents


San Juan is located on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The city is made up of five urban centers: Old San Juan, Santurce, Hato Rey, Rio Piedras and Condado. Most tourist attractions are located in the Old San Juan, Condado and Isla Verde areas.

Old San Juan occupies a peninsula that juts into the Atlantic Ocean, with the ancient Spanish fortress of El Morro (at the tip of the peninsula) marking the city's northernmost point. Moving eastward from Old San Juan, the modern hotels of the Condado and Isla Verde areas rise along the sands of the beach, and farther south, the gleaming glass towers of the Hato Rey banking district reflect the sun.

Miramar, an upscale area between Santurce and Isla Grande, is bordered on one side with a path that provides spectacular views of the Condado lagoon. SoFo, the district south of Calle Fortaleza in Old San Juan, is one of the city's trendiest entertainment hubs. South of the city are the cool green mountains that crisscross the center of the island.


After Columbus arrived on the sparsely inhabited island of Puerto Rico in 1493, Spain sent Juan Ponce de Leon to establish a stronghold in a protected harbor on the northern coast. Spain used the city for the next four centuries as its gateway to the New World, as well as the base from which it defended its possessions in the Americas. Although the Dutch and eventually the British held the town for brief periods, the Spanish managed time and again to recapture San Juan. In 1898, however, the U.S. Army landed on the island during the Spanish-American War, and Puerto Rico was later ceded to the U.S. as part of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the conflict.

In 1917, the U.S. Congress granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship. Two decades later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched Operation Bootstrap, which provided agricultural development, public works and electricity to the island. Puerto Rico has been a U.S. commonwealth since 1952. There have been five nonbinding plebiscites on statehood, the most recent in 2017 and 2020, with the majority voting to become a state; however, Congress holds the power of making that decision.

Proponents of statehood are continuing efforts in Washington, D.C., for a congressionally mandated referendum on the island's political status. Islanders enjoy U.S. citizenship and pay no federal income taxes, but they cannot vote in presidential elections and do not receive the same aid and opportunities found in the States.

San Juan continues to thrive as the business center of the island and the region. It's a manufacturing powerhouse that set the foundation for the island's growing presence of biotechnology developments, and it is a processing hub, with petroleum refineries and the famed Bacardi Rum distillery. Its port is one of the most active in the Caribbean—both for cruise and cargo ships—and Luis Munoz Marin International Airport is the region's busiest airport.

Tourism is an important economic driver for the island, as evidenced in the metro area's ongoing industry developments, including the Puerto Rico Convention Center, still the largest and most technically advanced meeting facility in the Caribbean.


Founded by Ponce de Leon in 1521, San Juan is the oldest city in the U.S. territory—older than St. Augustine, Florida, which was founded in 1565.

The coqui (a type of frog) can be found all over Puerto Rico. Its name comes from the lovely melody it sings in the evening: ko-kee, ko-kee. It is considered the island's unofficial animal.

Puerto Rico is a featured destination for a limited edition of the Parker Brothers Monopoly brand board game. The El Morro fort in San Juan is the board's main picture.

With more than 120 years of history in horse racing, the island has produced famous jockeys and Thoroughbreds including Angel Cordero Jr., who rode the Puerto Rican-trained horse Bold Forbes to wins in the 1976 Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes.

San Juan native Jose Miguel Agrelot—a beloved Puerto Rican comedian, radio and TV host—was the first Hispanic inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago.

The Puerto Rican band Calle 13 has won 21 Grammy Awards, more than any other Latin artist, including 19 Latin Grammy Awards and two American Grammy Awards. Other well-known recording artists from Puerto Rico include pop megastars Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, Robi Draco Rosa and Luis Fonsi; Latin reggae leaders Cultura Profetica; Latin hardcore rock icons Puya; reggaeton stars and actors Tego Calderon, Daddy Yankee and Don Omar; jazz megastar Miguel Zenon; guitarist Mars Volta; and singer Omar Rodriguez-Lopez.

Movies filmed in Puerto Rico include: Assassins, Contact, Bad Boys II, Amistad, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Che, Fast & Furious: Fast Five, Havanna Nights, Golden Eye, Captain Ron, Hector Lavoe, The Losers, Rum Diaries and Christmas in Paradise.

Puerto Rico is considered the rum capital of the world. Besides its 450-year history of rum production, Puerto Rico is the only rum-producing nation that regulates production with laws to ensure great quality and taste. It's also the birthplace of the refreshing pina colada cocktail.


The Port of San Juan is the center of ship traffic in the Caribbean—in addition to being a popular port of call, it is home base for dozens of luxury liners. More than 1.5 million cruise passengers sail in or out of San Juan annually, and those figures continue to grow as increasing numbers of megaships visit the island.

Several piers sit right on bustling Calle Marina. When you get off your ship, you can walk straight into Old San Juan. There's tourist information across the street from Pier 1 on Calle Marina. The newer cruise-ship piers are Pier 3 and Pier 4, which are directly south of Pier 1 and lead up toward the Pan American Pier, at the far south end of Old San Juan on Calle Lindbergh in the Isla Grande area—it's a little farther from the main tourist attractions. For the Puerto Rico Ports Authority, phone 787-723-2260; or contact Terminal de San Juan at 787-729-8714. http://prpa.pr.gov.

Although you won't find restaurants on piers 1, 3 or 4 or the Pan American premises, they are plentiful in Old San Juan. Options range from chain restaurants to local-cuisine restaurants and cafes. Pier 4 has a duty-free store. And the ferry terminal, marked Pier 2 Acuaexpreso, offers a variety of restaurants such as the terminal cafeteria, an ice-cream shop and a coffeehouse.

San Juan has joined the 21st century head-on, and rare is the hotel or cafe that doesn't offer a username and password to access complimentary Wi-Fi.

Taxis are readily available at the port, and a free trolley stops across from Pier 4 with hop-on, hop-off service through Old San Juan. Charlie Car Rental has an office in the nearby Condado area (phone 787-721-6525; http://www.charliecars.com). Hertz has a location at the Sheraton Old San Juan on Calle Brumbaugh (phone 787-721-5100).

If you're flying into San Juan to catch a ship, know that most cruise lines provide transportation from the airport to the pier; otherwise, a taxi ride to the port costs about US$20. Uber and Lyft are not widely available in the city.

Shore Excursions

Typical excursions may take you on a tour of the city, a rum distillery or the rain forest, or you can choose more vigorous activities, such as golf, rock climbing, hiking, kayaking or a trek through the mountains on horseback. You can also tour the forest canopy via a zipline or take an excursion to the west shore.

Check with your travel agent for additional information. To experience San Juan on your own, be sure to stop by the Old San Juan Tourism Office.



Located 110 mi/175 km north of Mexico City, San Juan del Rio, Mexico, is primarily an agricultural center, but it is also known for its semiprecious gems (opals are mined locally). The many jewelry shops overflow with already-set opals, or you can also design your own pieces from loose gems.

The popular European-style Walther brand cheese, named after its Swiss creator, is also locally produced.

Homes dating from the colonial period dot the streets of this charming town. See the Museo de la Santa Veracruz—it's in a lovely building that was formerly a convent and has several interesting archaeology and geography exhibits.

Close by, just off the highway, is the Hacienda Galindo, a magnificent resort dating from the 16th century dripping with legends and history.



Located near the border with Costa Rica, San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua, is a fishing village on the Pacific that has become a seaside resort. Located 60 mi/95 km south of Managua, the San Juan Del Sur area offers beaches, rocky vistas and seaside restaurants. Surfing is possible, though the waves are rather small. If you visit, take mosquito repellent.

The town is undergoing a transformation from a tourist destination primarily attracting budget travelers and surfers to a slightly more upscale mid-range destination. As a result, it's a rather disheveled place with a mix of grungy hostels, open-air thatched restaurants and bars along the beach, mixed with more upscale accommodations and a smattering of little boutiques, specialty restaurants and cafes, tourist services and souvenir shops. Many of these establishments are owned and operated by Europeans and American expats.

The town has a reputation as a party spot, particularly on weekends and holidays. It also has safety issues. Visitors should not walk on the beach at night, nor on the streets after dark.

A series of little-developed beaches set in small coves between forested headlands are lined up along the coast both north and south of San Juan town. They are accessed by rough, hilly dirt tracks that can become extremely muddy during rainy season. Generally, four-wheel-drive vehicles are needed to traverse these roads.

The nearby nature reserves at Chacocente and La Flor are frequented by sea turtles, which go ashore to lay their eggs. The area also offers spectacular birding and animal sightings.



These 172 spectacular islands—lodged between the Olympic Peninsula, northern Puget Sound and Vancouver Island, approximately 70 mi/115 km northwest of Seattle—are a must-see for any visitor to Washington. Fishing villages dot the coves, embracing a simpler time, and many artists reside on the islands, drawn by the scenery and solitude. At the very least, take the four-hour ferry ride through the archipelago. The boats depart from Anacortes.

Bald eagles and orcas frequent the cool waters of Puget Sound near the islands, and the west coast of San Juan Island is one of the best whale-watching points in the U.S. Sightings are most common in summer, when orcas hunt in groups (called "pods"). You can sometimes spot whales from the shore at Lime Kiln State Park.

Go bike riding (Lopez Island is the best) along the winding coastal roads, and go beachcombing after storms. Keep an eye out for eagles, deer, seals, porpoises and otters.

San Juan Island National Historical Park documents an anticlimactic clash between U.S. and British forces in the mid-1800s. The "Pig War" started over a hog and ended with a standoff that redrew boundary lines. Another possibility is the Whale Museum (phone 360-378-4710; https://whalemuseum.org) in the village of Friday Harbor.

Orcas Island is the most scenic of the four ferry stops, with rolling hills and the 2,400-ft/730-m Mount Constitution. The mountain is the centerpiece of Moran State Park, a place of hiking trails, forests and waterfalls.

Sea kayaking is another great way to see this part of the state and allows for up-close observation of the wildlife. The Cascadia Marine Trail, a 150-mi/240-km route from Olympia to the border with Canada, runs through the San Juans.

For more information, contact the San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce. Phone 360-378-5240. https://sanjuanisland.org.



The rugged, impressive San Juan Mountains have much the same grandeur as the Rockies but fewer tourists, although they've become more popular. The San Juan Skyway is a scenic driving route that provides a wonderful way to become acquainted with this part of the state. It's a large loop, 235 mi/230 km in length. We suggest you take at least two days if you plan to drive the whole thing.

Beginning on the northern end of the skyway, Ouray is a historic mining town set in a scenic area you might recognize from such westerns as True Grit and How the West Was Won. The town garnered some notoriety when the daughter of a miner ended up buying the Hope Diamond. Others already knew about Ouray because its local newspaper, the Solid Muldoon, had established a reputation for being the most irreverent rag ever produced. (It's said that Queen Victoria was a subscriber.)

While you're in Ouray, be sure to see the Old Opera House with its iron facade and the historic Beaumont Hotel (where Theodore Roosevelt stayed). And don't miss a ride down into the Bachelor-Syracuse Mine (it's a cool 47 F/8 C at the end of the tunnel, 3,350 ft/1,020 m into the side of the mountain). Also impressive is Box Canyon, a deep gorge within the city limits, where you can walk across a suspension bridge or take a walking trail down into the canyon. If you have time, make a trip to see the spectacular wildflowers in Yankee Boy Basin, just west of Ouray. You'll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to cover the last part of the road.

Heading south of Ouray, the skyway follows Highway 550, also known as the Million Dollar Highway—there's supposed to be gold in the gravel used for its construction. Regardless of what's in the roadway, the views are priceless. It's an absolutely thrilling drive, with cliffs on one side of the road and deep canyons on the other—as exciting as any theme-park ride.

Your next stop is at Silverton. Make a point of visiting the town's historic district, with its town hall and the Grand Imperial Hotel. If you have time, you can take a Jeep tour through some of the surrounding ghost towns. Silverton is one terminus of the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, so you may want to catch the train there, if you don't plan to do so in Durango.

Continue on 550 South through Purgatory to Durango, one of the region's tourism hubs. From Durango, drive west on Highway 160, which passes the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park. Continue west to Cortez, which makes a good base for exploring the area. If you don't mind veering away from the San Juans for a bit, you've got two options: You can go 35 mi/55 km southwest on Highway 160 to the Four Corners Monument, where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona meet. It's run by the Navajo tribe, and it will cost you a couple of dollars to stand on the slab that marks the point. Unless you've got another reason to go that way, we suggest skipping the monument. A much better choice is to make the 42-mi/68-km drive to Hovenweep National Monument, on the Colorado-Utah border. The monument is a collection of six deserted Anasazi villages—notable for the masonry structures that look as much like medieval castles as they do pueblos.

Finish your tour of the Skyway by returning to Cortez and driving Highway 145 northeast through Telluride to Highway 62. Highway 62 will return you to Highway 550 near Ouray.

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