EXPLORE

The Travel Guide to San Juan

Good to Know
Safety:
B
Budget:
$$$
When to go:
Dec–April
Average Costs
Basic
Baller
Dinners
$10
$30
Drinks
$3
$12
Hotel
$100
$300

Welcome to San Juan

Pristine beaches and intoxicating jungles. Incredible food. Centuries’ worth of history and culture. No passport required for US citizens. The only drawback to visiting Puerto Rico is that if you’ve never been, you’ll be kicking yourself on that first trip for not visiting sooner. It’s remarkable how often we forget that San Juan is a stunner of a destination, with its vibrant neighborhoods, street art, and joie de’ vivre that’s extended to locals and tourists alike. It’s also incredible to think that this city has been standing since long before the Mayflower found its way to Plymouth Rock; San Juan was founded in the mid-1500s. The city’s enduring spirit is matched in magnitude by its exquisite surroundings, and the ease of actually getting there makes it a no-brainer for a beach escape. San Juan’s past is really something – but there’s no time like the present to see it for yourself.

Who’ll Love San Juan

History buffs, family trips, romantic getaways, rambunctious group outings, anyone seeking a warm-weather escape in the depths of winter

How to Budget for a Trip to San Juan

You might think that San Juan is an inexpensive place to visit – after all, it’s on a small island in the Caribbean, where plenty of beach getaways can be had on the cheap. In truth, it’s not terribly expensive, but it isn’t terribly inexpensive, either. Hotel rooms in the city are reliably priced between $150 and $300 nightly, with beachfront properties running up to $400 a night. Food and drink, however, are a fair bit cheaper than what you’d expect in other US tourist destinations, ranging from $10 to $35 on the more deluxe end of the market.

Safety Considerations

The tourism industry is a huge part of the local economy in San Juan, and as such, keeping tourists safe is a top priority. You can expect to feel safe in San Juan regardless of gender or sexual orientation – the island is known as a great destination for the LGBTQIA+ community – though BIPOC travelers may sense some racism in pockets of the city and island at large. While incidents of crime are rare, police officers are often bilingual.

Weather in San Juan

Puerto Rico’s tropical climate means visitors are treated to warm and sunny weather almost year-round. The seasons, then, are more distinguished by rainfall than anything else. 

Winter in San Juan, from mid-December through about mid-April, is when the weather is most warm, welcoming, and dry. Hurricane season runs from June through November, and it’s when San Juan (and the rest of Puerto Rico) is at its wettest and hottest.

When to Visit San Juan

Winter is San Juan’s high season, as travelers come to escape colder climates in the northern hemisphere, so the best weather also means the biggest crowds and highest prices on things like hotel rooms.

Despite its mostly consistent year-round temperatures, San Juan does have shoulder seasons, which can be a good option for budget travelers. The temperatures from April through June climb steadily toward hurricane season, but most of the crowds have gone home.

Money Saving Tips

Hop on the free trolley. There are two trolley routes through Old San Juan that are completely free and stop at many of the popular attractions. Note that they can be extremely crowded when a cruise ship’s passengers are exploring the town.

Eat like the locals. Skip the hotel and resort restaurants and seek out eateries away from the more popular tourist areas. You’ll likely find more locals eating there, where prices are lower.

Rent a car for island excursions. While getting around in the city using public transportation, taxis, or rideshares is less stressful, getting out of the city on day trips with a rental car is more budget-friendly.

What to See, Do, and Eat in San Juan

The Top 10 Things to Do in San Juan

stone walls of Castillo San Felipe del Morro
  1. Stroll Old San Juan, and don’t miss the cobblestoned street known as Calle Fortaleza, painted in various cotton candy-like hues
  2. Visit the historic Castillo San Felipe del Morro and the Castillo San Cristóbal
  3. Get inspired at the Museo de las Américas, featuring art that highlights the history and culture of Puerto Rico
  4. Walk the Paseo del Morro, a National Historic Site with gorgeous views of San Juan Bay
  5. Explore one of the city’s oldest buildings, the Catedral Metropolitana Basilica de San Juan Bautista
  6. Get out on the water at Isla Verde
  7. Head out to Mosquito Bay, off the coast of Puerto Rico on Vieques, to experience the magnificent bioluminescence after dark
  8. Visit the Cavernas de Camuy, a park made up of over 250 acres of caves, one of the largest in the world 
  9. Relax on the sandy shores of Seven Seas Beach
  10. Tour La Casa Estrecha, a 5-foot-wide, fully functional house was built in an alley between two buildings, known as the narrowest house in the world

The Local Picks for Top Attractions and Activities in San Juan

aerial view of Laguna del Condado
  1. Check out Lote 23, a gastro park that showcases the best of Puerto Rican flavors
  2. Get inspired at Santurce Es Ley, a vibrant collection of independent art that was formed in response to a slew of graffiti/mural artist arrests – the outrage those arrests sparked led to the passing of a law that allows artists to paint in Santurce without penalty
  3. Explore Cueva María De La Cruz, a small historical park where you can learn about the pre-Columbian cultures that made this area one of the earliest settled spots on the island
  4. Soak up some local lore at Capilla Del Santo Cristo De La Salud, a tiny chapel and one of the most beautiful monuments in the old capital; erected in 1753, there’s a story worth hearing about its inception
  5. Take a load off at Laguna del Condado, a lagoon where the locals spend their time lounging, kayaking, and spotting manatees
  6. Pay homage to late, great, most famous Puerto Ricans at the Cemetery Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis; it’s also a beautiful place to take a peaceful walk and enjoy some fantastic views
  7. Spend an afternoon on the Isla de Cabras, a small island extending over the bay of San Juan that’s perfect for an afternoon walk and a picnic with views of El Morro
  8. Hop aboard La Lancha de Cataño, an 8-minute ferry ride to Cataño, which offers great views and fun experiences to be had at the Bacardi Factory (try the interactive mixology class)
  9. Relax and unwind at Playa Fortuna in Luquillo, a tranquil and picturesque beach with obvious appeal and relatively small crowds
  10. Party down at La Placita de Santurce, a famous market during the day and the hub of one of San Juan's hottest nightlife scenes at night

What to Eat and Drink in San Juan

Foodies rejoice! Puerto Rico is full of flavor and creativity, meaning you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to your next meal. In San Juan, the old and the new can sometimes clash – but they live in harmony on where food is concerned, with farm-to-table eateries and hipster bars serving as a complement, not an opponent, of traditional flavors; likewise, pub fare and high-end dining are both in ample supply. Then there’s the rum, wherein words fail, so we’ll leave you with just three: Ron del Barrilito.

  • La Casita Blanca is a bright and airy breakfast/brunch eatery that’s a perfect place to fuel up on healthy but filling food and start the day off right
  • La Alcapurria Quema is a no-frills, down-home, traditional spot to get a satisfying lunch (or dinner)
  • Vianda creates a delicious farm-to-table meals that are great for a slightly fancy evening
  • Casita Miramar is a go-to for upscale yet traditional Puerto Rican cuisine in a dining room full of old-world charm
  • Cocina Abierta is great for a dinner of chic gastronomic feats with Latin-American flavors and the element of surprise
  • El Patio de Solé is a hidden gem of a restaurant that’s also something of a museum, containing lots of relics of Puerto Rican culture
  • Cafe Playero is a beach spot to enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner, with great tacos, sandwiches, frozen cocktails, and vegetarian options
  • El Ladrillo is a dimly lit, tavern-like destination to enjoy a world-class seafood dinner and a venerable selection of wines, with frequent live music (and excellent coffee)
  • Ernestina is a casual place to taste super-fresh seafood and shellfish at lunch and dinner

Where to Stay in San Juan

The main question when deciding where to stay in San Juan can be boiled down to this: Beach or city? There are benefits to both, so the choice usually has more to do with where you plan to spend most of your time. With both options, you’ll have your pick of hotels in all price ranges, from budget hotels to the resorts that proliferate on the coast. Even budget hotels, however, often cost about $100 per night.

Top San Juan Neighborhoods for Visitors

Old San Juan is the most popular place to stay in the city, by a long shot – after all, it’s home to many a historic fortress, those famous 15-foot-thick walls are a sight to behold, and, since it’s so tourism-saturated, you won’t stick out here. 

That said, you’d do well to check out Santurce and Isla Verde. The former is a colorful, culture-loving neighborhood, home to a formidable array of museums, shops, galleries, restaurants, and street art – plus the oceanfront Condado area, an upscale strip of resorts, pools, and swimming holes. The latter is a bit east of San Juan proper and is known for being a lively playground of water sports and nightlife, with plenty of accommodations to go around. Inland Santurce is the most budget-friendly – under $200/night, but with few options – while Condado and Isla Verde cater to a higher price point, with most places between $250 and $400.

Recommended Hotels in San Juan

Getting Around

Public Transportation Options in San Juan

Deciding on a mode of transit in San Juan is a literal choose-your-own-adventure sort of endeavor, and there are no wrong ways to go about it. Uber and taxi cabs are easy to hail in the city, the light rail is reliable, and the buses aren’t half bad (though traffic very well may be). When it comes to the rest of Puerto Rico, there are shuttles and tour buses if you aren’t keen on driving, but exploring the island in a rental car is a great way to have a more intimate, authentic experience as you traverse, and the roads, while winding, are in good shape.

San Juan Airports

The main airport in Puerto Rico is Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU), located a short three miles from San Juan. It’s a hub for Air Sunshine and some charter airlines, and a focus city for JetBlue and Silver Airways.

How to Get from Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) to San Juan

While rideshare companies Uber and Jaime te lleva (a local app) make it easier to get around once you’re in San Juan, they don’t serve the airport. To get from Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport into the city, there are metered taxis that have fixed fares (starting from $12) depending on where you’re going. The drive takes about 15 minutes. There are also public bus lines that connect to the airport, but luggage isn’t allowed on any of them. If you’re staying at a hotel or resort, they may have a dedicated airport shuttle.

Where Else to Go from San Juan

Day Trips from San Juan

rainforest of El Yunque National Forest
  • Pay a visit to El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. – you can hike the short Angelito Trail, which will take you to Las Damas Pool on the Mameyes River; visit the Yokahu Tower and enjoy the view; make the trek to Coco Falls; or check out Mount Britton and La Mina Falls
  • Take the ferry out to Culebra to spend the day at Flamenco Beach, one of the world’s most gorgeous beaches, bordered by the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge – expect nice swimming conditions, white sands, reefs that are home to a variety of marine wildlife (great for snorkeling), and a number of modest hiking trails – getting there takes 3 hours, so leave early
  • Drive an hour west to Arecibo to see the eponymous observatory before heading to Playa Poza del Obispo, one of the smallest, most beautiful off-the-beaten-path beaches in Puerto Rico (there’s hardly any shade, so plan accordingly)
  • Check out the Tunel de Guajataca in Isabela (~1.5 hours away), a former sugarcane transport tunnel turned historical site with a paved walking path that runs through it and will take you to the beautiful Playa El Pastillo
  • Spend a day on the 6.8-mile nature boardwalk at Pinones Mangrove Forest (~25 minutes away), stopping to swim and explore tide pools, or rent a kayak to go out into the mangroves themselves (there’s also lots of great food stands along the boardwalk) 

Where Else to Visit from San Juan

  • Stop by Miami – a 2.5-hour flight away – for more fun in the sun, plus exciting restaurants, an impressive art scene, and Art Deco architecture
  • Go to the Cayman Islands to enjoy incredible scuba diving and friendly locals
  • Fly 3 hours to Panama City, Panama, an oft-overlooked destination that’s part urban, part jungle, with lots of excellent, cheap ceviche; use Panama City as a jumping-off point for exploring more of the country, like the remote and gorgeous San Blas Islands 

Books, Movies, and TV Shows Set in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has often served as the stand-in for films set in other places. In Amistad, El Morro in Old San Juan was a 19th-century Sierra Leone. In Bad Boys II, the northern coast became Cuba. In Fast Five, San Juan and Naranjito were turned into Brazil. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides used filming locations all over the island.

Hunter S. Thompson's book The Rum Diary takes place in 1950s San Juan, and it was later turned into a movie filmed in the city. The Puerto Rican Pearl is a mystery novel by J.A. Jernay, and Rosario Ferré’s The House on the Lagoon ties one family’s history to the history of Puerto Rico.

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