What to do, where to stay, and what to eat while in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
San Juan was the last ” big vacation” I took before the Covid-19 shutdowns and I am so glad I was able to spend some time in paradise before the world quite literally shut down. I visited in early February, from February 6-10, and in this short time I mainly explored San Juan, but wish I would have planned to visit other areas in Puerto Rico.
Why? I thoroughly enjoyed my time in San Juan and will outline what I did, where I ate and where I stayed below, but San Juan reminded me very much of Miami (which isn’t a bad thing), but I would have loved to experience the vibes and culture in other less, touristic cities. San Juan definitely catered to it’s tourist and this was reflected in the prices, so plan ahead!
Getting there! The only ways to access the island are by boat or plane. We flew from the Newark Airport via Jetblue into the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (airport code is SJU). The Luis Munoz airport caters to Delta, American Airlines, United, US Airways, Jetblue, and Southwest for direct flights from the United States. The most popular route is from New York to San Juan and Jetblue/United fly this route the most often and it’s a little less than 4 hours flight time (3hrs and 14 minutes in the air).
Where to stay? Looking for the best area to stay in San Juan? Here are my suggestions based on feedback from locals and proximity to recommended activities : Old San Juan, Condado, Santurce, Ocean Park, Miramar, or Rio Pierdras.
You can get an Airbnb for as low as $35 USD (and sometimes lower), you’ll have your choice of several Airbnb listings or hotels!
We stayed in the Sheraton Hotel and Casino and I would highly recommend this location if it wasn’t for the expensive price tag (there are currently deals on nightly rates due to covid it seems). My trip mate had a connect that provided us a deep discount to the nightly rate that made it super affordable for us. The Sheraton hotel was in a great location in the heart of San Juan, had some of the best food we had on the island, had a super fun casino with live music some nights and a pool!
How to get around? Again, we flew and we did not rent a car being that we planned to stay within the San Juan and Old San Juan areas. Our hotel was pretty centrally located, getting us to and from the airport quickly, also walking distance from the beach (a nice 20 min walk to the beach) and a 5 min ride to Old San Juan. The city was pretty walkable and Ubers were really affordable, however, when I visit again, I plan to rent a car to be able to drive to some of the different activities and excursions.
Taxi Turistico is a good company to leverage if you don’t want to rent a car!
What to do? My favorite part of the entire trip was hands down our time exploring the El Yunque Rainforest, the only tropical rainforest in the United States. El Yunque has a diverse ecosystem, experiencing an average rainfall of 120 inches a year and hosting several plant & animal species.We caught an Uber to El Yunque and though it worked out, I would recommend organizing your ride back in advance because cell service is very spotty in this part of the island; this is if you don’t rent a car (which I highly recommend) or organize with a guided group (less recommended but still nice). It was hard to walk from trail to trail, with there being no sidewalks and only room for the cars to drive on the road- it was manageable, but not ideal (herein lies the car rental recommendation). Organizing your trip may be confusing at first, but simply figure out what trails you want to hike (make sure they’re open), bring your own water, snacks, and hiking/swimming gear. My favorite parts of El Yunque (besides all of it) were taking a dip in the Juan Diego Creek, the La Coca Trail, the El Angelito Trail (ends with a lagoon), and the Yokahu Observation Tower. It is free to enter El Yunque and it’s located in the Rio Grande area, 45 minutes east of San Juan. The address to enter into the GPS is El Portal Visitor Center, PR-191 Rio Grande, PR 00745. El Yunque is open 364 days a year (closed on Christmas) from 7:30am-6:00pm.
Walk around & grab a bite in Old San Juan (you can go solo or book a guided walking tour)
Visit the Casa Bacardi (Barcardi Rum Factory + mixology class– 4 hour tour, you can organize with your hotel or via sites like Expedia.com)
Site see at El Morro
Afro Caribbean tour in Loiza
Visit the Mojito Lab for the best mojitos on the island
LED Night Paddle and Kayaking
Do an ATV tour
Go snorkeling and take a lunch cruise with the Castillo Tours
Shop till you drop at the Plaza Las Americas (shopping mall in Hato Rey, San Juan which is the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean/ first indoor shopping mall built in Puerto Rico)
Walk down and take pictures on Fortaleza Street
Explore Plaza Las Americas and the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico
Visit La Rogativa
Lastly, visit towns outside of San Juan if time permits!
For the party scene: Visit La Placita, a big outdoor party scene on Friday and Saturday consisting of a strip of about 30 clubs and bars. Garbotos and Punta de Vista Restaurant rooftop bar were fun spots I’d recommend checking out.
Beaches: Luquillo Beach, Isla Verde Beach, Condado Beach (Pictured Below), Ocean Park Beach, look into booking a snorkel trip to the following islands: Culebra, Vieques, or Lcacos (check with your hotel or a quick google search for booking)
& you know why I’m here, good eats! Below is a list of some of my fav restaurants we tried, places that came highly recommended, and things you should try while on the island:
Barrachina (Our fav restaraunt and home of the pina colada
La Maquietta (Near Condado Beach-Pictured Below with delicious loaded nachos + passion fruit mojito)
Raices (Came highly recommended by several people- food was just okay to me, get the mofongo)
Genesis (Get the mofongo)
Cafe De Angel (Great Sangria)
Oceana (Latino Sea Food)
El Jibarito’s (Budget friendly local food)
LOTE 23/Santurce (food trucks)
Other Notes & Tips: I mentioned that the island seemed relatively pricey (at least in San Juan) which makes sense in a tourist area, but it seemed expensive in comparison to the other islands in the Caribbean I’ve visited, just plan accordingly or explore outside of San Juan.
Puerto Rico is a U.S. Territory so the currency is the U.S. Dollar, your normal cell service should work (if a U.S. resident) and U.S. passport holders/citizens do not need a passport or visa, it’s a domestic flight.
Consider catching a flight to St. Thomas, there are several daily/hourly flights between the two for $100
The best time to visit is the high season which runs from January-March, which has the best weather and (depending on which part of the world you’re escaping) a winter escape. High season usually comes with higher prices (flights and lodging). The cheapest month to travel to the island is in September. But anytime can honestly be great, just check the weather and be mindful of hurricane season!