San Juan, Puerto Rico is one of the Eastern Caribbean's most diverse and exciting ports of call. This capital city of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, offers a unique blend of so many factors: old and new; American and Taino/European cultures; art and adventure. Cruisers can stroll down bustling cobblestone streets filled with inviting shops or spend the day lounging on one of the island's golden beaches. Visiting this culturally rich city - and Puerto Rico itself - is one of the best ways to experience all that the Caribbean region has to offer.
Here are ten great things for cruise passengers to do in San Juan:
1. Explore Old and New. Old San Juan is one of the most beautiful urban areas in the Caribbean. The historic walled city features cobblestone streets lined with pastel hued Spanish-style townhouses, their wrought iron balconies overflowing with flowers. Visitors must see the massive Castillo de San Felipe del Morro built in 1539; San Cristobal Fort built in 1771; La Fortaleza, the well-preserved governor's mansion; San Juan Gate; and the Cathedral of San Juan. Two shady squares, the Plaza de Las Armas and the Plaza de Colon, are two wonderful places to relax with a cup of strong coffee. As appealing as El Viejo San Juan is, however, one must not forget the new sections of San Juan. The trendy Condado area is filled with shops and restaurants and the palm studded beaches and attractions of Isla Verde beckon cruise passengers. Sunsets are magical here.
2. Lounge on a Beach. Cruise passengers who don't want to roam far should head for the golden sands of the Isla Verde and Condado beaches to relax and take a swim. Those who are willing to go a bit farther will enjoy should check out Luquillo Beach. Visitors to this long strand can enjoy local foods from a choice of many food stands, rent water sports equipment, and use the beach's changing facilities.
3. Indulge in Shopping. Bargain shopping is a favorite pastime in San Juan. Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, U.S. citizens do not pay duty on items purchased here and brought back to the mainland. In Old San Juan - Calle Fortaleza, Calle San Francisco, and Calle del Cristo are a mecca for shoppers. Here you'll find a wide range of souvenirs, authentic arts & crafts, jewelry, carnival masks, bags of premium coffees, artisan studios and upscale boutiques. Factory outlet stores, such as Coach and Ralph Lauren, are located here as well. Cruisers looking for luxury items should browse the stores on Condado's Avenida Ashford. Plaza Las Americas, the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean with over 200 stores, is also very popular with electronics buffs, upscale shoppers, and those seeking some serious retail therapy.
4. Taste Some Rum. Cruisers flock to the Bacardi Rum Factory, both independently and on formal tours. On this informative tour, participants will learn about the history of sugar cane production in the Caribbean, the Bacardi rum making process, and how to make drinks such as Mojitos and Cuba Libres. Free drinks and rum tasting opportunities are included. For those who don't have time to visit the factory, make sure to try out a Bacardi or Don Q rum infused cocktail while you're in port.
5. Head for the Jungle. Nature lovers should make sure to visit El Yunque, the only rain forest within the U.S. National Forest system. This 28,000 acre forest is a great place to see massive ferns, colorful wildflowers and over 240 species of trees. The rain forest's waterfalls and tiny tree frogs (coqui) are favorites with visitors.
6. Hit Some Balls. Golf enthusiasts love to cruise the Eastern Caribbean and Puerto Rico has some of the best courses in the region. For day visitors, Bahia Beach is a good choice. This beautiful 18-hole public course is located out near El Yunque, so a car rental is required. Golf club rentals are available. Those on a more extended visit can plan to stay at resorts with spectacular courses created by top golf architects, such as the Arthur Hills designed course at the El Conquistador Resort or the two courses at the Wyndham Rio Mar Beach Resort.
7. Glow in the Dark. Cruise passengers whose ships remain in San Juan until late at night have a unique opportunity to tour one of Puerto Rico's bioluminescent lagoons. Only a few of these exist throughout the world and those in Puerto Rico are considered to be some of the best. Participants can kayak in small groups along a trail to Fajardo's Laguna Grande filled with glow-in-the-dark plankton.
8. Soak Up Some Culture. Art lovers and those who enjoy cultural experiences will want to visit San Juan’s magnificent Museo de Arte as well as the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Puerto Rico with its impressive collection of over 700 paintings and sculptures from Puerto Rican, Caribbean and Latin American artists. Old San Juan’s SoFo area (similar to New York City’s SoHo), is a good spot to experience some of San Juan’s chic spots. The Plaza de Mercado de Santurce, the city’s traditional food market, is another good place to experience local culture.
9. Take in the Nightlife. Some cruises remain in San Juan late into the evening, allowing passengers to enjoy the city’s exciting nightlife or have dinner in port. Several hotels, such as the El San Juan, the Condado Plaza, the San Juan Marriott Resort, and the Sheraton Old San Juan (located near the cruise pier,) have casinos where cruise passengers can try out their luck. Clubs and bars in trendy SoFo and along Isla Verde are additional options for evening entertainment, but keep an eye on the time so you don’t miss your ship.
10. Grab a Bite. Cruise visitors who expect to find only Puerto Rican food in San Juan are in for a surprise. San Juan serves up one of the most diverse choices of cuisines in the Caribbean. Passengers can choose from exceptional steakhouses, superb Italian restaurants, and excellent Spanish, Asian, French, American, Mexican and seafood eateries – just to name a few. Old San Juan has some favorites such as The Parrot Club, while many of the hotels lining the beaches of Isla Verde and Condado have excellent restaurants as well.