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Travel the Caribbean - Places to Visit in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Updated on May 25, 2018
Catherine Stolfi profile image

Catherine is an independent research consultant at NASA Langley with degrees in English, Biology, and Environmental Science (M.S.).

The City Wall, Old San Juan
The City Wall, Old San Juan | Source
El Yunque Rainforest Waterfall
El Yunque Rainforest Waterfall | Source

The visitors to this region of the US flock to Old San Juan; known for its year round festivities and Rum. You can even visit the Bacardi Distillery across San Juan Bay with free samples, a tour and inexpensive bottled Bacardi Rum. From moderately priced hotels to the local cuisine, enjoy this list of what to see, eat, and do during your visit to Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Where to Stay

Embassy Suites Hotel & Casino was a great, nearby hotel in San Juan. Most people like to stay at a hotel along the main strip in San Juan on Ashford Ave. The towns near Old San Juan include Puerto de Tierra, Condado, Miramar, Santurce, Ocean Park or Isla Verde and run along the northern coast. There are plenty of moderately priced hotels sprinkled throughout. If you can't afford the big oceanside hotels, it's not too much to worry. It's a short walk over to the grand hotels from yours, such as the El San Juan Hotel & Casino, The Inter-Continental Hotel & Casino or the Ritz-Carlton San Juan Spa & Casino for massive gaming and beachside dining.

Food

There are three options when it comes to dining in Puerto Rico: the hotel restaurants, the recognizable chains or the authentic local cuisine. I think it’s good to delve a little into all three for money savings. When visiting Old San Juan, some great authentic Puerto Rican cuisine can be found at Casa Borinquen, El Buen Samaritano and La Bombonera.

Old San Juan Coast
Old San Juan Coast | Source

Sights

There are a number of great things to do during any given day in Puerto Rico.

1. Puerto Rico’s National Rainforest, El Yunque, is a 45-minute drive away from San Juan. This lush rainforest is one of the best preserved in the US National Forest Service system. It’s a great way indulge in the tropical aspects of the island, with various tropical plants and birds not found anywhere else in the world.

The best way to see the rainforest is in a guided tour. The tour guides are knowledgeable, actually receiving Puerto Rican rainforest certificates, and friendly, in my personal experience. Simply book through your hotel, as many hotels work directly with the tour guides. The cost for a guided tour, which includes transportation, can range, but I went for $75 per person, which is well worth the money - Taking a cab or rent-a-car from San Jaun to the Rainforest is that price alone. Also, ask how many people the guide is taking on the day you want to go. You don’t want to pay to be struggling to hear your guide over a large party of people.

2. The Radio Telescope, Observatorio de Arecibo, is the biggest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world - featured in the movie Contact with Jodie Foster. It is used for government and private research projects, such as SETI, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. On the same day, you can also visit the nearby Rio Camuy Caves, which contains the third largest underground river in the world. You take a tour of the site including a 45-minute walk through the inside of the cave system. Both are located about an hour and a half west of San Juan.

3. Old San Juan is home to Fort Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, built in 1540, and Fort San Cristobal, built in 1634, and are now museums. Several battles have taken place here, both repeatedly attacked by the English and the Dutch, and San Cristobal fired some of the first shots from its cannons for the Spanish-American War.

The city walls are also a huge spectacle to see, built in 1630 and surrounding all of San Juan, they were built to protect against European invaders and Caribbean pirates.

La Casita, a visitor information center, can give you all the info on the many other museums and historical sights. It’s located on Pier 1 in the heart of Old San Juan. Also go for the FREE mini bottle rum samples for tourists or even get a mixed drink made for you free at their mini bar.

Forts and Wall of Old San Juan

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Beaches

There are many amazing beaches in San Juan, some of the best include Condado Beach and Isla Verde Beach. These are known for their convenience as they are close to the tourist strip. If you’re willing to go a little further to get away from the towering hotels, you can go to Coco Beach or Luquillo Beach just east of San Juan.

For a most unique beach experience, spend the night at Mosquito Bay on the island of Vieques, a small island off the east coast. You can swim in glowing waters lit by dinoflagellates, tiny bioluminescent organisms that glow when “disturbed.” It is a truly offbeat travel experience.


Important Info for Your Trip:

1) You now need a passport to visit Puerto Rico! Even though PR is a part of the United States in many ways, they are still an independent country. And of course, there are many other strict travel rules in and out of the U.S. that can be found online.

2) Money isn’t a problem though because American dollars are accepted there!

3) Another thing to note is the age requirements, 21 to gamble but 18 to drink!


Helpful web sights for tourists planning a vacation to Puerto Rico include www.gotopuertorico.com or www.welcometopuertorico.com.


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    • profile image

      Casimiro 

      5 years ago

      Puerto Rico is such an obvious, but often overlooked, destination for U.S. citizens. Thanks for such a great quickie tour of the island.

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