Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, which means that you do not need a passport to visit the island if you are a U.S. citizen. After Hurricane Maria and the recent earthquake episodes that are still affecting the island today, increased tourism is crucial in helping strengthen their economy. I’ve heard lots of skepticism about traveling to Puerto Rico, but while I was there, I felt very safe and was even comfortable walking around at night. If you’ve never considered traveling to Puerto Rico, I believe you should give it a shot. After spending five days on the island, I don’t have a single regret about my decision to travel there. It was one of the best times I’ve had while traveling and was an amazing vacation for me.
If you’re wondering how much time to spend traveling in San Juan, I think about four or five days is enough to see all of the beautiful places in this city before branching out to other parts of the island. Of course, there’s always more to see and nothing wrong with wanting to stay here longer. Below is my list of seven of the best things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico. They’re not listed in any particular order. I hope you enjoy and consider traveling to this beautiful island!
1. Visit El Morro and El Castillo de San Cristóbal
Castillo San Felipe del Morro (aka El Morro) and El Castillo de San Cristóbal are two 18th-century Spanish fortifications built along the ocean that were used to protect Old San Juan from foreign invaders. You can take a self-guided tour through both of these sites and imagine what it was like to live here during that era. You’ll have the opportunity to see the cannons they used in battle and walk through the underground tunnels they constructed hundreds of years ago. There is so much to see that I recommend you set aside at least half a day to fully explore both of these historical sites. It’s also best to go early in the morning since there is not much shade and it does get hotter (and more crowded) later in the day.
Note: A ticket purchase at either castle grants you admission to the other one so save your receipt! For more information, check out their website.
2. Have a beach day and go snorkeling
There are so many beautiful beaches to explore in Puerto Rico it can be hard to decide which one to visit. Condado Beach is a large beach that features a resort strip. You get stunning views of the ocean and the modern buildings along the shore. While it is a clean and pretty beach, it is also one of the better-known beaches and, therefore, more crowded than other beaches. Ocean Park Beach is east of Condado Beach and is much less crowded. However, it is also not as well-kept because it’s not a popular tourist spot. If you’re okay with that, then this beach is a great place to relax.
If you want to go snorkeling, check out Balneario El Escambrón. It is a beautiful beach with calm waters that makes it ideal for snorkeling (or scuba diving). It also features a coral reef and a chance to swim with turtles! Definitely a must-see in San Juan!
3. Walk through Old San Juan
Walking through Old San Juan is like being transported into an alternate universe. The pastel colonial buildings are so colorful and cheerful. You’ll no doubt stumble onto some of the prettiest places you’ve ever seen. I also really love how there are Puerto Rican flags painted everywhere. It’s definitely the most colorful place I’ve ever visited and I fell in love with the magic of Old San Juan instantly. Some of the top places to check out in Old San Juan are Callejón de la Puerta Bandera (see second photo), Puerto Rican Historical Door, Hotel El Convento, Plaza de Armas, Puerta de San Juan, and Calle La Fortaleza (aka the famous umbrella street, but those were replaced with a giant Puerto Rican flag when we visited).
4. Enjoy all the good food (and a piña colada, too)
Puerto Rico has some of the most delicious foods in the world. Mofongo is one of their trademark dishes and is offered at almost all authentic Puerto Rican restaurants. I definitely recommend ordering some mofongo if you get the chance. Seafood is also very popular here, so it won’t be hard to find fish tacos. Some other amazing foods to try are arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), tostones (fried plantain slices), empanadas, and pinchos (kabobs). Here are some of my favorite restaurants I ate at (in no particular order): La Cueva del Mar, Pirilo’s Pizza, Barrachina, and Deaverdura (best value!).
Puerto Rico is also the birthplace of the piña colada! It would be a sin to visit this island without trying one for yourself. The restaurant that invented the piña colada is Barrachina Restaurant, and it was definitely the best piña colada I’ve ever had in my life.
5. Visit Casa Bacardí
Casa Bacardí is one of Puerto Rico’s top attractions (and for good reason). It is the largest rum distillery in the world, producing over 110,000 liters of rum every single day. It’s not called the Cathedral of Rum for no reason. I went on the historical tour of the facilities, which included a cocktail. On this tour, you will learn about the establishment of this family-owned company and the distillation process behind their rum production. Being able to see where your alcohol comes from is a very interesting and unique experience. It was definitely one of my favorite things that I did on my trip.
They also offer cocktail making classes and rum tastings. Sessions start at $15. For more information or to book a tour, check out their website.
6. Go souvenir shopping
When we were walking through Old San Juan, we noticed that there were many souvenir shops everywhere. You can find practically anything you need in these shops and a lot of the items they have make great gifts. I bought myself a pair of flip-flops, Puerto Rican coffee, a magnet, and a shell bracelet from a couple of shops. I always enjoy buying items from these little souvenir shops because I know my money isn’t going to a large corporation but directly into the community. So instead of walking into Walmart (yes, there’s one in San Juan), consider looking through the souvenir shops for something you need. You’ll also be able to take home a little memento from Puerto Rico to help you remember your trip.
7. Party at La Placita
Unfortunately, our trip was a little too short to get a chance to check out La Placita, but if you’re visiting during the weekend, you should definitely see it for yourself. Our Uber driver told us that it’s always a fun party scene every Friday and Saturday (and sometimes Thursday, too). Essentially, this entire town square turns into an outdoor club at night and is filled with lots of people dancing to music and living their best lives. It’s a great way to spend a Saturday night if you ask me.
BONUS: Take a day trip to El Yunque Rainforest
Although El Yunque Rainforest isn’t technically in San Juan, I think it’s worth taking a day trip to hike through the forest for yourself. El Yunque is the only rainforest in the United States and is home to many endemic species that can only be found there. Besides hiking through the rainforest trails, you can also take a dip in some of the many waterfalls or climb to the top of an observation tower. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to make my way over to the rainforest, but it’s first on my to-do list for when I go back!
Getting to the rainforest is a little tricky but definitely not impossible. The cheapest option is getting a car rental for the day, but you can also Uber or take a taxi if you’re willing to pay the extra price.
What do you think of the list? Did I convince you to travel to Puerto Rico? Or did I leave anything out? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! And thank you so much for reading ❤