A trip to San Juan is a dream come true. Even though the first thing that may come to mind when you think of a tropical island may be palm-fringed beaches and turquoise-colored waters, San Juan is actually home to a whole lot more than that.
With a bustling nightlife, forested hills galore, and a vibrant fuse of cultures and flavors, the island’s capital city is guaranteed to please any type of traveler, be it the beach bum, the foodie, the history buff, or the adventurous soul.
You’ll never really run out of things you do in San Juan even if you were to stay for over a year exploring the city. If you’re here for a short visit, though, here are the top things to do in San Juan you absolutely cannot miss out on!
Things to do in San Juan
Puerto Rico is a haven when it comes to historical sites, and a day spent exploring its archeological goodness is a must in order to understand the island’s cultural fusion better.
Start the day by checking out Castillo San Cristobal, a castle fortress that provides a window into life during the island’s colonial times.
Sitio Histórico de San Juan is another Colonial-era fort that’s worth checking out as well. Another great place to visit is La Fortaleza, an intricate blue-white building that happens to be the governor’s home.
Museum Castillo Serralés is another interesting place offering a glimpse into the sugar cane and rum industries and their evolution throughout Puerto Rican culture. Don’t miss out on the Red and Black, a quirky structure of Parque de Bombas.
Puerto Rico is a mecca for great cuisine, so spending a laid-back day exploring the island through your taste buds is an absolute must! While you’ll find tons of food options at snack bars at the beach, your absolute go-to for authentic gastronomy is the streets of Old San Juan.
A few of the staple dishes you can’t miss out on are Tripleta (which is made of three different types of meat), fitters, alcapurias, chuletas de cerdo, and fried plantains.
Framed by restaurants, boutique hotels, and residential condos, Ocean Park, or “Ocean”, as the locals call it is probably San Juan’s locals’ favorite beach in the city due to its casual vibe and relatively uncrowded setting.
Aside from its low-key vibe, this mile-long beach offers a ton of fun activities for a fun day in the sun, including kite surfing, paddle boarding, beach volleyball, and more!
Casa Bacardi in San Juan is, of course, a rum distillery, but it’s also a tourist destination in itself and a wonderful way to learn more about the island’s passion for rum.
A visit here will teach you about the process of making rum and the history of the place, but you can also sit at their waterfront sipping a cocktail while watching El Morro or opt to take a mixology class and learn how to mix rum the Caribbean way!
For a cultural-induced experience, there’s no better place to go than to the oldest part of the city. Old San Juan is actually set on a small island off the coast and as such, separated from the city, making it feel like a completely new destination.
During your visit to this historical gem, you’ll get to wander through cirques of colorful buildings, walk along cobblestone streets lined by bars, restaurants, and interesting shops, or take in the culture and history of the island by visiting the many museums on offer.
One of the best ways to take in the city is by strolling along Paseo de la Princesa, a 19th-century promenade that winds through Old San Juan and provides great views of the entire city and the bay.
You wouldn’t exactly expect to be able to visit a rainforest as a day trip, but that’s Puerto Rico for you – it’s always surprising!
Set just a 45-minute drive away from San Juan, El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rainforest in the entire United States and, as such, a truly unique experience you won’t find anywhere else!
At 29,000 acres, El Yunque National Forest isn’t exactly humongous compared to other rainforests around the world, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in biological diversity.
Boasting dozens of miles of wonderful hiking trails, mountain peaks, waterfalls crashing down on crystal-clear pools you can swim in, and an array of wildlife endemic to the region, a day trip to El Yunque is a must on any San Juan itinerary!
I hope this list of the best things to do in San Juan helped you plan your visit to this gem of a Caribbean city.
Even though there are plenty more places to see and things to do, these are definitely musts on any first-timer’s visit in order to get a pretty well-rounded introduction to both the path and current lifestyles in the city.
Have you ever been to San Juan? What are your favorite things to do in the capital of Puerto Rico? Let me know in the comment section below!