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 San Juan, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Coastline

San Juan, Puerto Rico Information
Contributed by
Nancy Norris
Updated by
Tom Ogg

Language and Currency
What is San Juan, Puerto Rico Like?
What is the Weather Like?
Where Does the Ship Dock?
Where is the Shopping?
What is There to Buy?
What is There To Do?
Is There Anything of a “Don’t Miss Quality?
Are There Any Great Restaurants or Bars?

San Juan, Ruerto Rico Port Reviews

Language and Currency

Spanish and English are the official languages. English is spoken in all the major tourist areas. Their currency is the US Dollar.

What is Puerto Rico like?

Puerto Rico is actually a self-governing US Commonwealth Territory. It is one of the larger islands in the Caribbean, measuring 110 miles east –west and 35 miles north-south. It is the Caribbean’s most industrially developed island. Heavily oriented toward manufacturing, it is one of the few Caribbean islands that does not rely primarily on tourism as its economic base. Palm lined white sand beaches, gently rolling hills, rugged steep mountain ranges, a rain forest and dry desert-like areas are all a part of its diverse topography. This island, discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493, has a rich history to explore. Old San Juan, once a walled city, is now a designated historic landmark. Architectural treasures abound, amidst the pastel-colored buildings that line the old narrow cobblestone streets. The glitzy resorts that line the beaches and sizzling non-stop nightlife make this island a very popular vacation destination.

What is the weather like?

Puerto Rico enjoys summer-like conditions year-round, with the daytime highs ranging from 75° to 85°F. Summer months have a higher rainfall than from November to April, when this is little rain. Water temperature remains relatively constant and varies no more than 4 degrees from the air temperature.

Where does the ship dock?

Ships Docked in Old San Juan (Taken From the City Wall)

Most ships will dock at one of the berths directly in Old San Juan. Occasionally ships will dock at Frontier Pier, about a 10 minute cab ride from Old San Juan, or at the Pan-American Pier, which is about 15 minutes away from Old San Juan. Metered taxis are readily available at all ports.

The MSC Lirica Docked in Old San Juan

However, if your ship docks in Old San Juan, unless you plan to venture out of the downtown area, a taxi is not necessary, as everything is within walking distance to the pier.

San Juan Harbor (Taken From the MSC Lirica)

There is also the option of a free trolley service that runs continuously throughout the 7-block area.

Where is the shopping?

Old San Juan Shopping Street, Puerto Rico

Most of the shopping in Old San Juan is done in the numerous shops along Cristo, Fortaleza and San Francisco streets. The best spots to buy high-quality crafts are the two craft markets.

Typical San Juan Cobbled Shopping Street

One is located at the Plaza de la Darsena, in front of Pier 1, which is open on weekdays and the second, Paseo de la Princesa, just west of Pier 1, is open on week-ends.

What is there to buy?

San Juan offers a wide of variety of jewelry, fashions, folk art and souvenirs. You can also find great deals on liquor and tobacco products. Puerto Rico is not a duty free port, but there are no custom duties or sales tax.

What is there to do?

Old San Juan Structure

Deep-sea fishing, gambling, historical attractions, nightlife, horse racing, beaches, rain forests, shopping, golf, horseback riding, surfing and other water sports are all popular attractions in Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, unless you plan to spend at least a few days here, you will have to be selective about your port excursions.

Walking the Wall in Old San Juan

The best way to begin your exploration is to take a 2 hour walking tour of Old San Juan. You can pick up a copy of this self-guided walking tour map at La Casita, the tourist information center, located next to Pier 1.

Old San Juan's El Morrow Fortress

The tour includes a stroll along the promenade that lines the waterway as well as walking atop blue bricks that were once used for ballast on sailing ships from Spain. Museums, monuments, mansions, plazas and huge fortresses can all be explored on the tour.

The View From One of the Lookouts Along the Wall

Take a break along the way at Maria’s, on Calle del Cristo, for a wonderful, cool refreshing beverage. You can combine your walking tour with a trip to the Bacardi Rum Distillery in new San Juan. These tours are free and leave every half-hour until 4:30 pm. When you tire of sightseeing you can head for the beach. I would suggest Ocean Park which is between Condado and Isle Verde, outside the city.

El Yunque Waterfall

If you are in port during the day, another excellent option is a visit to El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest system. Located about 45 minutes from San Juan, the rain forest is best seen on your own, rather than a ship’s excursion. Your best bet is to rent a car for the day and explore the rain forest at your leisure. (Access to the park is free by the way). The other advantage to renting a car is the opportunity it affords for combining a trip to the rain forest with a stop at one of the best beaches on this side of the island, Luquillo Beach. It is approximately 30 miles outside of San Juan and very near the rain forest. The Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve (El Faro) is another great attraction found on this eastern end of Puerto Rico. However, this ecological community, which encompasses 7 different tropical habitats, limits visitors to a maximum of 230 guests per day, so reservations are absolutely essential.

Is there anything of “Don’t Miss” quality?

Cannon Emplacements in Old San Juan's Fortresses

I would have to say that exploring San Juan's Old City is a "Don't Miss" sight. Visiting the fortresses is inexpensive at only $5 for both of them and the beauty surround a walk on the wall is fabulous. The city itself is absolutely beautiful and well worth the time it takes to explore it.

Just enjoying the pastel colored buildings, each with their own unusual doorway is something worth taking in.

If you are visiting the port at night, make arrangements to take an evening boat trip to the bioluminescent bay in the lagoon at Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve. If your visit includes an overnight stay, opt for the boat trip to see one of the world’s most vibrant bio-bays, Mosquito Bay, on Vieques Island.

Are there any great restaurants or bars?

Yes, if you venture to the Condado section of the city, about 10 minutes from Old San Juan, take the opportunity to sample the authentic Puerto Rican fare served at Ajili Mójili. It has a great atmosphere, very non-touristy, and is a gastronomical treat!

Dining in Old San Juan

There are also numerous great bars and restaurants in the trendy SoJo district (a Puerto Rican version of Miami's South Beach) at the eastern edge of Old San Juan, near Plaza de Colon. My absolute favorite is The Parrot Club. Not only does it offer great food and atmosphere, but they make the best mojitos in Puerto Rico.

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