Photograph by mauritius images GmbH, Alamy Stock Photo
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Castillo San Felipe del Morro is part of a World Heritage site in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Photograph by mauritius images GmbH, Alamy Stock Photo

Discover the Best of San Juan

Get into the spirit of San Juan with these top 10 tips.

Packed with colorful colonial buildings, 16th-century landmarks, sweeping ocean views, and a vibrant salsa culture, San Juan, Puerto Rico, is the exciting capital of the “Island of Enchantment.”

Wildlife

The native frog, or coqui, is one of Puerto Rico’s most beloved endemic species. More than 16 species of coqui exist on the island, 13 of them in El Yunque National Forest. There are also many endemic birds, the most popular being the Puerto Rican parrot, which has been severely endangered since Hurricane Hugo’s wreck through the island in 1989.

Natural Wonder

Puerto Rico’s three bioluminescent bays—Mosquito Bay, Laguna Grande, and La Parguera—are otherworldly sites and a must-do day trip from San Juan. Book a boat, kayaking, or snorkeling tour to experience their mystical glow up close.

UNESCO Site

San Juan’s well-preserved European military architecture—La Fortaleza, Castillo San Felipe del Morro, Castillo San Cristóbal, San Juan de la Cruz, and a large portion of the original city wall—was built between the 16th and 20th centuries. La Fortaleza is the current official residence of the governor of Puerto Rico, linking past and present.

Best Day Trip

Located approximately 10 miles from Old San Juan, the relaxing beach town of Piñones offers visitors scenic biking routes and pristine beaches that are perfect for picnicking. Get a taste of flavorful Puerto Rican street foods, like alcapurrias, a type of plantain fritter, and empanadillas, a turnover stuffed with chicken.

Off the Beaten Path

Skip the tourist crowds at Ocean Park in San Juan’s Condado neighborhood and visit the serene shores of Luquillo Beach instead. Formally called Balneario Monserrate, this hidden gem is just an hour-long drive from San Juan. Its proximity to El Yunque National Forest also makes it a great place to stop and cool down in one of its freshwater falls after a day at the beach.

Most Iconic Experience

A visit to Old San Juan isn’t complete without purchasing a kite from a street vendor and flying it at the Castillo San Felipe del Morro’s lush expanse. Down the road, locals and tourists alike recline in Parque Las Palomas and watch the resident pigeons go by. Afterward, be sure to stop by the Paseo de la Princesa promenade to purchase souvenirs from local artisans.

Late Night

Calle San Sebastian has something to offer everyone, whether it’s a thumping room of live salsa music or a relaxed dive bar outfitted with pool tables. Among the medley of colorful buildings, the speakeasy bar La Factoria takes the cake for the best craft cocktails with a low-lit, salsa-filled ambiance, while La Taberna Lupulo offers the best craft beer in town.

Historic Site

Together, the 16th-century citadels of Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal form the San Juan National Historic Site in Old San Juan, built to protect the city from Dutch pirates and English buccaneers. For just five dollars, you can stroll through 500 years of history. Outside the citadel walls, stop by Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis, a colonial-era cemetery built in 1863 where the remains of prominent Puerto Ricans are buried.

Local Quirk

For Puerto Ricans, drinking coffee at 3 p.m. is essential. In Old San Juan, the iconic old-style diner La Bombonera, open for more than a century, offers Puerto Rican-style coffee (café con leche), and their classic Mallorca pastries, a buttery bread sprinkled with powdered sugar and stuffed with ham, egg, and cheese. This mainstay exemplifies locals’ love for coffee and home-style cooking.

People-Watching Spot

Plaza del Quinto Centenario, or “Plaza del Totem,” is one of Old San Juan’s architectural landmarks and includes a tribute to the 500-year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the Americas. For every festive occasion, whether it’s the Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián or just a Saturday afternoon, this modern square is a vibrant gathering place for families and friends to play plena music, ride skateboards, and play in the water fountain. It’s also a great spot for a selfie.