Your Ultimate San Juan Travel Guide 2023
San Juan is one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the Caribbean, and it has something for everyone. Whether you’re looking to soak up some sun on the beach, explore the city’s fascinating history and culture, or sample some of its delicious cuisine, San Juan is the perfect destination for a getaway. From the stunning El Morro fortress to the lively nightlife of Calle Loíza, this ultimate guide will help you plan the best possible vacation to San Juan. If you are in Puerto Rico, you may also want to check out our Ponce travel guide!
Top 5 Things To See And Do In San Juan
- Explore Old San Juan: Wander the streets of the old city, where you’ll find colorful buildings, charming plazas, and historic landmarks like the San Juan Cathedral, El Morro Fortress, and La Fortaleza. Take a guided walking tour to learn more about the city’s rich history and culture.
- Relax On The Beach: San Juan is home to some of the Caribbean’s most beautiful beaches, including Condado Beach, Isla Verde, and Ocean Park. Enjoy a day of sun, sand, and surf, or take a sunset stroll along the shore.
- Visit The Museums: San Juan has a rich cultural heritage, and there are several museums that showcase the city’s history, art, and traditions. Visit the Puerto Rico Museum of Art, the Museum of the Americas, or the Museum of San Juan to learn more.
- Try The Local Cuisine: Puerto Rican cuisine is a blend of Spanish, African, and indigenous influences, and it’s delicious! Try local favorites like mofongo (a fried plantain dish), arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), and bacalaitos (cod fritters). Don’t forget to try a piña colada, which was invented in San Juan.
- Take A Day Trip: If you have time, explore the surrounding areas of San Juan. Visit the El Yunque rainforest, take a ferry to the island of Vieques, or explore the caves of Rio Camuy. There’s so much to see and do in Puerto Rico, and San Juan is the perfect starting point.
Where To Stay In San Juan
- Old San Juan: This historic neighborhood is one of the most popular areas for visitors to San Juan. The charming colonial buildings and cobblestone streets make for a picturesque setting, and there are plenty of shops, restaurants, and attractions to keep you busy.
- Condado: If you are looking for a more modern and upscale experience, Condado is a great option. This neighborhood is known for its luxury hotels and resorts, high-end shopping, and beautiful beaches.
- Santurce: This artsy neighborhood is perfect for those who want to immerse themselves in the local culture. There are plenty of galleries, street art, and live music venues to explore, as well as some great restaurants and bars.
- Miramar: This upscale residential neighborhood is located just west of Old San Juan and offers a quieter, more relaxed vibe. There are some great restaurants and cafes in the area, and the beautiful Parque Central is a great place to spend a lazy afternoon.
- Isla Verde: Located just a few minutes from the airport, Isla Verde is a popular choice for those who want to be close to the beach. There are plenty of resorts and hotels in the area, as well as some great bars and restaurants.
Top San Juan Hotels
- The Condado Vanderbilt Hotel: This historic hotel is an architectural gem that boasts luxury and elegance. The hotel offers 319 guest rooms and suites, each of which features modern amenities, luxurious linens, and stunning ocean views. The hotel also has a spa, an infinity pool, and five on-site restaurants.
- El Conquistador, A Waldorf Astoria Resort: Located on a 300-acre private island, El Conquistador offers stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The hotel features 23 restaurants, bars, and lounges, as well as a golf course, a marina, and a water park. Guests can also indulge in spa treatments and outdoor activities like snorkeling and kayaking.
- La Concha Renaissance San Juan Resort: La Concha is a luxurious beachfront resort that features 483 stylish guest rooms and suites. The hotel offers a variety of amenities, including an oceanfront swimming pool, a casino, a fitness center, and six on-site restaurants. Guests can also enjoy the resort’s private beach and water sports activities.
- Caribe Hilton: The Caribe Hilton is a historic hotel that offers luxurious accommodations and amenities. The hotel features 652 guest rooms and suites, all of which are beautifully decorated and offer stunning ocean or garden views. The hotel also has a spa, a fitness center, an infinity pool, and a private beach.
- The Ritz-Carlton, San Juan: This luxury hotel is located just steps away from the beach and features 416 guest rooms and suites. The hotel offers a variety of amenities, including a casino, a spa, a fitness center, and an oceanfront swimming pool. The hotel also has five on-site restaurants that serve delicious cuisine.
Where To Eat In San Juan
San Juan is known for its vibrant food scene and fusion of different culinary traditions, so you definitely won’t run out of options when it comes to eating in the city. Here are our top five picks for places to eat in San Juan:
- Marmalade: If you’re looking for a fine dining experience in San Juan, Marmalade is the place to be. The menu changes frequently, but you can expect creative dishes that combine local and international flavors. Their tasting menu is especially popular and offers a great opportunity to try a little bit of everything.
- La Casita Blanca: This colorful and rustic restaurant has been serving traditional Puerto Rican food for over 60 years. You’ll find dishes like mofongo, arroz con gandules, and lechón on the menu, all made with fresh, local ingredients. The atmosphere is casual and laid-back, perfect for a relaxed meal.
- La Factoría: Although technically a bar, La Factoría is also known for its creative cocktails and inventive small plates. The atmosphere is lively and bustling, and the staff is knowledgeable and passionate about what they do. If you’re in the mood for something a little different, this is the spot for you.
- El Jibarito: This family-owned restaurant has been a local favorite for years. They serve hearty, home-style Puerto Rican dishes that are full of flavor and comfort. Make sure to try their chuletas can-can, a signature dish of double-thick pork chops.
- Pirilo Pizza Rustica: Sometimes you just need a good pizza, and Pirilo Pizza Rustica delivers just that. Their Neapolitan-style pizzas are cooked in a wood-fired oven and feature toppings like prosciutto, arugula, and homemade mozzarella. The cozy and colorful interior makes it a great spot for a casual dinner with friends.
No matter what kind of cuisine you’re in the mood for, San Juan has something to offer. Make sure to check out these five restaurants for some of the best dining experiences in the city.
How To Get Around San Juan
San Juan is a relatively small city that is easy to navigate. Here are some of the best ways to get around San Juan:
- Walking: The best way to see the city is on foot. Many of the popular tourist attractions are located in the historic Old San Juan, which is pedestrian-friendly. Walking allows you to take your time and explore the city’s many sights, sounds, and smells.
- Public Transportation: San Juan has a public transportation system consisting of buses and trolleys. The buses are relatively cheap, but they can be crowded, slow, and uncomfortable. Trolleys, on the other hand, are air-conditioned and provide a more comfortable ride. Both buses and trolleys run from early morning until late at night.
- Taxis: Taxis are plentiful in San Juan, but they can be expensive. Make sure to agree on a price with the driver before getting in the taxi. Uber is also available in San Juan and can be a cheaper option.
- Rental Cars: If you plan on exploring beyond San Juan, a rental car may be the best option for you. Many of the major rental car companies have locations at the airport, making it easy to rent a car as soon as you arrive.
- Bicycle: If you’re feeling adventurous, renting a bike can be a great way to see the city. San Juan has a few bike rental shops, and some hotels even provide bikes for their guests. Biking allows you to see more of the city in a shorter amount of time.
No matter which mode of transportation you choose, be prepared to navigate narrow streets and tight corners in the historic Old San Juan area. Driving in San Juan can be stressful, so be cautious and patient. With the right mindset, getting around San Juan can be a breeze!
San Juan Weather
The weather in San Juan is tropical, with warm temperatures and occasional rain showers throughout the year. While the temperature does not fluctuate significantly throughout the year, the rainy season typically runs from May to October. Below is a breakdown of the weather in San Juan for each season.
- Spring: Spring in San Juan typically runs from March to May. During this time, temperatures range from the mid-70s to the mid-80s, with occasional rain showers. The ocean temperature is also beginning to warm up, making it an ideal time for swimming and other water activities.
- Summer: Summer in San Juan runs from June to August. Temperatures during this time can range from the low-80s to the low-90s. While the weather is warm and sunny, it is also the rainy season, so expect occasional rain showers and high humidity. This is also peak tourist season, so expect larger crowds and higher prices.
- Fall: Fall in San Juan typically runs from September to November. Temperatures during this time are still warm, with highs in the mid-80s. The rainy season begins to taper off in October, but occasional showers can still occur. This is a good time to visit San Juan if you want to avoid crowds and get better deals on accommodations.
- Winter: Winter in San Juan runs from December to February. Temperatures during this time are slightly cooler, ranging from the low-70s to the mid-80s. While it is the dry season, occasional rain showers can still occur. The ocean temperature is also cooler, but still warm enough for swimming and other water activities. This is also a popular time for tourists, so expect larger crowds and higher prices.
Overall, San Juan has warm and tropical weather throughout the year, with occasional rain showers. It is important to pack light, breathable clothing, sunscreen, and a light rain jacket for your visit.
Best Time To Visit San Juan
San Juan is a year-round destination with warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine. However, the best time to visit San Juan is between mid-April and June, or from November to mid-December when the crowds are thinner, the prices are lower, and the weather is more comfortable. The high season in San Juan runs from December to April, when the temperatures are at their highest and the crowds are at their peak. The hurricane season runs from June to November, so if you plan to visit during this time, it is recommended to stay updated on weather forecasts and travel advisories.
In addition, there are some events in San Juan that you might want to consider when planning your trip. The San Sebastian Street Festival in January is one of the most significant events in San Juan and is a fantastic time to experience the local culture and traditions. The Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest in March is also a popular event among locals and tourists alike.
No matter what time of year you choose to visit San Juan, be sure to pack plenty of sunscreen, lightweight clothing, and comfortable shoes for exploring the city’s many attractions. With its stunning beaches, historic landmarks, and vibrant culture, San Juan is sure to delight visitors of all ages and interests.
How To Stay Safe In San Juan
While San Juan is generally considered safe for tourists, it is always important to exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings. Here are some tips to help you stay safe during your visit:
- Avoid walking alone at night in areas that are not well-lit or heavily populated.
- Keep an eye on your belongings and do not leave them unattended in public places.
- Be cautious when using ATMs and try to use them during daylight hours.
- If you are approached by a stranger, be polite but firm in declining their offer for assistance or other services.
- Do not carry large sums of cash with you and avoid wearing expensive jewelry or displaying expensive electronics in public.
- Be aware of your surroundings and be observant of any suspicious activity.
- Familiarize yourself with the emergency phone numbers and locations of hospitals, police stations, and other important facilities.
By taking these precautions, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable trip to San Juan. However, in the event of an emergency, always call 911 or the appropriate local authorities.
San Juan Customs and Etiquette
When visiting San Juan, it’s important to understand and respect the local customs and etiquette. Puerto Ricans are generally friendly and welcoming, but it’s always important to be mindful of their customs. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Greetings: In Puerto Rico, it’s common to greet people with a handshake or a hug and a kiss on the cheek. This is particularly true among friends and family members. When meeting someone new, a handshake is appropriate.
- Dress Code: While San Juan is a laid-back city, it’s still important to dress appropriately when visiting certain areas, such as restaurants or churches. Avoid wearing beachwear or shorts when visiting these places.
- Time: In Puerto Rico, time is a fluid concept. Don’t be surprised if people show up late to appointments or meetings. Punctuality is important in business settings, but social events tend to have more relaxed timelines.
- Language: Spanish is the official language in Puerto Rico, but English is also widely spoken. However, it’s always polite to learn a few key phrases in Spanish, such as “please” (por favor) and “thank you” (gracias).
- Tipping: Tipping in Puerto Rico is similar to the United States. In restaurants, it’s customary to leave a tip of 15-20% of the total bill. Hotel staff, such as housekeeping and bellhops, also expect to receive tips.
By understanding and respecting these customs and etiquette, you’ll be able to enjoy a more enjoyable and memorable trip to San Juan. Remember, being courteous and respectful to the locals will make your stay in San Juan a positive experience.
Other Things To Know About San Juan
Aside from the must-see sights and experiences, there are a few practical things to keep in mind when planning your trip to San Juan. First, it’s important to note that San Juan is not a country but rather a city in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory. This means that the currency used is the U.S. dollar and English is widely spoken. Spanish is also spoken by most locals.
In terms of time zone, San Juan falls under Atlantic Standard Time, which is one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the U.S. It’s also worth noting that Puerto Rico has a unique culture and history, which is reflected in its customs and etiquette. For example, it is customary to greet people with a handshake or kiss on the cheek, and it’s considered polite to dress modestly when visiting religious sites.
When it comes to safety, San Juan is generally a safe city for tourists. However, like any major city, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and take basic precautions to avoid pickpocketing or other petty crimes. Finally, if you’re planning on budgeting for your trip, it’s important to note that San Juan can be quite expensive, especially when it comes to accommodation and dining. However, there are ways to save money, such as staying in hostels or guesthouses and opting for local street food over fancy restaurants.
Overall, San Juan is a vibrant and welcoming city with plenty to offer visitors. By keeping these practical tips in mind, you can make the most of your time in this beautiful destination.
San Juan Travel Costs
San Juan is one of the more affordable Caribbean destinations, with many budget-friendly options for travelers. However, prices can still vary depending on your travel style and budget.
- Accommodation: In San Juan, you can find a wide range of accommodation options to suit every budget. A night in a hostel or budget hotel can cost as little as $20-$50, while a night in a mid-range hotel can cost anywhere from $100-$200. For luxury hotels, prices can go up to $400 per night.
Food and Drinks: Food prices in San Juan can range from budget-friendly street food to high-end restaurants. On average, a meal at a mid-range restaurant can cost around $15-$25 per person. A beer can cost around $3-$6, while cocktails can cost anywhere from $8-$15.
- Transportation: Getting around San Juan is relatively affordable. Taxis are available, and Uber is also an option. On average, a taxi ride within the city can cost around $10-$20. Buses are also available for around $0.75 per ride.
- Activities: Many of the activities in San Juan, such as visiting beaches and exploring the city’s historic sites, are free or low-cost. However, some tours and activities, such as zip-lining and water sports, can be more expensive. On average, you can expect to spend around $50-$100 for a guided tour.
Overall, San Juan can be a budget-friendly destination with plenty of options for travelers looking to save money. With careful planning, you can have an unforgettable experience without breaking the bank.
Finding Affordable Flights To San Juan
One of the biggest expenses for any trip is usually the cost of getting there. However, with a little bit of planning and flexibility, you can find some great deals on flights to San Juan. Here are a few tips to help you find affordable flights to San Juan:
- Book Early: The earlier you book your flights, the more likely you are to find a good deal. Try to book your flights at least a few months in advance, especially if you’re traveling during peak season.
- Use Travel Search Engines: Websites like Expedia, Kayak, and Skyscanner allow you to compare prices from multiple airlines, which can help you find the cheapest flights to San Juan.
- Be Flexible With Your Travel Dates: If you can be flexible with your travel dates, you can often find better deals on flights. Try searching for flights a few days before or after your preferred travel dates to see if there’s a significant price difference.
- Consider Budget Airlines: Low-cost carriers like Spirit, Avianca and Frontier offer flights to San Juan, and they often have lower prices than traditional airlines. Just be aware that they may charge extra fees for things like checked baggage and seat selection.
- Look For Package Deals: Sometimes you can find great deals on flights and hotel packages, especially if you’re traveling during the off-season. Check out websites like Expedia or Travelocity to see what kind of packages are available.
By following these tips, you should be able to find some affordable flights to San Juan, allowing you to save money on your overall trip expenses.
Backpacking San Juan Suggested Budgets
If you’re planning to backpack through San Juan, Puerto Rico, then you’ll need to create a budget that’s suitable for your needs. Fortunately, there are several affordable options available to backpackers looking to explore San Juan on a budget. Here are some suggested budget ranges to help you plan your trip:
Low Budget: $25-$35 USD per day
If you’re on a tight budget, you can still enjoy San Juan without breaking the bank. This budget range will cover accommodation in a hostel dorm, simple street food meals, and free activities like visiting beaches, parks, and exploring the city by foot.
Mid-Range Budget: $35-$50 USD per day
This budget range offers a bit more comfort and flexibility, including private hostel rooms, more restaurant meals, and activities like museum visits and tours.
Luxury Budget: $50-$75 USD per day
For those who want a bit more luxury and adventure, this budget range includes private accommodations like Airbnb rentals, more upscale restaurants and activities like adventure tours and water sports.
It’s important to note that your actual budget will depend on your travel style, activities, and preferences. But no matter your budget, San Juan has something to offer for everyone. By planning ahead and sticking to your budget, you can enjoy all that San Juan has to offer without breaking the bank.
San Juan Money Saving Tips
Traveling to San Juan can be a wonderful experience, but it can also get quite expensive if you’re not careful. However, with a little bit of planning and some smart tips, you can easily cut costs and save some money while exploring this vibrant city. Here are some San Juan money-saving tips to help you stay on budget:
- Travel During The Off-Season: If you’re flexible with your travel dates, consider visiting San Juan during the low season (September to November). You can save a lot on airfare, hotels, and attractions.
- Book Your Hotel In Advance: Booking your hotel early can save you a lot of money, especially if you’re traveling during the peak season. Also, consider staying in a guesthouse or hostel instead of a fancy hotel.
- Use Public Transportation: The best way to save money on transportation in San Juan is to use the local buses or the ferry system. Taxis and private transfers can be quite expensive.
- Eat Like A Local: San Juan is famous for its street food, and you can save a lot by eating at local eateries instead of fancy restaurants. Try the delicious mofongo or empanadillas, which are cheap and tasty.
- Look For Discounts And Coupons: Many attractions and tours offer discounts and coupons, so keep an eye out for them. You can also find deals online, so do some research before you go.
- Walk Instead Of Taking Taxis: San Juan is a very walkable city, so put on some comfortable shoes and explore on foot. This way, you’ll not only save money, but you’ll also discover hidden gems that you might have missed otherwise.
- Carry Your Own Water: Bottled water can be quite expensive in San Juan, so bring a reusable water bottle and refill it at public fountains or your hotel.
By following these San Juan money-saving tips, you can easily enjoy a fantastic vacation without breaking the bank. With some smart planning, you’ll be able to stretch your budget and make the most of your time in this vibrant city.
What To Pack For San Juan
When it comes to packing for San Juan, it’s important to remember that the weather is warm and tropical year-round. You’ll want to bring light and breathable clothing that will keep you comfortable in the heat and humidity. Here are some essentials to include in your suitcase:
- Swimsuit: Whether you plan to spend time lounging on the beach or taking a dip in your hotel pool, a swimsuit is a must-have item.
- Sunscreen: The sun in San Juan can be intense, so pack plenty of sunscreen with a high SPF to protect your skin.
- Sunglasses: A stylish pair of sunglasses will not only protect your eyes from the bright sun but also complete your beach look.
- Lightweight Clothing: Pack clothing made of breathable materials like cotton or linen. Opt for loose-fitting clothing to stay comfortable in the heat.
- Comfortable Shoes: While sandals are a staple in San Juan, make sure to also pack comfortable walking shoes for exploring the city.
- A Hat: A hat will not only protect your face from the sun but also keep you cool on hot days.
- Insect Repellent: While not a necessity, it’s a good idea to pack insect repellent to protect yourself from mosquitoes.
- Water Bottle: It’s important to stay hydrated in the hot and humid weather. Bring a refillable water bottle to save money and reduce plastic waste.
- Camera: San Juan is a beautiful city with many photogenic spots, so don’t forget to bring your camera to capture memories.
- Lightweight Jacket Or Sweater: While the weather is usually warm, it can get chilly in the evenings, especially if you’re near the water. Pack a lightweight jacket or sweater to stay comfortable.
By packing smart, you’ll be able to enjoy all that San Juan has to offer without feeling weighed down or unprepared. Happy travels!
Can You Drink Tap Water In San Juan?
San Juan’s tap water is generally considered safe to drink, but it’s always a good idea to check with locals or your hotel staff to make sure. Most hotels and restaurants in San Juan will serve filtered or bottled water to guests, so you may want to opt for that just to be on the safe side. If you do decide to drink tap water in San Juan, be aware that it may have a slightly different taste due to the local treatment process. Some visitors may find it a bit chlorinated, so you may want to try it first before drinking a full glass.
To further ensure the safety of your drinking water, you can use a portable water filtration system or boil water for at least one minute before consuming. It’s also a good idea to avoid ice cubes made from tap water in restaurants or bars, as they may not be filtered or boiled. Overall, while it is generally safe to drink tap water in San Juan, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and take the necessary precautions.
Other Things To See And Do In San Juan
If you have extra time in San Juan, there are plenty of other things to see and do beyond the top 5 mentioned earlier. Here are some additional suggestions to make the most out of your trip:
- El Yunque National Forest: A must-visit destination for nature lovers, this lush rainforest is located just 30 minutes from San Juan and boasts scenic hiking trails, cascading waterfalls, and panoramic vistas.
- Old San Juan: A visit to Puerto Rico’s capital is incomplete without exploring the vibrant cobblestone streets, colonial architecture, and colorful buildings of Old San Juan. Highlights include El Morro fortress, Castillo de San Cristobal, and Paseo de la Princesa.
- La Fortaleza And San Juan Gate: Built in 1540, La Fortaleza is the oldest executive mansion in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just outside the fortification, San Juan Gate stands as a historic landmark and a symbol of the city’s rich cultural heritage.
- Museo De Arte De Puerto Rico: This world-class museum showcases a collection of Puerto Rican art spanning four centuries. The museum houses over 1,100 works of art, including paintings, sculptures, and contemporary art installations.
- Beaches: San Juan is blessed with several beautiful beaches that cater to a variety of interests. Condado Beach is perfect for swimming and sunbathing, Ocean Park Beach is great for surfing, and Isla Verde Beach offers a plethora of water sports activities.
- Bacardi Rum Distillery: Discover the history and production process of Puerto Rico’s iconic Bacardi Rum with a tour of the Bacardi Distillery, located just a short ferry ride from San Juan.
- Bioluminescent Bay: Venture out to Fajardo, located just 45 minutes from San Juan, to witness the bioluminescent waters that illuminate with blue-green light due to the presence of microorganisms.
With its rich cultural heritage, stunning natural beauty, and vibrant atmosphere, San Juan offers visitors a unique and unforgettable travel experience. Be sure to include these top attractions on your itinerary to make the most of your time in Puerto Rico’s capital city.
The Bottom Line
San Juan is a fantastic destination for anyone looking for a vibrant and culturally rich vacation spot. With its colonial architecture, lively music scene, and breathtaking beaches, it’s no wonder why so many visitors are drawn to this Puerto Rican city. From exploring historic sites like Castillo San Felipe del Morro to enjoying authentic Puerto Rican cuisine at one of San Juan’s many eateries, there is truly something for everyone in this beautiful city.
When planning your trip to San Juan, be sure to consider factors such as the best time to visit and the average travel costs. Additionally, it’s always important to practice safe travel habits and be mindful of local customs and etiquette. With these considerations in mind, you’ll be able to fully enjoy everything San Juan has to offer.
Overall, San Juan is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves history, culture, and relaxation. Whether you’re interested in exploring ancient fortresses or soaking up the sun on the beach, there’s no shortage of incredible experiences waiting for you in this Puerto Rican paradise. So why wait? Book your trip to San Juan today and get ready to make unforgettable memories that will last a lifetime!