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San Juan, Puerto Rico

Great Destination:

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know…?

  • San Juan is the oldest European-built city on U.S. territory (1521).
  • The pina colada cocktail was born in San Juan.
  • Originally, the city was Puerto Rico (Rich Port) and the island was San Juan.
  • La Fortaleza, built in 1533, is the oldest executive mansion in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Bacardi Limited is the world’s largest privately held spirits company.

Of beaches and Bacardi

San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, seems made for vacationers. It is high on travelers’ preferred Caribbean destinations — although, to be precise, the city sits on Puerto Rico’s northern, Atlantic coast. The island’s southern shore faces the Caribbean.

The active, or the not-so-active, traveler enjoys rich choices for beaches and water-based activities, complemented on the landward side by in-city parks and readily accessible mountains and forests.

The city’s Atlantic waters are suitable for pursuits such as boating, diving, surfing and fishing — lots of fishing. Visitors may go inland for biking, hiking, riding a zipline or for a visit to El Yunque, the only subtropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest Service.

More than a resort town, San Juan is a port city with the de rigueur diversions of an urban center, encompassing restaurants, nightclubs and casinos, shopping, museums and cultural events ranging from the highbrow to the festive and folkloric. The annual Pablo Casals Festival belongs to this city; the famous cellist, who spent the last years of his life in Puerto Rico, founded the festival. In addition, Bacardi rum is at home here and that’s justification for touring a distillery.

San Juan, founded early in the Spanish colonial era, also provides history buffs with plenty to study and savor in its historic fortresses and in the streets of Old San Juan.

Aside from the sheer charms of street scenes, the key historic features are El Fortaleza, an early 16th century fortification that is now the governor’s residence, and the San Juan National Historical Site, which includes El Morro and San Cristobal fortifications and the city’s historic walls. Other key points of interest are the Casa Blanca (White House), which was owned by Ponce de León’s family and built beginning in 1521, and San Juan Cathedral.

The city’s subtropical climate lures tourists year round. Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, Americans don’t need passports and the currency is American dollars. Spanish is the first language of most, but English is widely spoken.

In tourist areas, there is a visible police presence, but the best advice says don’t walk alone at night.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Fly face down in a body harness on the world’s longest zipline, La Bestia, which spans nearly a mile — 4,745 feet. It is at Toro Verde Nature Adventure Park about an hour outside of San Juan.
  • Sample a lively clubbing nightlife.
  • Head into the water for scuba diving. Or go surfing; also, take lessons if appropriate.
  • Hike in the rain forest at El Yunque National Forest, located an hour or so outside the city.
  • If yours is a mid-January visit, participate in the San Sebastian Street Festival, an event similar to Mardi Gras and very lively.
  • Go sailing for a day, with or without a hired skipper.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Sample unique museums, such as the Casa del Libro or the Book House, an 18th century townhouse devoted to rare books and to the art of printing and bookbinding. Or the Museo del Tabaco Herminio Torres, for a firsthand look at the process of hand rolling cigars.
  • Tour the Bacardi Rum Distillery.
  • Stroll through the streets of Old San Juan to your heart’s content. Enrich the learning experience by joining a candlelight tour of Castillo de San Cristobal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a U.S. national park.
  • Go for a big one on a daylong deep-sea fishing excursion.
  • See the city from the seat of a bicycle. Consider joining an organized bike tour.
  • Seize the opportunity, if available during your visit, for bird-watching in Old San Juan, with tours beginning at the 18th century Ramon Power y Giralt House.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Enjoy the beaches of Isla Verde or Condado. Also, pick up those irons and play some golf. End the day at one of several hotel casinos.
  • Explore some seriously monumental Spanish colonial construction with tours of the city’s forts, San Cristobal and El Morro. Plan your visits to see the Le Lo Lai folkloric group performing, on Tuesdays, at San Cristobal. (The folkloric group can be seen elsewhere, too.)
  • Come to town for the Pablo Casals Festival.
  • Choose a cruise for your first visit to Puerto Rico’s capital. Arrival at the cruise port will let you walk right into Old San Juan.
  • Attend services at the San Juan Cathedral. Or, at the least, spend time inside admiring the stained-glass windows and Ponce de Leon’s white marble tomb.
  • Baseball is big. Attend a game if you visit during the local November-to-February season. Look for players from the American and National leagues who play here until their spring season begins.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Puerto Rico Tourism Company at www.seepuertorico.com