Come and explore the capital city of the jewel of the Caribbean! San Juan is the capital and the most populated city of Puerto Rico. San Juan was founded in 1521 by Juan Ponce de León, which makes it the oldest city under U.S. jurisdiction and the second oldest city in the Western Hemisphere. Today it is one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean, welcoming travelers from all over the world. Whether you want to stroll through the history-filled streets, go shopping, enjoy a vibrant nightlife, sail through the sea or visit the tropical jungle a few miles away, Puerto Rico is the place to visit. Learn more about the historic city for your next San Juan excursions here.
Upon arrival, you can quickly see the history that surrounds Old San Juan. In 1493, on his second trip to America, Christopher Columbus found the island that is now known as Puerto Rico and called it San Juan Bautista in honor of John the Baptist. But it was not until 1508, that the Spanish government appointed Juan Ponce de León as the first governor of the island. Juan Ponce de León founded the original settlement which he called Caparra. Caparra was deemed unsuitable for a long-term settlement, however, and the residents soon moved to an island a short distance to the east, to the present site of Old San Juan. San Juan quickly became the most important Spanish military post in America. To defend the island from attempts to be conquered by the English and Dutch, the Spanish built the military forts of San Felipe del Morro and San Cristóbal. Both forts can be visited today and are places of tourist attraction. In 1898 the U.S. attacked Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War. Puerto Rico surrendered and eventually became a commonwealth of the United States. In 1983 the old city defenses, including the castle, were declared a World Heritage Site.
Today, San Juan is one of the Caribbean’s top tourism destinations. San Juan city is the Caribbean’s main cruise port with different cruise lines bringing millions of tourists to the city each year where they can easily access the best of Old San Juan. It is also one of the most important ports in the Caribbean and has facilities for oil refining, sugar processing, brewing, pharmaceuticals, and more.
The most common way to travel to San Juan is flying there. San Juan is a major travel hub for the Caribbean and accepts numerous flights daily from all over the mainland United States. Additionally, frequent flights arrive from Canada, Europe, and South America. You can also travel to other cities in Puerto Rico that have international airports, such as Aguadilla on the northwestern corner of the island and Ponce in the south, and they also accept frequent flights from the United States. Another option is visiting the island by cruise. San Juan is the second busiest cruise port in the Caribbean, after Miami. Many cruises from Miami end up stopping for a day or two in Puerto Rico so they can enjoy the San Juan excursions of their choice. Other cruises end in San Juan and passengers fly back home from Puerto Rico. San Juan’s cruise port is in the old part of the city, which makes it easy for travelers to visit historical attractions and trendy restaurants
Since Puerto Rico is a small island, you can reach Ponce on the southern coast and Mayaguez on the west coast (the next two largest cities) in two hours or less from San Juan. So even if you plan to explore outside the city limits of San Juan, the capital city may still be the best place to stay. You’ll also be close to many of the possible excursions that start in San Juan, making it easier to book them. Budget and luxury hotels alike are widely available in San Juan, as well as inexpensive Airbnb facilities, giving you a wide range of suitable options if you’d like to stay near the ocean during your time on the tropical island.
San Juan is home to some of the best restaurants, diners, bars, and cafes in Puerto Rico. Whether you’re looking for an affordable, rustic eatery or a fancy culinary restaurant, you can have it in San Juan any time of year. Here you can find traditional Puerto Rican cuisine known as Cocina Criolla restaurants, as well as Asian, Mexican, Italian, and others for every kind of taste. While you’re there don’t miss some of the favorite local dishes such as mofongo, tostones, arroz con gandules, pasteles, alcapurrias, and many other delicious dishes.
The metropolitan area known as San Juan has 3 distinct areas: Old San Juan, the Beach & Resort area, and other outlying communities: Río Piedras, Hato Rey, Puerta de Tierra, and Santurce.
Old San Juan is the most popular among tourists. The city is rich in culture and history, as well as exciting activities. Old San Juan offers many options for San Juan excursions including restaurants, architecture, artists, museums, churches, shopping, parks, bars, and nightclubs.
In Old San Juan you can visit el Morro and Fort San Cristobal, stroll through El Paseo la Princesa, take a sunset catamaran sailing tour through the bay. (the largest bay in the Caribbean), visit the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista and Iglesia of San Jose, and you can even see the smallest house in the world. Visit El Condado neighborhood where you can find first-class resorts and beaches. You can also visit neighboring islands on a catamaran tour or take a 50-cent ferry that will get you to the Bacardi Distillery. These are just some of the must-see locations in Old San Juan for your excursions.
Santurce is loved for its culturally rich environment by day and it’s vibrant nightlife by night. You can find the Contemporary Art Museum and Art Museum in the heart of Santurce. In the night go to La Placita de Santurce where you can find countless restaurants, bars, clubs, and live music.
If shopping is your passion you have to go to Plaza Las Americas in Hato Rey, the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean and the second largest in Latin America.
For nature lovers, you can visit Condado beach and Escambron beach where you can enjoy some surfing, snorkeling, kayaking or just take in the sun and relax. Some miles away there are more must-see natural wonders such as Luquillo Beach, El Yunque National Park in Rio Grande, La Parguera Bioluminescent Bay, Cueva Ventana Cave in Arecibo and many other sites to see on your excursions in San Juan or the island in general.