The Puerto Rican capital of San Juan seamlessly weaves collectively the historic and the fashionable, with streets first cobbled within the period of Cervantes and neighborhoods that hum with modern life.
Bursting with appeal, Previous San Juan’s confection of rainbow-colored buildings unfurls to a dramatic palm-fringed shoreline the place monumental fortresses stand sentry. The varied blocks enclosed inside the 3-mile-long (5km) metropolis partitions overflow with daring avenue artwork and farm-to-table eating places that remember Puerto Rico’s wealthy cultural heritage.
Channeling an “all-things native” philosophy, San Juan’s rising entrepreneurs and trendsetters are driving a wave of creativity. Throughout the town, bars and golf equipment rock to the sound of salsa, reggaeton and Latin entice as mixologists craft modern cocktails from contemporary native produce. Exploring the town’s prized landmarks is only the start. Lots of San Juan’s signature experiences contain merely falling into the each day rituals of the town’s distinctive neighborhoods. Right here’s our checklist of the highest issues to do in San Juan.
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1. Hint 500 years of San Juan historical past
Lately, San Juan has been within the throes of a renaissance. Within the wake of 2017’s devastating Hurricane María, the town’s palpable spirit of resilience and restoration reached a stunning crescendo in 2022 when the town celebrated its five hundredth anniversary. Go to the Museo de San Juan for displays and artwork that hint the island’s historical past from the Caparra ruins to modern-day neighborhoods.
The excellent Museo de las Américas stands as a testomony to the historic significance of the second-oldest European settlement within the New World (solely Santo Domingo within the Dominican Republic is older). Evocatively housed in former navy barracks, the museum’s well-curated shows chronicle the island’s wealthy African heritage, indigenous tradition and tumultuous colonial interval in thought-provoking methods.
Planning tip: San Juan’s different high museums embrace the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (MAPR), containing over 4000 artworks spanning the 14th via nineteenth centuries, the Museo del Mar for nautical historical past, and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, that includes 1200 Latin American, fashionable Caribbean and diaspora artworks from the mid-Twentieth century to the current.
Wander the cobbled streets of Previous San Juan © Mikolajn / Getty Photographs
2. Tour Previous San Juan’s spectacular structure
Small however completely fashioned, Previous San Juan is a historic repository of superbly preserved colonnaded buildings, historic plazas and streets cobbled with ballast from Spanish galleons. Partitions from the Sixteenth century enclose a seven-by-seven grid of streets that brim with flower-filled patios, eclectic boutiques, modern artwork galleries and a handful of participating museums.
Two strategically positioned fortresses – constructed by the Spanish to thwart buccaneering Brits and Danes – guard the bay like large sandcastles plucked straight from a toddler’s image ebook. A surfeit of architectural showpieces contains the venerable Gothic-style Catedral de San Juan Bautista, inbuilt 1540, and the palatial fort of La Fortaleza, the eye-catching official residence of Puerto Rico’s governor.
Planning tip: Previous San Juan is straightforward to get round on foot, however for those who’re planning to go farther afield, you will in all probability have to take a trip with a taxi, the free trolley or the cheap bus community.
Initially constructed to repel invaders within the Sixteenth century, as we speak El Morro is a significant vacationer attraction © Joel Carillet / iStock by way of Getty Picture Plus
3. Discover the long-lasting fort at El Morro
Constructed over the span of two centuries to repel Puerto Rico’s seaborne aggressors, El Morro – the town’s crown jewel – saved the Spanish flag flying over San Juan for nearly 400 years till American troops poured into the town in 1898.
Majestically rising above the northwestern level of the Previous San Juan peninsula, this Sixteenth-century website grew to become a nationwide monument in 1961. El Morro towers 140ft (43m) above the Atlantic Ocean and types an enchanting labyrinth of dungeons, vaults, barracks, turrets, lookouts and secret passageways. Ringed by partitions that high 45ft (14m) in locations, these fortifications got here near bankrupting the Spanish crown, which funded their development.
Planning tip: Head right here on weekends when native households flock to the fort’s grassy promenade to picnic, stroll their canines and fly kites – you should buy your personal kite from the distributors in entrance of the location.
Strive the epic cocktails at legendary La Factoría © Alejandro Granadillo / Lonely Planet
4. Drink cocktails and dance salsa at La Factoría
One among San Juan’s must-visit cocktail bars, La Factoría rejuvenated the town’s bar scene when it opened in 2013. Now La Factoría is a global phenomenon, thanks in no small half to being the music-video location for the long-lasting reggaeton hit “Despacito”. Graffiti-etched passageways hyperlink to a classy lounge, a sultry wine bar and a salsa dance ground.
The frequent theme is terrific music and virtuoso mixology. A home favourite is the Lavender Mule, a potent mixture of house-made ginger beer and lavender-infused syrup.
5. Store and dine native alongside arty Calle Loíza
Dubbed the “Avenue of the Arts,” Calle Loíza overflows with trendy cafes, eclectic eating places and idea shops that channel Puerto Rico’s #apoyololocal (store native) motion.
The collaborative zeal and resilience of Loíza’s feminine entrepreneurs have outlined the island’s restoration submit–Hurricane María. Within the house of a number of blocks, you possibly can peruse the ocean-inspired attire of former Attract editor and San Juan native Tanamá Besosa Castillo at T Playa; savor a sturdy cortadito espresso made with domestically produced beans at Café con Cé; and rejuvenate with a tropical-fruit smoothie at Kamoli Juice Bar. Pause at Tresbé, constructed round vivid yellow delivery containers, for an informal alfresco lunch of traditional Puerto Rican bites and worldwide fusion fare.
Artwork is all over the place alongside Avenida de Diego and Calle Tapia. One of many space’s most emblematic artworks, Loíza Brinca by native artist Abéy Charrón enlivens a whole constructing with the Puerto Rican flag. On the nook of Loíza and Benitez Castaño, take a look at the daring, geometric mural by up-and-coming native design studio Kiik Create.
At all times save room for mofongo –a well-liked Puerto Rican dish © Alleko / Getty Photographs
6. Eat at Santaella, one in every of Puerto Rico’s finest eating places
A stone’s throw from La Placita de Santurce, José Santaella’s world-class restaurant is a trend-driven, enjoyable place to strive modern Puerto Rican delicacies. Positioned inside a former ironmongery store, the spot has an industrial decor that contrasts with flamboyant tropical murals and Caribbean dishes that fuse genuine native flavors and worldwide cooking kinds.
There’s loads on the menu to fulfill vegetarians, pescatarians and meat lovers alike. Strive the succulent jumbo shrimp drizzled with a garlic cream sauce or the sashimi-grade ahi tuna skewers which might be completely spiced.
The signature trifongo provides yucca and candy plantains to the normal mofongo recipe (fried inexperienced plantains mashed with meat or seafood) and is likely one of the finest objects on the menu. Farm-to-table roasted cauliflower and butternut squash come served atop feta cheese labneh and almonds.
On the glossy bar, mixologists craft tropical libations and impressed interpretations of traditional cocktails – native favorites are the Sandía Mojito (made with watermelon) and the tequila-infused Espresso Martini.
7. Social gathering the evening away at La Placita in Santurce
The revitalized neighborhood of Santurce bursts with shade and creativity; the hub of this quickly gentrifying barrio is La Placita, a historic farmers market by day and vibrant out of doors social gathering by evening.
Come night, workplace staff swing by, teams of mates spill out onto the streets and households collect on the many bars and eating places that encompass the sq.. From 10pm onward, all the things kicks up a notch, as musicians take to the makeshift stage and spirited salsa and perreo dancing takes maintain.
Planning tip: Come for the long-haul as this isn’t a brief social gathering – invariably, the revelry continues till daybreak.
Metropolis seashores like Balneario Escambrón are a spotlight of any go to to San Juan © LeonU / Getty Photographs
8. Surf and snorkel at San Juan’s finest seaside, Balneario Escambrón
Surfers of all stripes are drawn to San Juan’s constant swells, numerous breaks and laid-back vibe. Perched on the northern finish of Puerta de Tierra, simply outdoors Previous San Juan, Playa Escambrón – recognized domestically as La Ocho – is taken into account San Juan’s finest balneario (public seaside).
Escambrón combines dramatic surroundings with family-friendly recreation and facilities. Lovely palm-shaded sands are protected by a coral reef which gives rewarding snorkeling alternatives at Escambrón’s namesake marine park. Snorkelers can float amongst faculties of blue tangs and damsel fish that carouse magnificent mind coral. (For prime marine life viewing and visibility, purpose for the western facet of the conspicuous rock offshore.)
Planning tip: Price a go to close by is the Batería del Escambrón (Escambrón Battery), a small 18th-century fortification, and the oceanfront Parque del Tercio Milenio, a well-liked inexperienced house peppered with trails and bike paths.
9. Take a Casa Bacardí rum tour
A brief ferry and taxi trip from the principle islet of Previous San Juan is Casa Bacardí, the rum large’s flagship manufacturing facility and religious residence for the reason that Bacardi household fled from Cuba to Puerto Rico in 1936.
The most important of its type on this planet, the distillery produces a staggering 100,000 gallons of rum every day. The Bacardi Customer Middle (included with every tour) is a must-see – its “cathedral of rum” inside, designed to mirror a Cuban villa, homes an interactive historical past of each the corporate and rum that features a movie, audio guides and the chance to nostril rum components.
Planning tip: Bacardi presents three excursions: a rum tasting tour ($75), a mixology session ($75), and the legacy tour ($30) that focuses on Bacardi household historical past. Make sure to finish your go to with a cocktail on the waterfront pavilion with views of El Morro.
10. Pattern domestically grown espresso at Hacienda Pomarrosa
Head out of bustling San Juan to expertise Puerto Rico’s dramatic topography on a day journey to the foot of the island’s highest mountain, Cerro de Punta.
Hacienda Pomarrosa is a family-run specialty espresso farm that operates each day excursions of its plantation inside peaceable, panoramic environment. Proprietor Kurt Legner and his son Sebastian information guests via the historical past of espresso (with tastings) and lead an informative stroll across the vibrantly inexperienced coffee-growing areas. The tour concludes by heading to the assorted manufacturing flooring earlier than rounding off with one other distinctive brew.