San JuanCopyright: Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock.com
San JuanSan Juan is the vibrant, cosmopolitan capital of the island of Puerto Rico. Encompassing hundreds of years of history, the city blends Spanish-era historic sites, such as the San Felipe del Morro fortress, with modern entertainment and fashionable shopping districts. More than a million people call San Juan home, while hundreds of thousands of tourists call it their favorite place to vacation each year.
The CitySan Juan is a bustling metropolis that has evolved from its nearly 500 year-old colonial roots to become one of the most important cities in the Americas. Spanish colonists, who called it Ciudad Puerto Rico (or “Rich Port City”), founded the 77 square-mile city in 1521. The city is divided into neighborhoods such as Old San Juan, Puerta de Tierra, Miramar, Santurce and Río Piedras, where most of the cultural attractions are concentrated. The Condado and Ocean Park neighborhoods are ideal destinations for beach lovers, who can enjoy their spectacular turquoise-blue waters and white, sandy shores. The two neighborhoods are also known for their world-class hotels and late-night entertainment. At the heart of the city is Old San Juan, a magnificent 47 square-mile islet that is connected to the rest of the town via two bridges. The walled city is host to Spanish-era architectural sites, such as La Fortaleza, the oldest executive mansion in continuous use in the Americas. In the area, you will also find residential neighborhoods, historic forts like San Felipe del Morro and Fuerte San Cristóbal, and inviting public plazas. Tours of the historic sites are available all day, every day, and offered in both Spanish and English. Visitors who don’t just come in search of history are often attracted by the bustling nightlife and shopping. It is said that the arrival of some of the world’s most fashionable designers – Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Salvatore Ferragamo –has transformed Ashford Avenue (in the Condado district) into a mini replica of Miami’s South Beach. And speaking of shopping, San Juan is also home to the Caribbean’s largest shopping center, Plaza Las Américas.
Do & See
San Juan’s perfect mix of old and new sets the stage for an unforgettable trip. The starting point should be Old San Juan, where walking is the norm, but free trolleys are available to take visitors from one site to the next. Nobody who visits the island should leave without seeing the forts, the churches and the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan.
Puerto Rican cuisine is a mix of local and international flavors that pleases most palates. Rice, root vegetables, and proteins are staple items on all menus--from casual eateries to the most exclusive dining. The city also offers an eclectic mix of fine international dining and innovative fusion cuisine.
San Juan is blessed with year-round tropical weather, so don’t be surprised when you see sidewalks peppered with umbrella-covered tables and chairs, allowing visitors to enjoy the outdoors over a cup of hot coffee and dessert. Most restaurants that offer outside seating also have air-conditioned dining for extra comfort.
Bars & Nightlife
When the sun goes down, San Juan’s vibrant nightlife awakens. Any excuse is good enough to go out, especially when it comes to dancing. If you are into merengue, salsa, hip-hop, or disco, you can expect great live music and plenty of dancing in a variety of settings.
San Juan is a mecca for great shopping. Though not a duty-free zone, good deals can be found in the Old City – especially on gold, arts and crafts and clothes. Old San Juan also offers a mix of local shops and designer outlets. Outside the walls of the Old City, you will find even more places to spend your hard-earned dollars. The Condado area, for example, is quickly becoming the town’s upscale fashion district. Designers such as Louis Vuitton and Salvatore Ferragamo have set up stores along Ashford Avenue in Condado, giving trendy shoppers first dibs on their latest creations.
The Puerto Rico Tourism Company’s “Que Pasa!” free magazine is a great tool for tourists. The magazine is available in most hotel lobbies and at La Casita in Old San Juan. The publication includes tricks and tips for getting around San Juan, as well as the rest of the island.