Welcome to this guide on travel to San Juan, Puerto Rico!
Located in the heart of the Caribbean. San Juan (Puerto Rico’s capital) and its distinct, Caribbean culture spill out into the streets every morning.
This guide will explore this vibrant, bustling city, and you will learn why this city is an amazing yet underappreciated gem to visit in this region of Latin America.
Things to do in San Juan
From sights and activities to do within the city to jungles and off-the-beaten-path destinations, be sure to read on to get acquainted with San Juan!
Why Travel to San Juan?
Aside from the allure of visiting a tropical paradise, many will see San Juan as a great getaway destination due to its ease of access.
For those from the USA, there are cheap flights from almost all major US international airports.
Also, due to the convenience of Puerto Rico being a US territory, there is no need to worry about obtaining a visa.
No getting charged for making international withdrawals or transactions. Forget having to be constantly working out how much things cost.
Whilst many are drawn to the culture and vibe of the capital city, there are many opportunities to take day trips nearby.
Including ones to El Yunque (tropical jungle) and Luquillo, where the latter has a bioluminescent bay that really lights up at night!
The island of Puerto Rico is generally safe, but, there are more reports of violence around the San Juan area.
Usually, these are domestic cases between locals, however, there are reports of robberies in the city.
As always use logic, and avoid being by yourself out late at night, or even in the daytime in the wrong areas.
When you arrive in San Juan, you can ask advice from your hostel owner about where to avoid it. If you stick to the main touristy areas such as Viejo San Juan, Condado, and Isla Park then you should have no problems.
Now we will look at costs and budgeting for San Juan.
San Juan Cost and Budget
🇬🇧 1GPB – 🇵🇷 1.1USD$
My daily budget:
Up to $40 per day
Suggested daily budget:
Puerto Rico uses the USD (United States Dollar $), which is useful not just for those coming from the States with US dollars.
Compared to most of Latin America, San Juan, in general, will be a little harsher on the wallet. Accommodation costs a lot more here.
The positives, of course, mean the use of $US without headaches, zero conversion charges with your card or bank!
You should expect a daily budget of around $30-$40 when staying cheap in San Juan.
San Juan – a 3-day itinerary
Here is a custom, 3-day itinerary to the city and surroundings of San Juan.
With this itinerary you will be based in the same accommodation, as with such little time, there is no point in moving yourself around too much.
- 1 Day in Viejo San Juan – For me, this is the best part of the city and should be where you base yourself during a trip here. Start your trip by spending some time walking around the old city and fort and check out the more off the beaten path beaches like Playa Peña.
- 1 Day in El Yunque – you can easily arrange a tour with your hostel or opt to travel independently to the jungle of El Yunque, where you can trek to Coca Falls and spot an abundance of wildlife.
- 1 Day in Condado and Isla Verde – Enjoy the nightlife and entertainment of the more bustling, “happening” parts of San Juan. As well as enjoying the beach, you can find some bargains in Ashford Avenue.
I’d say 3 days is generally the least amount of time you will want to spend here in order to see what’s good to see.
However, more time would allow you to really feel ingrained with the Latin culture and pace of the city.
Things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Now, let’s start to take a closer look at these destinations so you can make up your mind.
Here you will learn more specifics about San Juan, the places you can visit in and near the city as well as activities and events that are going on here.
Viejo San Juan
This is the old, historic part of the city and in my recommendation the best area to stay.
In this area, you can visit Castillo San Felipe del Morro, which was a fort built by the Spanish to protect the city against pirates and enemies.
There are a few, less crowded beaches here compared with the rest of the city which are great, including Playa el Escambrón and Playa Peña.
A great place to stay in the Fortel Hostel and a dorm bed will cost you between $25 – $30 depending on the season.
This area is more commercial and expensive, and whilst it boasts less cultural feel than Viejo, you can find lots of upscale restaurants, hotels, and nightlife options.
Head to Ashford Avenue for shopping and take a stroll in the Plaza Antonia Quiñones.
You can also visit the Condado beach here, which is busier than most of the others in this guide but also benefits from having a lot of food and amusements nearby.
Places to stay Nearby:
This area is mostly about the Isla Verde beach, which by locals is often regarded as the best beach in San Juan to visit.
It is easily accessible via bus, whether trying to reach from Condado or the further afield Viejo San Juan.
The only downside is that it’s next to the airport, but for those who love planes fly next to them then you will feel at home! (also, a nice reminder that you are in fact away from home).
About one hour south-west of San Juan and you will reach one of Puerto Rico’s best treasures. The jungle has dozens of nature trails, wildlife such as Coqui and monkeys, as well as the Coca waterfalls.
This area can easily be reached as a day trip from San Juan, but for nature-buffs, you may decide to spend more time here.
Whilst you can organize with your hostel, you can easily do it as part of an independent tour to save money!
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This beach-side town can offer an escape for those who may want to venture out of San Juan for a bit.
With an endless supply of beaches here, there is also the infamous bio-luminescent bay which can be explored by kayak at night to witness the amazing phenomenon.
The prices for a dorm bed are similar to that of San Juan, and Casa Coral gets my vote for the best hostel with a bed costing just under $30.
Events and Festivals
There are some events and festivals in Puerto Rico that are worth noting. Maybe you can align one of them with your future trip dates.
San Sebastián Festival
In January: This festival is one of the biggest in Puerto Rico and takes place on San Sebastian street. If you visit during this time, then it is definitely worth a visit!
During the event, there will be everything ranging from live music and stalls to art craft shows are on display, as well as a tonne of Puerto Rican cuisine and drink available!
In April: The largest food festival in the country takes place in San Juan annually, and features local culinary stars taking on internationally renowned chefs from around the world.
It’s also a great opportunity for the rest of us to try out local cuisine and the different types of rum from the region. Be sure to try some Empanadillas and Rellenos de papa!
Travel Tips for San Juan
There are some other factors to consider once you’ve begun the trip planning process.
One important thing to consider is the weather. Like all islands in the Caribbean it’s important to plan ahead, that way the weather hopefully won’t impact your plans too much.
When is best to go?
Similar to that of most Caribbean destinations, San Juan is typically hot all year round.
Temperatures average at around 80°F – 85°F all year. It does tend to rain more in the city compared to the rest of the island.
This is due to being on the North coast and therefore exposed to the stronger effects of the Atlantic Ocean.
Heavier rainfall coincides with the hurricane seasons, which are between the months of June and November.
For me, the best time to go is around the shoulder months of November, April, and May, where you will still enjoy great weather whilst avoiding the busier tourist seasons and prices.
You may want to compare Jamaica and Puerto Rico side by side to give yourself an idea of the prices and weather etc.
An important of planning your trip to this area is making sure you know how to keep yourself protected.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor am I certified to give medical information in any way.
Make sure you are prepared before you visit with a checklist of all necessary injections.
The last thing you want to do is get ill from something that is totally preventable!
Travel advisories recommend getting covered for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, and Rabies, however, you should check-up with your doctor as requirements may be different on an individual basis.
Travel Insurance for San Juan
If you are heading to San Juan soon, you will want to make sure you have the best type of Travel Insurance.
Get a free quote below from World Nomads by entering your details.
I’ve found World Nomads to be the best for travel in Latin America.
My number one recommendation for a trip to San Juan is to stay in the Old City (Viejo San Juan).
You’ll avoid all the crowds and touristy things, whilst being closer to the more classic feel of the city and close, off-the-beaten-path experiences.
Take a day trip to El Yunque for a city break, or just opt to lounge on the beaches around!
Also head to Chocobar Cortés which is located Calle San Francisco, for great breakfast, chocolate (as the name suggests) and coffee!
My last and final recommendation is to plan a trip with more time to San Juan. See some of the day torus you can easily do with half or a full day.
Day Trips From San Juan:
- Old Town Evening Tour → Historic San Juan
- San Juan → Craft Rum Cocktail Experience
- Old San Juan → Sunset Cruise
If you can wrestle in a couple more days, then you should head to Fajardo (on the east coast) and catch a ferry to Isla de Culebra or Isla Vieques.
These islands boast some of the most beautiful, clear water in the entire country.
Best Things to do in San Juan
And that’s all in this guide for San Juan.
As you have learned, there are a great number of things to do in the city, with the different areas of the city offering different kinds of activities and interests for every traveler.
As well as this, there are some great day trips from the city to El Yunque and Luquillo in order to really spice up your trip when heading for the capital.
See this backpacking Puerto Rico guide for more ideas.
From having read this guide, you will now have a more solid idea about how much a trip will cost, the best time to visit, safety, and events and festivals that San Juan plays host to.
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