San Juan, Puerto Rico is a hidden treasure that should be on your next extended weekend trip list. From the east coast, you can reach this destination in under 3 hours. You’ll instantly feel as if you're in Spain without needing a passport.
I had the pleasure of visiting this island over the 4th of July weekend. Mr. O and I got to experience an authentic Puerto Rican weekend. You feel yourself blending in with the locals dancing in the streets of La Placita. You can also experience a beach day surrounded by families each listening to their own salsa music and smelling delicious grilled food. I’ve listed top 10 things to do in just a few days while visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Eat, eat, and eat again.
We ate the freshest seafood. Grouper, mahi-mahi, and red snapper are in abundance and cheaper than U.S. prices. You can have a beach meal for $5 or high-end meal for $50. A $50 high-end meal would include (2) entrees, alcoholic beverage, and an appetizer. Most restaurants offer happy hours. San Juan Water and Beach Club offered 25 cent wings and $5 drinks during the week for happy hour. Each day is different so call before you go. I would highly recommend reading the reviews prior to eating at a high-end restaurant. Old San Juan is a cruise ship area and restaurants in this area can be hit or miss. Our best meals were in Condado area.
Visit Multiple Beaches
We visited San Juan around the 4th of July weekend. Isla Verde beach is PACKED with locals. It was great people watching. You’ll see locals with big speakers on wheels for the sand, all playing different salsa music. Ladies, wear your cute swim suit to this beach. You’ll see young and older females with their sexy thong bikinis on. Also many families cook on their personal grills. It’s similar to a HUGE family reunion. If only my Spanish was good, I would’ve acted like a long lost cousin to get a plate. I would suggest, arriving to this beach before 12:00 pm to purchase an umbrella and chairs. The price is $4 per chair and $10 for the umbrella. If you arrive after 12:00 pm, they will most likely be sold out. Before you arrive, go to Walgreen's or CVS to buy a disposable cooler, ice, water, alcohol, and snacks. Thank me in the comments section for this tip.
The next beach to visit is Condado beach. Most hotels are along this beach so it's full of hotel guest. If you are staying in this area, your hotel should provide free beach chairs and umbrellas for your use.
Ladies, pack comfortable flats for all the salsa dancing you’ll do. La Placita is the place to salsa dance in the streets, literally. There are about 4 good dancing spots in walking distance from each other. (2) play salsa and (2) play hip hop. Just tell your Uber driver La Placita and you’ll be dropped off in the heart of the dancing. If you don’t know how to dance salsa, no worries. Find a local and they’ll be happy to teach you. Mr. O and I thought we knew how to salsa, until we switched partners and danced with locals. I realized I needed to find a salsa class on Groupon for us to really learn. Or we'll just keeping coming back to Puerto Rico. If you are looking for more upscale areas to dance, The Marriott San Juan and El San Juan Hotel in Condado are great places to get dressed up and dance to live bands. You should definitely visit both hotels. You’ll get to see locals that will dance circles around you.
If you are into gambling, the hotels in Condado have the best. They have everything from slots, to $2 buy in Roulette, and Blackjack. I really got into the groove of Roulette. The casinos are open late and is a great place to go if there is bad weather.
Stay in Condado
This area is the South Beach of San Juan. You have million dollar condos and 5 star hotels. If you stay in this area, you can walk to most of the great restaurants and beaches. The first part of our trip, we stayed close to the convention center. Our Uber rides were never more than $6. Because of the low fares, we made sure to tip the driver on every ride. When we decided to extend our trip, we stayed at the AC Marriott Hotel in Condado. This hotel was new, modern, and well located. You have access to the pool and restaurant amenities at the sister Marriott San Juan Hotel. Check out my review of the AC Marriott Hotel.
Hike El Yunque Rain Forest
Uber’s are extremely cheap in San Juan. I would suggest renting a car for a day to explore El Yunque Rain Forest then drive to the Bacardi Factory. You’ll want to wear old sneakers or water shoes. You’ll be hiking up strenuous slippery rocks to get to some of their amazing waterfalls. This hike isn’t for folks with walking challenges but you also don’t need to be super fit. If you are a bird enthusiast, you’ll fall in love with this rain forest. You’ll hear and see exotic birds that are unique only to this area. Once you arrive to the waterfall, feel free to take a dip. Just don’t get too close to the waterfall itself. There is an unexpected power that can pull you under.
Visit the Bacardi Distillery Factory
If you aren’t renting a car, the location is about a $15 Uber ride from Old San Juan. Otherwise, this is a great stop with your rental car after the rain forest. There are (3) different tours you can go on once you arrive. It’s best to book a day or two in advanced. The Historical Tour is $15 and takes you around the property in a golf cart and explains the history. The Rum Tasting Tour allows you to taste test 4 different rums for $50. My favorite was the Mixology Tour for $60. You first have an abbreviated tour of the history and then the class begins. You learn how to make a Mojito, Caribe Libre, and Daiquiri. The rums, ingredients, and glasses are all laid out for you at your own personal station. Afterwards, as you exit, you’ll be taken through the gift shop. Something unique was the option to make your own bottle of a reserve rum. The price is $160 for you to customize your bottle, fill it up, and seal it with wax. This is a great collector’s item to take home. What was most impressive is how a small rum distillery evolved into a rum and spirit powerhouse and is still owned by the same Bacardi family.
Take a Bioluminescent Bay Tour
This magical place is 1 out of 5 in the world. As you paddle the bay, the water will light up under you. No worries if you can’t swim. You’ll be given a life vest. The best time to visit is the night after the new moon. If there is a full or half-moon while on your tour, you’ll have to get under a tarp to see the glow. Overall this is a cool experience that you can’t experience just anywhere.
Visit Castillo San Felipe del Morro
As you walk towards the Fort San Felipe del Morro, you are surrounded by grassy hills and the stone castle rises majestically from the headland. This amazing fort is a monster and has been around since the 1500's. For a tour, park rangers will guide you throughout the massive fortification, which still houses original cannons, ammunition, and many other objects used by the Spanish militia in Puerto Rico. The cost is $7 for admission to the fort and Castillo San Cristobal for 2 days. This is a national park, so take your National Park Pass if you have one.
Tour Old San Juan
You can’t visit Puerto Rico without visiting Old San Juan. Old San Juan is made up of myriad historic buildings, shops, restaurants, and exciting attractions. A free shuttle takes you to the most popular attractions, but the area can easily be explored on foot. The town consists of 400 restored buildings from the 16th- and 17th-century Spanish colonial period, If you are lucky, you’ll hear a live band playing salsa music in the center during the day. You’ll quickly feel as if you are in the middle of Spain.
Have you visited San Juan? What are some of your favorite things to do or see? I'd love to hear in the comments section below.