I really liked San Juan, Puerto Rico. For last year’s cruise, we hit 4 ports and the nice thing about San Juan is that it was different. Instead of a beach, we got off the cruise ship in the middle of a city. And it was kind of neat to wander the city and see all of it’s history.
I also think there is a lot more to do in San Juan, so just 1 day wasn’t enough for me. Luckily we got to go back this year and spend a couple of days. We did an excursion to the rainforest and tried a couple of different Puerto Rican restaurants.
Unique to San Juan:
- Visit the Bacardi Factory
- Climb to the top of one of the Forts
- Stroll through the Old Town
- Have a pina colada in the the city where they were first invented
- Visit the El Yunque Rainforest a U.S. National Park.
Tour the Bacardi Factory – The Bacardi Factory tour is something that you can do on your own in San Juan. It’s not difficult to get to and traveling by yourself is a lot cheaper than visiting as part of a cruise ship excursion. From the cruise ship pier, it only takes a few hours to take the ferry across to Catano, visit the factory, and return. If you are going to travel on your own, I highly recommend consulting the link below, as they did an excellent job describing step-by-step how to get to the Bacardi factory. One regret that we had is that we did the less expensive tour and it was pretty disappointing. The tour was basically a big advertising set-up for Bacardi and you didn’t get to see the actual factory at all.
The overall factory was interesting and the bat-shaped pavilion where we had our drink was very nice. Also their tram is pretty funny since it only goes a really short distance which could easily and more quickly be walked. Still fun though! 🙂
Climb to the top of one of the Forts – There are 2 large forts near the cruise ship port of San Juan, El Morro and the Fort of San Cristobal. We ended up visiting San Cristobal because it was much closer to the cruise ship and it was recommended by a native. The Fort is very easy to walk to because you can see it from the cruise ship. We headed straight for the top and were able to pay for admission at the entrance. There are a lot of steep streets and stairs both on the way to the fort and once you are inside, but everyone in our group was able to do it without any issues. Just think of it as a nice workout.
El Yunque Rainforest – We booked a half-day tour through Viator that ended up being a great tour. They picked us up from our hotel and we headed straight for the rainforest in a small van with about 10 people total. Our first stop was at the visitors center where we had a choice between visiting the gift shop and reading some exhibits or doing the nature walk, a 15 minute easy walk around the visitor center. We elected for the nature walk in hopes that we’d see some of the native animals. We did hear lots of birds, and saw some tree snails but didn’t have any luck finding the elusive tree frog. After the visitor’s center, we drove up to the Yokahu Observation Tower. Our tour guide was full of knowledge. I thought it was really interesting that there’s a type of tree that flips it’s leaves over to show the silver side when it’s going to rain. Our next stop was a walk through the rainforest where our guide provided umbrellas. We had a nice 15 minute easy stroll through the rainforest where our guide pointed out interesting plants and continued our search for the tree frog. He finally found one (you can see his tiny black head in the middle of the leaf in our picture!) Lastly, we stopped at the waterfall and took some pictures. On our way home the driver shopped at a local fruit stand where we all bought smoothies made with fresh fruit. They were delicious!
You can book this exact tour by clicking on the logo below:
Note: We are an affiliate of this vendor, but only recommend tours that we love!
Isla Verde Beach – We chose our hotel to be near the Isla Verde Beach. However, I was a bit disappointed that the beach didn’t quite look as nice as it does in pictures. It wasn’t the beautiful blue water that you see at most Caribbean beaches and it was also pretty cold. I’d recommend trying it, but not in January. It wasn’t nice enough at that time the year to justify the cost of our hotel.
There are also lots of other adventures that didn’t get a chance to do. They’re on my list for next time though! Would love to hear what people thought about them!
- Vieques Island
- Biioluminescent bay
We relied entirely on public transportation (the ferry) and then a shuttle/taxi to visit the Bacardi factory on our own.
For the Old Town, we got around by walking. Supposedly there is a free trolley that also goes around Old Town, however in all of our walking around I never saw a single bus, so I wouldn’t rely on that as your method of transportation, especially if you are short on time.
For our second trip where we stayed in Isla Verde, we relied on Taxis. Puerto Rico has a zone system for pricing taxi fares. Some estimates of taxi cost from Isla Verde – $15 from airport with luggage, $25 to La Plazacita, $25 to Cruise Port.
Hampton Inn at Isla Verde – We chose our hotel to be near the Isla Verde Beach which looks very nice in pictures. However, in January the beach wasn’t very nice and the hotel seemed incredibly expensive for a standard Hampton Inn. Next time I would stay somewhere else in a different part of the city or better cost.
Restaurants/ Meals & Drinks:
Barrachina (Birthplace of the Pina Colada) – Full disclosure, I didn’t actually visit Barrachina. Friends did and we had plans to meet up with them. However, our friends who got there early were so disappointed with the place that we ended up changing our plans. They said the service was very slow and they were bummed to get pina coladas in little plastic cups as they expected something a bit more special considering they’re known for them.
Frozen Yo – Okay, it’s a chain yogurt store so not exactly unique to San Juan. But my parents are the closest people can come to being Frozen-Yo fanatics. They were pleasantly surprised to see one in the Old Town.
Jose Enrique – We didn’t actually end up eating at Jose Enrique because I was concerned about the cost and we were traveling with a picky eater. However, it came highly recommended to us by a friend and it’s on my list.
MetroPol – MetroPol was near our hotel and recommended to us by our tour guide for the rainforest tour. He told us it’s more authentic Puerto Rican food. I really liked getting to try all the different dishes like Mofongo, fried cheese, plantains, and empanadas. I wish I would have gotten pictures of all the dishes that we tried to write a full review.
Platos – Platos is an American/Puerto-Rican restaurant near our hotel in Isla Verde. The food is decent, however, if you are looking for more authentic Puerto-Rican food, I recommend Metropol across the street. Restaurant Review
San Juan Smokehouse – If you have a free night and aren’t afraid of a little crowd, I recommend visiting La Plazacita. There are a ton of restaurants in the area and it’s fun to wander through the crowds and see what the night life is like in Puerto Rico. We ended up getting some dishes to share at San Juan Smokehouse and loved the Puerto Rican take on BBQ. Restaurant Review
Tips/ Things to Know:
- Puerto Rico is a U.S. Territory, therefore cell phones with AT&T as their provider had service and were able to call and text the U.S. for free.
- While getting around San Juan is relatively easy, I do not recommend traveling to some areas of it and especially not by yourself. Be alert to your surroundings and travel in groups if you can.
- There are 2 cruise ports in San Juan. My understanding is that if your cruise is visiting for the day, then the boat docks at the port in Old San Juan. If your cruise begins or ends in San Juan, then the boat docks at the Pan American Pier. Both are easy to get to.
My Time Spent on the Island:
- 1 day cruise port in February 2016, on the Carnival Breeze
- 3 days in January 2017, prior to our cruise on the Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas which departed from San Juan
Hope you find our travel guide helpful!