Updated January 2021
An island set in the Caribbean, it is home to stunning beaches, rainforests, and a bustling historic center. San Juan, Puerto Rico is one of the best places to visit for a vacation or weekend getaway.
In September, the Category 4 Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, making it the worst storm to ever hit. Along with most of its resources, from potable water to electricity, tourism was also wiped out.
Tourism is Puerto Rico’s second-largest contributor to their economy and local restaurants, vendors, and hotels heavily depend on visitors who sojourn year-round.
Through the recovery, there’s great news. Puerto Rico announced shortly after that they are officially open for business, with San Juan being the most recovered. What does this mean for you?
There’s never been a better time to visit, support local businesses, and help the island recover through tourism dollars. A quote in a recent NY Times article that stood out to me from Carla Campos Vida, the interim executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, was this:
“Tourism is vital to Puerto Rico’s full recovery, and the best way to support the island is by continuing to visit, stay at hotels, eat at restaurants, and buy from local businesses.”
Puerto Rico may be one of the most diverse destinations you can visit in the Caribbean. Part of it has to do with its landscape that is comprised of everything from mountain ranges to waterfalls. Then you have San Juan, and it’s absolutely a charming capital city.
Puerto Rico has always been a special place. With happening bars, live salsa, late nights dancing in La Placita, and the electrifying streets of Old San Juan — there’s truly a contagious energy. It’s hard not to fall in love, I guess that’s why they call it “la Isla del Encanto.”
Now is the time to visit Puerto Rico — do it with respect and reverence and love the island today like never before.
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Visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico
What to Know Before Visiting Puerto Rico
The Ease of Travel
If you’re an American, you will not need a passport to visit. The local currency is the US Dollar. There are several direct flights to San Juan each day and it makes for an easy getaway from the US. English is common, but a few words in Spanish is always appreciated.
Puerto Rico is accepting visitors. To enter, you do need a negative molecular test no more than 72 hours prior to visiting. Please find the most current entry requirements here.
Uber is readily available to use in the area if you’re visiting though I would recommend renting a car if you plan to get out of the city. The island is easily navigated so if you plan to explore, a car will help. Old San Juan is rather walkable and is perfectly explored by foot.
Other Good Things to Know
You should tip at restaurants, hotels, and taxis. The dress code is not always beach-attire. Many restaurants require dress shirts and closed shoes, so be sure to check ahead!
Where to Stay in San Juan, Puerto Rico
For Puerto Rico, I always recommend a few nights in Old San Juan and then a few nights on the beach.
The area of Condado is a great and close option to the airport where there is a stunning beach and you’re close to other water activities. You could also consider staying in the Isla Verde area. Here’s where I would stay:
Condado Vanderbilt Hotel: As an oceanfront hotel, it has one of the best addresses in Condado. The luxury rooms outfitted with modern amenities are the perfect escape for those looking to be close to the water’s edge.
Their infinity pool that overlooks the ocean is a particular favorite, as there’s not a better place to catch the sunset. At night the VC Lounge transforms into an intimate space where there are live music and cocktails served.
Hotel El Convento: In the heart of Old San Juan lies one of the most historic and architecturally-stunning hotels in Puerto Rico. The Hotel El Convento was transformed from a former convent to the luxury hotel it is today, where the inner courtyard sits as the center of the action.
The lush greenery drapes over the yellow walls, and of course, their rooftop pool is a must experience for time to cool-off during the summer. Its location serves as the ideal place to call home while exploring the quaint streets of Old San Juan.
Looking for more San Juan hotels? Search here:
Airbnbs in San Juan
There are also some incredible Airbnbs for rent in San Juan should you choose to book a private home. One of the most popular bookings is at Casa Elena or this incredible treehouse. You can search for more Airbnbs here:
Things to Do in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Explore Old San Juan
This is one of the best experiences in town and it’s free! Put a good pair of walking shoes on, grab a map, and wind through the tiny and colorful streets. You can even explore the historic Castillo de San Cristóbal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro.
There are plenty of shops, restaurants and more to do. You will be so impressed with the pastel colors and charming passageways. Be sure to bring your camera.
Spend the Day at the Beach
Head to the beach at Condado, where it’s a perfect place to hang out for the afternoon. I’d recommend taking an Uber to get here.
Take a Day Trip to an Island
Go explore the neighboring islands, like Cayo Icacos or Palomino on a catamaran tour with East Island Excursions. This was one of my favorite things to do while visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico. We headed out for the day, snorkeled with the fish, and enjoyed the pristine waters.
Tour the El Yunque Rainforest
While there has been some damage to the rainforest, El Yunque is still a wonderful place to visit on a day trip. I’d recommend a guided tour or just taking a car out to do one of the lower sections. There are waterfalls and it is overall just a stunning place to visit.
Other Things to Do
Some other ideas is to stop by Bacardi Distillery for a tour and tasting. You can head to an island like Vieques for the day. One other popular day trip is to go towards the west side of the island and see sights like Cueva de Indio, Playa Boca and the popular San Sebastian waterfall.
To break up your trip, you could also stay out towards Dorado Beach. One of my favorite stay was at the Ritz-Carlton Reserve.
Restaurants in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Lote 23: This place is one you can’t miss while in Puerto Rico. A cluster of multiple restaurants have opened food carts in a beautiful, outdoor space. Head here for a quick bite, a draft beer, or try it all!
El Jibarito: If you’re looking for a locals-only spot in Old San Juan, be sure to head here. Their chuleta is incredible and mofongo a hit. I would have eaten here once a day.
La Factoria: It seems that old roads lead here, whether it’s to eat their incredible tapas-style food, taste their award-winning drinks, or dance through their multiple rooms of music. If you’re staying in Old San Juan, this is the place to be.
1919 Restaurant: Located inside the Condado Vanderbilt, this upscale restaurant was one of the best meals I had in Condado. I’d recommend doing the elegant Chef’s tasting and wine pairing — it’s an evening of culinary perfection.
Senor Paleta: Artisanal popsicles with yummy flavors!
Ola Oceanfront: Yes brunch is a thing in Puerto Rico and Ola Oceanfront is the place to come for Sunday brunch.
Patio del Nispero: Inside the Hotel El Convento, their courtyard transforms into a beautifully-lit dining area. You can come drinks and stay for dinner, where the chef uses local ingredients to prepare modern twists on classics.
Pinky’s Calle Loiza: An eatery well-known for their papaya smoothie.
La Casita Blanca: An institution for Puerto Rico and a great local spot.
Café Comunión: Head here for a cup of coffee or a quick breakfast.
Garabato Bar & Grill: Though the nights here often transform to a party, it’s a great spot to start a night out for a drink and small bites.
Marmalade: One of the high-end, reservation needed restaurants in Old San Juan.
I trust World Nomads for a few reasons. They’ve reimbursed me personally on a few occasions for trip delay and cancellation. Their price point is affordable as well.