Select a Destination
Puerto Rico Attractions
Puerto Rico Attractions
San Juan Gate, Calle San Francisco and Calle Recinto Oeste, built around 1635, just north of La Fortaleza, several blocks downhill from the cathedral, was the main point of entry into San Juan if you arrived by ship in the 17th and 18th centuries. The gate is the only one remaining of the several that once pierced the fortifications of the old walled city.
Plazuela de la Rogativa, Caleta de las Monjas, is a little plaza with a statue of a bishop and three women, commemorating one of Puerto Rico's most famous legends. In 1797, from across San Juan Bay at Santurce, the British held the Old Town under siege. That same year they mysteriously sailed away. Later, the commander claimed he feared that the enemy was well prepared behind those walls; he apparently saw many lights and believed them to be reinforcements. Some people believe that those lights were torches carried by women in a rogativa, or religious procession, as they followed their bishop.
The city walls around San Juan were built in 1630 to protect the town against both European invaders and Caribbean pirates. The city walls that remain today were once part of one of the most impregnable fortresses in the New World and even today are an engineering marvel. Their thickness averages 20 feet (6m) at the base and 12 feet (3.6m) at the top, with an average height of 40 feet (12m).
Historic Squares - In Old San Juan, Plaza del Quinto Centenario (Quincentennial Plaza) overlooks the Atlantic from atop the highest point in the city. A striking and symbolic feature of the plaza, which was constructed as part of the 1992-93 celebration of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the New World, is a sculpture that rises 40 feet (12m) from the plaza's top level.
Sweeping views extend from the plaza to El Morro Fortress at the headland of San Juan Bay and to the Dominican Convent and San José Church, a rare New World example of Gothic architecture.
Centrally located, Quincentennial Plaza is one of modern Puerto Rico's respectful gestures to its colorful and lively history. It is a perfect introduction for visitors seeking to discover the many rich links with the past in Old San Juan.
Once named St. James Square, or Plaza Santiago, Plaza de Colón in the heart of San Juan's Old Town is bustling and busy, reached along the pedestrian mall of Calle Fortaleza. The square was renamed Plaza de Colón to honor the 400th anniversary of the explorer's so-called discovery of Puerto Rico.
Just 35 miles (56km) east of San Juan is the Caribbean National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Park System. Named by the Spanish for its anvil-shaped peak, El Yunque receives more than 100 billion gallons of rainfall annually. If you have time for only one side trip, this is the one to take. Waterfalls, wild orchids, giant ferns, towering tabonuco trees, and sierra palms make El Yunque a photographer's and hiker's paradise.
Visitors can combine a morning trip to El Yunque with an afternoon of swimming and sunning on tranquil Luquillo Beach. Soft white sand, shaded by coconut palms and the blue sea, makes this Puerto Rico's best and best-known beach. Take a picnic or, better yet, sample local specialties from the kiosks.
Dubbed "an ear to heaven," Observatorio de Arecibo (tel. 787/878-2612; www.naic.edu) contains the world's largest and most sensitive radar/radio-telescope. The telescope features a 20-acre (8-hectare) dish, or radio mirror, set in an ancient sinkhole. Unusually lush vegetation flourishes under the giant dish, including ferns, wild orchids, and begonias. Assorted creatures like mongooses, lizards, and dragonflies have also taken refuge there. Suspended in outlandish fashion above the dish is a 600-ton platform that resembles a space station.
Parque de las Cavernas del Río Camuy (Río Camuy Caves) (tel. 787/898-3100) contains the third-largest underground river in the world. It runs through a network of caves, canyons, and sinkholes that have been cut through the island's limestone base over the course of millions of years. Visitors first see a short film about the caves and then descend into the caverns in open-air trolleys. The trip takes you through a 200-foot (60m) deep sinkhole and a chasm where tropical trees, ferns, and flowers flourish, along with birds and butterflies. The trolley then goes to the entrance of Clara Cave of Epalme, one of 16 caves in the Camuy caves network, where visitors begin a 45-minute walk, viewing the majestic series of rooms rich in stalagmites, stalactites, and huge natural "sculptures" formed over the centuries.
Famous with beach buffs since the 1920s, Condado Beach put San Juan on the map as a tourist resort. Backed up by high-rise hotels, it seems more like Miami Beach than any other beach in the Caribbean. From parasailing to sailing, all sorts of watersports can be booked at kiosks along the beach or at the activities desk of the hotels. There are also plenty of outdoor bars and restaurants. People-watching is a favorite sport along these golden strands.
A favorite of Sanjuaneros themselves, Isla Verde Beach is also ideal for swimming, and it, too, is lined with high-rise resorts a la Miami Beach. Many luxury condos are on this beachfront. Isla Verde has picnic tables, so you can pick up the makings of a lunch and make it a day at the beach. This strip is also good for snorkeling because of its calm, clear waters, and many kiosks will rent you equipment. Isla Verde Beach extends from the end of Ocean Park to the beginning of a section called Boca Cangrejos. The sands here are whiter than those of the Condado, and they are lined with coconut palms, sea-grape trees, and even almond trees, all of which provide shade from the fierce noonday sun.
One of the most attractive beaches in the Greater San Juan area is Ocean Park Beach, a mile (1.6km) of fine gold sand in a neighborhood east of Condado. This beach attracts both young people and a big gay crowd. Access to the beach at Ocean Park has been limited recently, but the best place to enter is from a section called El Ultimo Trolley. This area is ideal for volleyball, paddleball, and other games. The easternmost portion, known as Punta Las Marias, is best for windsurfing. The waters at Ocean Park are fine for swimming, although they can get rough at times.
Rivaling Condado and Isla Verde beaches, Luquillo Beach is the grandest in Puerto Rico and one of the most popular. It's 30 miles (48km) east of San Juan, near the town of Luquillo.
Children should love El Morro Fortress because it looks just like the castles they have seen on TV and at the movies. On a rocky promontory, El Morro is filled with dungeons and dank places and also has lofty lookout points for viewing San Juan Harbor.
Content provided by Frommer's Unlimited© 2012, Whatsonwhen Limited and Wiley Publishing, Inc.
Puerto Rico Activities
Active vacationers have a wide choice of things to do in San Juan, from beaching to windsurfing. The beachside hotels, of course, offer lots of watersports activities.
Bike Rentals - The best places to bike are along Avenida Ashford (in Condado), Calle Loiza (between Condado and Ocean Park), and Avenida Baldorioty de Castro (in Santurce). Other streets in this area may be too congested. Similarly, because of the traffic, biking in Old San Juan is not recommended.
Cruises - For the best cruises of San Juan Bay, go to Caribe Aquatic Adventures.
Deep-Sea Fishing - Deep-sea fishing is top-notch here. Allison tuna, white and blue marlin, sailfish, wahoo, dolphin (mahimahi), mackerel, and tarpon are some of the fish that can be caught in Puerto Rican waters, where 30 world records have been broken. Charter arrangements can be made through most major hotels and resorts.
Golf - A 45-minute drive east from San Juan on the northeast coast takes you to Palmer and its 6,145-yard Westin Rio Mar Golf Course (tel. 787/888-6000). Inexperienced golfers prefer this course to the more challenging and more famous courses at Dorado, even though trade winds can influence your game along the holes bordering the water, and occasional fairway flooding can present some unwanted obstacles. Greens fees are $165 for hotel guests, $190 for nonguests. A gallery of 100 iguanas also adds spice to your game at Rio Mar.
Horse Racing - Great thoroughbreds and outstanding jockeys compete year-round at El Comandante (tel. 787/724-6060), Puerto Rico's only racetrack, a 20-minute drive east of the center of San Juan. Post time varies from 2:45 to 5:30pm on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Entrance to the clubhouse costs $3; no admission is charged for the grandstand.
Running - The cool, quiet, morning hours before 8am are a good time to jog through the streets of Old San Juan. Head for the wide thoroughfares adjacent to El Morro and then San Cristóbal, whose walls jut upward from the flat ground. If you don't mind heading out into the island a bit from your base in Old San Juan, you might opt for a run through the palm trees of the Parque Central, near Calle Cerra and Route 2 in Santurce. Condado's Avenida Ashford is a busy site for morning runners as well.
Scuba Diving - In San Juan, the best outfitter is Caribe Aquatic Adventures (tel. 787/281-8858), which operates a dive shop in the rear lobby of the Normandie Hotel that's open daily from 8am to 4pm. The company offers diving certification from both PADI and NAUI as part of 40-hour courses priced at $465 each. Also offered are local daily dives in the waters close to San Juan, as well as the option of traveling farther afield into waters near the reefs of Puerto Rico's eastern shore. If time permits, we recommend a full-day dive experience; if time is limited, try one of the many worthy dive sites that lie closer to San Juan and can be experienced in a half day.
Snorkeling - Snorkeling is better in the outlying portions of the island than in overcrowded San Juan. But if you don't have time to explore greater Puerto Rico, you'll find that most of the popular beaches, such as Luquillo and Isla Verde, have pretty good visibility and kiosks that rent equipment. If you're on your own in the San Juan area, one of the best places is the San Juan Bay marina near the Caribe Hilton. Watersports desks at the big San Juan hotels at Isla Verde and Condado can generally make arrangements for instruction and equipment rental and can also lead you to the best places for snorkeling, depending on where you are in the sprawling metropolis. If your hotel doesn't offer such services, you can contact Caribe Aquatic Adventures, which caters to both snorkelers and scuba divers. You can also rent equipment from Caribbean School of Aquatics (tel. 787/728-6606).
Spas & Fitness Centers - If a spa figures into your holiday plans, the grandest and largest such facility in San Juan is found at Ritz-Carlton San Juan Hotel, Spa & Casino (tel. 787/253-1700). The Ritz-Carlton facility is the only spa in the Caribbean to offer the exotic and ritualistic treatments known to spa lovers around the world as the Balinese Massage and the Javanese Lulur. The fragrant Balinese Massage uses compression, skin-rolling, wringing, and percussion and thumb-walking to "de-stress" the most uptight guests. The Lulur originated centuries ago in the royal palaces of Central Java as part of a ritual for royal brides-to-be.
The only resort spa that challenges the Ritz-Carlton is the runner-up, the newly launched Olas Spa at the Carib Hilton (tel. 787/721-0303). The spa offers everything from traditional massages to more exotic body and water therapies, using such products as honey, cucumber, sea salts, seaweed, or mud baths. You can choose your delight among the massages, including one called "Rising Sun," a traditional Japanese form of massage called shiatsu that uses pressure applied with hands, elbows, and knees on specific body points. The Hilton Spa has the town's best program for hair treatments, including thinning hair and "tired perm." It also has a state-of-the-art fitness center with Universal and Nautilus weight machines, aerobics and yoga classes, treadmills, aerobicycles, loofah body polishes, and facials.
Tennis - Most of the big resorts have their own tennis courts for the use of guests. There are 12 public courts, lit at night, at San Juan Central Municipal Park (tel. 787/722-1646), open daily.
Windsurfing - The most savvy windsurfing advice and equipment rental is available at Velauno, (tel. 787/728-8716). This is the second biggest, full-service headquarters for windsurfing in the United States. The staff here will guide you to the best windsurfing, which is likely to be the Punta Las Marías in the Greater San Juan metropolitan area. Other spots on the island for windsurfing include Santa Isabel, Guánica, and La Parguera in the south; Jobos and Shacks in the northwest, and the island of Culebra off the eastern coast.
Content provided by Frommer's Unlimited© 2012, Whatsonwhen Limited and Wiley Publishing, Inc.