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Port Review: San Juan, Puerto Rico

 

San Juan has been a major Caribbean cruise hub for some years, and if you’re on a Caribbean cruise, or joining one, at some point you’ll end up there. And there’s good reasons to spend time ashore.  

The Facts

Location: The northeastern coast of Puerto Rico, in the Caribbean. 

Language: English.

Currency: US dollar.

Docking/Anchoring: Ships dock in two places, across the bay (which is out of town) or across from the Sheraton Old San Juan which is in the heart of the city. 

Transport: There are taxis where both ships dock, also you can mail minibuses. If you’re docked across the bay you will need a taxi to go anywhere, while at the other docking location you can walk into Old San Juan, or take a free trolley around the area.

Overview

San Juan is the forty-sixth largest city under the jurisdiction of the United States, as well as the capital of Puerto Rico, and it’s also a key seaport for the island. It’s a city of two halves, old and new, dating back to the early 1500s when Juan Ponce de León founded the first settlement there. The island has a tropical monsoon climate and enjoys balmy average temperatures of around 27C.

Don’t Miss

It might not be the key reason why you take a cruise of the Caribbean, but even though San Juan isn’t a duty free port, goods aren’t taxed so shopping is a top activity for visitors. If you enjoy designer clothes, there are factory stores along Calle Cristo along with artisan shops. And if you get hungry there are plenty of places to enjoy a coffee and a snack.

Old San Juan is packed with interesting and historic sights, including El Morro, parts of which date back to 1539, San Cristobal Fort which was built in the 1700s, La Fortaleza, and the Catedral de San Juan, which also dates back a long way - to 1540.

Museo Pablo Casals is a must if you’re a fan of the music of the Spanish cellist. Besides being a lovely spot, it is home to a collection of his manuscripts, photographs and more.

The Bacardi Rum Factory is located just a short ferry ride away in Catano, and famous for rum, as well as home to some lovely gardens and an al-fresco pavilion to enjoy your choice of Bacardi cocktails. 

The Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico has some lovely Puerto Rican art, and visiting themed shows.

Best Photo Op

Old San Juan's two military forts, Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal, are both operated by the U.S. National Park Service, and took more than two centuries to build. Photo ops abound here, with sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean available from the top level of each building. The other place worth checking out is the Paseo de la Princesa, a scenic walking path beside the bay in San Juan. 

Shopping

Head for the largest collection of colonnaded commercial buildings on Market Street, also the Albert George Shopping and Historical Centre, built in 1894, which is a good source of handmade local crafts and souvenirs.

Food And Drink

If you are docked in Old San Juan, there are some great casual eateries just a short walk. A classic Cubano sandwich should be only your “must try” list. If your ship is in port overnight, there are some trendy restaurants in SoFo, or south of Fortaleza. 

Pick of the Excursions 

Around an hour south of San Juan is the El Yunque rainforest, home to waterfalls, wildflowers, and hiking trails great for walking off cruise food. 

Bahia Beach has a golf course which it not only public, but enjoys some lovely scenery including the waterfront. Clubs are available for rent, but you will need a rental car to get there.

There is a lovely beach in front of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel about 20 minutes from town which is nice for a dip and some sun baking. If you’re looking for seclusion, head for Bahia Beach.

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