I have visited San Juan a couple of times for embarking on a cruise or as a cruise port in the past. What I like about San Juan is that their fabulous culture, with Cuban influence, is apparent in everything and even though Puerto Rico is an American territory, it is not “Americanized”. Puerto Rico offers something for the history buff, foodie, outdoor enthusiast, gambler, family types, and those who just want a peaceful getaway.
Dining and drinks are such a huge part of the Puerto Rico’s culture; therefore, a tapas and walking tour of Old Town is just the perfect thing to do. We chose the Flavors of San Juan tour, which was recommended by cruise critic as well as other sites. Our 2 hour walking tour took us through the 16th century colonial city streets of Old Town San Juan, stopping at several restaurants and bars to enjoy the local cuisine. A few things we sampled were Spanish tapas, rice and beans, Puerto Rican coffee, Mofongo, and we also had a crash course in Mojito making. Mofongo, a local favorite dish is made with green plantains mashed with olive oil and garlic, then can be stuffed with seafood, chicken, or pork, and topped with tomato and garlic sauce. I loved it!
During our walk, we learned a lot about the historic downtown area and were able to take some great photographs. My favorite food stop was to Rosa de Triana, where we enjoyed ham and vegetable croquettes, beans, plus a few other savory tapas items. The sangria was so fabulous that I took my husband to the same restaurant on our next visit. The dessert stop at Mojito’s cafe was to sample delicious tres leeches cake and strong coffee. The price of our tour was $69.
San Juan invented the island staple pina colada over fifty years ago. This classic beachy drink consists of rum, pineapple, and cream of coconut. A bartender from the Caribe Hilton Hotel’s Beachcomber Bar in San Juan won a contest with his brilliant recipe on 15 August 1952. I have stayed at the Caribe twice and the property is one of the nicest in San Juan, and great deals are abundant online. The hotel is situtated on a seventeen acre peninsula between Old Town San Juan and Condado. Beach views are phenomenal, the rooms are tastefully decorated, and the immaculate pool and lush landscaping are to be admired. You will never want to leave the pool and relaxation area, complete with bed style lounges on the waterfront. A nice lunch option is the pool side Atlantico Pool Bar & Grill. Try Palmera’s breakfast for $23.75 per person, and make sure to have the local fresh fruit juices and for dinner, Morton’s Steakhouse has a delicious selection of hand-cut steaks, chops, and a great variety of salads. Caribe offers the highly recommended Oasis Spa for even more relaxation.
Old San Juan consists of hundreds of preserved buildings and is made up of only seven blocks. It is adorned with beautiful courtyards and colored, patterned tiles. Calle Fortaleza is the top shopping area. For the best gambling, visit the plush #1 rated Ritz Carlton, The Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza Hotel & Casino, and El San Juan Hotel & Casino. Most casinos offer slots, roulette, blackjack, video poker and keno, craps, and Caribbean stud poker. Beware of pickpockets SOFO, south of Fortaleza, is known for fine dining and their outdoor food festivals. Puerto Rico is famous for cigars, Don Q rums (which is the local favorite), and coffee.
A quick overview of Puerto Rico’s history is that Columbus arrived in 1493 and it was settled in 1511. By 1898, the country was under US rule. In 1973, it became a world heritage site. There are three spanish colonial structures designated UNESCO sites; the forts of El Morro, La Fortaleza Palace, and San Cristobal. El Morro Fort dates beck to 1539. Take Colonial Street to visit la Fortaleza, the Governor’s mansion. Visit the San Juan Cathedral, which hold the remains of explorer Ponce de Leon. His body was moved here in 1913 and encased in a marble crypt.
Tip: Wear comfortable shoes as walking on the cobblestones becomes tiresome quick. Also, if you are staying in the hotel district, take a cab if you are headed to Old Town. The hotel staff will tell you its a twenty minute walk when its truly about 45 minutes and all on very uneven cobblestones.