Experience the charm of a vibrant and captivating American territory with a touch of Spanish influence. Discover the wonders of San Juan, Puerto Rico, a popular cruise port-of-call and embarkation spot. Whether you’re a foodie, history buff, gambler, outdoor enthusiast, or traveling with family, there’s a plethora of activities in this colorful Caribbean gem awaiting you.
Join me as I share my recommendations for an unforgettable day while in the cruise port of San Juan, Puerto Rico, based on my Carnival Cruise just before the world came to a halt due to COVID-19.
San Juan, Puerto Rico for Foodies
Experience the ultimate culinary adventure on the Flavors of San Juan tour, the top choice of Cruise Critic. Indulge in the vibrant local cuisine, visit charming eateries, and even learn to make perfect mojitos. This immersive two-hour tour takes you through picturesque cobblestone streets and historic Colonial architecture, stopping at the hottest spots for tantalizing bites.
Enjoy a mouthwatering selection including rice and beans, ham croquettes, and the iconic Mofongo – a savory dish of mashed green plantains stuffed with your choice of pork, seafood, or chicken, topped with garlic sauce and tomatoes.
One of the highlights of this food tour was Rosa di Triana (unfortunately, now closed), where we savored a variety of croquettes, beans, and delectable tapas. Don’t miss the chance to sample authentic Puerto Rican coffee, sangria, and mouthwatering mojitos on the Flavors of San Juan food tour.
If you prefer to explore San Juan’s culinary scene at your own pace, try a piece of Tres Leches cake paired with a strong Puerto Rican coffee. For a truly satisfying meal, head to Pirilo Pizza Rustica, where the Empanada Sampler offers the perfect appetizer. For your main course, I recommend the mouthwatering pumpkin-filled ravioli or a Margherita pizza.
SOFO, located south of Fortaleza, is a renowned culinary destination known for its fine dining and incredible outdoor food festivals.
Tip: Wear comfortable shoes for your cruise port day in San Juan. Walking around on cobblestones all day is tough.
Want another exciting food tour to check out? The one in Puerto Vallarta is spectacular!
San Juan, Puerto Rico for History Buffs
Experience the charm of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, in just seven blocks! Immerse yourself in the preserved buildings, vibrant courtyards, and stunning patterned tiles. Discover the beauty of Plaza de Armas, adorned with sculptures and fountains, and don’t miss the iconic Christopher Columbus statue at Plaza Colón.
Delve into Puerto Rico’s history, with Columbus’ arrival in 1493 and the country’s settlement in 1511, ultimately falling under US rule in 1898.
Explore my personal favorite, the 500-year-old fortress Castillo de San Cristóbal. This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a glimpse into Puerto Rico’s past as a military stronghold. Traverse the well-preserved city wall, wander through tunnels and dungeons, and ascend to the top for breathtaking 360-degree views.
With a $10 day pass, valid for 24 hours, you can also access El Morro, a citadel guarding San Juan Bay since 1539. Don’t forget to get your NPS stamps.
As an added bonus, as you sail into the cruise port of San Juan, you’ll catch a glimpse of the magnificent Castillo San Felipe del Morro.
Take To The Streets in San Juan Puerto Rico
Experience the history and beauty of San Juan with these must-see attractions. Take a scenic drive along Colonial Street to explore La Fortaleza, the Governor’s mansion, and a 16th-century fortification. Discover the rich heritage of Puerto Rico at the San Juan Cathedral, where explorer Ponce de Leon’s remains rest in a stunning marble crypt.
Don’t miss the vibrant and Instagram-worthy flag of Puerto Rico mural on Calle Imperial, with its fascinating six levels of tunnels and barracks.
Afterward, indulge in a leisurely stroll through Plaza de Armas, the perfect spot for sightseeing, photography, and even bird and cat watching. Don’t forget your camera for that perfect selfie!
What a Gambler or Shopper Might Like in San Juan
Explore the vibrant capital city of San Juan, Puerto Rico, known for its bustling casinos and upscale shopping. Shopaholics will find their paradise on Calle Fortaleza, the top shopping district.
Experience the thrill of gambling at the renowned San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino, Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort, and Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino. From slots to roulette, blackjack to video poker, and even craps and Caribbean stud poker, these casinos have it all. Remember to stay vigilant against pickpockets by using a secure cross-body purse and keeping valuable jewelry in the cruise ship’s safe.
San Juan for Outdoor Lovers
Experience the beauty of San Juan Puerto Rico, an affordable destination with breathtaking beaches. The entire coastline is picture-perfect, like something out of a postcard. Whether you prefer sunbathing, swimming, fishing, golfing, or water activities, you’ll find a fantastic selection to choose from.
Isla Verde Beach West offers an incredible range of options, including water skiing, jet skiing, kayaking, kitesurfing, and boat rentals.
But San Juan is not just for the active adventurer. It’s also the perfect place to relax and do absolutely nothing but soak up the sun. Head over to Condado Beach, where you can unwind and enjoy the numerous cafes and spots for refreshments. And don’t forget to visit Laguna del Condado, a manatee lagoon that is a must-see attraction.
Family Fun in San Juan Puerto Rico
The picturesque Old San Juan has a beautiful collection of preserved buildings and Puerto Rico’s rich culture and history. Dreamy courtyards and bold-colored homes are scattered between old churches, newly developed parks, and the vibrant Caribbean Sea.
You can easily walk this part of town within an hour from side to side, and that be one of the best things to do at the cruise port of San Juan. Keep your eye out for huge iguanas and stray cats (fed through a devoted community program) on land and dolphins and whales in the water.
A fun attraction to visit is the San Juan Botanical Garden of Puerto Rico, with over 75 acres of urban parks and tropical flowers to explore, smell, and enjoy.
Pro Tip: If you have a US cell phone, you can use it in Puerto Rico with no additional roaming charges. You can take advantage of this to catch up with your family.
Make It An Overnight in San Juan
Indulge in the classic Piña Colada, a tropical delight featuring white rum, creamy coconut milk, and tangy pineapple juice. This iconic island drink was first created over 50 years ago at the legendary Caribe Hilton in San Juan. Experience the undeniable beauty and cleanliness of this amazing hotel, where I have personally stayed multiple times. Shop Kayak for unbeatable rates.
Nestled on a stunning 17-acre peninsula between Old Town San Juan and Condado, the Caribe Hilton offers breathtaking beach views, elegantly decorated rooms, and meticulously maintained pools and lush gardens. You’ll never want to leave the waterfront relaxation area, complete with luxurious bed-style lounges. And for the ultimate pampering experience, be sure to visit the Oasis Spa.
Prepare to be transported to paradise.
Fun Fact: You can tour the Bacardi Rum Factory and get a personal look at how the rum is made.
I was hosted on a Carnival cruise to get to San Juan. As with all posts on this site, all opinions and reviews are 100% my own and unbiased.
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