One Day in San Juan, Puerto Rico – Top Things to Do in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is host to endless activities, from hiking in a national rainforest to sailing, scuba diving, stand up paddleboarding, ziplining, and bike-riding down the boardwalk. But if your dream vacation consists of just relaxing, listening to the sound of the waves crashing, and sipping umbrella drinks, Puerto Rico provides these rejuvenating activities, too.
This enchanted island is rich in Spanish American history and culture and packed with adventurous activities for every age. And the multicultural infusion cuisine is the best attraction on the island. Therefore, even if you’re spending just one day in Puerto Rico, you will enjoy yourself immensely.

One day in San Juan itinerary, Puerto Rico

GUEST POST BY JENNIFER BHATIA
BLOG: Traveling Party of Four

What’s the best time to visit Puerto Rico?

The best time to visit Puerto Rico is NOW. 

Although, peak tourist season is from December through mid-April. Prices for hotels and resorts will be higher during this time of year and crowds a bit denser. However, a perpetual beach climate makes sure this is a perfect year-round tropical destination.  

San Juan
San Juan, Author: Carlos, Source: Flickr

Be mindful that the hurricane season runs from June through November, but the chances of experiencing a severe hurricane are low. Hurricane Maria swept across the island in 2017, devastating all in her path, but the last time Puerto Rico experienced a storm of that magnitude was in 1931.

Travelers voice concerns about visiting Puerto Rico as the citizens continue to bravely recuperate from Hurricane Maria, the most devastating storm in the island’s history. However, they are ready for you.

Old San Juan
Old San Juan, Author: James Willamor, Source: Flickr

Puerto Rico is a hidden gem of a destination. But it won’t be for long. Once again, the best time to visit is NOW.

A Few Facts about Puerto Rico

  • Size: 3,515 square miles.
  • Location: In the Atlantic Ocean, east of the Dominican Republic and west of The Virgin Islands.
  • Population (as of July 2018) ~ 3,294,626.
  • Puerto Rico is a United States Commonwealth Unincorporated and Organized territory.  
  • Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States.
  • Climate: tropical, with an average temperature of 80 degrees (F).
  • Natural wonders found in Puerto Rico: three bio bays, a national rainforest, reefs, caves, waterfalls, canyons, and salt flats.
El Yunque Rain Forest, Puerto Rico
El Yunque Rain Forest, Puerto Rico, Author: James Rintamaki, Source: Flickr

One Day Itinerary for San Juan, Puerto Rico

If you only have one day in San Juan, visit the sites that will provide you with an understanding of the rich history and vibrant culture that shaped the island and the New World. 

Start the day with a cup of Puerto Rican coffee 

Stroll down a coconut-lined beach, preferably barefoot. Then stop by Kasalta’s (1966 Calle McLeary, San Juan, PR) for a hearty breakfast of Quesitos (cream cheese-filled pastry that will melt in your mouth), cubanitos (small Cuban sandwiches), or scrambled eggs with ham and cheese.

Kasalta's, San Juan
Kasalta’s, San Juan, Author: Scott Dexter, Source: Flickr

Head over to Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro), the most recognizable image of Puerto Rico

El Morro was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and is an absolute must for any travel to Puerto Rico. Originally a tiny fort built at the entrance of the San Juan Harbor for protection of the New World. After 150 years of fortifications, El Morro is now a magnificent military structure standing at six levels of defense. And it is breathtaking.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro, San Juan
Castillo San Felipe del Morro, San Juan, Author: Prayitno, Source: Flickr

The entrance fee to El Morro is $10, and the fort is open daily from 9 AM to 6 PM, except for Christmas Day, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day.  
Meander through the tunnels, ramps, staircases, and dungeons of the majestic structure. Walk into one of the garitas for a breathtaking view of the San Juan Bay.

Entrance to the Castillo San Felipe Del Morro, San Juan
Entrance to the Castillo San Felipe Del Morro, San Juan, Author: Tyler S. Miller, Source: Flickr

And from the top of El Morro, find a panoramic view of Old San Juan, the San Juan Bay, and La Perla (a colorful coastal neighborhood).

On the lawn outside of El Morro, kids are flying kites, families picnicking, and tourists taking photographs. The grounds in front of El Morro are the perfect spot to take a deep breath, relax, and get your best shot for Instagram.

View of San Juan from the Castillo San Felipe del Morro
View of San Juan from the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, Author: Emertz76, Source: Flickr

Grab lunch at one of these restaurants, depending on your taste

El Patio Sam (102 Calle San Sebastian) ~ A quick walk from El Morro, El Patio Sam serves authentic Puerto Rican fare, and the Coconut Mojito is a dream.

The Coast of San Juan
The Coast of San Juan, Author: Carlos, Source: Flickr 2

Chocobar Cortés (210 Calle San Francisco) ~ Chocobar Cortés is in the top 5 of the best restaurants in San Juan, Puerto Rico, according to Trip Advisor. For lovers of chocolate everything, Chocobar Cortés, is a must; for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even dessert and a cocktail. 

Pirilo Pizza Rustica (#207 Calle Tanca) ~ Pirilos, another restaurant located in the heart of Old San Juan, has a tasty selection of tapas, Calzones, and Pizzas. And you can add some premium toppings including smoked salmon mousse, grilled asparagus, and prosciutto.

Downtown San Juan
Downtown San Juan, Author: Guldem Ustun, Source: Flickr

Explore the streets of Old San Juan

Tips for walking the streets of Old San Juan:

  • It is hot. Wear sunscreen. And drink plenty of water.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. 
  • Wander off the beaten path where you will discover the best photo opportunities on the planet.
  • Slow down. Take it all in — the art, vibrant culture, history, and brightly painted buildings.
  • Time the sunset with your arrival at the Raíces Fountain.
Colorful street, San Juan
Colorful street, San Juan, Author: Prayitno, Source: Flickr

Learn the story behind the blue cobblestone streets

On their voyage from Spain to stock up on gold found in the Rich Port (Puerto Rico), the Spaniards carried the blue cobblestones for weight to keep the ship stable. Once they were in port, they unloaded the blue cobblestone and replaced them with equivalent weight in gold. The locals then recycled the blue cobblestones and paved the streets.

Blue Cobblestone, San Juan
Blue Cobblestone, San Juan, Author: nathanmac87, Source: Flickr

After that, begin your stroll up Calle Cristo towards the Chapel of Christ the Savior while observing the Old World ambiance, vibrant people, and shops full of authentic Puerto Rican art.

Enter the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista (Calle Cristo #151-153)

With almost 500 years of history, the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista is the oldest Cathedral in the United States. Sunday Mass is at 9:00 AM and 11:00 AM, there is a daily mass Monday through Friday at 12:15 PM and Saturday at 7:00 PM.  The Cathedral is also the site of two famous relics, the tomb of the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, the first Governor of Puerto Rico, and the mummified remains of St. Pius, one of the early martyrs of the Roman persecutions against Christians.

Cathedral of San Juan Bautista
Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, Author: Amer Khalid, Source: Flickr

Visit El Parque de las Palomas

El Parque de las Palomas is a dove-filled courtyard overlooking the San Juan Bay, located at the end of Calle Cristo. Visiting the park is optional if you are ornithophobic (not a fan of birds), but it is always a fun experience, especially for kids. 

El Parque de las Palomas, San Juan
El Parque de las Palomas, San Juan, Author: Heidi, Source: Flickr

Take a Quick Break for People Watching

The day is winding down, time for a Piragua and a seat at the best people-watching spot in Old San Juan, outside El Parnaso, in front of the Chapel of Christ the Savior. A Piragua is shaved ice shaped into a pyramid, covered with sugary fruit-flavored syrup, a kid’s version of a Margarita.

Piragua, San Juan
Piragua, San Juan, Author: Daniel Lobo, Source: Flickr

Walk along El Paseo de la Princesa

El Paseo de la Princesa is about a ten-minute walk from El Parque de las Palomas. Head east on Calle de Tetuan, hard-right onto Calle Tizol, then at the traffic circle, use the first exit onto El Paseo de la Princesa.

A stroll with a European vibe, El Paseo de la Princesa is an urban walking path lined with shady trees and antique lamps bordering the San Juan Bay. Explore the vendors and cafes for an authentic Puerto Rican dinner, plus artisans selling home goods for souvenirs and gifts.

El Paseo de la Princesa, San Juan
El Paseo de la Princesa, San Juan, Author: R9 Studios FL, Source: Flickr

End your journey at the Raíces Fountain

Completed in 1992 to celebrate the New World’s 500th Anniversary, the Raíces Fountain (also known as the Roots Fountain) honors the rich heritage of Puerto Rico, with its fusion of Spanish, African, and Taíno cultures. The vision is stunning with the backdrop of the San Juan Bay, and many say the most romantic spot on the island, especially as the sun is setting. 

Raíces Fountain, San Juan
Raíces Fountain, San Juan, Author: Jeff Hitchcock, Source: Flickr

Where to Stay in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Choose the area you stay in based on the activities you love. There are three main areas to stay in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  

Isla Verde 

For lovers of strolling barefoot down palm tree-lined beaches, engaging in a multitude of water sports, or catching some rays while reading your favorite novel, the Isla Verde area is perfect.

Fairmont El San Juan Hotel

The El San Juan Hotel

6063 Isla Verde Avenue, 00979 San Juan

The El San Juan Hotel has undergone a complete overhaul since the devastation of Hurricane Maria, and it is a dream. Fall asleep nightly to the melody of the coquis and the peaceful sound of the waves. The El San Juan Hotel has multiple pools, several restaurants, prompt room service, a top-notch gym, pool tables, and even a basketball court.

BOOK A ROOM HERE

Condado Area

If you are the boutique/nightlife type, then Condado is the place to be. The beaches of Condado can be a bit rough for families, but the area boasts multiple shops, happening bistros, and a vibrant and exciting nightlife, plus a quick two-mile drive to Old San Juan.

There are family-friendly hotels in the Condado area, including the Marriott San Juan Resort and Stellaris Casino. Plus, there are more boutique-style lodgings such as the Serafina Beach Hotel.

While the ocean can be rough in the Condado area (the surfers love it), the Condado Lagoon is dreamy. With calm and clear waters, the lagoon is perfect for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and swimming with the manatees.

Old San Juan 

Old San Juan will not provide the relaxing and revitalizing ocean view, but there are many compelling reasons to stay in this area.

There are multiple hotels in Old San Juan, including the Sheraton Old San Juan Hotel, El San Geronimo Hotel, and La Terraza de San Juan.  But, the most charming and intriguing hotel in Old San Juan is the Hotel El Convento.

Hotel El Convento is a former convent constructed in the 1600s located at 100 Calle Cristo. A boutique hotel with the following perks:

  • A three-minute walk to Barrachina Restaurant Old San Juan, where the Piña Colada originated, so they say. 
  • The Old World City, with its blue cobblestone streets, at your doorstep.
  • Authentic Puerto Rican food and drink choices for miles. 
  • Steps away from the Oldest Cathedral in the United States.
  • And a ten-minute scenic stroll to El Morro.

Day Trips from San Juan, Puerto Rico

Hacienda Campo Rico

Travel only about fifteen minutes from San Juan to Hacienda Campo Rico for a day of adventure: horseback riding, zipline, archery tag, ATVs. Tour the 2,300-acre plantation on an Eco Trolley, or just sip a Mojito and take in the view of the valley.

Piñones

About a twenty-minute drive and off the beaten path, Piñones is full of life and VERY local, perfect for a day trip from San Juan. Located in the town of Loiza, this beachside community has cheap beer and the best fried goodness you will find on the island. 

Rent a bike for $10 from COPI (The Piñones Corporation Integrates), located across Boca de Cangrejos Bridge (look for the green fence on the right). A ride down the boardwalk bordering the ocean is worlds away from the bustling atmosphere of the city. 

El Yunque National Rainforest The agriculture of El Yunque was devastated by Hurricane Maria. There are still areas of the forest undergoing massive clean up. Stop at the visitor’s center (costs $4) for up to date information on trails that are open and safe to hike and explore.

Luquillo

On your way back from El Yunque to San Juan, stop at Luquillo for glorious beaches and kiosks filled with authentic Puerto Rican refreshments and an ice-cold Medalla (the local light beer).

Kayak the Bioluminescent Bay (Bio Bay)

Puerto Rico has three bioluminescent bays (there are only five in the world). Two bio bays are on the main island; one of these is about an hour’s day trip out from San Juan to Laguna Grande in the city of Fajardo.  The water in the bioluminescent bay is full of tiny microorganisms that light up when the water is agitated. And it is best seen when the light is low, so plan your visit with the moon cycle, as you will not be able to see the beauty if there is a full moon.

Extra tips for visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico

  • Remember, it is hot.  
  • Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate.
  • Use your sunscreen.
  • Wear comfortable shoes for walking lots of steps.
  • Take your time enjoying everything you can about this enchanted island.
  • Rent a Jeep if you want to cover the whole island.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings and your belongings (as you should be wherever you travel).

Logistical Tips and Tricks

Organize your trip in five easy steps!

BOOK A FLIGHT!

Obviously, if you’re going on a trip somewhere far a way, you’ll need to book a flight. There is absolutely no need to worry about this, though, because with Skyscanner, you will be able to find a cheap flight anywhere in the world. And their website is extremely easy to use, so you will have your seat on a plane in no time at all!

BOOK A ROOM!

To easily find the best possible room in the city you’re visiting, just head to Booking.com. They have quite literally thousands of options, a reliable rating system and will always get you a great deal. On top of that, you can learn a lot from the comments people leave there, too. No matter if you’re looking for an apartment or an elite hotel, you’ll find what you need here.

GET A CAR!

If you want the ultimate sense of freedom while on your trip, a car is a must. Fortunately, there is a simple way to get one – just visit Booking’s Rentalcars and they’ll have your vehicle ready in a jiffy. Now you’ll be able to explore the new city thoroughly and, who knows, maybe even make a trip outside it.

INSURE YOURSELF FOR PEACE OF MIND!

Accidents, mishaps and other troubles happen to everyone. The key is to be prepared. That’s why getting a travel insurance is such a great idea: it can help you deal with any health issues, theft and even cancelled flights. World Nomads know full well about the problems that can arise on a trip because they are passionate travelers themselves. That’s why they can offer you the very best deals.

FIND SOMEONE TO HELP YOU GET AROUND!

Want to have some company as soon as you land? Through Welcomepickups.com, you can find a local to meet you at the airport and help you find your way around the new city. They can also set things up for you, give you some useful tips and be helpful in general. The whole project is a great idea and very well executed, so do go and see how these people can make your trip a more pleasant one.

Jennifer_Bhatia
Jennifer Bhatia

Jenny is a wife and mom of two teenagers, an Italian Greyhound and Quarter Horse.  She is a travel writer for Traveling Party of Four, a family travel blog focusing on travel planning plus staying healthy and safe while on the road. She has traveled with her children since they were tiny and they have been from London to the Caribbean, all throughout the United States and over to The Galapagos Islands.  Her passion is to help other moms to book travel with confidence and show their kids the world.

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