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Top 10 Things To Do In San Juan For First-Time Visitors

First-time visitors to San Juan, Puerto Rico, are always in for a treat. The capital city is a picturesque blend of colorful buildings, historic architecture, lively music, and delicious cuisine.


Despite having to rebuild after damages caused by Hurricane Maria, tourists are once again welcome into the island to enjoy its sparkling beaches and cobblestone streets.


Although we recommend scheduling enough time in your visit to Puerto Rico to venture outside the city and see the rest of the island, San Juan is not short of things to do, see, and soak in.


El Morro
Scenic Old San Juan Views from El Morro

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The Basics: What You Need 


Money


You won’t have to worry about currency exchange if you’re a U.S. Citizen, as the commonwealth uses the U.S. Dollar. Luckily, you may notice that if you're excited to try local restaurants or cuisine, prices are lower than in many other major U.S. cities. Similar to other islands and due to the cost of imports, standard groceries and toiletries may cost you more than they would in the continental U.S. states.


Despite what the old architecture in Old San Juan might suggest, the city is the new world in almost any other way. Major credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, including tap options like Apple Pay. As always, alert your bank that you will be traveling to prevent a block on your cards, and make sure your money and important documents are secure in cross-body money bags or belts.


Water Bottle


Although you’ll be able to find plenty of Medalla Light, Puerto Rico’s national beer, you’ll find fewer places to fill up with clean drinking water if you don’t want to purchase it bottled. Carrying a filtered water bottle might save you from the hot Caribbean sun. 


Walking Shoes or Sandals


San Juan is very walkable, with sidewalks that line all the streets and take you directly to all the most popular destinations. Bring comfortable tennis shoes or walking sandals to explore all the city offers. In most cases, driving isn't necessary. We love our Chacos and bring them on every adventure.


What You Don't Need


Passport


If you’re a U.S. Citizen, you’ll be happy to know you are not required a passport to enter Puerto Rico as it is a U.S. Commonwealth. You can travel to the island with a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license. 


 

Before we get started, don't forget to subscribe to She Loves She Travels to stay involved and get the latest in budget travel, city guides, and travel tips and tricks directly to your inbox. Now, onto your day in San Juan, Puerto Rico!


1. Start Your Monring At Cuatro Sombras

For my coffee connoisseurs looking for a high-quality roast, Cuatro Sombras should be top on your list first thing in the morning. The locally roasted and 100% Arabica coffee makes this coffee shop quite popular across the island. Located less than a 5-minute walk from the port of San Juan, Cuatrosombras offers a delicious brew and a warm environment with pastries or paninis to start your day. 


Coffee in Puerto Rico
Café Cuatro Sombras - San Juan Puerto Rico


2. Explore The Cobblestone Streets Of Old San Juan

The streets of Old San Juan are bursting with life. You won’t run out of things to explore, from boutiques and restaurants to bookstores and churches. The buildings are painted in all colors of the rainbow, and you'll be pleased to see live music outside of bars and restaurants. Old San Juan is easily walkable, but many other transportation options exist if your feet get sore. 


Ubers and taxis are available in Puerto Rico for easy ride sharing if you would like to catch a car, but we love renting Uber scooters, which are only 1 dollar to rent and 15 cents per minute after the first 5 minutes. Bright green bike trails are available all around the city to keep the bikers and scooters off the road, and oftentimes, they are even the quicker option. You'll get a better layout of the land, good views, and maybe even a nice sea breeze as you zoom past the traffic.


3. Learn The History Of El Castillo De San Cristóbal 
Castilla de San Cristobal, Puerto Rico
Sitting outside the entrance to Castilla de San Cristobal

Castillo de San Cristóbal is the largest fortress built in the Americas and was designed to protect from land attacks. The impressive architecture is open daily from 9 am-5 pm for visitors interested in learning more about its history. Admission is only 10 dollars, and kids under 15 are free; however, the views outside of the fort are equally as stunning. Beware, the walk to the fort is all uphill if you’re coming from the port of San Juan! 


4.  Lounge On The Lawn Outside Castillo San Felipe Del Morro (El Morro)

The sister fort to San Cristóbal, Castillo San Felipe del Morro, was designed to protect from attacks from the sea and is better known as El Morro. It is the older of the two forts, and even if you’re not a history buff, it is very interesting to wander around and learn about.  For the same admission of $10, you can visit both forts, so save your ticket if you plan on seeing both on the same day. 


You might be surprised to see a beautiful grassy lawn outside the fort bustling with people laying on blankets, playing fetch with their docks, or flying their kites. The lawn is popular amongst both tourists and locals.


5. Grab Lunch At A Local Food Truck

Puerto Rican Food Trucks
So many delicious options you can't go wrong!

If you leave San Juan without trying food from one of the street vendors or food trucks, you’ve missed out. Although you can find delicious options all over the city, you’ll often see many food trucks lined up by Plaza Darsena, located just a block walking distance from CuatroSombras and convenient for those cruising in.


Make sure to branch out and try something new. Some of our favorite quick eats are tripletas, pinchos, empanadillas and papas rellenas! Beware of pesky seagulls looking to get a piece of your afternoon snack, though, especially when you're close to the water.


If you’re looking for a sweet treat, order a Piragua (or shaved ice) and pick from one of many fresh tropical flavors to sweeten your refreshing dessert.


6. Sun Bathe At Condado Beach

If you’re hoping to soak up some Puerto Rican sun, beaches in Puerto Rico are free to the public and typically open from dawn to dusk.


Condado Beach
Condado Beach- San Juan Puerto Rico

Condado Beach is only around a 10-minute taxi from Old San Juan and is one of the more popular beaches on the island, covered in resorts, shops, bars, and restaurants. Swimming, however, is not advised due to its more powerful tides. 


7. Enjoy A Piña Colada

Did you know the well-known tropical drink, the Piña Colada, was invented in Puerto Rico? Although there is some debate on the initial creator of the delectable cocktail. 


Barrachina and Caribe Hotel, both located in San Juan, claim the popular drink originated with them. Try one at each bar, and let us know which one you like the best!


8. Paddleboard at Condado Lagoon

Condado Lagoon Paddleboarding
Laguana del Condado- San Juan, Puerto Rico

If you’re eager to jump in the water and test your athletic side, make a stop at Laguna del Condado (Condado Lagoon). Kayaks, standing-up paddleboards, and even snorkeling sets are available for rental. Rentals are anywhere from $20-$40 and often include basic training on using the equipment. 


From the middle of the lagoon is an amazing view of all the surrounding neighborhoods. Tides are a lot gentler than the beach, but you still may see some animal life!



9. Try a Traditional Puerto Rican Dish

After a long day walking around San Juan and paddleboarding the lagoon, you’ll surely work up an appetite. Before leaving the island, make sure to try Mofongo, a traditional Puerto Rican dish made from fried plantains and served sizzling!


Mofongo is available at almost every restaurant in Puerto Rico and can be served with chicken, beef, vegetables, or our favorite, fried pork.


10. Distrito T-mobile

Despite its consumeristic-sounding name, Distrito T-Mobile is a great option for nighttime entertainment that embeds Puerto Rican culture in its restaurants, stores, and art. The entertainment venue is fun for all ages, with live music from multiple stages, arcades, family fun centers, zip lines, and much more. At the heart of the venue, Popular Plaza, the walls and ceilings are covered in vibrant LED screens and art displays highlighting the island's beauty and history.


 


After your first day in San Juan, we’re certain you’ll want to stay even longer. What Puerto Rican dish are you most excited to try? Will you spend your day on the beach or lagoon? Let us know in the comments below, and as always, share your favorite hidden gems of San Juan with us as well!


For even more information about San Juan, visit Discover Puerto Rico.


Ready to book your flight already and need some help staying on budget? We've got you covered with "7 Ways to Book a Dirt Cheap Flight."


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Sending love from San Juan,


Kait



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