Old San Juan, the heart of the capital city of Puerto Rico, combines history, art, architecture, food and fun. The neighborhood, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was first settled by Europeans in the early 16th century and remnants of that era are present throughout Old San Juan.
Whether you prefer to marvel at colorful buildings with intricate ironwork, savor fried plantains or the local version of the Spanish paella, shop for everything from craft items to high-end consumer goods, or relive San Juan’s history by touring the old Spanish fort, El Morro, there’s truly something for every taste in Old San Juan to enjoy either before or after your Royal Caribbean cruise departing from here.
Although it’s a compact neighborhood, there are scores of interesting and fun things to do in Old San Juan. Of course, everything is framed by glimpses of the sparkling Caribbean Sea that surrounds the area.
Wandering the cobblestone streets. No one should visit Old San Juan without taking an hour or two to just get lost wandering the picturesque streets. The area isn’t big enough to truly get lost, but exploring the many, narrow side streets can give you a better feel for the neighborhood as well as lead you to an eatery or local shop that you might not have discovered otherwise.
Exploring El Morro. Located on the northwestern-most tip of Old San Juan, El Morro was once the primary defense for the settlement from pirates, invading navies and other marauders. Built in the 16th century, the massive fort is still largely intact, despite centuries of storms and wind. Visitors can tour the barracks, see the ancient cannons and learn a little more about Puerto Rico’s many layers of history. AND take a tip from two people who hoofed it in the 80 degree weather, when it’s hot, try hoping on the tram that runs back to the main part of town!
Shopping the outlet stores. Old San Juan has a sizeable number of outlet stores, all housed in historic Spanish-style buildings. You’ll find Ralph Lauren, Coach, Dooney & Burke, Tommy Hilfiger and Guess factory stores within a few, short blocks of one another. Admittedly this is at the bottom of my travel interest list, but I know it can make the trip for many so there you have it…shopping!
Food is an integral part of any visit to Puerto Rico (or anywhere, really!).
The local food combines elements of Spanish, Caribbean and African cuisines to create a wonderful–and delicious–style of cooking. Bean and rice are plentiful as are the indigenous plantains (a relative of the banana plant that are prepared in a variety of ways, taking the role of potatoes in American cuisine.)
Slow-roasted pork and chicken are popular as are simply grilled fish and seafood, pulled from the surrounding sea. The Spanish influence can be seen in dishes like paella (a one-dish combination of rice, meat and seafood) and chorizo (the traditional Spanish sausage.) You’ll also find a wide selection of tasty street food from vendors along the waterfront and surrounding the parks.
The weather in Old San Juan is tropical, like most of the Caribbean.
The average temperature in January varies between 72 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, while summer inn August jumps to 78 and 89 degrees. September and October are the rainiest months, with the chance of some precipitation being around 70 percent daily. That percentage dips to 39 percent in March. The good news is that most storms on the island are brief.