Whether you choose to stay at a fancy resort in San Juan or get off the beaten track like we did, you cannot miss out on Old San Juan! We spent about 24 hours in Old San Juan and it was the perfect end to a week on this island. Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Catillo San Cristobal are awe-inspiring and educational. The entrance fee (around $15) is for both forts and can be used for two consecutive days with your receipt. The views from the forts provide the perfect photo ops. The museum is very well-designed and interesting. Before visiting these forts, I didn’t really understand the history of Puerto Rico and why it looks so Spanish but is actually a territory of the USA. Walking El Muro, standing behind canons, posing inside lookout tours, or walking outside the 42-foot wall to enter the city through the main gate where merchants would have entered in the past is the best way to learn history!
We stayed in a charming guest house which was less than a block from Castillo Cristobal. We aren’t big shoppers, especially in touristy towns, but I’m sure there is plenty of shopping and partying for everyone. My husband chose this location because it was quiet and on the corner of the town, farther from El Centro. We had a rooftop patio which was so refreshing at night. We even went and walked around late that night and it was so calm and the city and streets were lit up and charming without cars. We walked to the harbor, got a late night snack at Walgreens, and enjoyed some fun sculptures by the water and some live outdoor music as we walked around. It’s always good to be cautious, but I felt pretty safe around town as long as we stayed on better-lit streets.
We were told to stay out of La Perla. It’s the expansion outside the walls of San Juan. It used to be the fishermen’s community and now it’s just another community outside of the city wall, and a bustling popular hang-out with bars and restaurants. We were told it’s popular because it’s been the site for several music videos, but it’s also well-known in Puerto Rico for still having drug and gang-related violence, so we kept our distance. It felt a little odd though being up high on the forts and walls and green lawns and looking down into the crowded La Perla by the sea – like somehow they were outsiders. But, it’s all part of Puerto Rico’s unique and fascinating history.
Food service wasn’t great and restaurants servers were generally rude and non-helpful to us, but I imagine that’s somewhat the result of all the cruise ships that dock in Old San Juan, so don’t get too frustrated with them! You can always get some food/ snacks at a grocery store if you want to have a little picnic on the green lawn and watch the kites soar overhead. Also, don’t miss the sunset from the top of the wall!
You won’t need a car and getting an uber to the airport is pretty painless, inexpensive and quick! Wear comfortable walking shoes and dress comfortably. Everyone’s is pretty relaxed and casual. Enjoy the sights! I’ve heard there is a rule in Puerto Rico, that you cannot paint your home the same color as the home on either side of you, and the result is an adorable, colorful town with a Spanish flare, an American authority, and a Puerto Rican flavor. It’s such a cool and fun mixture of culture and energy as you look out over the ocean and remember that this little island is the gatekeeper to the Carribbean.