Introducing San Juan
Take note New York! Modern America started here. Well, almost. Established in 1521, San Juan is the second-oldest European-founded settlement in the Americas (after Santo Domingo) and the oldest under US jurisdiction. Shoehorned onto a tiny islet that guards the entrance to San Juan harbor, the atmospheric ‘Old City’ juxtaposes historical authenticity with pulsating modern energy in a seven-square-block grid of streets that was inaugurated almost a century before the Mayflower laid anchor in present day Massachusetts. Surreal sounds and exotic sights resonate everywhere. A stabbing salsa stanza in sonorous Calle San Sebastián, timid cats scurrying under winking lanterns in shady Plaza San José, and the omnipresent roar of Atlantic breakers battling mercilessly with the sturdy 500-year-old fortifications of El Morro.
Beyond its timeworn 15ft-thick walls, San Juan is far more than a dizzying collection of well-polished colonial artifacts. To get the full take on Puerto Rico’s capricious capital, visitors must first run the gamut of its distinct but ever-evolving neighborhoods. There’s seen-it-all Condado where Cuba’s 24-hour gambling party got washed up in the early 1960s; tranquil Ocean Park with its gated villas and strategically located B&Bs; gritty Santurce relaunched with art galleries after a two-decade-long depression; and swanky Isla Verde awash with luxurious resort hotels and kitschy casinos.
Choked by bumper-to-bumper traffic and inundated with nearly five million tourists annually, parts of San Juan can leave you wondering if you took a wrong turn at Miami airport in Florida. But the confusion rarely lingers. Cultural borrowing has long been this city’s pragmatic hallmark. For every gleaming office block, you’ll also stumble upon a colorful Spanish fiesta, an African religious ritual, a delicate native woodcarving and architecture that could easily have been ripped out of Seville, Cartegena, Buenos Aires, or even Paris.
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Best places to stay in San Juan
Food wonderlands: where gourmet fantasies come true
Imagine a dreamy world of candy apples, whirling spices and chocolate fountains... Step into a delicious reality with these 10 fantastic food wonderlands.
San Juan destination guides
Puerto Rico: travel books to read before you go
This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Puerto Rico guide provides a selection of travel literature to get you in the mood for your trip. Probably the best and most evocative fictional account of Puerto Rico at an important turning point in its history is The Rum Diary by the late Hunter S Thompson.
San Juan Airport Transfer
Arrive in Puerto Rico stress-free and make the most of your time in San Juan by pre-booking your roundtrip airport transfer. Skip all the long taxi lines and travel to and from Luis Munoz Marin International Airport without a worry! Transfers are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and coincide with your arrival and departure flights.
San Juan Shore Excursion: Private Tour with Viator Guide Carlos Medina
When your ship docks in Puerto Rico, enjoy a trip back in time and explore San Juan, the third-oldest settlement in the western hemisphere.
Top 10 Puerto Rico experiences
Puerto Rico is the fodder of many a Caribbean daydream for good reason: this natural jewel box can satisfy the lethargic beach bum, the sunrise rainforest explorer and the budding big-wave surfer – all in a long weekend.