Getting off the plane and exiting the terminal, you immerse yourself into an envelope of warmth in Carolina, Puerto Rico. Hailing a cab, you settle into the backseat, taking in the tropical sights that surround you. Darting through the streets and only moments later, the driver stops in front of your hotel. As you exit, you are swept up in a wave of energy, the excitement flowing through the city with a pulse that is palpable. Music blares from every direction and the smell of pork, rice and beans greets you with a wave of hunger. Welcome to San Juan.
History and Sightseeing
Christened by the Spaniards in 1521, Puerto Rico boasts almost 500 years of proud history. Forts grace the coastlines, their original purposes served long ago, but still standing for any visitor who wishes to tour them.
The downtown scene is a remarkable blend of old and new. Villas stand side by side with modern buildings, their existences intertwined in a unique fashion. Simply walking around will provide an abundance of excitement – the Puerto Rican people are extremely lively, a lifestyle that is contagious.
A guided tour is always an attractive option if you want to maximize your sightseeing. You have plenty of tour themes from food and culture to nature and even paragliding, so worry not, adventurer – you will always have something to do.
Food is not something San Juan takes lightly, so when you venture to the city bring a hearty appetite and a craving for variety. Restaurants in San Juan draw heavy influence from not only Spain but also the rest of the Caribbean and the world. While many of the hotels have top-notch restaurants, some of the best places can be found in hole-in-the-walls and cafés lining the streets. Given its island status, seafood is a staple, but San Juan and the rest of Puerto Rico proudly boast a plentiful selection of produce.
If there is one specific meal that must be savored, it is asopao, or the regional take on gumbo. Made in countless ways, they can include the local catch or just beans and rice.
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As vibrant as the people of San Juan are during the day, they become even more so once the sun sets on the oceanic horizon. Bars, clubs and pubs – you name it, San Juan has it. Catering to an array of tastes, from salsa and house to reggae, it is certain that you and your group will find just the right venue to party the night away. Make sure to bring some comfortable shoes, too, because barhopping is the norm.
Expected with any coastal town, the city thrives off the beach life. It is the perfect representation of life in the Caribbean – tall, angled palm trees, stretches of sand for miles, cabana huts and crystal clear water.
Arguably, one of the finest is the Isla Verde Beach Area. Located in one of the more luxurious regions of San Juan, it offers many activities such as surfing, parasailing and jet skiing, but is also well known for picnics and catching up on reading and with friends. Typically saved for a day trip, hotels, shops and restaurants line the coast, awaiting your arrival.
Shopping and Getting Around
San Juan is a haven for those who enjoy shopping. Besides paying no duty upon return, many great deals are available. The most up-to-date mall is the Plaza Las Américas, located in the financial district of Hato Ray. Within it lie over 200 shops, restaurants, a movie theater, art gallery and even a bowling alley. Local handcrafted goods are also plentiful, adding a personal touch to that special souvenir.
Traveling around the city is one of the most enjoyable parts of visiting, thanks to a free trolley that continually snakes through Old San Juan. Boats, taxis, buses and planes are also readily available, with the main airport, the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, only minutes away from downtown.
Overall, San Juan is a beautiful city that should not be overlooked when organizing your Caribbean itinerary.
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