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San Juan (Puerto Rico)

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Travel Guide Caribbean Puerto Rico San Juan

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Introduction

Streets in old San Juan

Streets in old San Juan

© All Rights Reserved Jibaro

San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico and its largest city. The city was founded by Spanish colonists in 1521, making it the oldest settlement in Puerto Rico and the oldest city under the jurisdiction of the United States. This history is evident in its many old buildings, in particular in the Old San Juan neighbourhood. Highlights include the fortress of Castillo San Cristóbal, the city hall Alcadia (1602), San Jose Church (1532) and La Fortaleza, the oldest governor's mansion in the New World to have been in continuous use.

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Neighbourhoods

  • Old San Juan - The historic part of the city, home to most historic attractions, galleries and museums.
  • Puerta de Tierra - Situated right in the middle of Old San Juan and Condado, this largely residential area is home to a few hotels and attractions.
  • El Condado - This upscale residential neighborhood is also the beach resort part of the city and has many hotels and restaurants along its main drag, Ashford Ave.
  • Isla Verde - This area of San Juan, more in the city of Carolina than of San Juan itself, is closest to the international airport and has nice beaches and parks.
  • International Convention Center District - now has the new Convention Center which includes a fountain that plays traditional Puerto Rican music and Occidental classical music and in the near-future will also include a hotel, restaurants and shopping centers.
  • Hato Rey - the business center, hosting the main banks, Hiram Bithorn Stadium, Roberto Clemente Coliseum, Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot and Plaza las Americas the largest shopping center in the Caribbean featuring many American chains including the world's largest Sears and JC Penny's department stores.
  • Rio Piedras - home of the main campus of the University of Puerto Rico. It is a former municipality and is now part of the city of San Juan.
  • Santurce - a historical part of Puerto Rico and the cultural capital, having two art museums and a performing arts center
  • Miramar - near El Condado, known for expensive and historical houses

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Sights and Activities

Bay of San Juan

La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico is the only site on the island that is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Here, a series of defensive structures was built during the period between 1400 and 1900 at a strategic point in the Caribbean Sea to protect the city and the Bay of San Juan. They represent a fine display of European military architecture adapted to harbour sites on the American continent. The site includes Fort San Cristóbal, Fort San Felipe del Morro, Fort San Juan de la Cruz (called El Cañuelo as well), and bastions, powder houses, and three quarters of the city wall surrounding San Juan.

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Events and Festivals

Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian

Starting off the year in January is Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian. Held annually in San Juan, this festival offers residents one last holiday party. Lasting three nights, the event is a celebration of the saint Sebastian with a huge street party. Visitors will be treated to vibrant music, colorful dancing and, invariably, a great deal of drinking.

Carnival

One of the most anticipated festivals in Puerto Rico, Carniva, is a hallmark of February each year. Taking over the central plaza of all major cities, Carnival is a brilliant display of Puerto Rican culture at its finest. Visitors will see everything from street parades to masked dances. Although not as flamboyant as some other countries, this event is still highly enjoyable and worth engaging in.

Festival Casals

Also in February is Festival Casals which has been taking place in San Juan for over 50 years. This event is entirely dedicated to the life and work of Pablo Casals, the world-famous cellist and honorary Puerto Rican. Music spans almost an entire month and showcases some of the best classical and jazz performers from around the globe.

Heineken JazzFest

Another beloved music festival, the Heineken JazzFest takes place in March every year in the trendy San Juan metropolitan area. JazzFest showcases both local and international talents and is an institution that has been happening for over 20 years. The main focus, unsurprisingly, is Latin Jazz, which provides a great deal of entertainment for everyone who chooses to go.

Saborea Culinary Festival

There are many food festivals in Puerto Rico throughout the year, but by far the most popular is the Saborea Culinary Festival in San Juan. Held annually in April the weekend is a feast of flavors, influences and styles. Top local and international chefs make appearances and there are a plethora of workshops to keep visitors entertained. Anyone planning on attending will definitely not leave hungry.

International Salsa Congress

An amazing display of one of the finest cultural activities in Puerto Rico, the International Salsa Congress takes place in July. Held annually in San Juan, the congress brings together dancers and salsa lovers from around the world to celebrate this vibrant and exciting form of dance. Lasting for two weeks, there are several live music shows and the main event – a piping hot dance competition.

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Weather

San Juan has a hot and humid climate with temperatures rarely dropping below 18º C at night. Average daytime temperatures hoover around 30º C, a bit cooler from December to April and a bit warmer between June and October. This latter period also is the rainy season with a chance of hurricanes from late July onwards. Obviously, this is not the best time to visit.

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Getting There

By Plane

Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) is where all international planes arrive and depart. It serves as the Caribbean hub for American Airlines and American Eagle and there are connections to almost every island nation in the region with these two airlines.

Many other airlines based in the United States serve Puerto Rico from numerous cities. These include Delta Air Lines and US Airways.
Destinations further away include Frankfurt, London and Madrid in Europe and several cities in South America like Bogota.

American Eagle, Vieques Air Link and Cape Air all provide domestic services between San Juan, Vieques and a few other towns.

By Boat

Ferries del Caribe operates an international passenger and vehicle service from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The overnight journey requires WHTI-compliant documentation and there are strict rules regarding vehicle transportation. Fares payable in USD.

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Getting Around

By Car

Getting around various parts of the city, and the rest of the island, as well as to and from the airport, will be much more convenient with a car. Though some road signs may be in Spanish, on the plus side driving is almost a universal language, and with this being an American territory, the road sign shapes are going to be as familiar to you - if you are used to American road signs. And after all, when you see the word norte sitting above a numbered-road sign enough times, it won't take you long to realize that means north. However, a car could entail parking fees as you travel around to your destinations so you will need to budget for that, and if you go to Old San Juan, parking will be quite difficult.

Taxis can be found hanging around hotels and the east end of Calle de la Fortaleza in Old San Juan.

Set rates have been established for travel between San Juan's major tourist zones.

By Public Transport

If you're planning on staying in and around a general area of San Juan and have plenty of time, you may be able to get by on public buses. The system is inexpensive at only $0.75 a ride, and will eventually take you near to where you want to go. To ride the bus, first find a stop for the correct routes (see below for some ones useful to tourists). The bus stops are marked "PARADA". When you see your bus coming, be sure to wave/flag it down otherwise it may just pass you by! When the door opens, toss your $0.75 into the fare box near the driver. Only coins are accepted on board so stock up on those quarters! ($0.05 and $0.10 coins are also accepted.) Then, pull the cord to get off at your destination.

Be sure to pack your patience. Contrary to some bus schedules (even ones posted at the bus stops themselves) stating buses arrive every 15 minutes, service can be infrequent and very unpredictable; you may wait anywhere from 10 to 90 minutes for a bus to arrive. You may find that bus routes directly to and from places of interest around San Juan do not exist, and that a transfer with additional waiting times are involved. Rush hour buses may be very full. Further, buses generally may stop running around 8:00pm, and may not be extremely safe after dark.

There is not any direct bus route from the airport to Condado or Old San Juan. Also, keep in mind, if you are planning to get back to the airport by bus, some bus drivers may not let you board the bus with carry-on baggage. You may want to plan in advance to take a taxi back to the airport if your hotel has no shuttle. Carrying baggage on the city bus tends to be less of an issue when you initially head from the airport.

In Old San Juan, there is a large bus terminal near the harbor front that serves as the terminus of many buses. If you take public transit, you will probably end your day waiting here. To get around Old San Juan, there is a free trolley bus - look out for the numbered signs. Though, keep in mind that traffic in and around Old San Juan gets very heavy, so once you board the bus (or trolly) you still are not guaranteed a quick trip.

Useful routes include:

  • B-21 connects Condado, the convention center, Old San Juan, and the Sagrado Corazon Tren Urbano station. Most buses on this route are fairly new.
  • A-5 connects Isla Verde to Old San Juan via Mirimar.

San Juan now served by a rapid transit rail line called "Tren Urbano" (Urban Train) [5] . The train starts about a mile south of Condado in southern Santurce with the station of Sagrado Corazón. It then continues south through Hato Rey, Rio Piedras before leaving San Juan proper to the west for the suburbs of Guaynabo and Bayamón. While it does not connect popular tourist locations like Old San Juan, El Condado or the airport, it is a useful way to see more of the city.

The stations are very large, new, and seem to have English speaking attendants. They have fare-purchase machines like New York City (in both English and Spanish) that give you a fare card. Save your fare card because you need to swipe it to exit! Rides were $1.50 each way regardless of distance. There are discounted fares for students, children and elderly people on both the buses and the train, though your US mainland ID showing you are either old or a student does not seem to work to get you a discounted ticket.

The Cataño Ferry (La Lancha de Cataño) is a public ferry serving Old San Juan and Cataño. It crosses San Juan Bay every 15-30 minutes.

By Foot

If you are not afraid of a 3-mile walk, you may be inclined to walk between various points of interest in San Juan. This can be a good way to see the cityscape and the places that tourists do not always go. As with any large city, you should be alert for cars and such. You should also pay attention to where you are going. The recession has not been kind to Puerto Rico, and tourist areas in San Juan are interspersed with areas that may look a bit rough to a suburbanite's eye. Be alert and you should be fine, but before planning any long walk, you might want to search for information about areas in San Juan to avoid as a tourist.

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Sleep

San Juan has a wide range of accommodation, but few budget options of any kind. European-style youth hostels do not exist in the city. Colonial-style city hotels are clustered in Old San Juan, while the big beachfront resorts are mostly out in Condado and Isla Verde.

You'll be looking at $100/night for even a basic hotel room, and well north of $300 for a five-star resort. However, discounts are available in summer (low) season.

Budget

PropertyAddressTypePopularity
Casa CandelaSan Sebastian street #152Guesthouse-
Casa Del Caribe57 Caribe St. CondadoGuesthouse-
Numero Uno Guest House1 Santa Ana San JuanGuesthouse-

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet cafes exist but are not very common, although some cafes, such as Starbucks, and restaurants, such as Subway, provide free WiFi. Some of the major metro areas provide free WiFi zones, such as along Paseo de la Princesa in Old San Juan, but these tend to be slow and unreliable. There is no free WiFi at the primary airport, Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU). Most hotels provide wired or wireless (or both) internet for guests, either for free or a fee, however many motels do not. Puerto has continually strived to improve the Internet on the island.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

Puerto Rico has a modern cellular network. All the major US carriers are represented and are not roaming for US subscribers with nationwide plans. Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile have native coverage, while Verizon roams on their legacy network now operated by Claro. Other CDMA carriers also use Claro or Sprint. For non-US travelers, AT&T and T-Mobile are the GSM carriers, while Sprint and Claro are CDMA and probably not compatible with your phone.

Post

The mail service in Puerto Rico is provided by the United States Postal Service. Local branches are abundant (there are more than five in the San Juan area alone) and operate on the same business hours as American post offices: Monday - Friday 8:30am to 5:30pm; Saturday 9am to 12pm. The rates and delivery times are the same as those in the mainland United States and all international rates are the same as mail originating in the United States.

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This is version 13. Last edited at 9:40 on Dec 9, 16 by Utrecht. 19 articles link to this page.

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