I recently visited San Juan, Puerto Rico for the third time. My two previous trips were a baecation with my husband and birthday trip for two of my girlfriends. This time I visited the island on my second solo trip, my first was to Tulum, Mexico (you can read that itinerary here). Through these three visits, I’ve done a lot on the island and here are the best things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in my opinion.
How to Get to San Juan, Puerto Rico Affordably
My first two trips to San Juan were before I discovered flight deals and other travel hacks to make travel affordable. This time I knew better than to buy expensive flights and got a flight deal to San Juan from Fort Lauderdale for $87RT on Spirit Airlines. Spirit has become one of my go-to airlines, here are 6 tips to maximize your savings where flying Spirit.
Things to Do in San Juan, Puerto Rico
On my three trips to San Juan I have done a variety of things, sometimes repeating activities but also trying something new each time. Here are my favorite things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
El Yunque Rainforest
You cannot come to Puerto Rico and not visit El Yunque Rainforest. It’s the only Rainforest in the United States and is filled with tropical plants, animals, hiking trails, and waterfalls. You could easily spend the whole day and still have more to explore.
Both times I’ve gone I went with Louie’s VIP Tours. He is one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had. He picks up on time, is very knowledgeable about the area, and very professional. On the second tour I did with him I was pregnant and he made sure to go at a slower pace for me and pulled over when I got sick without being upset. I also left my camera in his van without my knowledge and he found it when cleaning up. He went out of his way to call me and bring it to the restaurant I was at so I would have it before my flight home in the morning.
There are only 5 Bioluminescent Bays in the entire world and 3 are located in Puerto Rico. The other two are in Jamaica and Vietnam. The three in Puerto Rico are in Mosquito Bay in Vieques, Laguna Grande in the north-east in Fajardo, and La Parguera in the south-west in Lajas.
Snorkeling or Diving in Culebra
If you want to see thriving coral reefs and colorful fish then snorkeling or diving off the coast of Fajardo, Puerto Rico in Culebra is the place for you. I did a two tank dive here with Aqua Adventures Puerto Rico and had an amazing time. Previously I’ve dived in Tulum, Mexico, Cairns, Australia, and Bermuda. However, even if you’ve never gone scuba diving before you can dive here via a Discovery Dive with a divemaster.
The dock is about an hour from San Juan and transportation is provided at an additional fee. Here is a video of a snippet of my second dive.
Learn About the Rum Making Process at the Bacardi Factory or Ron del Barrilito
While the Bacardi Rum Factory is quite famous in Puerto Rico, it’s actually not the #1 choice rum of Puerto Ricans. They prefer Don Q and Barrilito. Ron del Barrilito also offers tours Monday-Saturday from 10:00AM-4:00PM and is open from 9:30AM-6:00PM. They offer a heritage tour, mixology tour, and tasting tour. As Bacardi isn’t a Puerto Rican company, I urge you to patronize Ron del Barrilito and keep your money in the country your visiting, even if you visit both!
Relax at the Spa
What’s a Caribbean vacation without some relaxation. On my solo trip to San Juan I included a few hours at the spa. I can’t really recommend the spa I went to, Spa Cloud, as I had quite a few issues but I heard Euphoria is good along with the Spa at the Vanderbilt.
Surf Lessons on Isla Verde Beach
Puerto Rico isn’t known for surfers but there is a surfing community here. I previously took surf lessons in Costa Rica and Huntington Beach, California and pretty much have fallen in love. Still, I’m not a pro and don’t have my own board so lessons are still the way to go for me. I also booked this lesson on Airbnb Experiences which cost me $63.00 for a 90 minute lesson.
Take Salsa Lessons and Dance the Night Away at La Placita
Music and dance is a huge part of the Puerto Rican culture. Taking Salsa lessons is easy and fun so it should be on everyone’s list of things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I booked my salsa lesson on Airbnb Experiences. My class was 3 hours long and included a trip to La Placita where there are tons of salsa bars so we got to practice our moves with people who might as well be professional salsa dancers. If you’ve never tried Airbnb Experiences before you can use this referral link to save up to $55 on your first experience.
Visit Old San Juan Take Professional Photos
In Old San Juan you can visit the fort and check out the home of Ponce de León. The streets are cobblestoned and a variety of bright and beautiful colors. If you get hungry my two favorite places to eat here are Punto de Vista Rooftop Restaurant (traditional Puerto Rican food) and Sofia’s (Italian Steakhouse).
As I’m usually traveling with my kids most times you can find me behind the camera or all of my pictures have my kids in them. I rarely get great photos of myself so for my solo trip I really wanted some. Typically I use my tripod for family photos but I really just wanted to relax on this trip and have someone else do the work. So I hired a photographer, Raul, and booked a session with him here.
For 90 minutes we walked around Old San Juan and took pictures at various spots. He provided guidance on poses and made it effortless. I wanted to change outfits midway and he found a bar with a clean bathroom I could do so. Once our shoot was over Raul had the raw images for me to choose my favorite 30 from in less than 24 hours. Once chosen he provided the edited photos within two days. I was very happy with my $90 session.
Explore the Afro-Caribbean Community of Loiza
It’s a shame that it took until my third visit to Puerto Rico to know the Afro-Caribbean Community of Loiza existed. Just 15 minutes from San Juan most tourists are unaware it exists. Yet it is an absolute must to be included on any list of things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Like many other islands in the Caribbean enslaved Africans were brought to Puerto Rico and Loiza is where they lived.
The community is filled with deep culture which is displayed through art, music, and dance. Plena and Bomba music is prevalent and the famous artist Castor Ayala makes Vejigante masks for the annual St. James Festival which takes place the 3rd weekend of July.
I was also blessed to not only visit the Samuel Lind Studio but meet him in person. His work is absolutely stunning! He also has a gallery in Philadelphia if you’re ever in the area.
You can’t leave Loiza without trying their traditional snack, frituras. Stop by one of the many Kiosks that line the road as you enter the town and buy them there. I got a blue grab and cod one but they have many options. You can eat there or head to the beach which is along the road and enjoy it there.
I booked this tour with Derek on Airbnb Experiences for $68 for a 3 hour tour that included transportation.
As you can tell I booked a lot of my activities through Airbnb Experiences while in San Juan. We did the same on our trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, we love getting tours from locals and hearing the passion they have for their city/country. There were a lot more I wanted to book that I just didn’t have time for but hop to do on my next trip.
Where to Stay in San Juan, Puerto Rico
When deciding where to stay, I thought about all the things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico and where they would be most easily accessed. I also took into consideration the cost of the accommodations and what type of trip it was. Throughout my visits I stayed in three different hotels (one twice) and one Airbnb.
The DoubleTree by Hilton in Condado
On my first trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico I stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Condado. I like this hotel because it has a restaurant on site, offers free breakfast for Hilton Honors Gold members, and is connected to a plaza with other restaurants, shopping and a spa. On my most recent trip to San Juan, I also booked this hotel, this time via the Dosh App. It’s an app that allows you to get up to 40% cash back on everyday purchases and when booking hotels via the app. All you have to do is link your cards to the app and anytime you make a purchase at a participating store you automatically receive the cash back, I earned $12.45 per night cash back by booking the DoubleTree on the app.
Your cash back can be deposited straight into your bank account or PayPal account and I used it to fund most of my trip as I earned $758.40 throughout the year. The Dosh app is completely free, so download it now.
When I checked in I gave them my Hilton Honors number to earn points for my stay and get free breakfast. The beach is a few blocks away but the hotel does provide a free shuttle to/from the beach. Read more reviews on the hotel from TripAdvisor here.
Courtyard by Marriott Isla Verde Beach Resort
When I stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott Isla Verde Beach Resort back in 2013 I was not a fan at all. The rooms were old and outdated and the food wasn’t particularly good. However, the hotel was directly on the beach. Since then, according to TripAdvisor reviews it seems as if the property has had a major renovation making it much more appealing. The renovation and location of the property did cause the price to increase, and while cash back is offered via Dosh the price was still too high for my budget to give it another chance.
Airbnb Near San Juan Airport
For the budget conscious or those who want to rent a car an Airbnb in San Juan, Puerto Rico might be best for you. I split this Airbnb with my friend for two nights on a visit of mine when attending a conference. It’s not the biggest apartment but offers a parking spot, has a shared backyard and is just a quick 10-minute ride to the airport. There are lots of beautiful Airbnb’s in San Juan, you can check out additional options below. Nervous about Airbnb? Check out my post on 8 tips to guarantee a great Airbnb experience.
AC Hotel by Marriott Condado
Another hotel in Condado is the AC Hotel by Marriott. I actually prefer it to the DoubleTree but that preference comes with a price. The reason I prefer it is because the rooms are more modern, have wood floors versus carpet, a balcony and nicer pool. However, even as a Marriott Gold Member there is no free breakfast offered and there still isn’t. Still, the hotel is right in the middle of the action on Condado, walking distance to pretty much anything you can think of. Beach access is granted via their sister property the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. This hotel can also be booked via the Dosh App and you can read the reviews here.
How to Get to the Things to Do in San Juan, Puerto Rico
When figuring out how to get to the things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico you have a few options. The most convenient of course is renting a car as you’ll be in control of where you go and when and not have to be with other people. Renting a car in San Juan pretty much costs the same as in the States but your main expense will be parking. If you choose to stay in a hotel parking can cost anywhere from $20-$40 per night! That’s a big expense on top of the rental and gas. However, if you get an Airbnb that has a parking spot this could be a great option.
Another way to get around central San Juan is to take public transportation. On my trip to San Juan with my girlfriends a taxi to the Bacardi Factory was going to cost us about $75. Instead we took the bus to Old San Juan from Isla Verde for $0.50 and then paid $2.50RT to take the ferry over to where the factory is. From there we took a $5 taxi to the front gates. Of course this took us more time but hey we were broke college students.
Most tours offer transportation at an additional cost and this is the way I got around on my most recent trip. It was my solo trip and I was here to relax and wanted to do absolutely nothing, including driving. This of course cost me extra money but it was worth it as I got to read and relax on the drives.
If you’re staying in Condado you’ll also be able to walk to a lot of shops, restaurants, and bars. For further destinations like Old San Juan you can take a taxi or Uber but know Ubers in San Juan are not that cheap.
There’s something about San Juan that clearly keeps me coming back. I will say that on my next visit I’d like to see other parts of Puerto Rico. However, I think I can still find more things to do in San Juan! Either way, I hope this article has helped you with figuring out things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico. If it did, please share this article with others to help them!