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San Juan Travel Guide

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  • Photo: Colin D. Young / Shutterstock

Plan Your San Juan Vacation

If you associate Puerto Rico's capital with the colonial streets of Old San Juan, then you know only part of the picture. San Juan is a major metropolis, radiating out from the bay on the Atlantic Ocean that was discovered by Juan Ponce de León. More than a third of the island's nearly 4 million citizens proudly call themselves sanjuaneros. The city may be rooted in the past, but it

has its eye on the future. Locals go about their business surrounded by colonial architecture and towering modern structures.

By 1508 the explorer Juan Ponce de León had established a colony in an area now known as Caparra, southeast of present-day San Juan. He later moved the settlement north to a more hospitable peninsular location. In 1521, after he became the first colonial governor, Ponce de León switched the name of the island—which was then called San Juan Bautista in honor of St. John the Baptist—with that of the settlement of Puerto Rico ("rich port").

Defended by the imposing Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) and Castillo San Cristóbal, Puerto Rico's administrative and population center remained firmly in Spain's hands until 1898, when it came under U.S. control after the Spanish-American War. Centuries of Spanish rule left an indelible imprint on the city, particularly in the walled area now known as Old San Juan. The area is filled with cobblestone streets and brightly painted, colonial-era structures, and its fortifications have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Old San Juan is a monument to the past, but most of the rest of the city is planted firmly in the 21st century and draws migrants island-wide and from farther afield to jobs in its businesses and industries. The city captivates residents and visitors alike with its vibrant lifestyle as well as its balmy beaches, pulsing nightclubs, globe-spanning restaurants, and world-class museums. Once you set foot in this city, you may never want to leave.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Take a stroll Wander the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan—the fortifications and governor’s mansion are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
  2. Climb a battlement Explore Castillo San Felipe del Morro, the 16th-century fortress that dominates the waterfront; rangers provide a fascinating insight.
  3. Shop Head to Condado's Avenida Ashford, where you'll find most of the city's designer boutiques, including that of Nono Maldonado, one of the island's homegrown design talents.
  4. Catch some rays Balneario de Carolina, at the eastern tip of Isla Verde, is San Juan's best beach. Take time to parasail.
  5. Dine on the strip Dine at Marmalade, just one of many stellar restaurants along the eastern end of Calle Fortaleza, a trendy strip that locals call "SoFo."

When To Go

When to Go

During the high season, mid-December through mid-April, hotels tend to be packed, though rarely full, and rates are a bit higher than in the...

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