Getting Oriented in San Juan

San Juan wraps around the Bahía de San Juan (San Juan Bay) on the island's northern, Atlantic coast. Old San Juan, the original colonial city, occupies an isle on the northeast side of the bay and is connected by bridges to Condado and, farther east, the districts of Ocean Park and Isla Verde (home of the international airport), which together make up San Juan's hip, touristy, 5-mile-long (8-km-long) coastal strip lined with gorgeous beaches. These districts have the lion's share of hotels, restaurants, entertainment, and sights to see. South of Condado and Ocean Park, Santurce—setting for the city's main art museums and galleries—melds into Hato Rey, the city's business and banking district. The greater city fans out from here into suburbs with little touristic appeal.

  • Old San Juan. Still enclosed by its original fortified city walls, this enclave of blue-cobblestone streets is superbly preserved, with more than 800 structures of historic importance. Many date back to the 16th century. Many of the city's best restaurants and bars are here, as well as boutiques offering wares from cigars to designer clothing. Laid out in an easy-to-navigate grid, Old San Juan has enough sights and shops to enthrall for days.
  • Greater San Juan. The sprawling modern metropolis opens out like a fan on three sides of Old San Juan. Condado and Isla Verde are superb venues for lazing on the beach by day and living it up by night at casinos and ritzy nightclubs—many associated with the upscale hotels that line the shorefront. Even teetotalers will enjoy an educational tour of the Bacardí rum factory, while culture vultures will delight in the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico.
  • San Juan Environs. White- and golden-sand beaches unspool along the Atlantic shoreline on either side of the city. Several are developed as balnearios (public beaches), such as Carolina, Luquillo, and Piñones; they're popular with sanjuaneros on weekends, as is El Yunque National Forest. El Yunque offers fantastic hiking and birding only a one-hour drive, yet a world away, from San Juan.

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