San Juan Tourist Attractions for A Day in the City

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Colorful streets of San Juan

San Juan Tourist Attractions for A Day in the City

We were able to see the San Juan tourist attractions on a guided short tour of the old and new San Juan. Our recent Southern Caribbean cruise started and ended in San Juan, so we had the best of both worlds. Before the cruise, we walked around on our own. after the cruise we chose a tour of the Old and New San Juan as an excursion from our Celebrity ship, which then took us to the airport.

Quote of the day: “Dreams seldom materialize on their own.” Dian Fossey

The quote above reminds me that we can dream about traveling, yet you have to plan and schedule it to actually see the sights. Is a cruise the best way to do this? Maybe and maybe not. That will be a subject for an upcoming post.

As for seeing all of the San Juan tourist attractions, I think this is better done with someone that knows the area. If you don’t want to schedule an excursion from the ship, then Viator has some great tours too. (We have used Viator before, so that’s why I am suggesting them). The convenience of using the ship’s tour this time was the tour company took care of our luggage and made sure we got to the airport on time.

Insider tip: If you are debarking after a cruise, schedule your flight after 2 pm to make sure you have time for an activity like this.

Our other options by Celebrity was a Rum tasting tour or a rain forest tour. Since Charlotte doesn’t drink, and we aren’t really outdoor people, the tour of the old and new San Juan seemed the best route for us.

A day in San Juan

Why Take a Guided Tour

I know many of my friends would rather go exploring on their own. For instance, my friend, Lisa and her husband toured the city themselves. (And we didn’t see that cool umbrella lined street because the umbrellas had been torn down in a riot just this last year).

As for Rob and I, we have found that guided tours are the best for us for many reasons. In fact, you can read about the Alaskan excursions we took last year.

1-You find out about the city more this way. Of course, it’s all dependent on the tour guide. Yet most of these guides work for tips, so they want to please you and give you lots of information.

Insider tip: If you enjoy the tour, it’s customary to give the driver at least $2 per person.

2-Getting lost is out of the equation. Neither Rob or I are the best at figuring out where to go, so this way is less stressful. Especially if you know you have a flight to catch. The tours have a set time limit.

3-Many times you see attractions that you would never have known about.

4-The guides can give you insights on restaurants and shopping locations which is great if you are staying in the area after the tour.

What are the San Juan Tourist Attractions?

Shown in these photos are some of the fabulous places we saw on our tour.

1-The colorful streets and murals. The woman pictured is Felisa Rincon de Gautier, the mayor of San Juan from 1946 to 1969. I think the city must subscribe to my thinking that color is the way to go. You wouldn’t see many orange and blue houses in our town.

2- The Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, known to locals as the Old San Juan Cemetery. It’s the burial site of some of Puerto Rico’s most famous citizens and is even home to a couple of cats we saw sunning themselves on the gravestones.

Insider tip: You can drive into the cemetery, but there isn’t a lot of parking. And if you want to park above and walk in, it is a short trek.

The cemetery as part of San Juan tourist attractions
Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

3- Forts. Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal. Both forts are still standing today and built back in the 16-18th centuries. If you love this type of history, you can walk through both of them.

Insider tip: You can see the Castillo San Felipe del Morro fort from the cemetery, but don’t be fooled. It will take almost 15 minutes to walk to it.

4-The Capital. The building is magnificent and we were told the insides were just as fabulous. Unfortunately we were there on a Saturday so couldn’t go inside. Yet it’s one of the 10 prettiest and the only one with an ocean view.

Insider tip: You can walk around the Capital building for no charge weekdays only. Most of the time the people at the front desk can tell you a little about the building, how it was made, where all that marble came from, and the significance of the scenes depicted on the dome. Or you can call ahead for a guided tour.

San Juan tourist attractions in architecture
The Capital

5-Beaches. Considering that Puerto Rico is an island, it shouldn’t surprise you that sandy beaches line most of the island’s coast. Along the island’s western edge are the mountains, and is home to some of the country’s most scenic seascapes and most beautiful beaches. Or so we were told.

Insider tip: The average temp 85 degrees and thus it’s summer the whole year. Bring your sunscreen and hats.

A beach

6-Shopping. There are some wonderful unique shops especially in Old San Juan. We always say that the world has gotten very small and it’s almost sad to see a Starbucks on every corner. Yet, Old San Juan is still full of local shops and restaurants (although we did see a Starbucks).

Below is a photo when we stopped into Marisel Herbal shop before the cruise and bought some mosquito repellent. She had organic and natural creams and lotions along with some yoga gear. In fact Nancy bought a tank top that you will see her wearing on the cruise.

Local shopping

Fun Facts about San Juan

1-San Juan is the first or second oldest city in the USA. The facts state that it was founded in 1521 but some google searches say St Augustine is the first even though it was founded in 1565.

2– Hurricane Maria of 2017 was devastating to the island. 99% of the country lost electricity. Because San Juan has such an old infrastructure it has been hard to get the parts necessary to fix it.

3-The main industries are pharmaceutical, rum and then tourism. So the people are VERY happy that you come spend your money to help them.

4– We were told there are 3 DNAs in the blood of Puerto Ricans. European, African and Indigenous (Indians). I haven’t researched this to see if it’s true, but it sounded interesting.

Mother Daughter touring

While it may not look like my mother and I are dressed for the summer temperatures, hear me out. You can see these items in our packing for a Caribbean cruise post, and these were the airport outfits. At least for me. Charlotte did change her tunic to a sweater since the airport and planes tend to be chilly.

San Juan tourist attractions and things to see

Photo credit: Rob Filogomo

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