Many Caribbean cruises depart from San Juan, and it’s a good idea to arrive a day or two early to allow time to explore Puerto Rico’s capital city. There’s plenty to keep you busy, from cultural visits to charming cobblestone streets to relaxing beaches.
Old San Juan is a picturesque district of plazas, colorful colonial buildings, narrow streets and seaside promenades. Don’t miss an afternoon stroll along the Paseo de la Princesa, below the ramparts of the old city. It’s lined by shops and cafes, and the large fountain at the end of the Paseo is a pretty sight against the setting sun.
History buffs will find historic Spanish forts in San Juan, including Fort San Felipe del Morro and Fort San Cristobal. Both are UNESCO World Heritage sites. El Morro is situated on a lofty promontory at the entrance to San Juan Bay. Construction took more than 200 years to complete, and the six-level structure has 60-foot-tall walls and offers fantastic views of the ocean below. San Cristobal was designed to protect against attacks by land and is the largest fort the Spanish built in the New World. It covers 27 acres, so comfortable walking shoes are a must if you want to investigate the grounds.
Nature lovers can visit the rain forest of El Yunque. More than 240 species of trees are found in the forest, and hidden amid the foliage are noisy tree frogs and endangered Puerto Rican parrots. Exploring the rain forest on foot will yield the best views, and many cruise lines offer excursions to El Yunque.
For low-key activities, consider spending the afternoon at the renowned Luquillo Beach. Here a golden stretch of sand is lined by myriad coconut trees, with the misty mountains as a backdrop. Just a 15-minute drive from San Juan is the Bacardi Rum Distillery. A guided tour reveals the massive machinery involved in fermenting and bottling the rum, and an adjoining museum outlines the history of the brand. Of course, samples are available and the gift shop is filled with souvenirs to take home.