Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond
Puerto Rico

San Juan Cruise Port: Tips, Excursions and Weather

The El Morro fort is a popular attraction in Old San Juan. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license
The El Morro fort is a popular attraction in Old San Juan. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

San Juan is a major cruise port for trips to the southern and eastern Caribbean. The city’s colonial history is a major attraction for cruise visitors.

The attractions, vibrant shopping, white beaches and aqua water make it attractive as a destination on its own. Our visits to San Juan were as pleasant as any other we have experienced on our Caribbean cruises.

Although Spanish is the preferred language, English was spoken by about 90 percent of the people with whom we had contact.

The cruise port is an easy one to visit and especially easy to tour because of the language, culture, economy and size.

Cruise visitors will arrive at one of two cruise terminals. They are the Old San Juan Cruise Ship Piers and the Pan American terminal, which is three miles away. The aptly named Old San Juan terminals offer easy access to the best attraction in the city, which is of course Old San Juan.

Quick Travel Tips

  • January through March are the most popular months for cruise visits.
  • English is widely spoken, but do expect to meet some people who don’t speak English.
  • Old San Juan is the most popular attraction and near the cruise terminals.

Attractions and Shore Excursions

Walking Around Attractions

Among nearly all Caribbean cruise ports, San Juan stands out as a great place to walk around, mostly thanks to the major historical district at Old San Juan. It is just a short jaunt from the main cruise terminal. Unfortunately, it’s more than three miles from the Pan American terminal. Anyone arriving at Pan American will need to take a quick taxi ride to reach Old San Juan.

The Old San Juan district is quite large but walkable for moderately fit people. Still, be on the lookout for a free trolley that tours the district. Take note of trolley stop signs for where to board.

Two of the key attractions in Old San Juan are the massive forts of San Cristobal and El Morro, which will please history buffs. They are at the far northwest tip of the district and about one and a quarter miles from the main cruise terminal—about a 20 minute walk away.

Another point of interest is the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista at 151 Calle del Cristo. It is the second oldest cathedral in the Americas and one of the oldest buildings in Old San Juan.

La Fortaleza in Old San Juan at 63 Calle Fortaleza is the official residence of the Puerto Rico governor. It was built in the mid 1500s to protect the San Juan harbor. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the oldest executive mansion in continuous use in the New World.

Paseo La Princesa is a broad promenade that begins near the docks and leads to the photographic Raíces Fountain. It continues along the massive, original perimeter wall of the city. Vendors often line the road with their stalls. We stopped along the way at a pavilion to enjoy a live concert along with hundreds of local residents.

Shoppers will enjoy cobblestone streets, numerous shops and the relaxing plazas.

Anyone who simply wants a casual stroll will love walking along the outer wall of La Muralla with tall trees, sculptures, water fountains and especially the lovely sunset.

Shore Excursions

Cruise ships often offer a guided tour of Old San Juan for a fee that may cost around $100 per adult. A paid guided tour makes sense for anyone who wants plenty of historical and cultural tips. Otherwise, it’s cheaper to tour the city on foot and with the free trolleys.

View of Old San Juan from a cruise ship.
View of Old San Juan from a cruise ship. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

Otherwise, shore excursions include a few unusual trips outside of San Juan. The Bacardi Rum Distillery, the largest in the world, is a 15-minute drive from San Juan. The distillery is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Puerto Rico.

Visitors can see vast fermentation vats, high-speed bottling machinery and the Bacardi family museum. They also can sample the famous rum and buy souvenirs or Bacardi products at the gift shop.

Cruise ships also offer a tour of the distillery, and they usually include other sites as well. Expect to pay $50 to $100 per person depending on the amenities. Some visits include a tour of San Juan in addition to the distillery.

Passengers can zipline through the hills at the El Yunque Rain Forest, which is 45 minutes from the docks. The cost is about $130 per person.

Visitors with an interest in art may want to see the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico. The museum’s collection has works dating from the 17th century to the present. They are displayed in 24 galleries. It is four miles southeast of the cruise docks at 299 Ave De Diego.

Beaches Near the Cruise Port

For cruise visitors, the most recommended beach is Escambron beach in Puerta de Tierra. It has snorkeling, biking, picnicking facilities and views of both districts. It is within walking distance of the main cruise terminal for only the most energetic people and a taxi or shore excursion bus for everyone else.

It is a little more than one mile east of the Old San Juan cruise docks at the Luis Munoz Rivera Park between Old San Juan and the Condado district.

Balneario of Carolina is about seven miles east of the cruise docks. Another option is Balneario Punta Salinas in Toa Baja, about seven to eight miles west of the docks.

Shopping / Restaurants

This brief video explains the best time to visit Puerto Rico and avoid the annual hurricane season.
Full-Screen Version | YouTube Caribbean Channel

Old San Juan isn’t just one of the largest and most popular historical attractions in the entire Caribbean. It’s also one of the largest shopping and dining districts as well.

Shoppers can easily take several hours to explore all of the options. They also can take a break from walking by sitting in the various public plazas.

Cruise visitors will find plenty of shops and restaurants to suit just about any interest. But don’t be surprised to see many of the same kinds of goods that shops in other cruise ports have to offer.

Getting Around / Transportation

The Old San Juan piers are on the coast right by Old San Juan, which makes it easy for moderately fit passengers to walk to the historic area. Otherwise, a quick taxi or excursion bus is helpful in getting to a central point in the district.

The Pan American Pier is on the other side of the harbor, which means most passengers will have to take a taxi to get to the city. The distance is nearly three miles and takes about 10 minutes to get to Old San JUan in normal traffic.

Taxi rates are standard. But it’s always a good idea to ask for rates before getting into any taxi.

The public bus system routes include the Old San Juan pier. We found it was much less expensive than a taxi but took a lot more time. It’s a decent option for budget travelers who have extra time in San Juan.

Cruise Weather

San Juan average monthly rainfall
© 2022 Scott S. Bateman

San Juan’s average weather is similar to most other Caribbean islands with one exception: it doesn’t rain as much during the peak times of the hurricane season.

The Caribbean hurricane season officially runs from June 1 through Nov. 30 each year. The highest amount of rainfall usually hits in September and October with some destinations experiencing as much as 10 to 15 inches of rain in September.

San Juan’s historical average is about five to six inches each from August through November, which is still enough to discourage cruise visits. The number of days that it rains averages about 14 from July through December.

San Juan temperatures are more predictable with average highs ranging from the low 80s Fahrenheit during the winter to the high 80s during the summer. Average lows range from the low 70s to high 70s, mainly at night.

San Juan monthly temperatures
San Juan’s average monthly temperatures. © 2022 Scott S. Bateman

March is the best time for cruise weather in San Juan. It also will be the most crowded in major tourist attractions like Old San Juan. Prices will likely rise as well.

April will have fewer crowds, warmer temperatures and only slightly more rain. May should be avoided because of the brief rainy season.

Otherwise, the next best months to visit Puerto Rico are June and July when average rainfall is about four inches, temperatures are warm enough for swimming and crowds are usually moderate in size.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
November 27, 2023

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