Cruise and Beach Destinations
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Puerto Rico

San Juan Travel Tips: Hotels, Attractions, Weather

Old San Juan at night
Old San Juan at night
© Puerto Rico Tourism Company

A San Juan beach vacation has many benefits for hotel and resort visitors because of the large size of this U.S. commonwealth in the eastern Caribbean.

Numerous attractions, vibrant shopping and warm weather make Puerto Rico attractive as a destination on its own. Our time at a resort in San Juan was as pleasant as any other we have experienced.

Although Spanish is the preferred language, English was spoken by about 90 percent of the people with whom we had contact. The island is an easy one to visit and especially to tour because of the language, culture, economy and size.

Puerto Rico is the fourth most popular island in the Caribbean. Unlike most Caribbean islands, it has more hotel visitors than cruise visitors. It receives about 1.7 million visitors every year who stay multiple nights and 1.4 million who visit by cruise, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization. Cruise ships flock to San Juan.

Hotel and Resort Tips

Puerto Rico is one of the largest islands in the Caribbean at 3,500 square miles. It is roughly 110 miles long and 40 miles wide. Those facts matter for anyone who goes to the island for a hotel or resort beach vacation.

Vacationers might fly into one of the three international airports on the island, but only one carries the vast majority of visitors: Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. It is less than nine miles east of San Juan.

Most of the resorts are scattered all over the island’s long coast, so vacation planners need to consider whether Luis Muñoz Marín is the best choice for an airport. In most cases, it’s the only choice. The following list shows the distance between the airport and major hotels:

  • San Juan Marriott, 4 miles
  • Sheraton Puerto Rico, 6 miles
  • St. Regis Bahia Beach, 20 miles
  • Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve, 21 miles
  • Wyndham Grand Rio Mar, 22 miles
  • Embassy Suites Dorado del Mar Beach, 24 miles
  • Hilton Ponce Golf and Casino Resort, 75 miles

Some highly rated hotels are more than two hours from the Luis Muñoz Marín airport, which is on the northeast coast of the island. So those visitors will have to decide whether to rent a car and drive or fly directly into one of the smaller local airports.

Tourist Attractions

El Morro fortress
Fort Felipe del Morro is a popular attraction. © Puerto Rico Tourism Company

The largest and most popular attraction in San Juan is Old San Juan, the walled city built by the Spanish that dates back to the 16th century.

This National Historic Site has many shops, restaurants, historical buildings and cobblestone streets. Two Spanish forts dominate the city—Fort Felipe del Morro and Fort San Cristóbal.

Another attraction is the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista. It is one of the oldest buildings in Old San Juan and the second oldest cathedral in the Americas.

Old San Juan sits on the Puerta de Tierra peninsula within walking distance of the Old San Juan Cruise Terminal for most ships. Other ships dock at Pan American Terminal on Isla Grande, which requires a brief taxi ride.

Beach lovers may visit El Escambrón, which is minutes away from Old San Juan and a favorite with locals. The calm waters make it ideal for the families. The beach has views of the Atlantic Ocean, El Morro Fort, and the Capitol Dome in Old San Juan.

Other than Old San Juan, some of the most popular attractions in the area need time and transportation.

The Bacardi Rum Distillery is 15 minutes from San Juan. It is the largest distillery of its kind in the world and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Puerto Rico.

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

Visitors can see vast fermentation vats, high-speed bottling machinery and the Bacardi family museum.

Visitors with even more time can go to the Arecibo Ionospheric Observatory, which is more than an hour and 15 minutes west of San Juan. The observatory has the largest radio telescope in the world and is larger than 12 football fields. It is the location of NASA’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and is used to find planets outside of the solar system.

Other attractions on the island include Montoso Gardens, a 90-acre botanical garden that lie near the western coast of Puerto Rico. It is two and a half hours west of San Juan and therefore more appealing to anyone vacationing in the western half of the island.

Noteworthy standard attractions on the island include 23 golf courses, hiking through natural rain forests and probably the most shopping opportunities of the Caribbean.

Tourism / When to Go

More people visit Puerto Rico for beach vacations than cruises. But many people also fly into the territory to spend one or two nights there before leaving on a cruise, especially for the southern or western Caribbean (like we did).

Spending one extra day in San Juan is certainly worthwhile to visit Old San Juan.

March is by far the most popular month followed by February and April, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization. September is easily the least popular month due to hurricanes.

Vacation Weather

San Juan temperatures
Average monthly San Juan temperatures. © 2020 Scott S. Bateman

The climate is tropical marine and mild with little seasonal temperature variation. Depending on the source, the average temperature—both night and day—is in the mid 70s year round.

The average daytime high is in the mid 80s Fahrenheit and ranges from the low 80s in winter to the high 80s in summer.

The dry season of February through April averages about two inches of rain a month. The rainy season hits hardest from July through November with an average of about six inches.

April is a good month to visit because of warm temperatures and low risk of rain. May is often a brief rainy season by itself.

The summer months are much warmer, but the average number of days with rain is higher than the spring months.

Currency / Tipping / Taxes

U.S. currency is standard for Puerto Rico. Some restaurants place a 10-15 percent service charge on bills. Hotels also sometimes put a service charge on a bill.

Although 10-15 percent seems common for restaurant tipping at other Caribbean destinations, the more standard U.S. practice of 15-20 percent seems common in Puerto Rico. Hotels have a room tax ranging from 7 to 11 percent.

Taxi rates between the airport and cruise terminals are standard. But it’s always a good idea to ask for rates before getting into any taxi.

Culture / Geography

Spanish is the dominant language and English is widely spoken, especially in San Juan. Do expect to meet some people who don’t speak English at all, despite the close territorial ties to the U.S.

Unlike most Caribbean nations, Puerto Rico has an industrial economy and is less dependent on tourism. The geography is mostly mountains with coastal plain belt in north; mountains precipitous to sea on the west coast; and sandy beaches along most coastal areas.

Sources / More Information

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.
August 11, 2023

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