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Puerto Rico

Best San Juan Tourist Attractions

El Morro fortress
The El Morro fort is a popular tourist attraction at Old San Juan. © Copyright Puerto Rico Tourism Company

San Juan tourist attractions include Old San Juan for a taste of New World history and architecture. But the list doesn’t end there.

This major cruise port on the island of Puerto Rico has plenty to do for cruise visitors. Some people even start Caribbean cruises from there, so they often have time before or after the cruise to explore the city.

1. Old San Juan

Touring Old San Juan is a easy choice for most people starting and ending their Caribbean cruise out of San Juan. It’s also an obvious choice for any cruise ship passengers that visit the port.

It is the most popular tourist attraction at the port and easy to access from the main cruise docks. In fact, moderately fit people can walk from the docks to this historical dining, shopping and entertainment enclave.

The impressive forts of San Cristobal and El Morro will please history buffs. 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.

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

We also enjoyed an outdoor concert later in the evening at one of the plazas along with hundreds of locals and tourists.

Shore excursion operators offer guided tours of Old San Juan. Prices start at $40 per person. They are useful for getting historical and cultural perspectives.

Condado Beach
Condado Beach. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

2. Cruise Beaches

San Juan has several moderate sized beaches for cruise visitors.

The most recommended is Escambron beach in Puerta de Tierra. The beach has snorkeling, biking, picnicking facilities and views of both districts. It is more than one and a half miles east of the Old San Juan cruise docks at the Luis Munoz Rivera Park between Old San Juan and the Condado district. Cruisers will need a taxi to get there.

Another option is Condado Beach, which is extra half mile east of the docks.

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.

3. Bacardi Rum Tour

San Juan Map

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 include other sites as well. Expect to pay $50 to $100 per person depending on the amenities.

4. Arecibo Ionospheric Observatory

The Observatory is the largest radio telescope on the planet. The giant dish, featured in the Jodie Foster movie “Contact”, is larger than 12 football fields and sits in a sinkhole.

It can be seen by passenger jets as high as 33,000 feet. The facility is used to find planets outside of our solar system. It is the home base for NASA’s SETI project or the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

Visitors will find out how it is used to study radio emissions from distant galaxies, quasars, pulsars and other cosmic sources. The interactive exhibits have extensive information on astronomy and atmospheric science.

The Observatory is open Wednesday to Friday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday, Sunday and most holidays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. This day trip is located about 95 miles west of San Juan.

5. Guanica Dry Forest Reserve

Old San Juan trolley
Trolleys are common means of getting around for tourists who visit Old San Juan. Credit: Pixabay license

The Guanica Dry Forest Reserve is 10,000 acres of dry land with more than 600 rare plants and animals. They include 48 endangered species and 16 that are unique to Puerto Rico.

Guanica is a United Nations Biosphere Reserve with 12 trails for hikers and cyclists. One of the most beautiful beaches in Puerto Rico is located right next to the Dry Forest. For access permits, call the Department of Natural Resources at 787-725-3080. For adventures and excursions, contact ACAMPA, (787) 706-0695.

6. Museum of Art of Puerto Rico

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 located four miles southeast of the cruise docks at 299 Ave De Diego.

Camuy River Cave Park

Another day trip out of San Juan is the Camuy River Cave Park about 60 miles west of the city.

The 300-acre park reportedly is the third largest cave system in the world and is noted for having the Camuy River running underground through the system.

Visitors take a mountainside trolley ride to reach the caves and then go through them on a walking tour. Highlights include Cava Clara at 170 feet high, a 150-foot sinkhole, hundreds of bats and a wide variety of stalactites and stalagmites.

7. El Yunke National Forest

Another day trip outside of San Juan is the El Yunke rainforest. It offers many eco tourism adventures including waterfalls, waterslides, hiking, ziplining and kayaking. It’s a 45 minute drive east of San Juan.

El Yunke is a common shore excursion with prices starting at $80 or more per person depending on the activity, length and amenities.

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.
May 26, 2023

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