Visitors arriving on cheap flights to San Juan are faced with a dilemma. What to do first in the capital of Puerto Rico? Outdoor enthusiasts need to choose between hiking in the rain forest or crashing through the waves on the area’s beaches. Later, as the sun sets, San Juan is transformed into one of the Caribbean’s nightlife capitals, making the choosing of the evening’s destination no easier.
Many day trips beckon but two not to be missed are the coastal town of Guánica and El Yunque, a semi-tropical rain forest. If you have the time for a third outing, head for Luquillo, one of Puerto Rico’s best-known beaches.
Old San Juan was founded in 1521 and today features many examples of well-preserved architectural gems dating back to the 16th century and built by the Spanish. The area is partially surrounded by a city wall built in 1633 and remains paved with the stones used for ballast on Spanish ships. The area retains much of its old-world charm in the tree-shaded squares, monuments, open-air cafes and shops jostling for space with private homes.
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When to fly to San Juan
Winter (mid-December to mid-April) is traditionally the busiest and also the most expensive time to visit.
The summer and fall see a reduction in prices across the island with many cheap flights to San Juan available at rock-bottom prices. Music fans can also look forward to the Pablo Casals Festival in early June while the Festival of Puerto Rican Music takes place in November.
Getting around San Juan
Bigger hotels generally offer free shuttle buses into Old San Juan, where you can either travel by foot or take advantage of the free trolleys. Buses run in some areas, but not all. There are taxis, but you’ll have to negotiate a price with the driver based on your destination. Rental cars are available as well, but make sure you have your ID handy. Also, some streets are not as well marked as others.
San Juan insider information
- One might think that the best place to see Puerto Rico's Latino chic is a trendy club but that would not necessarily be the case. The Museo de Arte, or art museum, features a fine collection of local art but also puts on productions in its 400-seat theatre – both serve to attract trendy locals who can also be seen taking in the museum’s attractive grounds.
- It has been said that teaching old dogs new tricks is difficult if not impossible but luckily the expression does not translate to old buildings. For hundreds of years La Princesa was one of the Caribbean’s most fearsome prisons but these days it serves as the Puerto Rico Tourism Company. A fine exhibit of art by Puerto Ricans is on display here and can be viewed free of charge. Elsewhere, the Antiguo Manicomio Insular, a 19th-century asylum, has been converted into the Puerto Rican Academy of Fine Arts.
- Visitors on cheap flights to San Juan with a taste for history are well-advised to visit the Camuy Caverns, one of the world’s largest cave systems. The area can be explored either on foot or via trolley and its highlight is the Spiral Sinkhole, no fewer than 205 steps down, where petroglyphs etched in the walls by ancient Tainos, Puerto Rico’s original inhabitants, can be seen.
- There is more to Puerto Rico than its rich cultural heritage and collection of fine beaches. The activity-seeking visitor will not be disappointed with countless golf courses and tennis courts scattered throughout the area. Biking, walking and jogging enthusiasts should head for the boardwalk at Parque Lineal Marti Coli, where a two-mile stretch along Cano de Martin Pena can be enjoyed.
- Nature lovers will be thrilled to discover El Yunque, a semi-tropical rain forest set in the mountains in the east of the island. Local precipitation makes its way down the mountain via rivers broken up by spectacular waterfalls. Unique vegetation and wildlife is on display throughout the forest.