10 reasons to visit San Juan, Puerto Rico right now

Traveling is no longer just a way to take a break and escape your everyday routine, it's a way to give back. Over the past couple of years, traveling to a destination to see and help with its preservation through ecotourism, voluntourism and agritourism (like woofing) has been on the rise.

Executive director of the Center for Responsible Travel Martha Honey told the New York Times that seeking authentic experiences within the local culture is the new way of travel. However, being a responsible traveler isn't as hard as it sounds. An easy way for tourists to help local economies is by checking out local businesses, especially those beyond major city centers. In doing so, she said it can even give travelers a better vacation by helping build a connection to the destination.

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10 things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico
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10 things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Go snorkeling 

Take advantage of San Juan's clear waters by putting on a snorkel and swimming with the wildlife. You can go for a snorkel and picnic cruise (tropical drinks included), swim with sea turtles or take a catamaran to a deserted island. And if you're up for it, go for a sunset swim in one of the bioluminescent bays

Recommended excursions:

San Juan Snorkel and Picnic Cruise

Paradise Scuba & Snorkeling Center

Vieques Snorkeling Tour from San Juan

Deserted Island Catamaran Day Sail from Fajardo

Visit the rainforest

The El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rain forest in the US national forest system. Although it's small by comparison (29,000 acres), it is one of the most biologically diverse and is home to hundreds of unique animal and plant species, like the endangered Puerto Rican parrot. 

Although many trails and facilities in the forest are closed off for repairs (especially post-Hurricane Maria), there are still plenty of places to visit and experience the forest.

Recommended excursions:

El Yunque Rainforest Half-Day Trip from San Juan

Big Waterfall Rainforest Rappelling Off The Beaten Path Adventure

Private Full Day Archaeological and Rainforest Tour in San Juan

Full-Day Rainforest and Waterfall Adventure from San Juan

Go to Perla 

Puerto Rican food is influenced by a combination of US, Spanish, African and native Taínos flavors. While there are more than enough great restaurants in San Juan, one with a view that's as good as its menu is Perla (pictured). Perla is located at the La Concha Renaissance Hotel and sits in a conch-shell like exterior that was designed by an Italian architect in 1958. The "shell" sits on an infinity pool that overlooks the ocean.

Perla's menu is appropriately seafood-focused with dishes like Baked Caribbean Lobster with Lobster Beurre Blanc and Seafood Ceviche and is rounded out with steak, chicken and an impressive dessert list. Just think of all the pics you'll get for your Instagram...

Some of our other favorite places to eat include:

Lote 23

Oceano

El Burén de LULA

Lechonera El Rancho de Apa

Flavors of San Juan Food & Culture Tour 

Puerto Rico Craft Cocktail Walk

Visit Old San Juan

Think of Old San Juan as the downtown area. There are no beaches or resort hotels, but it boasts bright colorful architecture, bustling streets and a rich history. 

Visit and see the old home of Ponce de León, check out the kiosks along Pase la Princesa, go shopping, dine on Fortaleza Street (tons of good spots to eat!) and stop by to see the forts (more on that next). 

Recommended excursions:

Old San Juan Deluxe Walking Tour

Old San Juan Walking Tour

Old San Juan Segway Tour

Old San Juan Food Tour

Visit Castillo San Felipe del Morro

The castle, also known as El Morro, sits on the water at the entrance to the San Juan Harbor. The building of it began in the 1400s by the Spaniards and over the years was rebuilt and modified — it's over 475 years old! Today, the fort is a historical landmark and used for entertainment. 

El Morro is part of the National Park Service and upon entering, you'll be asked to pay an entrance fee. You'll receive a map that can guide you around the "park" or you can take any of the guided tours offered there. Check out more on visiting here

Another recommended excursion:

1-Hour Guided El Morro Jetski Tour

Shop for jewelry

Shopping for jewelry in San Juan is great because you can get quality high-end items at lower prices than you might find on the US mainland. And, there are so many jewelry stores! (In addition to diamonds, make sure you check out the local spots for handmade accessories, too.)

Recommended shops:

Portofino 

Argenta (in Old San Juan)

Bared (in Old San Juan)

Club Jibarito

Visit the Bacardi Rum Distillery

Take a ferry from Old San Juan and visit Casa Bacardi. While Bacardi rum was founded in 1862 in Cuba, its Puerto Rican distillery opened in 1936. Today, you can visit and go on a historical tour, a rum tasting tour, take a mixology class or even bottle your very own Bacardi — each experience comes with a strong drink or two (or more!). 

Plan your visit

Have a beach day

There are plenty of beaches in San Juan, so take a day to relax and enjoy the clear waters and sand. 

Recommended beaches:

Most pristine: Flamenco Beach

Good for snorkeling & scuba: El Escambron

Closest to resorts: Playa Condado

Best for playing sand sports: Ocean Park Beach 

Bioluminescent & wild horses: Mosquito Bay, Vieques 

Most secluded: Playa Borinquen

Explore a bioluminescent bay

The water of a bioluminescent bay glows in a blue-green color. The glow is created by teeny tiny micro-organisms called flagellates; they make their food through photosynthesis, which creates the glow. It's a sight to see, and a rare one — there are very few bioluminescent waters in the world. Luckily, you can find one near San Juan!

Recommended excursions:

La Parguera Bio Bay Boat Tour from San Juan

Bioluminescent Bay Kayak Adventure Tour from San Juan

Bioluminescent Bay Glass Bottom Kayak Tour from San Juan

Best Bioluminescent Bay Boat VIP Tour from San Juan (all inclusive)
 

Go on an adventure

There are plenty of ways to explore around San Juan that don't include walking or riding in a car. Take an ATV through the countryside, a jet ski around the islands, zipline through the rainforest or hike through the caves. There's a lot to see and not everywhere is accessible via automobile. 

Recommended excursions:

Hacienda ATV Adventure

Adventure Lovers Tour in Puerto Rico: Full-Day Zipline River Caving and Hike

Jet Ski Adventure from Fajardo

4-Hour Jet Ski Tour at Boqueron Beach

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One place you can travel to that would benefit from your business is Puerto Rico, which has been in recovery mode since 2017's devastating Hurricane Maria. Although travelers to the area dipped after the storm, Airbnb recently reported it's one of their most booked spring destinations. This year, the New York Times even named in their no.1 place to travel in 2019.

It's not surprising Puerto Rico is so popular, though. Specifically, the capital city of San Juan is great for those seeking adventure, those seeking history, those traveling with kids or those just looking for a beach — it has a little bit of everything for everyone. Hike to see the waterfalls in the El Yunque Rainforest, go kayaking through the bioluminescent Mosquito Bay, go snorkeling at Isla de Vieques, work on your tan at Flamenco Beach or explore old forts like El Morro. 

If you're traveling from the US, Puerto Rico is only a short 3-hour flight from Miami, Florida, and since it's a US territory, there's no passport required and you can use American bills. 

Check out our top 10 things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico above and if you decide to book a trip, make sure you take some time to check out the local shops, hotels and eateries! 

See more trending spring vacation destinations (according to Airbnb) below:

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Most popular spring vacation destinations, according to Airbnb
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Most popular spring vacation destinations, according to Airbnb
10. Guadeloupe, Guadeloupe
9. Cologne, Germany
8. Williams, Arizona
7. Vladivostok, Russia
6. St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
5. Dapa, Phillippines
4. San Juan, Puerto Rico 
3. Santos, Brazil

2. Carolina, Puerto Rico

1. Monterrey, Mexico
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