With its cobblestone streets, ocean views and colorful buildings, the historic section of Puerto Rico’s capital is among the most picturesque urban areas in the territorial U.S.
Explore a fortress:
Built in the 1700s to protect the city from invaders, Castillo de San Cristobal — sister fort to the more famous El Morro — is the largest Spanish fort in the Americas. The National Park Service took it over from the army in the 1960s, and visitors can now explore the watchtowers.
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Looking for a good selfie opportunity? Johnny Depp filmed a memorable scene in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” at San Cristobal’s entrance.
Stroll off the beaten path:
Located along the northern city wall of Old San Juan, La Perla is a historically unsafe area now undergoing a facelift and worth a visit — although you may feel more comfortable going with a tour guide. The neighborhood was initially created as a community for servants and former slaves, to keep them away from the city’s center. But today La Perla, which has stunning ocean views, is becoming known for its music and arts scene, with concerts held regularly.
Most tourists head to La Perla’s Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, the final resting place of many of the island’s most historic figures.
Eat like a local:
Put finding a tasty mofongo high on your must-eat list. The fried plantain dish is usually served with meat or fish. Order it at Cafe Puerto Rico (208 Calle O’Donnell).
Head into the Condado section of San Juan for something a little less traditional at Budatai, where you’ll find a fusion of Puerto Rican and Asian flavors from “Iron Chef” contestant Roberto Trevino.
New hotel option:
Bringing the whole family for a warm weather vacay? Hyatt House, Puerto Rico’s first extended-stay hotel, just opened in San Juan. The hotel features roomy suites with full kitchens and living rooms.
Mind the furrier citizens:
It’s impossible to walk through Old San Juan without seeing the stray cats that call the neighborhood home. Said to be the descendents of the felines that strolled Columbus’ ships, the cats are synonymous with this section of the city.
If you like pina coladas:
The pina colada — the rum and coconut drink that traces its history to San Juan in the 1960s — has quite a contested history. The Barrachina (104 Calle Fortaleza) and the Caribe Hilton Hotel (1 San Geronimo St.) both claim their bartenders invented the sweet cocktail, and both have marble plaques attesting to that fact at their entrances.
Looking for a dive bar instead? The bartenders at El Batey, the oldest bar in San Juan, have plenty of tales to tell about life in Puerto Rico back in the day.