Top 5 reasons to visit San Juan, Puerto Rico right now

Nearly a year after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, the island’s capital city of San Juan is back in action and ready for visitors.

With its stunning beaches, buzzing nightlife and multitude of cultural and outdoor activities, a trip to San Juan won’t disappoint. Whether you’re a nature lover, beach bum, foodie or night owl, there’s something for everyone.

The Puerto Rican flag now proudly draped over Yokahú Observation Tower since the rainforest's reopening Mikol Hoffman / Lonely Planet Recovery efforts continue in Puerto Rico, but the country is poised to usher a new wave of visitors © Mikol Hoffman / Lonely Planet

Walk the Cobblestone Streets of Colorful Old San Juan

Highlighted as the backdrop for the chart-topping summertime tune ‘Despacito’, Viejo San Juan (Old San Juan) lives up to the music video’s exuberant portrayal. Walking through the city is like stepping into a music video and a history book all at once. You’d half expect a sun-kissed dancer or rum-drunk pirate to jump out at any corner.

A kaleidoscope of tropically-colored colonial houses mix with the blue-green glow of the Atlantic Ocean in one the best-preserved colonial cities of the Americas. You could easily fall under San Juan’s spell with its labyrinth of blue cobblestone streets, dramatic walls, imposing fortresses, historic churches and sleepy plazas. Best explored on foot, the old city is Instagrammable at every corner. And with its abundance of restaurants, bars, museums, galleries and shops, there’s plenty to keep you occupied, even if you just want to take it des-pa-ci-to.

A Foodie’s Paradise

Quaint fondas (casual eateries) like Café Manolín serve criollo (Spanishstaples like mofongo (mashed, garlicky plantains), while farm-to-table bistros like Verde Mesa and Vianda showcase local ingredients in a fresh new light.

Fancy a nightcap? You’re in the rum capital of the world. Try lesser-known distillers like Ron del Barrilito, whose liquid gold can be sipped slowly, mixed with tropical juices or imbibed in a Piña Colada. San Juan is, after all, the birthplace of the famous cocktail.

A strong, but never bitter coffee from one of the myriad of shops like Café Cuatro Sombras will help you quickly recover from any lingering rum buzz. With so many diverse dining options at your disposal – seafood at Que Pezcao, tacos at Acapulco, pizza at Pirilo, Spanish at Kasalta, or brunch at Tia — the options to satisfy your taste buds are endless.

New palm trees begin to grow in Ocean Park Beach Mikol Hoffman / Lonely Planet Puerto Rico is not lacking in beautiful beaches to enjoy a little surf and sun © Mikol Hoffman / Lonely Planet

Unwind at World Class Beaches

Snowbirds flock to San Juan’s pristine beaches with their soft white sands and turquoise waters. After landing, you could be relaxing at any of the palm tree lined playas (beaches) in under 15 minutes. Temperatures average 85°F year-round, making a dip in the water as soothing as floating into a warm bath. Simply unwind and sunbathe on the sand or take a diving lesson at the uncrowded Escambrón Beach, paddleboard in the Condado Lagoon, or enjoy a sunset cocktail at Hosteria del Mar on Ocean Park Beach.

Buzzing Nightlife in Santurce

The capital’s hopping nightlife has long been a highlight for locals and tourists alike. With its mix of Spanish, African and American influences, the cultural scene is buzzing every night of the week. Venture to the artsy Santurce neighborhood and tour the murals and galleries of Calle Cerra.

Next, head to La Esquina Watusi down the road and rub elbows with locals over ice cold beers. Wrap up your tour of the barrio (neighborhood) at local favorite La Placita – farmers market by day, open air block party by night. For some Monday night action, head over to La Terraza de Bonanza, where revelers spill out onto the streets to sway their hips to bomba y plena. Outside of Santurce, hit up La Factoria for live Salsa on Saturdays or the college town of Rio Piedras, which gets especially lively on Thursdays. If live music isn’t up your alley, try your luck at any of the Condado casinos.

Swimmers cool off in Las Damas pool at the end of the Angelito trail in El Yunque Rainforest Mikol Hoffman / Lonely Planet It’s just an hour’s drive from San Juan to enjoy some of Puerto Rico’s diverse ecosystem © Mikol Hoffman / Lonely Planet

Natural Wonders All Within Your Reach

As the smallest island of the Greater Antilles you can easily drive across Puerto Rico in a single day. This ‘small’ fact means there are numerous adventures only an hour’s drive from San Juan. From hiking to a crystalline swimming hole in El Yunque National Forest, to flying down El Monstruo – the world’s longest zipline – or kayaking the bioluminescent bay of the Laguna Grande, enjoying Puerto Rico’s natural playground is just a day trip from San Juan.

Murals of all shapes and sizes line Santurce's Calle Cerra Mikol Hoffman / Lonely Planet Tourism is seen as the best way to help Puerto Rico. All money spent goes right into the local community © Mikol Hoffman / Lonely Planet

Help recovery efforts

Travel can break down barriers, raise awareness and create meaningful relationships. And after a natural disaster, it injects welcome cash into recovering economies. The best way to support San Juan right now is by visiting. Every dollar spent staying at hotels, eating at restaurants or shopping at stores helps stimulate the local economy. Support the local farming community by visiting Old San Juan’s farmers market on Saturday, or for a more impactful experience, take part in the island’s “voluntour” program. Plan a farm stay with Visit Rico, plant native trees with Para La Naturaleza, or help adopt homeless pets with Amigos de los Animales.

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