The sights. The sounds. The experiences. There’s no place quite like San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Our group of five arrived on the island after a late-afternoon flight from Detroit Metro Airport and catching a connecting flight out of New York’s JFK Airport.
Once we had checked into our hotel: the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino, we decided to check out Distrito T-Mobile, a 476,000-square-foot entertainment complex located directly across the street in the city’s bustling convention district.
The venue houses bars and restaurants serving up traditional Puerto Rican fare, along with Mexican, Cuban, Asian and American dishes. A DJ pumped music throughout the entire facility. Anyone looking for a party will definitely find it here.
There were a variety of popular activities inside: a Caribbean Cinema movie theater and two zip lines between 650 and 900 feet long. They’re perfect for the daredevils in the crowd. None of us, however, were brave enough to give them a try, although lots of people did!
Later that evening, we decided to take the advice of a few locals, so we paid a visit to Metropol Restaurant & Bar located at our hotel. True to its reputation of serving “the best Cuban and Puerto Rican food in town,” we thoroughly enjoyed our authentic Puerto Rican meals and generous-sized margaritas.
In addition to the food that’ll satisfy even the most discerning palate, San Juan is known for its many beautiful beaches.
Escambrón Beach features spectacular scenery and turquoise waters, but you’re on your own when it comes to beach chairs, umbrellas, or any other beach gear.
If you’re a sun lover, soaring temperatures are definitely something you can look forward to, as temps reached well into 80 degrees Fahrenheit the entire six days we spent on the island. If you’re planning a trip to San Juan, keep that in mind because you certainly don’t want to leave your swimwear behind!
Isla Verde Beach, on the other hand, is absolutely perfect for tourists. Vendors rent or sell everything from beach umbrellas, lounge chairs, alcoholic beverages, fresh fruit, desserts, and even complete meals. If you’re lucky enough to pick the right location — like we were, thanks to our Uber driver — you’ll find a variety of restaurants and bars directly across the street.
We had a hard time deciding between avocados stuffed with chicken, pulled pork, fresh fish, and a variety of fresh salads. Among specialty drinks, the Coco Loco is the most popular. It’s served in a giant-sized green coconut and is simply delicious! You may also want to try the crazy fries. No ketchup, no problem!
If you’re looking to take a dip in the ocean, Isla Verde Beach is also the ideal location for that, as well as for just kicking up your feet and relaxing, people watching, or soaking up some sunshine. We spent the entire day there. The best word to describe it: paradise.
When the sun starts to set and you’re ready to experience the Puerto Rican nightlife, you might want to head over to La Placita, another San Juan hotspot. There, you’ll find street after street of bars and restaurants. The area is a favorite among the locals who go there to dine, socialize, down a few beers — whatever may suit their fancy — or simply listen to music.
With so many different establishments in the area, it sounds like a battle of the bands on the streets. So, anyone in the mood for a particular sound may want to pick a spot and head inside for entertainment. We were fortunate enough to catch a band performing at Te Lleva A Disfrutar (San Juan Smokehouse). We felt right at home listening to the music of Tracy Chapman — with me on my feet, singing along, snapping my fingers, and dancing to the beat.
Another site not to be missed is Old San Juan, where you’ll find hundreds of souvenir shops, jewelry stores, clothing boutiques and of course, plenty of places to eat and drink. It’s also a great place to sightsee, but try to get there early before the crowds start to arrive. That’ll provide the best opportunity to snap beautiful, picturesque photos of the shops and stores lining the quaint cobblestone streets. Some of them are decorated with blooming flower boxes or lined with umbrella tables, providing the ideal location for not just photos, but also a quick bite to eat or a refreshing drink; it’s something to look forward to, especially after spending several hours in the hot sun.
Among the other attractions located in Old San Juan are the old forts that were once used to protect the city; the old governor’s mansion, now a museum; and art galleries, including the Black-owned Haitian Gallery.
For a different perspective of the city, you might want to take the Sunset Harbor Boat Ride, a 90-minute evening boat tour that showcases popular tourist attractions such as the beautiful shoreline, San Juan city walls and the U.S. Coast Guard station. The sun setting over the ocean is of course the highlight of this tour.
We had a wonderful time in San Juan and packed in as much as we could, but there are still more things to do and sights to see. So if you’re going, be sure to plan ahead to give yourself the best opportunity to see and do as much as you possibly can. There are numerous tours to choose from that’ll help you plan your trip.
But whatever you do, make sure to put Puerto Rico on your bucket list. You’ll be glad you visited.