San Juan Puerto Rico is one of the more unique ports of call because, not only is it a great stop on many Caribbean itineraries, but it’s also the home port for many cruise ships. In fact, San Juan is the busiest port in the Caribbean and one of the busiest ports in the world. San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico and has been a U.S. territory since 1898 so U.S. citizens can travel there freely. The city lies on the northern coast of Puerto Rico.
The Carnival Valor calls this port home for the entire year. Royal Caribbean’s Jewel Of The Seas docks here most of the year, Royal’s Adventure Of The Seas and the Celebrity Summit for some of the year, and the Silversea Silver and Disney Magic for a few times per year. We’ve sailed on the Celebrity Summit out of San Juan, and the Carnival Victory a few years ago when it docked here.
The cruise ships actually dock in Old San Juan, the oldest part of the city, which is actually on an island connected to the mainland by a couple of bridges. The town still has much of the old Spanish architecture and some of the streets are still made of cobblestone.
There’s so much to do in this port and, for most of it, you don’t need to buy a shore excursion to do it. Old San Juan is not so big that you can’t walk it yourself, unless you want to just relax and ride around listening to a narrated city tour, or take one of the guided walking tours. There is also a free trolley that runs around Old San Juan. Another great way to see the city is to take a Segway tour. If you’ve never ridden one of these things, try it; they’re so much fun, and you get a guided tour of the city highlights at the same time.
Some of the points of interest here are Quincentennial Square, the Casa Blanca Museum & Gardens, the San Jose Church, San Juan Cathedral, and Cristo Chapel.
If you like touring old fortresses, San Juan has two that are very popular. San Felipe Del Morro is a fortress in the northeast of the island. Built in 1539, it is the oldest Spanish fort in the New World, and also a U.S. National Park. The Castillo de San Cristóbal, built in 1783 is another excellent fortress to visit.
Some of the available shore excursions that take you away from the city itself include zip lining, horseback riding, ATV adventures, canopy adventures, kayak tours, and beach excursions. A very popular excursion is a trip to the El Yunque Rain Forest. We took this excursion and loved it, but bring a rain jacket. We got rained on while there, who would have thought so in a rain forest?
Whenever we go to San Juan we make sure we have some mallorcas. These are pastries, plain or filled with things like fruit, ham and cheese, egg and cheese, butter, etc., and topped with powdered sugar. They are absolutely delicious!
As far as when to go to San Juan, we have been twice in January. Winter is a great time to go because the weather is beautiful but beware, the San Sebastián Street Festival takes place in 3rd week in January and the place is packed with people and traffic. There’s a lot to do during this festival with all the street vendors and music, etc. but if you don’t like crowds, pick another time to visit.
All images copyright © Eric T. Christensen