San Juan is a gorgeous city on the Northern coast of the Island of Puerto Rico. Gorgeous beaches, a bustling city center, and the historic district of Old San Juan make this one of the most amazing cities in the Caribbean. Since it is an American territory there is no need to bring a passport if you are coming from the United States, yet it is like visiting a completely different country all it’s own.
ROOM & BOARD
Hotels and Casinos dot the coast and tower into the sky in the Candando district of San Juan. These hotels well set you back over a $100 a night however and will put you in one of the most tourist heavy areas in the entire city. There are much better priced guest houses and hostels in the area that wont set you back nearly as much and our located outside of the tourist area. If you still want 5 star service without paying 5 star prices the Dreamcatcher Guest House, located in Ocean Park district right next to the beach, is a great option. A night at the guest house will run you well under $100 a night yet you will not find a better place to stay in the city.
Most hostels in the area only cost around $15-$25 a night for a dorm and only a few dollars more for a private room. Other Guest houses can be found on Airbnb.com for relatively cheap. Inside the city you will find that most prices are comparable to what you will find in the states.
CHEAP OR FREE ENTERTAINMENT
There is so much to do in San Juan that cost almost nothing. It really is a great destination for the budget traveler. While there are large Casinos and plenty of night clubs to empty out your wallet, San Juan is the perfect place to have a fun filled getaway without breaking the bank. There are plenty of things to do for nature lovers, history buffs, or beach bums.
There are quite a few beaches to enjoy in San Juan and all the ones we found were free to enter. While they don’t offer many of the more adventurous experience you would enjoy at other islands on the Caribbean, (snorkeling, surfing, scuba diving, etc.) they are gorgeous and the water is warm and fairly clear. Some of the more popular ones get rather crowded in the afternoon, but get down to the beach early in the morning and you can have almost the entire spot to yourself before the locals and tourists crowd start swarming in.
If seeing the historic sites is more your thing than you will want to head down to Old San Juan, the historic old center of the city. There are two sea forts on the coast of Old San Juan, San Cristobal and Del Morro. These two forts are huge and picturesque, they offer guided tours as well as a chance to walk around and explore the forts on your own. Admission is only $5/person and gets you access to both of the forts for seven days.
Walking along the streets of Old San Juan itself is enough to satisfy any history or architecture buffs. The city is a historic site so it hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years. New stores and shops line the cobble stone streets, yet they are nestled inside the classic buildings. Watch out though there are plenty of places that you could easily drop a lot of money without even realizing it, jewelery stores, designer shops, and liquor and cigar shops beckon visitors in so be mindful.
There are also plenty of museums to see in San Juan. There is the Museo del Mar, (maritime museum,) in Old San Juan, Museo de art, (Art Museum) and more, and most of them cost $5 or less for admission. They offer a close up look at the diverse history of the island and the people that have inhabited it throughout the years.
If you are willing to travel about 45 minutes outside of the city than the El Yunque Tropical Rainforest is a great day excursion. It has a brand new visitor center that will show you what type of animals and plants inhabit the four different sections of the rainforest. There are also two gorgeous waterfalls that visitors can see, and one of them even offers you the chance to swim inside its chilly waters. It is pretty crowded though since it is one of the biggest attractions of the rainforest. Getting to all of the major sites in the rainforest is extremely easy since there are paved roads and walking paths to most of them. Finally visitors to the rain forest should walk up to the top of either of the two observation towers. They offer a great view of the island and the coast.
We actually found it rather difficult to find traditional Puerto Rican cuisine on the cheap in the city. There were more fast food restaurants and Asian cuisine restaurants than we could count, but traditional Puerto Rican Cuisine seemed to be relegated to the tourist centers and in high class restaurants. If you are looking to experience this type of the food on the cheap you will have to find a street cart or vendor. Small fruit stands are easy to find and offer a snack for relatively cheap. Roadside stands and vendors offer an entree meal for around $5 each, but if you go into a restaurant prepare to pay around $10 for an entree only, and more along the lines of $15-20 if you are getting an entree, side, and drink.
Overall prices are pretty similar to what we find in the states. The best way to eat on the cheap in San Juan is to simply buy groceries and prepare your own meals why you are there. If you want to try what the locals eat look for the Pueblo grocery store. They offer up Puerto Rican food and spices and are the best place to find the local food.
The cheapest way to get around the city is by far the bus. It costs only $.75 a person and will take you all over. If you are in a hurry however I wouldn’t recommend it as it is very inconsistent. It is supposed to come every half hour, but we waited nearly an hour and it never showed up. We decided to walk to our destination instead and saw it drive by about 15 minutes later.
Taxis in the city do not use a meter and simply charge you based on what districts you are traveling to. We found that just about anywhere you wanted to go would cost you about $15-$20 inside the city.
If you are in Old San Juan there is a free trolley that will take you to all of the major attractions. However it gets really crowded and this part of the city is small enough that it is pretty easy to walk where ever you are going. From one side of Old San Juan to the other is less than an hour walk at a reasonable pace.
There are cats, just EVERYWHERE, in the city. They wander all over and you can find them everywhere from the beach to the rain forest. Make sure not to feed or touch these cats as they are protected. They simply lay out in the sun and none of them tried to get food from us or approach us during our stay.
Room & Board: The Dreamcatcher Guest House
Entertainment: Fort San Cristobal and Fort Del Morro
Food: Kasalta (President Obama ate here and the locals are very proud of it. About $10 for a sandwich but they are delicious and HUGE!)