Pack your walking shoes because San Juan is a romantic and picturesque city easily explored on foot! San Juan was our third destination on the 7 Day Eastern Caribbean Cruise on the Carnival Glory.
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Christopher Columbus landed on this beautiful island in 1493 and named it San Juan Bautista. In 1511, Ponce de León named the town Puerto Rico and then founded San Juan in 1521. San Juan is the oldest city within U.S. territory and the capital of Puerto Rico, aka the Rum Capital of the World! The heart and soul of the island is Old San Juan, dating over 500 years old and took 250 years to build. The old city is less than one mile long, connected to the new city by a bridge.
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Popular excursions include Rainforest Horseback Riding Adventure, Deluxe Beach Escape at Vivo Beach Club with Lunch, Window Cave Experience, Rainforest Drive, Xtreme Zipline Adventure & The Beast, and Old San Juan Walk, Mojito & Mofongo Experience. I had to make mofongo in Puerto Rico so I picked the Old San Walk, Mojito & Mofongo Experience. The excursion started with a guided walking tour through Old San Juan – visiting the Museum of Casa Don Q, the San Juan Gate, the Princess Pathway, and more. We then made mofongo with a local chef!
Since the ship docked early, we hopped on a local bus tour to see all of San Juan. I highly recommend this if you’re interested in learning more about the city and seeing more sights in addition to the Old San Juan walking tour. Here are the 7 top things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico!
7 TOP THINGS TO DO IN SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO
1. EXPLORE OLD SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO
The walled Old San Juan district has 400 restored buildings dating to the 16th and 17th centuries. Walk through the 16th-century cobblestone streets filled with Spanish townhouses with wrought iron balconies, busy plazas, museums and historical sites. The oldest areas of the city remain partly enclosed by massive walls. Among the city forts are the San Felipe dl Morro, San Cristobal, and El Palacio de Santa Catalina, also known as La Fortaleza. La Fortaleza continues to serve as the executive mansion for the Governor of Puerto Rico.
2. CAPITOL OF PUERTO RICO
The Capitol of Puerto Rico is located on the Islet of San Juan, just outside the walls of Old San Juan. You can’t miss the Capitol building – it’s a beautiful white marble building with a large dome, just across the street from the ocean. The Capitol is stunning. Constructed from 21 different styles of marble – 16 from Italy, 4 from the United States, and 1 from Spain.
The Capitol is open to the public during the weekdays only and it’s free. Definitely a must-see if you’re visiting Puerto Rico.
3. WALK BY LA CASA ESTRECHA
Who knew the smallest house in the world is located in San Juan on Calle Tetuán! Known as La Casa Estrecha (the Narrow House), it’s only 5 feet wide, goes back 36 feet, and has 2 stories.
4. SEE THE OLD SAN JUAN HISTORIC CEMETERY
Typically cemeteries are not at the top of must-visit attractions, but the Old San Juan Historic Cemetery (Cementerio de San Juan) is a sight to behold. Also known as Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis, this cemetery is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. Located right by the ocean and framed by city walls next to El Morro, the Old San Juan Historic Cemetery reflects different shades of blue from the Atlantic, colorful flowers, white burial sites, and marble sculptures.
5. TOUR THE CATHEDRAL OF SAN JUAN BAUTISTA
One of the oldest buildings in Old San Juan is the beautiful Cathedral of San Juan Bautista. It’s also the second oldest cathedral in America, after the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor. This Roman Catholic cathedral was built in 1521 and features the tomb of Ponce de León, mummy of St. Pio, stained glass windows, beautiful statues, and relics. Don’t miss this historic landmark in the heart of the old city!
6. MAKE MOFONGO
Our city tour ended at a local restaurant where the local chef served us Puerto Rican appetizers and showed us how to make mofongo while we sipped on mojitos. San Juan is filled with restaurants and cafes that specialize in cocina criolla, the local cuisine that reflects Puerto Rico’s centuries of varied cultural influences. Two of the most distinctive local foods are bacalaitos (codfish fritters) and mofongo.
We were given our own mortar and pestle to mash the deep-fried green plantains with olive oil, garlic, and spices. Topped with chicken and smothered with gravy, delicious!
7. GO SHOPPING IN SAN JUAN
Shopping district Calle de Cristo in Old San Juan is home to stores that highlight local and international arts and crafts like hand-carved wooden religious figures, festive masks made from coconut husks or papier-mâché, hand-embroidered linens, blouses and dresses, Spanish-style jewelry of copper, diamonds, gold and silver, hammocks, baskets, and ceramics.
Old San Juan is the hippest place to be at day or night. In these streets, you’ll find young, vibrant, and a diverse combination of culinary, shopping, and entertainment experiences of the entire island.
After the long day in San Juan, we boarded the ship and headed straight to the Lido Deck for post-port dining. The Carnival Glory has the Blueiguana Cantina that serves freshly made tacos and burritos, and Guy’s Burger Joint by Guy Fieri that serves hot burgers off the grill and hand-cut fries. I helped myself to a ten patty burger (you can get as many patties as you want!), a taco salad, and tacos!
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