Welcome to San Juan, Puerto Rico
Despite her age, the oldest city in the United States (founded in 1521) knows how to have a good time. The beaches of San Juan, Puerto Rico are clean and wide open—perfect for rolling out your yoga mat, strapping on your snorkeling gear, or sipping a mojito with your toes in the sand. The city’s infamous nightlife never misses a beat—and it’s never been happier to welcome guests. To give you an insider’s look at the city, we asked the locals what to do when you visit. Here are a few Puertorriqueño favorites:
Every Way to Chill
Check in at the Dreamcatcher Guest House, a small bed & breakfast in the city’s young and hip Ocean Park neighborhood. Steps from the beach, this homey boutique hotel has a funky, bohemian vibe with eclectic New Age touches, plus yoga and meditation classes, outdoor showers, and a delicious—and largely organic—vegetarian breakfast that will help you recharge after a late night of cocktails and Salsa dancing. You will see a lizard or two, and the dogs in residence are an added bonus. For a dose of Old San Juan’s colonial character, head to the convent. Hotel El Convento, that is. This 350-year-old former Carmelite convent housed nuns for 252 years before being shuttered, abandoned, and spending four decades as a flophouse. Today, it’s home to three restaurants, luxurious guest rooms, a plunge pool, a jacuzzi, and a nightly wine reception. If only those walls could talk.
One Serious Speakeasy
From the outside, it doesn’t look like much. It doesn’t even have a sign. Or a website. But spread across several rooms in a 400-year-old building in Old San Juan, La Factoria is four bars in one: a cocktail bar, a wine bar, a salsa bar, and a beer hall. Together, they’ve been called one of the best bars in the world and are credited with having brought cocktail culture back to the island. Locals recommend the refreshing Lavender Mule, a twist on the classic Moscow Mule, which includes vodka, lime juice, ginger beer, and lavender-infused syrup. It’s perfect for a hot day.
A Truck for Every State
A colorful open-air food park in Santurce, the city’s fashionable art and music district, Lote 23 has dozens of food carts, a stage for live music, communal picnic tables, and “every kind of food you could want.” One stall (Croquetería) serves 10 kinds of croquetas, while another (Baoricua) serves a Puerto Rican riff on the Asian-style steamed buns called bao, and another (Caneca Coctelería Móvil) is all about cocktails made with fresh local juices. Go for the food, but stay for Jenga with new friends.
Dancing in the Streets
A farmer’s market by day, this Santurce plaza - La Placita - is a local hangout by night, when the streets are closed to car traffic and open for dancing. Old people play cards, couples hold each other close, and the neighboring bars and restaurants are overflowing with people, music, and the smell of Caribbean delicacies. Try the local favorite dish of mashed plantains and meat, mofongo, at José Enrique, an old-school institution that serves traditional, real deal Puerto Rican dishes on a menu that rotates so often it’s scrawled on a whiteboard. Or, if you’re looking for an elevated new take on tropical fair in a dining room that feels like a magical underwater jungle, head up the street to Santaella. Local tip: order the Ahi Tuna Pinxtos with rice paper chicharron.
Fly Like a Bird
For a break from San Juan’s non-stop energy, drive an hour outside the capital to El Yunque National Forest, where you’ll find yourself in 29,000 acres of tropical rainforest—and one of the most biodiverse places in the country. Head for one of the park’s zip line courses and fly from tree top to tree top like one of Puerto Rico’s colorful iguaca parrots.