Lay of the Land
San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico and sits on the island's northeastern coast. The heart of San Juan is the colonial-era Old San Juan neighborhood, which is actually the western tip of an islet at the mouth of San Juan Bay. Pastel-colored houses sit along narrow, enamel-blue cobblestone streets, which wind around two historic forts (including the famous El Morro) within the original city walls. (Note that Old San Juan is mostly devoid of beaches, so beachgoers may wish to choose a hotel in another area.) East of Old San Juan, you cross a bridge to reach Condado. This neighborhood, long the destination of a fashion-conscious crowd, is known for its high-end boutiques and hotels strung along Avenida Ashford, as well as for its beach—though in truth, much better beaches lie to the east.
To the south of Condado, away from the water, lies Santurce, where you can find the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, as well as small designer studios and local restaurants. To the east of Condado, the mostly residential Ocean Park is home to a lovely stretch of sandy shore, with nary a teenager playing loud music or shadow of a high-rise hotel. Further east, heading toward the airport, the hotels sprout up again in Isla Verde, where the beach scene throbs with locals and tourists and the rolling, green waves are perfect for body surfing.
WHEN TO GO
As part of the United States and a major pit stop on the Caribbean cruise line circuit, San Juan suffers from its sheer accessibility. Which means that travelers considering a visit should weigh their lust for perfect weather with their need to avoid jam-packed beaches and hotels. For those seeking solace, San Juan's low season runs from May to November, when the weather is warmest, wettest, and potentially hurricane-fraught. Conversely, the period between December and April is the high season, when San Juan is crowded with Americans escaping the punishing winters on the east coast. Year-round, however, the island enjoys average temperatures of 82° F and strong, cooling winds.
HOW TO GET THERE
Luis Muñoz Marín International (SJU) is one of the Caribbean's largest airports. It's directly linked to most important U.S. cities via the major and discount airlines, including American, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, and United. The airport also connects Puerto Rico to most other Caribbean islands through regional carriers such as American Eagle. San Juan is also a major port of call on Caribbean cruise itineraries.
Taxis are the best bet for travel within San Juan, particularly for those with limited knowledge of Spanish. Cabs are easy to find in the tourist zones but quite expensive, even when compared with New York City prices. Most journeys are covered by flat rates; getting to the airport will cost you $10 from Isla Verde, $14 from Condado, and $19 from Old San Juan. Renting a car is not recommended (except for trips out of town): You will have to pay for parking, even at your hotel.
The Puerto Rico Tourism Company
La Princesa Building
2 Paseo La Princesa
Old San Juan
Tel: 787 721 2400
La Casita (tourist information kiosk)
Plaza de La Dársena, in front of Pier 1
Old San Juan
Tel: 787 721 2400 ext. 3901
Tel: 787 722 1709
Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport
PRTC Information Booth
Tel: 787 791 1014
Tel: 787 721 2400 ext. 5216