Top 10 things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico

21 April 2012

My sisters and I planned a week-long trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico and traded our business clothes for bikinis. In one short week, we tackled a lot of San Juan. Together, we decided on our top 10 favorite things to do while staying San Juan, Puerto Rico.

1. Stay at Tres Palmas Inn: We arrived on a Monday and stayed at a little bed and breakfast in town: Tres Palmas Inn which boasts comfortable rooms, great room service, a relaxing pool, rooftop hot tubs, city views, beach front access, free breakfast, and more. The hosts were wonderful, they recommended dozens of great dining options in additions to fun attractions to keep us falling in love with San Juan. We loved our stay, and I highly recommend it. Keep in mind, a cab ride from the airport is about $25 USD.

2. Day trip to Fajardo: We rented a car for a few days and traveled to the east coast. Once we reached Fajardo, we jumped in some mini boats and headed out on an island hopping tour! Mini Boat Adventures offers plenty of entertainment for the east coast: bio bay kayaking (so cool, look up their awesome tour), mini boat tours, snorkeling and more. I definitely suggest looking into them before heading to Puerto Rico. Aboard the boat, we were given plenty of water and snacks, freedom to drive our own boat, history of the area, close encounters with sea turtles, free underwater viewing, plenty of time to snorkel, and about an hour on a deserted, sandy island away from the mainland. It was incredible, and we loved our staff! Mini Boat Adventures is well worth the trip to Fajardo, which is quite an experience on its own.

Beware of your drive to the Fajardo. We had a few near-death experiences before reaching the Mini Boat Adventures dock, since road conditions and driving laws are significantly different than the U.S. If you're nervous to drive yourself, there are plenty of bus companies and tour agencies that will make the trek for you.

3. Stroll through Old San Juan: The next day we took a taxi to Old San Juan to check out the shops and cruise port. A cruise had just docked, so the area was rather crowded. Across from the cruise dock is an outdoor market with lots of artists selling their work. I'm a big market junkie, but I was disappointed that most of the work being sold wasn't authentic. Many items were labeled "Made in China." That's not exactly what I was hoping to purchase from a Puerto Rican craft market.

4. Authentic shopping near Old San Juan: Our host at Tres Palmas suggested we visit the local artisan shop Mundo Taino at 151 Calle San Jose. All of the items in the store are handcrafted by locals, and it was just what we were looking for. In every country we visit, my sister and I pick out a handcrafted ornament for our holiday Christmas trees. Every December when we bring them all out, we reminisce and appreciate how fortunate we are to have worldly experiences and memorable adventures. To us, their more valuable than key chains and magnets.

5. Try Mofongo at Soleil: Before returning the rental car, we made a last-hoorah stop at Soleil for dinner. You can't leave San Juan without trying the authentic dish of mofongo: mashed plantains cooked in garlic, olive oil and flavorful seasonings. Soleil hit the spot. During dinner, we noticed a boardwalk along the shores outside of Soleil. Apparently, the boardwalk begins in Pinones and continues for miles right along the ocean.

6. Pinones boardwalk:...Change of plans. We kept the rental for another day to drive out to Pinones. A non-profit called COPI organized by young adults, which rents bikes for $5 an hour. The bikes aren't in very good condition--I warn you--but the boardwalk bike trip was absolutely outstanding. And the COPI building was pretty fascinating to me, too!

Although I'd recommend looking into another bike rental option, this one certainly did the trick for a low-cost afternoon activity. Only one of our four bikes broke down along the route, and with much handlebar-riding experience in our pasts, we ended our excursion in pretty good shape.

The views from the boardwalk were incredible and the beaches were packed with families off for the Easter holiday. We continued our ride until we hit a fork in the bike trail. One way led to a line of vendors selling lunch options for very minimal prices and the other continued farther down the boardwalk toward a beautiful nature path.

7. Lunch at the Pinones street huts: We returned our bikes and headed out to the many vendors lining Route 187 to get a bite to eat. Rumor has it's some of the best food on the island. All of the cooks are locals, many of them are mothers working with their children. I give them props to cooking up a storm in the extreme heat that radiates across Puerto Rico. We dined on some BBQ chicken and beef kabobs cooked by a man behind a smoking grill with a line a mile long of loyal, hungry customers.

8. Ceviche House: Another suggestion is to dine at Ceviche House, which has an absolutely outstanding Peruvian fusion menu. We searched high and low for some outstanding empanadas, which was at the top of our list, but we never managed to find a top spot. The Ceviche House was raved about by many tourtists and locals, including our hotel staff. It's a little pricier than its neighboring restaurants but well worth the price.

9. The original Pina Colada: Little did we know, the original Pina Colada, one of our all-time favorite drinks, was created in San Juan! According to the bartending staff, Ramon Marrero Perez made the first rum-based cocktail at the Caribe Hilton Hotel's Beachcomber Bar. The Beachcomber staff recreate it daily for excited tourists wanting the true taste of Puerto Rico's official beverage since the late 1700s.

10. Paddle board, kite surf or kayak: I would've liked to spend a day paddle boarding or kite surfing near our hotel. It looked like an absolute blast and there were plenty of beach-goers giving it a whirl. Though, it was a bit too windy and the waves were really high, so we kept to the shoreline and lay out.

Overall, our escape to Puerto Rico was not only needed but thoroughly enjoyed by each of us. We had a great time laying on the beach, biking across the boardwalk, boating through the ocean, and spending some good quality sister time!

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