San Juan, Puerto Rico is one of the most popular cruise ports in one of the most popular cruise regions in the world, meaning it sees millions of cruisers step foot on its shores every year.
Obviously, you’re free to spend your time lazing on its beautiful beaches or meandering through the Old Town, but if you’re looking for some more specific options, we have some great suggestions of what to do whilst you’re there. And the best part is that they won’t cost you a penny to enjoy.
During the 1500s, San Juan’s wealth was on the up. Whilst great news for the island and its people, this brought attention from pirates and privateers hoping to take the island from the sea. To help prevent this, a number of fortifications were created, many of which can still be seen to this day.
You don’t need to stray too far from the cruise terminal to be able to enjoy the most famous of these, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as Castillo San Felipe del Morro, or El Morro for short. This symbol of Puerto Rico held strong to ensure that it was never breached from the sea, however, it was toppled by land in 1558. You’ll find the citadel on a peninsula in the north of the island and its vast grounds can offer fantastic views out to sea and of the historic fortified walls.
It’s completely free to spend some time here and many people arrive to savour a picnic or fly kites sold in the local shops nearby. Although not free (there’s a cost of $5), you can also tour the castle itself to learn about why it is so important and get a peek inside the narrow Garitas where the Spanish soldiers used to stand guard.
Slightly further south, you can also tour a fortified mansion that has been used as the official residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico since 1846. La Fortaleza’s blue and white facade clearly shows off Spanish colonial architecture and, inside, you’ll find a clock that stopped at the moment Spanish rule ended in this part of the world, when the last departing Spanish governor smashed it with his sword.
Free tours take place on the hour every weekday, but times can change depending on government business.
Noche de Galerias
If your ship arrives in San Juan on the first Tuesday of the month (February to May and September to December), you will have free reign of 20 of the island’s most interesting museums and galleries. These educational attractions open their doors to the public until late in the evening and some even throw in a free class of wine to encourage you to stick around.
The subjects of the museums cater to a range of interests, including music, sport, art and history. Highlights include the Museum of the Americas, which gives you an insight into how the diverse culture came about, and the Museo de Arte de Ponce, displaying over 3,000 pieces of fine art from five different centuries.
A Tour By Trolley
Although the trolleys that operate around Old San Juan are not advertised as a way to tour the town, the free service is a great way to see some of the best sights here. Whilst they don’t run very regularly, they are very handy to pick up from opposite the cruise terminal (Cruise Ship Pier 4) and ride around one of two different routes. You may have to get off and walk to explore some of the areas in more detail, but the trolley journey will give you a nice overview of the colourful colonial architecture and popular sights like Capilla del Santo Cristo, the Puerta de San Juan (gate to the old city) and Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist.
When you first step off the ship, there may be quite a wait at bus stop 1 (the closest to the terminal). It’s, therefore, a good idea to walk a little bit into town and jump on a trolley at one of the other stops dotted around the streets.
If you would like to learn more about our Caribbean cruises that visit San Juan, you can talk to the Fred.\ Cruises team on 0800 035 0701.