48 Hours In San Juan

Turret at Castillo San Cristobal in San Juan, Puerto Rico (Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/Shutterstock)
Turret at Castillo San Cristobal in San Juan, Puerto Rico (Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/Shutterstock)

Whether you want to relax on the beach, try your luck at a casino, shop or do something more active like hiking or ziplining in the rainforest, San Juan has it all. But if you’re only staying a couple of days, there are a few must-sees to add to your itinerary.

What to see

There is no shortage of worthy sightseeing spots in San Juan, but if you’ve only got 48 hours make one of your stops Old San Juan. The charming cobblestone streets, brightly painted colonial building and abundance of cafes and bars make for a leisurely way to spend an afternoon, wandering, souvenir shopping and enjoying the European flavour of the district.

Make a stop at Castillo de San Cristobal (San Cristobal Fort), a World Heritage and National Historic Site. Built in 1634 and completed in 1771, the fort was considered the Gibraltar of the West Indies. Views from the top are stunning and the sheer magnitude of the structure is awe-inspiring.

Where to eat

San Juan boasts an eclectic variety of food, from Mexican to Spanish tapas to Italian, but don’t leave without grabbing a meal somewhere local. Head to El Jibarito in Old San Juan for some of the most authentic “Comida criolla” (Puerto Rican traditional food) in town. Try pasteles, a local style tamale filled with either chicken or pork, or mofongo, a justifiably popular dish made from fried and mashed green plantains, which is then filled with pork, chicken or shrimp.

Blonda Restaurant in the Condado beach area is the perfect spot for either a romantic dinner or group outing. The stylish, minimalist space is welcoming, service is friendly and most importantly, it’s hard to go wrong with any items on the extensive menu of creatively presented made-from-scratch meals.

What to do

If you’re in San Juan with your significant other, take her dancing. San Juan is the home of salsa and there are ample opportunities to get moving throughout the city. Local favourite Redline Bar is a great place to dance up a storm in the city. Live music and an energetic crowd of dancers make it tough not to have a great time (even if you’ve got two left feet). If you don’t feel like dancing, grab a Medalla Light (one of the local brews), sit back and watch the action unfold.

Salsa moves a little rusty? Sit in on a class with Rafa Cancel from popular dance school Cambio en Clave. His classes are starting up again in October and tourists can drop in and learn for a nominal fee. The charismatic Cancel will inspire even the least enthusiastic of dancers to give salsa a try.

Where to sleep

Located in the heart of the Condado beach district, the San Juan Marriott Resort& Stellaris Casino is an ideal spot to base yourself for a few days in San Juan. The sprawling resort right on a picture-perfect slice of Condado beach boasts a nearly 13,000 square foot casino with 26 betting tables (and the highest betting limit in Puerto Rico), pool, fitness centre, chic lobby lounge and spacious guestrooms. When you’re not hitting the slots or the beach, take advantage of the great location to check out more of the Condado beach district, full of cafes, bars and restaurants within walking distance of the hotel

Jessica Padykula

Jessica Padykula is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared on Styleathome.com, ElleCanada.com, Slice, Travel + Escape, Thrillist, AmongMen.com and SheKnows.com among others. When she’s not writing or researching a story she can be found planning trips to places near and far in a never-ending quest to travel the world. You can follow her on Twitter @JessPadykula

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