San Juan, Puerto Rico - Stein Travel
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San Juan

The capital city of Puerto Rico, San Juan is one of the busiest ports in the Caribbean and a third of all Puerto Ricans live here. Nearly every visitor to the island arrives at San Juan, many on cruise liners. The port is the largest home-based cruise port in the world, hosting 28 vessels and with more being added to the list each year.

San Juan is divided into three distinct districts: Old San Juan, the historic walled city; the beach and resort area; and the outlying suburbs. Tourists are concerned mainly with Old San Juan, the site of most restaurants, shops, entertainment venues and the beaches. The old city is linked to the new by the largely residential Puerta de Tierra area, and a series of modern highways leading to the Condado beach front, which is reminiscent of Florida's Miami Beach with its high-rise hotels and apartment blocks.

It is not only tourism that keeps the financial mills grinding in San Juan. The city is an important centre for petroleum and sugar refining, brewing and distilling, and the manufacturing of cement, pharmaceuticals, metal products and tobacco products. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle there are numerous attractions in San Juan to amuse, entertain and interest the many tourists, and the city is a perfect base for exploring the rest of what this small Caribbean island has to offer.

Information & Facts

Climate

San Juan, like all of Puerto Rico, enjoys warm, sunny days for most of the year. The tropical climate ensures an average temperature of 80°F (26°C) with humidity running continuously at around 80%. The rainy season peaks in August, and rain can be extremely heavy. Between August and November the island is vulnerable to hurricanes.

Getting Around

San Juan's old, cobble-stoned downtown area can be explored on foot (take comfortable walking shoes). To go further afield visitors can flag down one of the plentiful taxis or minibus taxis ( publicos). There is a rather irregular bus service covering metropolitan San Juan. International car rental agencies are well represented, and home country driving licences are valid.

Language

Spanish and English are the official languages of Puerto Rico.

Money

The United States Dollar (USD) is the unit of currency, which is divided into 100 cents. It is often referred to as the 'peso' in Puerto Rico. ATMs and bureaux de change are freely available and all major credit cards and travellers cheques are generally accepted. Banking hours are 9am to 3.30pm.

Night Life

With its concentration of bars, clubs, salsa cafés and casinos, visitors to San Juan will find there is something to suit their partying and entertainment needs on just about any night. As in most Latin cities, the nightlife only really gets going late but when it does there's a good chance you will see in the dawn.

Being a major cruise port, much of the nightlife is suited to tourists looking for a bit of Caribbean flavour and fun. Start off by watching the sunset with a freshly made Mojitoor piña colada(the latter of which was invented at the Hilton Hotel right here in San Juan) at a beach bar in this sultry city before heading out to the Old Town to enjoy a leisurely dinner at one of the many stylish and trendy restaurants. Locals like to look sharp when going out in San Juan so don't be afraid to throw your favourite party outfit on before hitting the town for a night out.

Most of the nightlife is situated in the Old Town, while San Sebastian Street is a major hotspot dotted with pulsating clubs, bars and discos. El Batey's on Calle del Cristo in the Old Town is a favourite for a night of drinking, pool shooting and mingling, while the Lobby Lounge fires up the dancefloor with live bands jamming salsa and meringue beats and even offers dance lessons for visitors keen on shaking their hips.

On Sebastian Street head to Nono's for a bit of people watching on the strip, or El Patio de Sam, a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike, while for some salsa and tropical music, Rumba is place to be. Those who can't wait for the party to get started should stop by the La Rumba Party Cruise, a two-level minicruiser that is more often than not moored to a point near San Juan's cruise pier number 1, a popular hangout for tourists and cruise passengers looking for a steamy night out.

Shopping

Shopping in San Juan is an exotic and often cost-effective venture, with the streets of Old Town (especially Calle San Francisco and Calle del Cristo) being the most popular destinations. Most stores can be reached via the Old Town Trolley and are generally open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 6pm, while some in Old San Juan are also open on Sundays. Malls in San Juan are open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 9pm, and Sunday from 11am to 5pm. Only U.S. citizens don't pay duty (5.5%) on goods purchased in Puerto Rico.

The best shopping mall is Plaza Las Américas, in Hato Rey, which boasts over 200 upmarket shops. Local handicrafts include needlework, ceramics, hammocks and papier-mâché arts, while paintings and sculptures also make good souvenirs; wooden carvings of santos(saints) are also popular. These goods are available from Galería Botello, Olé or Puerto Rican Arts and Crafts. Sought-after antique lace products, such as mundillos(tatted fabrics) and torchon(beggar's lace), as well as entradosand puntilla(lace bands), can be found at Linen House.

One of the best coffees in the world, Puerto Rico's Alto Grande is available from speciality stores such as Spicy Caribbee. An ancient building in Old Town serves as both a laundromat and art gallery, with paintings, etchings and photographs displayed (and for sale) above the coin-operated laundry machines. Art exhibitions are also hosted here. C aretas(papier-mâché masks) worn at local carnivals make a great souvenir for those with a morbid fascination, and can be purchased from La Calle.

Sightseeing

San Juan is the busiest cruise port in the Caribbean and a major tourist hub and destination for North American travellers. It is a city with much to offer its visitors: the beauty and history of the old town, artistic treasures of the Museo de Arte, and sun-soaked beaches only minutes from the city centre.

The best way to see the sights and experience the city's attractions is to take a walking tour; either self-directed with a guide book, or led by a professional guide. The city is compact and flat, and so is ideal to explore on foot. One of the chief tourist attractions in San Juan will be below your shoes: the 500 year-old flagstones, first laid under the direction of Christopher Columbus. Take regular rests at the charming piazzas as you explore the old town - it can get busy and crowded as the day wears on.

High tourist season is from December to April, while June to November is far quieter (although the island can experience hurricanes during this period).

Time

Local time is GMT -4.

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