San Juan is the best tourist strip in Puerto Rico and has one of the finest beaches, Condado, Ocean Park and Isla Verde.
Lunch or a cool drinks is available at the beachfront restaurants, guest houses and hotels that are found throughout the three areas. Vendors, selling cold drinks and snacks, walk up and down the beach or work from nearby stands.
Kayaks, jet skies, windsurfing boards and all types of boats can be rented in San Juan. Water sports instruction is also available through a wide variety of businesses.The Condado Lagoon is a popular place for kayaking, and rentals are available there. Windsurfing classes are offered in Isla Verde. The large San Juan Bay Marina, outside of Condado, offers fishing trips and boat rentals.
Scuba instruction is available at several large hotels and independent businesses throughout the Island. Several hotel courses are open to non-guests as well. To get a taste of the sport, you only need a few hours of instruction. It's also possible to become a certified diver within a week through more intensive courses. For information on trips, equipment and lessons. Try in Fajardo, the Diving Center (860-0183) or Puerto Rico Diver Supply (863-4300).
Old San Juan
Its real name is Fuerte San Felipe del Morro, but locals just call this massive fortress El Morro. The name means "the promontory," and refers to its location on a rocky peninsula extending into the Atlantic. The breathtaking setting makes it the city's most popular attraction, so things can get crowded when cruise-ship passengers pack into its towers, tunnels, and turrets. (Getting here early in the day is a good idea—as well as escaping the crowds, you'll avoid the worst of the heat.) Every bit as interesting is the city's other fort, Fuerte San Cristóbal. The only thing it doesn't have is the crowds. Consider visiting this one, located on the eastern end of Calle Norzagaray.
Tel: 787 729 6960, www.nps.gov/saju
This 28,000-acre rain forest, about 25 miles east of San Juan, has dozens of well-marked trails (graded for difficulty) that lead to waterfalls, observation towers, and swimming holes. Most hotels arrange guided tours, but the park is easy to explore on your own, as there's only one major road. For a decent map or to talk with rangers about which trails you might try, stop at El Portal, the information center at the park's entrance (787-888-1880). You can also catch a documentary here on the cotorras, the endangered indigenous green parrots that are slowly making a comeback.
The University of Puerto Rico campus in the Rio Piedras offers two attractions for visitors. The University Museum contains archaeological and historical exhibits and holds monthly art exhibitions. The Botanical Gardens in the grounds of the University are a living laboratory displaying the native flora of Puerto Rico, containing more than 200 species of tropical and sub-tropical plants.
Telephone: 764 0000 ext 2452 (museum); 763 4408 (gardens);
Opening time: Monday to Friday 9am to 11pm, weekends 9am to 3pm (museum); daily 9am to 4.30pm (gardens); Admission: Free
The Island is alive at night, so you won't be bored after the sun goes down. Major hotels have both nightclubs and casinos, which stay open late into the evening (check under Hotels, Casinos).
Hotels draw a lively mix of tourists and locals, particularly in the San Juan area. Casinos are smaller and more discreet than the flashy gaming parlors of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Several hotels have long-running musical shows, which range in content from flamenco to contemporary American music.
Centers of nightlife activity include Ashford Avenue and Isla Verde Avenue, which run along the beaches in Condado and Isla Verde, respectively. San Juan is filled with nightclubs and bars that have live entertainment. A few nights a week, jazz is performed at different establishments in Old San Juan, Isla Verde and Condado, as well as in other areas. Live rock and roll and reggae music can also be heard frequently at Island nightspots, such as the Hard Rock Café in Old San Juan, and at the Reef Bar & Grill in Piñones. For lively local music, try the bars along Calle San Sebastián in Old San Juan. Discotheques include Asylum in Santurce, Egipto in Condado and Laser's in Old San Juan.
Old San Juan is also home to several night spots. Lively areas include Plaza Colón and Plaza de Armas, Fortaleza Street and Recinto Sur. Don't pass up the chance to walk down San Sebastián Street on a weekend evening, which is lined with establishments offering food, drinks and music. Puerto Ricans and tourists of all ages are drawn to the street's festive atmosphere. Ocean Park is also popular among the under-30 set. The establishments surrounding the Plaza del Mercado in Santurce, between Baldorioty de Casto and Ponce de León Avenues near Calle Canals, have become popular with San Juan's young urban professionals on Thursday and Friday nights.
The Centro de Bellas Artes, on Ponce de León Avenue in downtown Santurce, is home to symphonic, dance, operatic, theatrical and popular music productions. (For information on events, call 725-7334.) Various theatrical and musical productions are also held at the Tapia Theatre in Old San Juan and on the University of Puerto Rico campus. Large concerts take place at the Hiram Bithom Stadium and Roberto Clemente Coliseum, across from Plaza Las Américas on Roosevelt Avenue. Behind the athletic facilities in the Muñoz Marín Park is a more intimate ampitheater, where jazz and other concerts are held.