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San Juan Off the Beaten Path

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Given its long history and lively present, San Juan is a fascinating city. Old San Juan may be known for its 16th-century walls and imposing fort (El Morro), but its narrow side streets harbor many a tucked-away shop, restaurant, and attraction. The suburbs, too, contain secret, coveted-by-locals spots that visitors have to search for. Those interested in venturing beyond the city's tourist-heavy surface will see that the mystery begins in narrow, cobblestoned streets and continues into the wild. Take time to visit some of these off-the-beaten-path gems for a more enriching Puerto Rico experience.

Good for
  • History Buff
  • Thrill Seeker
  • Nature Lover
  • Peace and Quiet Seeker
  • LGBT
  • Beach Goer
  • Luxury Traveller
  • Thrifty Traveller
  • Like a Local

8 Places

5 City Tips

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8 Places

Chapel of Christ the Savior (Capilla de Cristo)

Religious Sites

Rio Camuy Cave Park (Parque de las Cavernas del Rio Camuy)

Caverns & Caves, Parks

Botanical Garden in Rio Pedras

Gardens

Tamboo Seaside Grill

Restaurants

La Placita

Restaurants

Castillo de San Cristobal

Historic Sites, Military Bases & Facilities

Hacienda San Pedro

Restaurants

Bioluminescent Bay

Points of Interest & Landmarks

Chanize's City Tips

  • Should you decide to go adventuring, make sure you have the most updated GPS version for San Juan. Side streets are sometimes unmarked or are not updated on digital maps.
  • Don't be shy about approaching locals for tips on their favorite restaurants, bars, and more. Not only does it show interest in their beloved city, but you may make a new friend!
  • You don't need a car in the city, but a rental will be helpful for exploring the terrain outside of San Juan and its neighborhoods.
  • The trolley is a free and fun way to traverse Old San Juan. It runs every 15 minutes on weekdays, from 7am until 6pm, and weekends from 9am until 7pm.
  • If you're staying in a hotel, always get the direct number to the front desk. It may come in handy should you get lost and need help getting back to your accommodations.
  • Save
    Chapel of Christ the Savior (Capilla de Cristo)
    Religious Sites
    See more photos
    Chanize Says:

    It seems as though there is a church on every street in San Juan, but Chapel of Christ the Savior is special for several reasons. First, you may not even know it is a church. From its perch overlooking the bay, the stone structure almost resembles part of this historic wall — but the 18th-century church has an uplifting backstory, which you'll find written on the outside wall. Equally inspiring are the Campeche paintings and ornate altars inside.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • History Buff
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • It's hard to catch a glimpse of the church's interior. Hours aren't posted, and masses take place only on holidays and special occasions, but you can get in on Tuesday afternoons.
    • The church is located on Calle Cristo, a great street for shopping.
    • The chapel is next to Pigeon Park, where you'll find hundreds of feathered friends waiting to be fed, even out of your hand. Bring some bread along.
    Plan to stay:
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #63 of 199 things to do in San Juan
    • Guess we got lucky! 26/05/2015
    • Locked Up Tight 05/05/2015
    • Chapel of Christ the Savior (Capilla de Cristo)
    Address:
    Calle del Cristo
    Next to Pigeon's Park by the City Wall
    San Juan, Puerto Rico
    Caribbean
    Phone:
    787-722-0861
  • Save
    Rio Camuy Cave Park (Parque de las Cavernas del Rio Camuy)
    Caverns & Caves, Parks
    See more photos
    Chanize Says:

    Formed by the Camuy River, the spectacular caves at Parque de las Cavernas are some 45 million years old, with stunning stalagmites, stalactites, and walls carved by Mother Nature herself. These 200-plus caves are located an hour's drive from San Juan and are still home to the subterranean river as well as an array of wildlife, from river crabs to bats.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • Hidden Gems
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Thrill Seeker
    • Family
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • Tours are limited, so reserve your spot as early as possible (and arrive early, too).
    • Wear closed-toed shoes that can withstand some of the caves' slippery areas.
    • Call ahead before driving to the park. Tours are usually canceled if it's been raining heavily.
    • Adventurous types can sign up with a tour operator for an exhilarating rock climb up the cave walls.
    Plan to stay:
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #1 of 1 things to do in Lares
    • Park closed at noon, security guard told us to go home the park was full!! At NOON!! 27/07/2015
    • If you've seen other caves, you might want to skip this one 27/07/2015
    • Rio Camuy Cave Park (Parque de las Cavernas del Rio Camuy)
    Address:
    Rte. 129
    Lares, Puerto Rico 00627
    Caribbean
    Phone:
    787-898-3100
  • Save
    Botanical Garden in Rio Pedras
    Gardens
    Chanize Says:

    When you need to escape the throbbing energy of San Juan, head to Rio Pedras to explore the peaceful Botanical Garden. Part of the University of Puerto Rico's science and botany program, the garden's 75 acres feature trails to explore and more than 30,000 plants. The South Garden, home to towering palm trees, parrots, and koi ponds, is especially lovely.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • LGBT
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • Wear shoes that you don't mind getting dirty. Rain can make some of the walking paths muddy.
    • The garden offers free admission and parking. It's open from 6am until 6pm daily, but closed on major holidays.
    • It can be easy to miss the turn leading to the gardens. Look for the "UPR Jardin Botanico" sign off Highway 1 and Rte. 847.
    • You can dine at the on-site cafe, or enjoy a picnic on the lovely grounds.
    • Planning a destination wedding in Puerto Rico? The Monet Garden, with its rose-covered archway, is a popular place to get married.
    Plan to stay:
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #100 of 199 things to do in San Juan
    • Unique and Educational 17/06/2015
    • Aka as San Juan Botanical Garden 10/12/2014
    Address:
    Highway 1 at Road 947
    Univ. of Puerto Rico
    San Juan, Puerto Rico
    Caribbean
  • Save
    Tamboo Seaside Grill
    Restaurants (American, Caribbean, Seafood, Puerto Rican)
    See more photos
    Chanize Says:

    A day-trip to the seaside town of Rincon is a great way to see another alluring part of Puerto Rico. This popular surf city is also home to a number of great eateries, including Tamboo Seaside Grill, a casual restaurant serving Caribbean-American fare. You can kick back on the patio and enjoy ocean views alongside your plantain-crusted shrimp or chicken with mango-chimichurri sauce. The cocktail list is also impressive and inexpensive (Tamboo is known for its potent mojitos).

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Must See
    • Beach Goer
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Thrill Seeker
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Nightlife Seeker
    Tips
    • From December through April, you might spot humpback whales frolicking in the sea.
    • A 15% gratuity will be automatically added to your tab.
    • The restaurant opens at noon, and often features live music. Check the Facebook page for the schedule or for happy hour specials.
    Plan to stay:
    More than 3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #550 of 2,194 restaurants in Puerto Rico
    • "Lunch experience" 26/07/2015
    • Family Get together 18/07/2015
    • Tamboo Seaside Grill
    Address:
    Road 413 Km 4.4 Interior
    Sandy Beach
    Rincon, Puerto Rico
    Caribbean
    Phone:
    787-823-8550
    Price range:
    $10 - $45
    Other:
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    La Placita
    Restaurants (Puerto Rican)
    See more photos
    Chanize Says:

    While tourists frequent the Santurce neighborhood for its booming art and restaurant scene, they often overlook its somewhat off-the-grid main plaza. During the day, La Placita is home to a bustling market where locals buy local produce and other wares, but at night the area transforms into a street party. Sanjuaneros saunter in after work (and even later) to enjoy wallet-friendly cocktails and live salsa music at the many bars and clubs that line the square.

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Trendsetter
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Nightlife Seeker
    Tips
    • Though the vibe at most nightclubs and bars is quite casual, the attire is not. Dress to impress.
    • Thursday is a hot night for salsa at most danceterias. Some places even give free lessons for those with two left feet.
    • If you plan on bar-hopping, know that you'll probably be out after midnight. Arrange in acdvance for a taxi ride back to your hotel.
    • Mijani, The Club, is one of the area's hotspots for the over-30 crowd, where you can dance and mingle with locals (with a Medalla beer or mojito in hand).
    Plan to stay:
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #439 of 2,194 restaurants in Puerto Rico
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • My FAVORITE spot!! 09/07/2015
    • Local Flavor 06/07/2015
    • La Placita
    Address:
    Parada 18, between Ponce de Leon and Baldorioty de Castro
    San Juan, Puerto Rico
    Caribbean
  • Save
    Castillo de San Cristobal
    Historic Sites, Military Bases & Facilities
    See more photos
    Chanize Says:

    San Juan's second stone fortress, San Cristobal is less famous than El Morro, but it's the largest stone fortification that the Spanish built in the New World. And on weekends, you can get even more 'off the beaten path' on guided tours that delve deep into underground passageways that are usually closed to the public.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • LGBT
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Hidden Gems
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • History Buff
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • The park service offers a number of other guided tours and programs, including a Lantern Light Tour that explores the life of a Spanish soldiers.
    • The tunnel tours take place on weekends at 10.30am. The Saturday tour is in English and the Sunday tour in Spanish.
    • Don’t confuse this free activity with the "official" guided fort tours, which have an admission fee.
    • Tours are on a first-come, first-served basis, so arrive before the tour time to ensure you get a spot.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #5 of 199 things to do in San Juan
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • By far the best attraction in the San Juan area in my opinion (July 2014) 27/07/2015
    • breathtaking views 27/07/2015
    • Castillo de San Cristobal
    Address:
    Calle Norzagaray
    Old San Juan
    San Juan, Puerto Rico 00901
    Caribbean
    Phone:
    787-729-6777
    Other:
  • Save
    Hacienda San Pedro
    Restaurants (Puerto Rican)
    See more photos
    Chanize Says:

    Rum may be king in Puerto Rico, but coffee is the queen bee. There are many coffee plantations in the mountain region, but this 15th-century property, located at the mountain base of Jayuya, is less than a two-hour drive from Old San Juan. Have a cup of the rich, aromatic java, and then buy a bag (or three) to sip back home.

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Must See
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    Tips
    • It's recommended to make tour reservations in advance.
    • Can't visit the plantation? Stop by Cafe Hacienda San Pedro instead. Located near the Museo de Arte, this tiny spot is not easy to find, but bold espresso is worth the hunt.
    Plan to stay:
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #167 of 2,194 restaurants in Puerto Rico
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Where I get my daily coffee 12/07/2015
    • COFFEE! 08/07/2015
    • Hacienda San Pedro
    Address:
    318 Ave. de Diego
    Santurce
    San Juan, Puerto Rico
    Caribbean
    Other:
  • Save
    Bioluminescent Bay
    Points of Interest & Landmarks
    See more photos
    Chanize Says:

    On a guided night kayak tour of Fajardo's Bioluminescent Bay, you'll navigate through a maze of mangroves into Laguna Grande, a nine-foot deep whose midnight-blue water is filled with fascinating microorganisms that glow in the dark when you glide your hand on the water's surface. Coupled with the moonlight, it makes an amazing light show.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Thrill Seeker
    • Family
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • Prepare to get wet. Water from the lagoon may get into your kayak.
    • Bring mosquito repellent for the tour.
    • Only bring children along if you're certain that they're comfortable with pitch-black conditions.
    • The easiest way to experience the bioluminescent bay is via a tour operator. A hotel concierge can help.
    • This can be a strenuous activity because of the paddling required to reach the bay. Expect to use your arm strength for a two-hour tour.
    • Fajardo is a hour away from San Juan's Condado area. If you plan on driving, make sure you're comfortable traveling at night.
    Plan to stay:
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #4 of 26 things to do in Fajardo
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • great family experience 27/07/2015
    • Kayak through mangroves to the bay at night 27/07/2015
    • Bioluminescent Bay
    Address:
    Laguna Grande
    Las Croabas
    Fajardo, Puerto Rico
    Caribbean
    Phone:
    787-435-1665
    Other:
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