(For information on beaches, please visit our Local Beaches section)
Our Island is a treasure trove of wonders. There is so much to see, taste, hear, feel and enjoy here that the experience can be a little daunting. Imposing historical sites, natural wonders and museums that are home to the most impressive local and international artwork are just some examples of the attractions that the Island can offer to its visitors. Here, we bring you a selection with what we enjoy the most. These places are simply unforgettable, a sightseeing paradise.
Old San Juan
Our city is brimming in history. Being one of the oldest cities in America, Old San Juan is the home of some of the most important historical sites in the Island. In fact, the whole city is a landmark itself. Whether on your own or through a guided tour, we encourage you to take the time and walk its cobblestone paved streets and beautiful alleyways, venturing off some of the most common tourist paths to discover its hidden treasures.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, El Morro is the most visited touristic attraction in the island. This massive military structure was built over a period spanning more than 250 years (its foundations were laid in 1539 and was not considered finished until 1787) and, with six levels, it is one of the largest fortifications built by the Spaniards in the Americas during the Colonial Period.
Some of the points of interest are the garitas, or sentry boxes, the lighthouse, the cannon water battery, the Torre Antigua (or the Old Tower), the kitchen and the forge. You can enjoy the gorgeous sights of the San Juan Bay and the Atlantic Ocean from various vantage points that make for perfect photo ops.
Perched on the northwestern-most point of Old San Juan at 501 Norzagaray Street, El Morro is located at walking distance from our hotel. Guided tours are available, or you can walk the fort on your own with the help of a map provided at the main entrance.
San Cristobal Fort
Standing guard at the eastern gate to the walled city of Old San Juan is the San Cristobal Fort. Along with the San Felipe del Morro, this defensive system is the largest Spanish fortification system in the New World. Construction began in 1634 and it was finished in 1790. While El Morro was designed to protect the capital city from enemy approaches from the sea, San Cristobal guarded the city from attacks by land. During World War II, San Cristobal was used as a military base by the U.S. Army. After that, it was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations.
The structure can be entered by the main entrance at Muñoz Rivera Avenue or by Norzagaray Street. You will be able to walk through the tunnel system that connected different parts of the castle, stand at the main plaza where the troops practiced their drills, see the actual cannons and cannonballs used in battle by the Spaniards, the garitas, or sentry boxes, from where the guards of the fortress looked out to sea. Among them, you will find the Garita del Diablo, or The Devils Sentry Box, famous because it was thought to be haunted and soldiers used to disappear there.
Both historical landmarks can be visited from 9 am to 6 pm. An admission fee of $7 can get you into both forts for 24 hours. You can enjoy them on your own or with the ranger led tours held throughout the week.
Paseo de la Princesa/La Puerta de San Juan
Considered as “One of the Most Scenic Walkways in the World”, this promenade is loved and cherished by the locals and a source of wonderment for tourists. It dates back to 1853 and was originally built to protect the city and to keep invaders from the sea at bay. Notice the massive thickness of the protecting walls. It offers a gorgeous view of San Juan Bay and it is lined with arts and crafts, local food stands, sculptures, a beautiful fountain, music and great historical sights. Named for La Princesa, once the site of a prison, you can enter it from that historical site and end your walk at La Puerta de San Juan, through which you can walk up straight to the heart of the city. Or, you can continue circling the wall of El Morro. El Paseo is a beautiful place for taking photographs and enjoying the salty sea breeze while rubbing shoulders with the locals strolling through it; you will be stunned by the splendor and romance of this essential piece of Old San Juan sightseeing.
San Juan Bautista Cathedral
Just steps from Decanter Hotel, you can enjoy a visit to one of the oldest buildings in Puerto Rico, and the oldest Cathedral in the United States. With its main entrance on Cristo Street, the Cathedral was built almost 480 years ago and contains the remains of the famous conquistador Juan Ponce De Leon. Mass is offered daily in Spanish.
Palacio de Santa Catalina
Best known locally as La Fortaleza, the Palacio de Santa Catalina is the official governor’s mansion of the Island and has been since 1846. Originally built as a fortress in 1540, it is the oldest governor’s mansion in the Western Hemisphere. It has been the house of no less than 170 governors since its inauguration. One of the loveliest mansions in the Americas, its beautiful Colonial Architecture and its galleries brimming with wonderful art makes of it an excellent place to visit in your vacation. You should not miss it.
Located at the end of Fortaleza Street, just two blocks from our hotel. It is open from 9 am to 4 pm on weekdays, and guided tours are offered every weekday except holidays. Entrance to the site is free. For more information, call 787-721-7000 ext. 2211.
Cuartel de Ballajá/Museum of the Americas
This gargantuan structure, built by the Spanish Army between 1854 and 1864, is one of the most impressive examples of monumental military architecture in the Americas. It was used as a barracks and living complex for soldiers and their families until 1898, when the Island fell under United States rule. It used to house approximately a thousand soldiers and their families, providing rooms, storage, kitchens, dining rooms, jail cells and stables for horses. In a way, it was a micro city within the city. The mega-structure was acquired from the federal government by the government of Puerto Rico in 1976. It underwent extensive restoration from 1990 to 1993.
El Museo de las Américas (Museum of the Americas) was inaugurated on the second floor of the building in 1992. The museum is home to a permanent collection of local and Latin American Art and archeological pieces, and it hosts exhibitions from a variety of local and international artists throughout the year. Major cultural events also occur on the premises of the Cuartel throughout the year such as concerts, festivals, arts & crafts fairs, among others. Entrance to the building is free of charge. The museum charges an entrance fee of $6 ($4 for children under 12 years old, seniors over 65 and students with ID) and is open Tuesdays to Fridays, from 9 am to 12 pm, and from 1 pm to 4 pm. Saturdays and Sundays, it opens from 12 pm to 5 pm. It is located between Morovis, Beneficencia and Norzagaray streets in Old San Juan.
These are some of our favorite places to visit when you venture outside the Old City:
La Placita de Santurce
This area surrounding Santurce’s famous market is the hub for one of the most exciting nightlife scenes in the metropolitan area. The Placita and the streets around it are home to many bars, restaurants, lounges, music and dance venues. On the weekends, it is brimming with revelers of all kinds. Both locals and tourists enjoy the carnavalesque atmosphere with people of all ages meeting up, drinking, enjoying excellent local and international food, and, of course, dancing!
The Placita is located at Los Hermanos Street, in the center of Santurce. A very centric area, it is easily reachable by Uber or taxi.
Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico
Inaugurated in the year of 2000, the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico is located on the premises of the Old Municipal Hospital in Santurce. With a permanent collection of more than 1,000 works of arts spanning from the 17th century to the present, the museum is home to artworks produced by Puerto Rican Master Artists as well as artists from the younger generation. The collection includes prints, paintings, drawings, sculpture, photograph and new media. With 24 galleries located on its third and fourth levels, the museum is home to a dynamic and innovative array of permanent and temporary exhibits with a wide variety of artists, historical periods and subjects. Admission is $6.69 for adults and $3.35 for children, students with ID, seniors over 65 and persons with disabilities. Children under 5 years old, accompanied by an adult, can visit for free. It is open Wednesdays, from 10 am to 8 pm; Thursday through Saturday, from 10 am to 5 pm; and Sundays, from 11 am to 5 pm. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Museo de Arte Contemporaneo
Located on the premises of the Rafael M. Labra historical building in Santurce, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC, for its initials in Spanish). This museum, founded by artists and patrons of the arts, houses artworks from Puertorrican, Caribbean and Latin American artists produced from the mid-20th century to the present. Both the permanent collection and the itinerant expositions emphasize on contemporary arts in all its manifestations, media and formats.
The museum opens Tuesdays to Fridays, from 10 am to 4 pm, and Saturdays, from 11 am to 5 pm. It is closes on Sundays and Mondays. A donation of $5 for adults and $3 for students with 1D, children over 5 years old, seniors over 60 and persons with disabilities is suggested. Children under 5 years old and seniors over 75 get in for free. It is located at Ave. Ponce de León at the corner of Ave. Roberto H. Todd, in Santurce.
Miracles of Nature
Our Island is a place of unequaled natural beauty. Due to its relatively small size, most of its natural wonders are within hours (or less) reach from San Juan and, although there is enough to see and enjoy to last a lifetime, here are some of the most exciting attractions. Come back to Localist often, as we will be expanding our list of places to visit.
El Yunque National Forest
(Currently only a limited number of areas are open to the public in El Yunque, but more areas are expected to be opening soon).
One of the most beautiful places on the Island is El Yunque National Forest. It is the only tropical rainforest in the National Forest System, which covers nearly 29,000 acres of land. Taking its name from the taino aboriginal name that means “forest of clouds”, it hosts hundreds of endemic animal and plant species, many of them in danger of extinction. The biological diversity of this paradisiacal place is impressive, as are the sights of the waterfalls, the charcas (shallow natural pools) and the saltos de agua (small waterfalls), areas where you can swim and splash around to your leisure. Multiple walking trails will take you through its lush vegetation and will get you close to its exuberant nature. The view from the top of the mountain is breathtaking.
Some of the most popular attractions in the area are La Coca Falls (featuring an 85-foot cascade), Yokahú Tower, Baño Grande, Baño de Oro and La Mina Falls.
Located in the township of Luquillo, on the east side of the island, there are multiple tours that can take you to El Yunque from San Juan. Be sure to ask our front desk for options, and do not leave our island paradise before visiting an extraordinary place that is, sometimes, literally “over the clouds”.
Puerto Rico has some amazing cave systems, especially on the central-western regions of the island. The most popular and impressive is the Camuy Cave park system. It is the third largest cave system in the world. The whole system covers about 30 acres of land both underground and aboveground, and the main chamber is enormous at 10 stories high. You can enjoy this incredible natural structure by means of walking tours professionally curated. Other similar venues are Cueva Ventana and Cueva del Indio, both in Arecibo.
Hopefully, these eclectic suggestions on sightseeing help you enjoy your stay on our island to the max. Please, come back to these pages for new and exciting features on other remarkable places to visit. The list is endless!