San Juan is a great port as a stop on a cruise itinerary however as a starting point it has it challenges.
Having lived in San Juan for five years gives me an advantage in knowing the town, the language and the culture.
Slipping into the bay of San Juan is something you don't want to sleep through as what greets you first is a 500 year old Spanish Fort of San Felipe del Morro. The best view will be from the starboard side as there is not much to see on the port. Port side offers a view of Isla de Cabra, or "Goats Island." and a large refinery.
If you simply want to tour Old San Juan, pass by the taxi stands and walk the narrow streets. If you want to eat where the locals eat, visit El Meson, Puerto Rico's version of fast food. To be safe and enjoy local fare, order a "Cubano" sandwich; Smoked ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles in soft bread grilled between hot irons, called a "plancha."
Going out island I would reccomend renting a car and brace yourself for some pretty intense traffic. Puerto Rico's drivers inch out into traffic wagering that you will stop and let them in.
Thanks Chef Ken. I'm sure you're too young to remember, but my girlfriend's dad owned Out Island Airlines. He was based in San Juan and we used to visit him when I was a young teen. We had so much fun in the Condado section and in the Old San Juan section. His girlfriend would always take us shopping there. It was hard to get use to cars on the sidewalks, but you learned to dodge them. They use no brakes, just horns, and the sidewalks provide an excellent escape from getting around other traffic. Since then, visiting San Juan often, you can really tell the changes, some good, some bad, but still a fun island. Once again, thank you for your expertise.
I want to thank you also for an excellent post. I love walking around in the Condado area. I feel safe enough to take the public transportation without any language skills. I just tell people it is not St.John by comparison for new cruisers expecting something else. I stayed at the Hilton and walked out the property for a sandwich around the corner, don't know what is was, but was the best sandwich ever, and they gave me a pickle
But to be honest, I have been to San Juan when guards were there with M-16's for some reason and harrassed in the main square at night. That was about in 99 I think.
But, again Condado area has always been completely safe in the day time for me. I have even walked into the Walgreens on the corner not speaking any Spanish and the locals have cheerfully helped me
The Condado is very nice and the beaches there are great. You mentioned the locals cheerfully helping you and I can attest that Puerto Ricans are very pleasant and always willing to help. I would advise people visiting San Juan to ask more than one person before driving off with directions given by a well meaning local.
In Puerto Rico it seems that you should give directions when asked even if you don't know where people are asking to go. It is considered impolite not to give directions and so hands pointed in vague and varied directions is common.
Puerto Ricans are deeply connected to family so the home is central to life and it is natural for them to help anyone in need.
It is a fact that crime is rampant in the "urbanizations" as they call them. Keeping to the tourist areas are best and a great time can be had enjoying the warm culture and the incredible food!
Thanks for your encouragement and for reading my post. I have been reading cruise reviews for years but only recently found the forum.
Just a suggestion to try to get oceanfront Condado if you are staying in that area. The Wyndham use to have another resort a ways away on a hill that use to get good reviews. The Hilton is nice but is a long walk down streets and over the bridge to get over to Condado.