San Juan is a busy port of call for Caribbean cruises. It is also the Caribbean's number one embarkation point for cruise ships, with over one million cruise passengers embarking on hundreds of cruises each year. The cruise terminal in San Juan may see as many as 10 cruise ships at any one time, but fortunately for cruisers, the port is designed for high volume. It is conveniently located on the historic San Juan peninsula, a short walk from the Plaza del la Marina and most of the Old Town San Juan's historic treasures. Sometimes when the port is very busy, some ships will dock at less convenient piers. If this happens, the ship will supply a taxi or van to the Old Town. Puerto Rico is the largest island in the eastern Caribbean, and has many activities for cruisers who have ported in San Juan.
Although there are many interesting shore excursions in Puerto Rico, here are some ideas of things to do that will give you some of the flavor of this old Spanish U.S. city.
Explore the Old City
Old San Juan is a wonder to see. Cruise ships dock right at the edge of the old city, and much of it is within walking distance. The two major fortresses, San Felipe del Morro and San Cristobal, were built over 400 years ago. These massive structures are fun to explore, and the old city between them is full of of houses, cobblestone streets, and other interesting sights. The narrow streets of old town also hold surprises such as small bars, gardens, and amazing plazas such as Plaza San Jose and Plaza Colon.
Explore a Museum
The Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico features Puerto Rican artwork from the 17th century to the present. There is a new east wing with a beautiful stained glass window and a theater dedicated to the late actor Raul Julia.
Go to a Baseball Game
Puerto Ricans love baseball, and the island has produced some wonderful baseball players. You can see a game, Puerto Rican-style, at San Juan's Hiram Bithorn Stadium for about $5. The food of choice is not hot dogs, but fried chicken or crab cakes. I'm sure you can buy a beer, but you can also have that Caribbean favorite--a piña colada.
Like most major cities and ports of call, you won't have any problem finding a place to spend your money. The Plaza las Américas looks much like any other modern American shopping mall on the outside, and on the inside you will find many of the standard stores (like Macy's and Banana Republic) seen back home. However, the corridors of the mall are filled with local artisans, and the small independent stores are much different than what you usually see.
Go to a Beach
Puerto Rico is a tropical island, and many go to the Caribbean and only want to visit the beaches. Although a major metropolitan area, San Juan has some wonderful beaches. Isla Verde is a favorite of locals, and you can rent chairs and umbrellas, perfect for watching the San Juan beach scene. Other popular beaches are El Escambron and Carolina.
Experience San Juan at Night
If you're not worn out after a day of sightseeing and beachcombing, then you should experience San Juan at night. The dance clubs are popular, or you can learn to salsa at one of the many hotels with live music. If dancing isn't your cup of tea, check out one of the casinos. I found that playing roulette in Spanish helped me polish my language skills. The casinos are found in many of the big hotels downtown.
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