All but a handful of visitors arrive in San Juan, the capital city. It is the political base, economic powerhouse, and cultural center of the island, home to about one-third of all Puerto Rico residents.
The second-oldest city in the Americas (behind Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic), this metropolis presents two different faces. On the one hand, the charming historic district, Old San Juan, has some of the best examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the hemisphere, as well as stunning Art Deco and other buildings from the early part of the 20th century. From La Fortaleza (the governor's mansion) to the two old Spanish forts to the Catedral de San Juan, the wonders of the city are a short walk from each other.
New San Juan has its charms as well, particularly evident in its more storied residential architecture in Santurce, Miramar, and Río Piedras. The coastal areas are more modern, where parts of Condado and Isla Verde feel like a more intimate Miami Beach, with rows of luxury hotels and condominiums and fat golden beaches. The two main beach districts have their more low-key corners, however, and the residential Ocean Park community separates them. A few guesthouses are scattered amidst the luxury homes fronting San Juan's best beach.
Much of San Juan, however, is a planning disaster, with urban sprawl eliminating or stressing green areas and ugly condo towers blotting out the view and access to the coast.
Improvements are ongoing all the time, however. San Juan has quietly been transforming over the past decade, with a light-rail train system, a new coliseum, and a state-of-the-art convention center now on line.
Visitors can pretty easily live off the bus and Urban Train system and get where they want to go throughout the tourism districts of Isla Verde, Condado, and Old San Juan, as well in the other main San Juan districts: Miramar, Santurce, Hato Rey, and Río Piedras.
Old San Juan is a 7-square-block area that was once completely enclosed by a wall erected by the Spanish centuries ago. The most powerful fortress in the Caribbean, this fortified city repeatedly held off would-be attackers. By the 19th century, however, it had become one of the Caribbean's most charming residential and commercial districts. Today, it's a setting for restaurants and shops, a large concentration of art galleries and museums. Most of the major resort hotels are located nearby, along the Condado beachfront and at Isla Verde. But the Old City has several first rate hotels and inns, as well.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.