The Port of San Juan plays host to an average of 500 cruise ship visits and over 2 million passengers a year. And, 25 years ago, I visited this great city. At that time, I did not have any money what so ever, but I learned to have fun with what I did have.
These days, I still don’t have much money, but, I travel the world and I am still having fun. And, like any Average Joe, you can too!
Here are some of my favorite low cost adventures for Old San Juan when you get off your cruise ship and want to explore the island of Puerto Rico. Each adventure is designed to be minimal in costs.
Casa Bacardi Distillery Tour – Located across the San Juan Bay, you can easily see the distillery from your cruise ship as you look to the north east. Here, the magic elixir of rum is distilled and aged, but not bottled. Thanks to the Jones Act, a bizarre law that regulates the importing of goods to and from Puerto Rico, aged rum is shipped to Jacksonville Florida where it is bottled, then shipped back to Puerto Rico for distribution. There are three tours-
- Historical Tour – $15.00. Here you get a tour of the distillery (by tram) and a tour of a visitor center. The visitor center has a mock up distillation operation, some historical documents and bottles, and a short movie. It is cool way to spend a couple of hours and learn about the history and making of rum.
- Rum Tasting Tour – $25.00. Here you get to sample five types of rum.
- Mixology Class – $60.00. Learn to make five drinks and hone your skills as a bartender.
Each of the tours gives you a welcome rum drunk in a souvenir tumbler. Each drink is handcrafted and honestly, the bar tenders are working hard for you to have an excellent handmade drink! No premade welcome rum punch here. Be patient, as the process can be a bit slow with everyone arriving.
- Pros- You had me at rum. If you are interested in alcohol tourism, like touring wineries, the Bourbon trail, etc. this is your thing. Sit under the open air pavilion, enjoy the cool ocean breezes and enjoy an exceptionally well made drink. Also, you can buy very premium Bacardi rums here that are not available stateside and are hard to find in the stores. Just remember, getting those premium rums home can be tricky.
- Cons- I would like to see the actual working distillery, not a mock up.
Getting to the Distillery-
- Taxi/Uber– A plethora of taxis and Ubers are in the port area and hanging out for cruise ship passengers. Getting to the distillery from the cruise docks should run about $15.00, one way, depending on demand.
- Water taxi– A water taxi operates at wharf #2. The costs to go across the bay is $.50. Fifty Cents! It is the best deal ever. Once across the bay you can take a 2.5 mile walk to the distillery, or, there may be a few taxi’s waiting at the terminal. These taxis are not guaranteed. You can Uber, but, the Uber driver may have to come from the port area to get you for those last 2.5 miles.
- Walking – I walked to the distillery and enjoyed it after I took the water taxi across the bay, but, it can be a challenging walk if you are not so inclined to walking. A broad sidewalk has been installed for most of the walk, but for the last mile, you have to walk in the street or dirt.
Castillo San Felipe del Morrow – The crown jewel of the Spanish empire in the New World was centered on fortress del Morrow. Here, the Spanish built a massive fortification that is well worth your time and energy if you are at all inclined toward visiting historical structures. This facility is run by the National Park Service and a is UNESCO World Heritage Site, as such it is an absolute value to get in and tour.
A series of additional fortifications were built around Old San Juan and these can be visited as well, however, Castle del Morrow is the most popular.
Getting to the Castle:
- Taxi/Uber – A plethora of taxis and Ubers are in the port area and hanging out for cruise ship passengers. Getting to the fort from the cruise docks should run about $5.00, one way, depending on demand.
- Walking – This is really the best way to get to the fort. I walk this area extensively on Sundays and absolutely love it. There is a heavy presence of security and law enforcement in the area and I have never felt unsafe unlike on my first visit decades ago. There are two ways to walk to the fort:
- National Trail – A national hiking trail starts/ends at the fort’s base along the ocean side facing to the East. At its base, you can look upwards at the battlements that rise about 145 feet. It is truly amazing. I walk this trail each Sunday morning. From the ports, simply follow the path along the base of the old city walls and along the way you will pass several lovely bars, restaurants, and on weekends artisans have booths set up. Numerous water fountains and statues will provide you with a plethora of photo opportunities. It is a lovely walk. As you wind your way around the cliffs, you will pass the Red Gate. This was the original entry port for San Juan visitors and you can still enter the city here. The National Trail picks up here and you can then follow the trail around to the base of the fort. From the trail head/end, it is a steep climb upwards to the fortress entrance using stairs and the natural terrain. If you have difficulty walking do not go this way. Overall it is about a 1.5 mile walk from the port area.
Through Old San Juan –
- A lovely walk through old San Juan will take you past many small restaurants, bars, shops and other tourist’s related venues. This is an enjoyable way to see the old city. There is a lovely fountain and square in the center that plays host to the crowds and is a nice spot to rest. This is about a 1 mile walk if you were to take a more direct route. There is a Starbucks located not far from the ships and in about one block. You will often find me having a tea here on Sunday’s recharging my phone.
Disney Trivia –The Spanish castle at Pirates of the Caribbean is named after this fortress.
Living in the Condado area, this became my favorite Sunday morning ritual. I love this area.
One of the Old Town plazas-
Part national park, part national treasure, Condado Lagoon is your go to spot for water activities. Whether it is just catching some sun, swimming, snorkeling, or kayaking, Condado Lagoon is your place to be outdoors if the historical district is not.
From the Port district, if you Uber, it should run you less than $10.00 to reach the Lagoon. Sidewalks and walkway encompasses the Lagoon and you can easily walk the circumference of the lagoon; I have done so numerous times without incident.
Along the east side of the lagoon is Ashford Ave. Ashford Ave has the hotel’s, condominiums, and restaurants that will have you thinking more Miami Beach than San Juan. Scattered among the five star hotels and million dollar condos are the kayak vendors and access points to the lagoon.
If you need a good starting point, or a destination to tell your driver, start with the Condado Hilton. The Condado Hilton has a public lagoon access that is extremely popular. Many families start here and will stay well into the evening enjoying the lagoon.
Standup paddle board and kayak vendors seem to average about $10.00 an hour for a piece of equipment. However, package deals abound.
Some vendors include:
Aqua Fitness – (787) 903-2141
Nightkayak.com – (340) 344 – 4381
Parque Nacional Laguna Del Del Condado Jaime Benitez
Along, the eastern edge of the lagoon is Jaime Benitez National Park. A smaller national park than what you will find in the states. Kayak vendors, educational facilities and public bathrooms can be found here. A popular location due to available parking, local kayakers and paddle boarded launch from here while it seems the tourists focus around the Hilton.
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