Puerto Rico

San Juan, Puerto Rico is the port of embarkation for our cruise on April 18, 2011. There are so many things to see and do in Puerto Rico that it really makes sense to arrive early and see the sights. That way, you know you will not miss the ship. And you will be able to spend some time in a really great Caribbean island. Since our cruise departs on a Monday, why not arrive on Saturday or earlier?

The map, below, shows the location of the pier, select hotels, and some of the top rated attractions of interest for a pre-cruise stay.

Top Attractions

Puerto Rico is about 100 miles wide and 35 miles from north to south. It is about the same land area as Connecticut. It is not surprising that a Caribbean island of this size would have a lot to see and do.  Since there are too many attractions to list, I’m going to limit this to the things of most interest for a pre-cruise stay of one to four days.

Click for larger image

Cruise ship arriving in San Juan as seen from El Morro

San Juan

All of the San Juan attractions listed below are accessible by walking, taxi, or city bus. You do not need, nor probably want, a rental car to see these.

The Forts of Old San Juan – Old San Juan (OSJ) was once completely encircled by a wall to protect the city from attack.  Much of this wall was dismantled in the 1890s, leaving two massive forts.

Together, these two forts are part of the San Juan National Historic Site administered by the National Park Service. Hours are 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Admission to both forts is $5. Short informational talks are provided on the hour at both forts.  A Tunnel Tour is offered on Sundays at 10:30 in English. The forts are about 1 mile apart.

Walking Old San Juan – Old San Juan is a 45-block area of cobblestone streets and buildings from the 15th through 18th centuries. OSJ is filled with Puerto Rico’s finest historical sights, museums, restaurants, shopping, night clubs, and art galleries. A walking tour of Old San Juan is about 2 miles distance and will take half a day with stops and exploring. Of course, you can spend a lot more time than this. A half-day is the absolute minimum. You will need a map, a self-guided tour text, and good walking shoes.

Cuando calienta el sol (2005), Stanley Coll, Private Collection

Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico – One of Puerto Rico’s most celebrated cultural institutions. At 130,000 square-feet, this is one of the biggest museums in the Caribbean. This museum shows an amazing quantity and quality of Puerto Rican art from the 17th century to the present. Admission is $6. Guided tours (in English or Spanish) are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. One of my favorite artist’s work on display is that of Stanley Coll.

Isla Verde Beach, Carolina, Puerto Rico

San Juan Beaches – San Juan has several great beaches within a few minutes of OSJ. In order of increasing distance from OSJ, these include Escambrón, Condado, Ocean Park, and Carolina (Isla Verde).  Escambrón and and Carolina beaches enjoy the distinction of being Blue Flag approved. Blue Flag beaches are required to meet 27 criteria for cleanliness, water quality, facilities, and safety. Farther away from San Juan are four other Blue Flag beaches:  Boqueron, La Monserrate (Luquillo), Punta Salinas, and Seven Seas

Northeast Puerto Rico

The attractions listed for Northeast Puerto Rico are within about 35 miles of OSJ. The best way to see these is to rent a car for the day. Car rentals in San Juan are very reasonable. I’ve got a reservation with Hertz at the Caribe Hilton location for $42 per day including taxes. Rentals are cheaper at the airport, but you have to take a taxi to get to the airport from you hotel. Here is an article on Car Rental in San Juan.

Coco Falls in El Yunque National Forest

El YunqueEl Yunque National Forest is Puerto Rico’s  premier eco-tourism location and is the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest system. Located just 35 miles from San Jaun, El Yunque is a very popular destination with over 600,000 visitors per year. El Yunque receives between 200 – 240 inches of rain on its mountain slopes reaching up to 3,500 feet. The forest is home to over 240 tree species, 68 varieties of birds, 14 varieties of lizards, and 150 fern species. The average temperature is 73 F, year round. Not surprisingly, it rains almost every day, especially in the afternoon.

The best way to get to El Yunque is by rental car. To really see the forest, take a hike on one of the forest’s 13 paved trails.  The National Forest Service website has maps and trail descriptions. Another very good resource is El Yunque National Forest – Rain Forest 101.

La Monserrate, Luquillo Beach

Balneario L Monserrate or Luquillo Beach – This Blue Flag beach is one of Puerto Rico’s most popular beaches. This beach is likely to be chock full of families during Easter break which kicks off the same time as our cruise. (Palm Sunday is April 17, 2011). This mile-long beach is bordered by palm trees providing a picture perfect postcard scene. This is the closest beach to El Yunque. So you might want to spend the morning in the rain forest and the afternoon at the beach. For more information, see A Day at the Beach in Luquillo.

Luquillo Kioskos – Just before you get to the Luquillo Beach, when approaching from San Juan, there is a long row of about 60 food stands selling traditional Puerto Rican cuisine and other styles. Eating here is a must-do if in the area.  See Taste Puerto Rico at the Luquillo Kiosks.

Weather

The weather in San Juan is fairly constant year round with an average temperature of 82 F. For April 18, the average high is 86 F and the average low is 73 F. The average humidity is around 76%. Afternoon thunderstorms are common.

For April 18, sunrise is 6:06 a.m., sunset is 6:42 p.m. At this time of year, Puerto Rico is on the same time as the eastern USA.

April 17 is a full moon. Unfortunately, this means it’s a bad time to visit the bioluminescent bays of Vieques or La Parguera

Here is the real-time weather for San Juan.

Click for San Juan, Puerto Rico Forecast

Port Information

Celebrity uses the Pan American Pier in San Juan. The satellite view below shows a ship at the pier. The Pan American Pier is in an industrial area across the bay from Old San Juan. There is nothing within walking distance, so plan on taking a taxi. You may read or hear about the piers right in OSJ. These piers are used by Carnival and others – not Celebrity.


The Pan American Pier in San Juan.

There are several questions that are asked repeatedly on the Cruise Critic San Juan forum. So I’m going to answer these in an FAQ format.

San Juan FAQ

Q) What is the closest hotel to the cruise ship pier?

A) The Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel is just 1.1 miles from the Pan American Pier. This hotel location is good if you are attending a convention at the Puerto Rico Convention Center. But its not in a very interesting neighborhood for a tourist. It’s still to far away to walk to the pier. Personally,  I’d rather stay somewhere closer to OSJ or the beaches. The closest beachfront hotel is the Caribe Hilton.

Q) What is a good hotel to stay at before the cruise?

A) The airport, pier, OSJ, and the resort hotel beaches are all within about a 7 miles of each other. With the distances being relatively short, it doesn’t really matter where you stay since you will be no more than 7 miles away from the pier and OSJ. I would suggest looking at the Cruise Critic San Juan forum and the Trip Advisor San Juan Hotels reviews for ideas.

If you want a good deal on a hotel, San Juan appears to be a destination where it’s hard to go wrong with Priceline – read about it in the Cruise Critic San Juan forum.  Most people bid on a “Resort” category room and get places like the Caribe Hilton, Marriott Stellaris, etc. for 1/2 to 1/3 of the regular rate. Priceline bids are non-refundable. So I’d recommend waiting until after final payment is due on the cruise before bidding Priceline. In the mean time you might want to make a regular, cancellable  hotel reservation now so that you know where you can stay if the Priceline/Hotwire thing does not work out.

Q) How much is the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel or pier.

Puerto Rico Taxi Rate Map

A) San Juan taxis work on a zone system. The fare required is based on the starting and ending zone. The cruise ship piers are in Zone 4 (yellow). Most of the hotels are along the waterfront area in Condado, Ocean Park, and Isla Verde in Zones 2 or 3. The most you will pay is $19 plus $1 per bag. The least you will pay is $10. You might want to print out the zone map to take on your trip.

Maps

Download and print out these maps to take on the cruise.

Puerto Rico map from Moon Puerto Rico

San Juan map from Moon Puerto Rico

Old San Juan map from Moon Puerto Rico

San Juan ocean beaches map from Moon Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico East Coast and El Yunque map from Moon Puerto Rico

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  1. Excursions Recap « Millennium Panama Canal - March 11, 2011

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