San Juan, Puerto Rico is rather unique for a Caribbean port of call. It is a very large city, with a population of over 400,000, but relatively safe to get around. This was factored into our decision to not book an excursion for this port. Old San Juan was within walking distance of the pier, and it was quite safe to walk there on our own. It was also a money saving decision. Even a 2 hour bus tour of the city cost $30-$40 per person as a ship excursion. What we didn’t know was that San Juan was to be our introduction to independent tour operators.
As we left the pier we were accosted by people with signs hawking their tours. A man approached us and asked if we had booked a tour. He had a small bus and was offering tours of the city for $15 per person. Several passengers had already loaded onto the bus, so we decided to take the plunge as well. The bus was older, but clean and well air conditioned. The tour leader spoke both English and Spanish. We were definitely being adventurous, as we had no idea what we were in for, and no guarantees were given.
The tour was absolutely wonderful. They began by driving us through some of the districts of San Juan, discussing the history of the city as we traveled. Our first stop was the Playa del Condado beach area. There we spent time viewing the ocean and enjoying the seaside park and fountain area.
Our next stop was the Puerto Rico capitol building. This was a beautiful building, and we had an hour to explore it. But most amazing were all the Christmas decorations, both on the lawn of the capitol and inside.
Most surprising was the nativity scene set up inside the capitol building. Though Puerto Rico is a US commonwealth, they are self-governing, and have their own constitution. It was very different from the states with our interpretation of the separation of church and state.
Next was a tour of the Castillo de San Cristóbal. A Spanish fort built in 1783; it was fun to explore, especially for the guys. At the end of our time at the fort the tour took us to Old San Juan to be let off. The tour had lasted 4 hours. We had definitely gotten our money’s worth, and I had learned that independent tour operators can offer a great alternative to the more expensive ship excursions!
We finished our lovely day in Old San Juan, walking the cobbled streets and checking out the unique little shops. On the walk back to the pier we came across an outside market and enjoyed the homemade goods offered for sale there. Overall one of my favorite ports and one I look forward to exploring more extensively on a future visit.
Next stop: St. Thomas and St. John, US Virgin Islands
Bon Voyage ~Marla