San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, has the busiest ocean terminal in the West Indies. Caribbean cruises not only stop here, several originate here. While cruise groups, by their sheer size, can overwhelm many ports of call, San Juan absorbs them with ease. Many cruise ships dock at Old San Juan, but some lines use the Pan American Pier in Isla Grande, which is more convenient to the resort area but further from the historic district.
The San Juan metropolitan area, home to about a third of Puerto Rico’s 3.8 million people, is one of the largest and most sophisticated urban centers in the Caribbean. Cruise passengers, however, tend to stick to Old San Juan, the handsome historic district, with hilly cobblestone streets lined with brightly painted colonial town houses. However, there are two very good reason to venture beyond Old San Juan: to visit the El Yunque Rainforest, less than an hour’s drive east of the city, or to play golf at one of the area’s many fine resort courses. top draw Old San Juan has not one but two massive colonial fortresses: the 16th-century Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro for short) and the 18th-century Castillo de San Cristobal.
Both are managed by the National Park Service (www.nps.gov/saju ) and are UNESCO World Heritage sites. try your luck Most large hotels have casinos, which are one of San Juan’s biggest draws. Most convenient for cruise ship passengers is The Sheraton Old San Juan Hotel’s casino, right across from Pier 3, but there are larger and more elegant casinos at The Hotel InterContinental San Juan and the Ritz-Carlton, both east of Old San Juan in Isla Verde.
TOP BEACH While Condado Beach, at the western end of Ashford Avenue, is the most famous, we prefer the less rocky beaches of Isla Verde, behind the hotels and condominiums along Isla Verde Avenue, with their white sand, palm trees, ocean breezes, and rolling surf shopaholics alert San Juan has some great bargains, and U.S. citizens pay no duty on items bought in Puerto Rico. The streets of the Old Town, especially Calle San Francisco and Calle del Cristo, are a major shopping area. Local handicrafts can be good buys.