San Juan, Puerto Rico is one of the top locales in the Caribbean for a solo vacationer on a tight budget. This vibrant city has the highest concentration of hotels, restaurants, and attractions of any on the island, so not only will you find ways to keep yourself occupied during the entirety of your stay, but you will quickly learn that there are a lot of great deals to be had. What's more, San Juan is a top tourist destination for people from all walks of life, making this a wonderful location for social butterflies to make new acquaintances.
While the cost of lodging will likely be your largest expense outside of airfare, your choice of hotel certainly does not have to break the bank. There are a number of locations in San Juan that are not only affordable, but conveniently located and well-kept as well. Each of the hotel properties listed below costs between US$50 and US$160 a night – and they charge by the room, not by occupancy, so solo travelers will not be penalized for deciding not to bring a friend.
>> Best Western San Juan Airport, Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, San Juan, PR 00937. Tel. +1-787-791-6000. Star Rating: 1.5. Distance from International Airport: 0 miles.
>> Coral by the Sea Hotel and Restaurant, Calle Rosa #2, Isla Verde, Carolina, PR 00979. Tel. +1-787-791-6868; +1-877-849-3949. Star Rating: 1. Distance from International Airport: 2.73 miles.
>> Hampton Inn and Suites San Juan, 6530 Isla Verde Avenue, San Juan, PR 00979 Tel. +1-787-791-8777. Star Rating: 3.5. Distance from International Airport: 2.55 miles.
>> Howard Johnson Centro Medico, Americo Miranda, Esquina Centro Medico, San Juan, PR 0093. Tel. +1-787-751-5302. Star Rating: 2. Distance from International Airport: 6.28 miles.
>> Howard Johnson Hotel – Carolina, 4820 Isla Verde Ave, San Juan, PR 00979. Tel. +1-787-728-1300. Star Rating: 2.5. Distance from International Airport: 3.2 miles.
San Juan Water Beach Club Hotel, 2 Tartak Street, San Juan, PR 00979. Tel. +1-787-728-3666; 888-265-6699. Star Rating: 3. Distance from International Airport: 3.1 miles.
San Juan covers nearly 74 square miles – a big area to get around on foot. Luckily, the public transportation system in Puerto Rico, and particularly in San Juan, is both reliable and affordable. If you aren't within walking distance of an attraction you want to visit, a mere 25 to 50 cents will get you there by bus.
Metered taxis are a safe and relatively inexpensive option in comparison to other large US cities; although, admittedly, a taxi ride will cost significantly more than the bus. You can expect to spend a flat fee of US$1.00 plus an additional 10 cents per one-third mile.
Beaches in the greater San Juan area are some of the most visited in Puerto Rico. Because many of them are government-run, they tend to be well maintained and have amenities such as bathrooms, changing rooms with showers, and picnic tables. Best of all, there is no cost involved in a day at the beach. Plan ahead by stopping at the mercado on your way to one of San Juan's beaches (both Balneario de Carolina and Balneario de Escambron are government-run) to pick up some cold drinks, snacks, and lunch fixings to enjoy while you take advantage of the picnic areas.
In San Juan alone there are half a dozen museums, and with only a few exceptions, nearly all of them are free.
>> Museo de Arte de Historia de San Juan. Once the main marketplace of San Juan, this museum now houses a collection of local artwork and materials that explain the history of the city. Visitors may sit in on audiovisual presentations between the hours of 9am and 4pm, Tuesday through Friday. Cost: Free.
>> Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. This massive structure features several wings of artwork spanning from the neoclassical era to post modern, an atrium with a 400-seat theater, a restaurant, gift shop, and botanical sculpture garden. Cost: Adults US$6.00, seniors over 60 US$3.00 or free for seniors over 75.
>> Museo de las Americas covers the history and heritage of the Americas from Alaska and the rest of the United States down into Latin America. Exhibits include the conquest and colonization years, the heritage of various cultural groups, and how Puerto Rico came to be a commonwealth of the United States. Cost: US$3.00.
>> Museo del Indo. Visitors learn about the first people who inhabited the island of Puerto Rico – the Taíno Indians – with exhibits featuring artifacts dating from between the 13th and 15th centuries. Cost: Free.
Simply walking through old San Juan is a feast for the eyes, with countless historic buildings, some as old as 400 years, lining the blue cobblestone streets. The old city spans just seven blocks, which makes it easy to take in the entire area in just one day of walking, and the addition of a free trolley service makes it even easier to get around.
>> Bicardi Rum Factory. A ferry from Old San Juan transports visitors to the Bicardi Rum Factory where a free 45-minute tour begins in the Visitor Center. The tour is less a factory tour and more a historical and informative lecture on the origins of sugar-cane farming and rum making, with a video and Bicardi family memorabilia thrown in for good measure. The tour concludes with a sample of Bicardi Rum. Cost: Free.
>> Cabras Island and El Cañuelo. At the entrance of San Juan Bay is the small island of Cabras, upon which sits El Cañuelo, or the Forgotten Fort. First built in the latter half of the 16th century, the original structure, known as the Fort of San Juan de la Cruz, was burnt to the ground in 1625. A small stone replacement helped to protect the city by use of cross-firing cannon. You can reach Cabras by ferry from Old San Juan. Cost: Free.
>> Casa de los Contrafuertes is a pharmacy museum that dates back to the 18th century. Inside the building is a replica of a traditional island apothecary with no detail spared, down to the various types of bottles used to hold different medications. Additionally, there is also a wing of the building that houses a collection of Latin artwork and African artifacts. Cost: Free.
>> El Morro Fort. When El Morro was constructed in 1539, it was only a tower. 50 years later, construction began to expand the fort, making it one of the most prominent features of Old San Juan. Visitors may view a short movie about the fort's history as well as explore its six levels. Cost: US$3.00.
>> Fort San Cristóbal. Built in 1783, San Cristóbal is the largest fort constructed by the Spanish in the New Wold. It features an extensive tunnel system, a guard house, troops quarters, and a collection of military clothing. Cost: US$3.00.
>> La Fortaleza was built in the middle of the 16th century to defend the San Juan Harbour. Within the walls of this fort is the governors mansion, which is the oldest governor's mansion still in use in the New World. Cost: US$3.00.
>> La Muralla is a 20-foot-thick wall that was built around the entrance of Old San Juan to protect it from outside invasion. Five of the original gates remain, and from them you get a magnificent view of the forts. Cost: Free.
>> Museo de Doña Fela is a former home of the city's first female mayor. The mayor's personal effects, as well as other memorabilia from the time of her mayorship, are on display. Cost: Free.
>> Plaza de Hostos is a small square where local artisans set up vendor stands to display and sell their latest works. Several snack stands provide a variety of munchies. Cost: Free.
>> San Juan Bay. San Juan Bay is the busiest port in the Caribbean. It is a sight to behold and a great place to visit for souvenir shopping, especially for jewelry and local crafts. Cost: Free.
>> San Juan Cathedral is one of the oldest standing buildings in San Juan, having been built in 1521, and it stands today as a beautiful symbol of religious importance to the people of San Juan. The mummified body of Ponce de Leon is housed at the cathedral. Tours are offered daily between the hours of 8:30am and 4pm. Cost: Free.
Nightlife in San Juan is electrifying, with dance clubs, bars, and casinos aplenty, although an evening out can get pricey. Cover charges for most clubs average around US$5, and the cost of drinks only goes up from there. As specials at local clubs are always changing, it's smart to ask around your hotel for where to find the best deals on nightlife. The good news is that casinos in San Juan are free to enter, and guests who gamble often receive free beverages. As long as you avoid risky, high-betting game tables, a night at a casino can be a fun and affordable way for a solo visitor to enjoy some nightlife. San Juan's casinos are located at the following hotels:
If you plan accordingly, visiting San Juan can be one of the least expensive and easily accessible vacations you'll ever take as a solo traveler. Outside of transportation, food, and lodging, you can easily spend no money at all and still experience a culturally-enriching, yet fun and enjoyable trip.
Danielle Hamill is a graduate of the Creative Writing program at Florida State University. She currently writes for Interactive Internet Websites, Inc, which hosts a network of Caribbean travel guide sites, including puertorico-guide.info. You can reach her at Daniellle Hamill.