A historic Caribbean capital pulsing with modern energy

With a 500-year-old city center that’s flanked by golden beaches, modern condos and mega-shopping centers, old world truly meets new in Puerto Rico’s capital city. The captivating ancient plazas of the Old City give way to the high rises of Hato Rey and the ritzy seaside hotels of Isla Verde. The end result is a multifaceted city with broad appeal. There are few places in the world that offer such a perfect combination of hip urban center, beach resort and bastion of history.

Understanding the Past

One cannot visit San Juan without strolling the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan, the walled city- within-a-city whose seven square blocks are home to more than 400 restored buildings from the 16th and 17th centuries. Take in El Morro and La Fortaleza fortresses, San Juan Cathedral (resting place of Ponce de Leon) and the Paseo de la Princesa, a promenade lined with statues, fountains and street vendors. Talk to local artists and buy their wares. Pop your head into any bar, restaurant or museum that strikes your fancy. Plan to spend at least a full day here.

Beyond Old Town

This city of nearly 400,000 is a collection of unique neighborhoods. The beachfront areas of Condado, Isla Verde and Ocean Park are popular tourist destinations, full of blissful beaches, fine hotels and inns, trendy restaurants, hopping nightclubs and designer boutiques. The Santurce neighborhood is a hipster haven with a thriving art scene, while the Hato Rey financial district is where you’ll find Luis Muñoz Marin Park and Plaza Las Americas, the biggest shopping mall in the Caribbean.

Venture to Vieques

Sleepy Vieques is a popular weekend getaway from San Juan. Mass tourism has not yet touched this island off the east coast of Puerto Rico, where wild horses roam free and there are no traffic lights. By day, visitors head to the nearly deserted beaches or hit the water for snorkeling, swimming, diving, kayaking and fishing excursions. On nights when there’s little or no moon, kayak on Bioluminescent Bay, where the water glitters with the glow of a billion tiny dinoflagellates. Set aside a few hours to poke your head into the quirky shops and low-key bars of the two tiny towns, Isabel II and Esperanza.

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