The Bacardi Factory is more than just an opportunity to see how Bacardi distills its rum. The interactive visitor’s centre tells the story of rum from the beginnings of European colonization of the Caribbean, to the first sugar plantations in Puerto Rico, to the Bacardi family’s first distillery in Cuba, to the emergence of Bacardi as a major international brand.
San Juan’s miles of sandy beaches are its star attractions and they’re well-appointed with lockers, showers, and water-sport equipment rentals. Condado Beach, lined along its back with high-rise hotels, has been a playground for the rich and famous since the 1920s. It has a small, cruisey gay area near the Atlantic Beach Hotel. Ocean Park Beach attracts a younger and friendlier crowd with a more obvious gay cruising scene.
San Juan’s history stretches back almost 500 years and relics of the old Spanish colony are among Puerto Rico’s most visited sites. The San Juan National Historic Site includes two former Spanish forts meant to protect the colony from pirates and other European powers who wanted it: El Castillo San Felipe del Morro and El Castillo de San Cristóbal. Both fortresses offer fascinating insights into military life in the 16th to 18th centuries and stunning vistas of the city and the bay.
The official residence of Puerto Rico’s Governor, Palacio de Santa Catalina, was originally built in 1533 as a fortress to defend the harbor. It is the oldest standing government residence in the new world.
The history of the Catedral de San Juan Bautista dates back to the 1520s, but it was rebuilt several times following damage from hurricanes and looters. It’s worth a visit to see the tomb of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, famous for his (fruitless) search for the Fountain of Youth.
With more than 300 stores, Plaza las Américas is the biggest mall in the Caribbean, anchored by such American stalwarts as JC Penney (the world’s largest), plus Macy’s, Lacoste, American Eagle, A|X and Sears. There is also a movie theatre and decent restaurants.
For a more traditional San Juan experience try shopping in Old San Juan, where the narrow streets are crowded with fine jewelers, galleries, and craft shops. Of course there are lots of cafes and restaurants to stop in if you need a break. There’s also a free historic trolley that runs through the neighborhood if you’d like to pass through quickly.