What to Do With Just 24 Hours in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Courtesy The St. Regis Bahia Beach

You can easily spend a day on one of Puerto Rico’s beaches or within El Yunque National Forest, but here’s a guide to add some cultural fiber to your trip throughout the Caribbean island’s resilient capital.

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There’s a reason that Puerto Rico has been coined the “Island of Enchantment.” Over a year after being devastated by Hurricane Maria, which left the island in disarray, the destination has been reborn—and is more vibrant than ever before. The resorts, hotels, and restaurants are back in full-swing with absolutely breathtaking renovations and totally new offerings, the sparkling shores have been restored to their raw beauty, and the cultural provenances are more accessible with over 100 flights from the mainland daily (plus, no passport required from the States!). And while the Puerto Rican deserted sands—Flamenco in Culebra, Esperanza in Vieques, Ocean Park in San Juan—are always a safe bet for a sun- and sangria-filled, palm tree-lined beach day, the Caribbean island, particularly its capital city, has so many other attractive offerings. Here’s how you should spend a day there.

9:00 a.m.: First stop, Caficultura for delicious bites and local vibes. Located in the heart of the historic colonial section of the city, this charming café features open, floor-to-ceiling passageways, as well as an extensive coffee selection (virgin, and otherwise)—partially responsible for why you’ll be hard pressed to find a Dunkin’ Donuts on island.


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10:30 a.m.: Old San Juan (one of the earliest European outposts in the New World with beginnings in 1509) has an uncanny ability to translate North American influences into Latin and Caribbean cultures. Along with its impeccably preserved architecture and laid-back charm, its ocean-blue cobblestones are meant to guide wanderlusts. Some must-sees include the cathedral on Cristo Street, as well as the central Plaza de Armas on San Francisco Street. Continue along Fortaleza Street until you reach the governor's mansion on the western end—and be sure to leave time to stumble into the boutiques that are scattered along the town’s long, narrow streets for souvenir shopping.


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12:30 p.m.: Owned and run by chef Mario Ormaza, a Jean-Georges veteran, Sabrina (inspired by the classic Audrey Hepburn film) offers traditional dishes with a tropical twist. Think: eggs benedict paired with mashed plantains or pancakes topped with bits of pineapple and mango. The effect is a total oasis.


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2:00 p.m.: After you’ve refueled, head to two of the city’s major art museums (which happen to be within walking distance of each other) to discover both antique and contemporary local art. Begin with the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico where the history of the island’s art is spread throughout two floors worth of galleries, including a room dedicated to the 18th-century painter considered the first notable Puerto Rican artist, José Campeche. Then, take a 10-minute stroll to the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico, a former school building that now houses exhibitions honoring works by local and locally born artists.


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5:00 p.m.: Just before sunset, visit the historic fortress, the Castillo San Felipe del Morro at the north end intersection of Del Morro Street and Norzagaray Street. The structure takes on a soft glow as the sun falls over the horizon (it’s open daily until 6 p.m.) and offers views of the bay and the ocean that are best savored when pink and orange bands of light begin to settle over the water. Construction on the castle began in 1539, when Spain was in control of San Juan. It’s from here that the Spanish forces fended off various maritime attacks, and you can peek through windows where cannons once stood.


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7:00 p.m.: In the heart of Condado, Chloé serves international fare with an utterly Puerto Rican vibe. Opt for the classic margarita and sit on the rooftop patio for exceptional sunset views over the water.

9:00 p.m.: After dinner, take a walk down the Condado strip to Oceana, a hotel known for its popular restaurant and patio bar just inches from the beach. Order a fresh cocktail and partake in some great people-watching.

Where to Stay

The St. Regis Bahia Beach

Reopened at the beginning of the year after a massive, multi-million dollar renovation, American Express Fine Hotel & Resort property, Bahia Beach is nothing short of impressive. Be sure to take advantage of the complimentary kayaks, paddleboards, and bikes available throughout the resort’s massive complex (which also includes a premier golf course)—and catch the ceremonial champagne sabering in the evening, overlooking the stunning, unobstructed view of the ocean. Beyond the resort and amenities, the customer service is top notch—you’ll be lucky if you encounter Francisco, one of the butlers, who is as good as they come.

Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve

The difference between a Ritz-Carlton and a Ritz-Carlton Reserve is the property’s historical relevance. And Dorado Beach (one of only three Reserve’s worldwide and another American Express Fine Hotel & Resort property) certainly has a place in history—it was once the private property of female pilot Clara Livingston (whose former five-bedroom mansion, Su Casa, is available as one of the resorts private residences) before the land was purchased and preserved by Laurance Rockefeller and later transformed into a hotel. Each room (the ocean-facing suites with personal infinity pools are by far superior) comes with a personal butler and sounds of the island’s signature frog, the Coquí. Perhaps most notable within the acres upon acres of property is the Spa Botánico, or better described as total sanctuary—even just the signature 60-minute Manos Santas Massage worked wonders.