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Having only 24 hours in San Juan isn’t necessarily ideal (it’s way too beautiful there and I could stay forever). Don’t despair, though! Even with limited time, you can still see and do a lot in a single day.
As an Caribbean island, Puerto Rico is very popular for many reasons. Americans don’t need to bring a passport, for example, and plenty of direct flights depart the United States each day.
In addition to its natural wonders, San Juan’s vibrancy is a huge draw in and of itself. I fell in love with this city as a solo traveler. There are so many things to do alone in San Juan that I could’ve stayed forever.
Furthermore, San Juan is a starting point for many popular cruises. Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport also has several flights that connect to other islands that may not have direct routes from the United States. It’s not uncommon to do a long layover here, before departing for other Caribbean destinations.
So, as you can see, there are many reasons why travelers might only have a brief stop in San Juan.
Don’t despair, though. You can still see and do a lot with 24 hours in San Juan, but (unsurprisingly), it’s still important to wisely manage your time.
24 Hours in San Juan: Practical Advice
First I wanted to share a couple of practical suggestions, before going into more detail regarding this 24 Hours in San Juan Itinerary.
Over all, San Juan is a very easy travel destination, especially if you have travel experience under your belt and speak a bit of Spanish, but it’s still better to be prepared. Just in case!
Transportation to San Juan
Most travelers will arrive at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. This airport is very centrally located. I’m not exaggerating when I say that most San Juan hotels are a 15 minute car ride away, which is fantastic. I know it certainly made arriving at 1 am. a little more bearable for me.
Upon arrival, I would just let other people handle the transportation logistics for you.
For instance, I don’t personally recommend renting your own car for your stay in San Juan. Parking is a nightmare in Old San Juan, and rideshares are so readily available that a car would just be an expensive hassle.
Download Uber to efficiently get around town.
What to Bring for One Day in San Juan
Whether you only have a single day in San Juan, a longer trip around Puerto Rico, or a Caribbean cruise, you will want to be adequately prepared for tropical weather.
Here are a couple of essentials for your 24 hours in San Juan.
- Bathing Suit: Okay, I know you only have a day, but still. You’ll want to go into the water in San Juan. Whether you’re swimming in a pool or kayaking, don’t forget a good bathing suit!
- Bug Spray: Bugs are super annoying and you don’t want them to bother them on your trip. Pack a small bottle of bug spray as an additional precaution.
- Comfortable Walking Shoes: Old San Juan is gorgeous, but the cobblestones will legit destroy your feet if you wear crappy shoes. Ditch the strappy heels and go for a solid pair of walking shoes that you’ll appreciate once you’re out and about.
- Day Bag: A lightweight day bag is really all you need for exploring San Juan. As a FYI, I had no issues with pickpockets or safety in San Juan, but at the same time, I understand that some travelers want a bit of extra protection. Bring a crossbody Pacsafe bag for the extra peace of mind.
- Sunglasses: Without question, sunglasses are very important to keep your vision pristine while you wander the streets of Old San Juan and beyond. You can find many affordable sunglasses to take with you if you don’t want to spend a ton of money.
- Sunscreen: You don’t want sunburn to be one of your souvenirs in Puerto Rico. The UV rays are very strong here, especially at the hottest times of the day. Make sure to pack high quality, environmentally friendly sunscreen to stay safe as you sightsee around San Juan.
- UBF Clothing: So, not to be a jerk, but let me repeat myself … Don’t mess around with the hot sun in San Juan. For even more precautions, pack clothing with UBF protection that will keep your body safe from the sun’s rays. Even though they’re a little expensive, Coolibar makes great quality clothing that’s perfect for San Juan including this fun sundress tunic and these gorgeous white wide leg pants. Explore their line for pieces that fit your style.
Where to Stay in San Juan
For a short visit in San Juan, I recommend staying either close to the airport or Old San Juan. This will make your next day departure a lot easier to handle. I’ve listed a couple of suggestions to get you started on finding accommodation.
- Caribe Hilton: The home of the original frozen Pina Colada (supposedly), Caribe Hilton has a great pool and beach, and also is very close to the airport, making a great choice for one day in San Juan. See prices on Expedia.com and Booking.com
- Candado Vanderbilt Hotel: If you want to splurge, then you ought to check out Puerto Rico’s first luxury hotel, which was opened in 1919. This resort is only five miles away from the airport. See prices on Expedia.com and Booking.com
- DREAMCATCHER By DW: Looking for something a bit smaller but still wonderful? DREAMCATCHER by DW is the perfect little boutique hotel that’s only a block from the beach. See prices on Expedia.com and Booking.com
What to Do in San Juan in Only 24 Hours
Not sure what to do with 24 hours in San Juan? I completely understand. Whenever I research a new travel destination, I easily feel overwhelmed at all the attractions and restaurants and cool neighborhoods, and always end up trying to see too much in a limited time.
Short itineraries are tough.
Admittedly, even though I narrowed down my ideas, I still feel like I’ve listed a lot of options in this one post. So, feel free to edit some items out, or if you’re a super active traveler, then maybe this itinerary will work for you. Live your truth.
Either way: I hope you have a wonderful time even with only 24 hours in San Juan.
Explore Old San Juan
Old San Juan is home to cobbled streets, colorful homes, trendy boutiques, historical sites, and so much more. Although touristy, I believe no visit to this city is complete without a leisurely stroll around Old San Juan. I could’ve hung out here forever. It’s so cute.
Old San Juan is confined to a reasonably small and walkable area, so once you arrive, you don’t need to worry about driving again for awhile. I know I already talked about car rentals, but I feel like it bears repeating: I actually wouldn’t recommend having your own car, because parking here is a bit of a … nightmare, to say the least, especially when there are construction projects.
For those of you interested in history, I would suggest taking an organized San Juan Walking Tour to maximize your time. San Juan’s history is incredible, and I feel like it’s important to learn about the places that you’re visiting.
Whatever you do, don’t miss Calle de la Fortaleza or the umbrella street! It’s so pretty! I don’t even think Instagram does it a justice, haha.
As a side note, I felt like travel in Puerto Rico was very safe, particularly in Old San Juan. You can pretty much wander everywhere (except La Perla) and not feel worried about your personal safety – which is a nice bonus.
Visit Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Castillo San Filipe del Morro offers some of the most iconic views of San Juan. This historic citadel is run by the National Park Service and strategically overlooks the entrance to San Juan Bay. Take plenty of photos.
The citadel is reasonably big, but not overwhelming either. I think I spend about an hour and a half here, and felt like I saw everything without rushing.
My one piece of advice is to go to Castillo San Filipe del Morro early in the day. It gets hot and humid inside the citadel, and although some rooms have fans, sightseeing later in the afternoon might be uncomfortable for some travelers.
And don’t forget to see families flying kites on the expansive lawn! Flying kites is very popular in this area, and some of them are very beautiful.
Eat as Much Delicious Puerto Rican Food as Possible
Puerto Rican food is literally the best thing ever. It doesn’t matter if you have only 24 hours in San Juan. It doesn’t even matter if you only have five minutes in San Juan. You need, need, need to eat some Puerto Rican food. Come to San Juan on an empty stomach.
Do your research ahead of time, and pick a couple local restaurants to enjoy. Do not go to chains in Old San Juan, haha. Eater has a great restaurant guide that will help you plan your food adventure.
However, if you’re a major foodie and want to try as much as possible, then I suggest booking yourself on an organized food tour to maximize your time in San Juan. The guide will take you to a variety of places, so you’re able to sample a bunch of delicacies.
Take a Rum Tour
You can’t spend 24 hours in San Juan and miss out on a rum tour (I mean, unless you don’t drink, in which case, spend extra time outdoors). However, huge rum fans will appreciate a visit to Casa Bacardi.
Casa Bacardi is technically outside Old San Juan, but rideshares and tours are frequent enough to make a visit possible on a one day trip. I think it took about twenty minutes for me to go from the Caribe Hilton to Casa Bacardi.
At Casa Bacardi, the guided rum tasting tour will take you through the brand’s history. You will also receive a free drink and sample a variety of rums, including a special one that’s only produced in Puerto Rico! The guides are entertaining and informative too.
On a pretty day, don’t forget to enjoy your free welcome drink at the expansive outdoor bar.
Go for a Swim (or Do an Outdoor Activity)
Okay, I know you can be lazy in the pool anywhere in the world, but I need to build a break into every itinerary. Take advantage of a pool or a beach in San Juan, and simply relax.
Even an hour of relaxation makes a big difference in your own.
Of course, you’re also welcome to seek out more active outdoors adventures, such as kayaking, but me personally, I love the pool. Love, love, love.
Keep in mind that San Juan may have a couple of beaches, but Puerto Rico’s most beautiful beaches are located elsewhere on the island. Sure, you’ll enjoy plenty of sweeping and blue bay views, but beach seekers shouldn’t have super high expectations, especially with only 24 hours in San Juan.
Plan a Cocktail Crawl & Enjoy the Nightlife
I can’t talk about San Juan without including a nightly cocktail crawl. Your 24 hours in San Juan are slowly coming to an end. Why not close out today with a bang?
San Juan is known for having an incredible cocktail scene. Even if you don’t drink, a mocktail Pina Colada tastes like a rich (and delicious) dessert that you’ll savor once your trip has officially come to an end.
In many ways, the bars themselves are huge attractions worthy of a visit in their own rights. For instance, La Factoria is one of the most famous bars in the Caribbean (and the world). It’s so much fun exploring the different bars and sampling the drinks. Obviously, La Factoria gets crowded, so arrive early to ensure you have a seat somewhere.
Of course, there are a ton of other wonderful bars to choose from. Casa de Montecristo, for instance, is a relaxing cigar bar that’s perfect for unwinding after a busy 24 hours in San Juan.
24 hours in San Juan in definitely doable. I hope this guide gives you plenty of ideas of how to best spend your time in San Juan. Don’t worry, though. I’m sure you’ll be back again soon. It’s super easy to fall in love with this magical island.