Logo-BVIGuide.gif (2185 bytes)San Juan Cruise Port
Cruise Gateway to the Caribbean

San Juan. A major air and sea connecting point to the Caribbean, the world’s most popular cruise region, San Juan is one of the world’s busiest cruise ports.

Cruise Port.
The Old San Juan Piers, pictured above, as well as the Navy Frontier Pier in the background (rarely used) and the Pan American Pier across the bay (used for the largest ships) are the major cruise ship docking areas in the San Juan port. (photo: Old San Juan).

Night View of Cruise Ship & Pier Arches

Departure/embarkation port, as well as destination-visiting, cruise ships almost always use the Old San Juan Piers, allowing their passengers to walk to major attractions in Old San Juan (photo: Old San Juan at Night).
Old San Juan.

Colorful Street, Old San Juan, poster print by George Oze, 16 x 20, $29.99 at Amazon

Filled with the historic sites, Old San Juan has always been a major connecting point to the Caribbean, with old world charm and a vibrant crossroads culture. This beautiful and historic city makes a great vacation, overnight stay or just a tour (El Morrow photo Robinxoarms Blog)

El Morro

With its massive forts, Old San Juan evokes the Conquista days of the Spanish empire like no other place.
Cruises. San Juan offers hundreds of cruises from many cruise lines to mostly Eastern and Southern Caribbean destinations (see Cruise Destinations). Yet modern cruise ships are like resort destinations in themselves, with elegant restaurants, cafes, boutiques, decktop pools, spas and fitness centers, theaters and lounges, often with live entertainment as well as accommodations ranging from fine oceanside suites to decorative interior rooms.

Adventure of the Seas Cruise from San Juan. Impressive multi-deck atriums-promenades on this Voyager-class Royal Caribbean ship are a setting for boutiques, bars, coffee shops, people-watching and pageantry such as parades.

Adventure of the Seas

Many dining choices include a fine Italian restaurant, two cafes and a 50’s style burger joint. Adventure of the Seas also features an ice skating rink, pools and a rock-climbing wall.
A round trip seven night cruise (Sunday night about 8 PM to Sunday morning about 6 AM) goes to various destinations in the Eastern and Southern Caribbean.

Adventure of the Seas

See info, rates and
dates available

For example, one itinerary consists of St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Antigua and St. Kitts.
Cruise Destinations. Available cruise destinations from San Juan, known as Eastern Caribbean routes, include St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands), Tortola (British Virgin Islands), St. Martin/St. Maarten, St. Barths, Antigua, St. Kitts and Guadeloupe in the Leeward Islands and Dominica, St Lucia, Barbados, St Vincent, Grenada and Tobago in the Windward Islands.

Included also are the ABC Islands, Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire in the Netherland Antilles off the coast of South America, now often called Southern Caribbean routes, along with any islands south of Grenada, the classic hurricane-free zone (see rates and dates of cruises).icon

The most popular of these destinations include St. Thomas (duty free to US passengers) and St. Maarten/St. Martin (dual Dutch/French island) as well as Old San Juan itself.

These destinations are more easily reached (a one and a half day head start) by a cruise from San Juan after a short flight there, rather than after a long cruise from the US mainland.

Cruise Lines. Cruise lines operating from San Juan include Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises, SeaDream Yacht Club, Silversea and Celebrity Cruises (see rates and dates of cruises).icon

Embarkation Process. Embarking on a San Juan cruise ship requires proper travel documentation, usually a passport and cruise documents, including a Final Departure Manifest prior to departure (which is best processed ahead). Port Authority Security replaces airport security with x-ray screening of carryon luggage (not exceeding 24"W x 16"H x 30"L). Other luggage is checked in. Helping its passengers embark/disembark en masse, the cruise line functions as a surrogate immigration and customs authority, not only for the US, but for the destination countries as well, and these authorities are often behind the scenes.

San Juan Airport. The busiest airport in the Caribbean, the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (SJU) (current weather conditions) is located about 12 miles from Old San Juan Piers. See San Juan Airport for more information.

Airport Ground Transport. Taxi service, usually in a white van, from the San Juan Airport to the Old San Juan Cruise Ship Piers takes 45 minutes and costs $19 one-way (check with the driver before boarding). Limos may be arranged for pickup at the airport. Rail is not available. Rental cars are available at the airport. Buses to Old San Juan, sometimes arranged by the cruise line, are also available at a cost of 75¢ (coins only). The airport bus stop is located on the upper departure level at the far right, with signs marked ‘Parada’ and timetables displayed. For Old San Juan, take B-40 or C-45 one stop to Isla Verde (at Denny’s restaurant), then A-5 to the Old San Juan bus station near Cruise Ship Pier 4 (stop 2 on free trolley map).

Airport Cruise Connections. Upon properly entering San Juan, Caribbean cruise passengers can go from the gates serving the large intercontinental jets to Airport Ground Transport above that takes them to the San Juan Port’s cruise ship piers.

US Territory. Since Puerto Rico is a US territory, passengers on US flights to/from San Juan are making US city to city flights, and may freely enter/exit San Juan, after only passing security (except USDA clearing bags on exit). Passengers on international flights must clear US immigration and customs when entering San Juan.

Old San Juan

The narrow blue cobblestone streets, lined by ornate colonial buildings, lead to tropical gardens and amazing plazas such as Plaza de Armas and Plaza de San Jose as well as cafes and trendy Sofo and other bars like La Barrachina, birthplace of the piña colada (photo: Budget Travel). And the shops, especially at Calle del Cristo representing a shopper’s paradise, can lead to surprising finds (see Shopping Tour below).


La Bombonera (259 Calle San Francisco), a famous old-style Cuban coffee shop and bakery, serves Pan de Mallorca, a ham, egg and cheese sugar-powdered buttery bun for breakfast–the Latino McDonalds (photo: Serious Eats).
La Fonda del Jibarito (280 Calle Sol) has authentic local food like the Criollo (indigenous Spanish) classic Chillo Entero (whole fried snapper) and Grilled Garlic Shrimp with Mofongo (refried plantains) smothered in the classic Aji-li Mojili (garlic and chili sauce).

Coffee & Donuts

Marmalade’s chocolate beignets are dipped in hot chocolate sauce (photo and review: Greedy Gurlz).

Shopping (& Dining) Tour

Head away from the port and turn left on Calle Fortaleza for souvenir shops, crafts (Puerta Rican Arts & Crafts), art galleries (Galería Sánchez) and jewelers (Effy Jewelers and Blue Diamond, 202 Fortaleza, with the Hearts on Fire diamond and MarahLago Larimar).


Larimar & WhiteTopaz
Marina Earrings
in Sterling Silver
by MarahLago, the first
name in Larimar jewelry

Sparkle like the Caribbean Sea!

Early risers can have a Latino breakfast sandwich at La Bombonera up a block on Calle San Francisco.

Turn right on Calle del Cristo to find the shopper’s paradise known simply as Cristo.

Free Trolley

Hop on the open-air, tram-like, two-car free trolley.

Free trolley map-Google map also there). See also a walking map

Continue on Fortaleza for restaurants like La Barrachina (104 Calle Fortaleza), birthplace of the piña colada, with a free Flamenco dance show with dinner.




This bracelet of Topaz, Rutilated Quartz, and Golden Druze, illustrates the gorgeous creations found at Boveda (209 Cristo), handcrafted by jewelry artists locally and worldwide (photo: Boveda). See its jewelry online.

Take a look in
at the Boveda boutique, an artwork of its own, with its luminous interior of handmade lamps, antiques and Art Nouveaux reproductions (left photo: Travel & Sports)
Cristo has high end jeweler boutiques (Boveda and Chopard), artisan studios (Galeria Fosil Arte and Manolo Diaz) and art galleries (Galería Botello).

Along the Cristo at 99, artisan Manolo Diaz makes interesting sculptures from cast-off objects such as old mirrors, wooden shutters and antique windows.

Don’t miss El Museo del Niño (Children’s Museum), at 150 Cristo, with playhouse villages and dress-up costumes, a science center and a miniature television studio.

The beautiful Cathedral of San Juan Bautista (151 Cristo), the second oldest cathedral in the Americas, holds the tomb of Ponce de Leon, Puerta Rico’s first governor (photo: Cruise Ship Captain).

Countless bars, quirky cafes and coffee shop/ bakeries line the calles.

Step right back into the old world charm of Hotel El Convento (a former convent at 100 Cristo) and the colorful El Picoteo overlooking its open-air courtyard, with a terrace overlooking the calle as well. Have a mojito and great tapas, the flora and fauna of the happy hour (photo: Coastal Living).

Art galleries in Old San Juan vary from hole-in-the-wall treasures to opulent elegant places.

Galería Botello

An oasis of shaded courtyard, fountain and arched halls, Galería Botello provides a contemplative sanctuary for its iconic sculptures and paintings at 208 Cristo (photo: Botello). See online gallery.

Galeria Fosil Arte, 200 Cristo, exhibits real fossils in paintings, sculptures, etchings silk-screens and lithographs by artist Radames Rivera.


An international jeweler and watch jmaker at 202 Cristo, Chopard sells distinctive accessories.

Plaza de San Jose

Continue on Cristo to Plaza de San Jose, with the statue of Ponce de Leon in front of La Iglesia San José, the second oldest church in the Americas with re-discovered 16th century murals.

Go right at Plaza de San Jose one block on Calle San Sebastián and, at 102, have great Mofongo Relleno at El Patio de Sam. And a couple of blocks up on Calle Sol is La Fonda del Jibarito, an excellent choice for local food.

Turn right again and come back on Calle San Jose, for more serious shopping, including art galleries (Obra Galleria) and antiques.

St. Francis & Stigmata Painting Detail

El Alcazar, 103 Calle San Jose, is the largest emporium of antique furniture, silver, and art objects in the Caribbean (see online catalog). Pictured is a detail from a 17th century Spanish colonial oil painting on canvas (photo: El Alcazar).

Continue to the Plaza de Armas.

Ponce de Leon

This bronze statue was made from captured British cannons from the failed attack in 1792 (photo: Wikipedia).

El Patio de Sam

A cozy spot with a sun-lit patio out back just off the Plaza de San José at 102 Calle San Sebastián, El Patio de Sam has the best burgers in Old San Juan and great Mofongo Relleno as well as the Lady Killer cocktail (its name is the sign of a good watering hole since the ’50s)

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

A good place for people watching (photo of watercolor: Robertomariani’s Blog).

Turn left there on beautiful Calle San Francisco, lined with antique shops and cafes. Stop at La Bombonera for a mallorca.

DiVersa® Earrings

Exquisite Effy Quality!

DiVersa® Sterling Silver Diamond & Amethyst Earrings (see info and price) from Effy Jewelers (203 Calle Fortaleza near Plaza de Armas).

Doors of Old San Juan
popular posters and plaques


The fun Mofongo and Mojito Tour is highlighted by a class that cooks mofongo.


Plaza Colon

Continue on to the Plaza Colon, with the tall statue of Christopher Columbus.

Turn right at Plaza Colon one block back to the tour start on Calle Fortaleza– actually this is the area known as South of Fortaleza or SoFo for short.

This area around Plaza Colon is known for its vibrant music and nightlife.

Nuyorican Cafe

A little before Plaza Colon in an alleyway at 312 Calle San Francisco is legendary Nuyorican Cafe, an authentic
bohemian salsa and latin jazz club and cafe (photo: PeterGreenburg.com).

The best coffee in town is found at this Caficultura cafe, in front of Plaza Colon at 401 Calle San Francisco. Try the Chicken Breast Tower with Tostones (photos: Coastal Living).


Expresso with
Guava Cookies

From Nuyorican Cafe,
Herman Olivera with Camborican
En mi Viejo San Juan (In My Old San Juan)
(lyrics and translation)

Comborican | Myspace Music Videos


This is SoFo (South of Fortaleza), a popular area for fine dining and nightlife. Stop in at Aguaviva to see its ice-blue neon jellyfish decor.

What began as the ‘Nuevo Latino’ cuisine, with a blend of Spanish, classic Latino, Puerto Rican and later International influences, resulted in the semi-annual SoFo Old San Juan Culinary Festival, with food displays outside restaurants, tables set up in the streets, artisan booths and live music stages.


A highly ratedConde Nast Top 100′ restaurant and wine bar at 317 Calle Fortaleza, Marmalade offers Californian-French cuisine with local ingredients, including its signature White Bean Soup (photo: Open Table).
See its chic Coffee & Donuts’ dessert and house specialty Paella Bites (see recipe).

Tantra, at 356 Calle Fortaleza, offers Indo-Latino cuisine, like tandoori chicken with manchego (Spanish) cheese and guava-flavored dip.


Peking Duck Nachos

With cabaret-style decor at 364 Calle Fortaleza, Dragonfly offers Chino-Latino fusion cuisine, such as its delicious Peking Duck Nachos (Fried Wonton Skins) as well as a noodle bar. It’s a popular nightclub as well (photo: joelli).


Amidst neon-lighted decor with upscale latino seafood, Aguaviva (at 364 Calle Fortaleza near Plaza Colón), has an excellent raw bar with many inventive cervices, a great calamari sandwich and Grilled Mahi Mahi with Celery Root Mofongo and guava balsamic syrup as well as its Watermelon Sangria signature drink.

Parrot Club

This is the club that began the SoFo ‘Nuevo Latino’ scene with a vibrant ambiance and pan-Latino food.

Ropa Vieja Nachos

With its large lively bar, colorful interior and sunlit courtyard at 363 Calle Fortaleza, the Parrot Club has excellent affordable dishes like Ropa Vieja (shredded beef in tomato sauce) Nachos. Try the Parrot Passion house drink (photo: Trip Advisor).


Old San Juan has a great variety of accommodations in all price ranges. Hotel Milano (see rates-low price guarantee) (307 Calle Fortaleza) is well regarded with affordable rooms in a restored classical building in the heart of Old San Juan.

Sheraton Old San Juan Hotel and Casino (see rates-low price guarantee), a favorite of cruise visitors, has a splashy casino, great room views, reasonable rates, Palio’s Tuscan-style grill and Chicago’s ‘build-your-own’ burgers onsite as well as nearby pocket-sized Plaza Arturo Somohano with real artisan crafts.

Hotel El Convento

Known for its old world charm inside and out, Hotel El Convento (see rates-low price guarantee) (100 Calle del Cristo) has been exquisitely restored with period furniture in its rooms to capture the historic mood. Yet this business friendly hotel has all the modern conveniences and offers guest access to an Isla Verde beach club.

Cervantes Hotel

Cervantes Hotel (see rates-low price guarantee) is a small intimate hotel in the heart of Old San Juan with a close walk to the cruise ship piers. Every room has a balcony overlooking the colonial streets. The hotel has the award winning Panza restaurant, coffee shop and lounge. Continental breakfast is included.

San Juan Airport | San Juan Cruise Port | Old San Juan | Tortola Airport
St. Maarten Airport | St. Maarten Cruise Port | St. Barths Airport | Anguilla Airport
St. Thomas Airport | St. Thomas Cruise Port | St. John | Saba Airport
Fort Lauderdale Cruise Port | Atlanta Airport | Dallas/Ft Worth Airport

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