Welcome to San Juan, America's oldest European-founded city. It's a place filled with culture and history but has plenty of modern pursuits as well, offering historic landmarks, gorgeous beaches, dining and nightlife, as well as shopping, museums and so much more. Whether you live here or are fortunate enough to be visiting on vacation, make sure that you check out all of the ancient forts in Old San Juan, spend a day by the beach, explore the local culture in the museums and have a few drinks at one of the local bars or nightclubs.
It's easy to keep busy in San Juan but it's also important to remember to take a step back and relax every now and then. When you need to get away from the busyness of the lively city why not take a breath of fresh air in one of the beautiful parks in San Juan? Locals, tourists and native wildlife all take advantage of these open green spaces located around San Juan island and they are some of the best places to meet up with friends or just spend time in nature by yourself.
It's hot in San Juan so don't be weighed down by heavy bags while out at the parks. Rather than lug your backpacks and bags around the park with you, find a nearby bounce luggage storage location in San Juan. We'll safely store your belongings for as long as you need.
El Yunque National Forest
El Yunque National Forest is special since it's the only tropical rainforest in the United States. It's a locally known landmark and is home to an incredible variety of plants and animals. If you're a nature lover then you'll definitely want to see this place for yourself as its natural pools and waterfalls are some of the most unforgettable sights in the city. The best locale to take it all in is from one of the observation towers found around the area.
At over 110 square kilometers in size, you'll find plenty of hidden gems inside the park as well as wildlife like birds and frogs, and even the endangered Puerto Rican parrot. If you enjoy birdwatching this is a great viewpoint, and we recommend bringing binoculars to make the most of your time. There are also several hiking trails to traverse, including one that will bring you all the way to the top of El Toro Mountain. The El Angelito trail is also worth checking out and has a lagoon with a rope swing. Follow the La Coca trail to be brought past some tranquil ponds.
We suggest bringing a bathing suit since the natural pools we mentioned earlier are actually safe to go swimming in. You'll find lots of places where you can go for a dip in the water, but the Juan Diego Falls and La Mina Falls are some of the most popular. It's the ideal place to cool off after a tiring day of hiking. You don't have to leave at the end of the day since there are a few hotels along the perimeter of the forest and by the coast, plus there are designated camping grounds inside the park as well.
San Juan National Historic Site
Although it's considered a park, the San Juan National Historic Site is mostly made up of concrete and buildings. That being said, we still consider it to be one of the best parks in San Juan and an unmissable place for anybody to visit. You'll get a terrific glimpse into the nearly 500 years of history of the city at this former Spanish colony.
As you walk around the cobblestone street of the National Historic Site you'll pass by former colonial houses, old forts and ancient city walls. The walls are named Castillo San Cristobal, El Morro and El Canuelo and they date back to the time when the Spanish founded the city. The park is run by the National Park Service and they do ask for a small entrance fee if you want to check out some of the main 16th century landmarks like the Castillo San Cristobal or the Castillo San Felipe del Morro.
Some of the old strongholds still house cannons and other equipment used back when they were significant military posts. If you want to learn more about them, follow along on a ranger talk which happens every hour. Occasionally there are historic reenactments explaining what life was like at the forts in the past.
Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve
This is one of the most popular places to spend time outside in San Juan, Puerto Rico and for good reason. It's home to the Laguna Grande which is one of only three bioluminescent lagoons in all of Puerto Rico. The bay is exactly what it sounds like and truly incredible, with magical glowing water that lights up in the night. The entire nature reserve has been under the protection of the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust since they acquired the land back in 1975.
If you're someone who likes to spend time at the beach, you'll definitely want to reserve an entire day at this park which has several places for you to relax along the sandy coast. Playa Colora, Playa Escondida and Seven Seas Beach are among some of the best known. Inside the park, you'll find rental areas, bathrooms and showers, plus camping sites so you can stay for as long as you'd like to.
Some of the other natural wonders in the park include coral reefs, mangroves and dry forests. There's also the Fajardo Lighthouse which offers fantastic views of the park and the rest of northeastern Puerto Rico. The first place to go once you arrive at the park is the visitors center where they'll introduce you to the park. There, they also offer different kinds of tours by walking, kayaking, biking or even by trolley. We highly recommend going on the tours if you want to learn more about the unique flora and fauna in the park.
San Juan Botanical Garden
The San Juan Botanical Garden is a must visit attraction in Puerto Rico, with beautiful flower displays that adults and children alike can enjoy. Upon entering the park you'll be transported to a different world with tropical plants, exotic trees and colorful flora.
The leafy pathways make for a wonderful place to take a walk and you'll love exploring the herb gardens and meadows of orchids. These gardens are one of the most popular attractions for many travelers spending time in San Juan. In total, the park is home to around 125 different species of palm trees alone, with some originating from all over the globe.
The bamboo chapel is one of the park's landmarks that you'll definitely want to check out during your time here, as well as the mini Monet garden. The gardens are also a local favorite for birdwatching throughout the area, as it's home to nearly 60 different species of birds.
Playa Ocean Park
Playa Ocean Park is one of the most beautiful public areas in the city being located on a gorgeous sandy piece of land by the coast. Soft sands transition into clear blue water with waves that attract swimmers and surfers from all over. Come here to go sun tanning, snorkeling or to relax with a nice ocean breeze keeping you cool from the warm sun.
Although the beach can get busy it's still possible to take time out here and it's usually quieter than some of the other beaches in San Juan. Since there isn't just one entry point to the park, it's easy to find a calm spot to claim for yourself.
When you're spending a long time at a beach it's important to wear lots of sunscreen and stay hydrated, because the sun in the Caribbean can be intense. It's the perfect locale to enjoy the fresh ocean air and sunshine with the family.
Parque de las Palomas is nicknamed Pigeon Park because you can find so many of these birds here. You'll find the public area on the top of the city wall by the southern end of Calle del Cristo. The cobblestone courtyard has trees that provide nice shaded areas to escape the sun.
From within the park, you can admire nice views of Bahia de San Juan. It's wonderful to watch the boats, some of which are small and others as big as cruise ships, which make their way in and out of the bay.
Unlike in some big cities, the pigeons in this park are not seen as pests but are actually its main attraction. There are holes in the walls by the park where you'll find them nesting, and you can hear a faint and comforting cooing sound from the birds resting nearby. By the gate of the park, you'll find a vendor who can sell you bird seeds to feed to them.
Luis Munoz Rivera Park
Parque Luis Munoz Rivera, as it's known locally, covers 27 acres of space and is one of the San Juan parks found in the old historic district of the city. You'll come across the space west of the Commonwealth Supreme Court and a short distance south of Escambron Beach. The park has been around since sometime in the early 1900s and today its upkeep is done by the US National Park Service. The smooth concrete road that runs through the park is ideal for walking or jogging.
Luis Munoz Rivera whom the park was named after was a well known Puerto Rican. Throughout his life, he was a statesman, a poet and a journalist, and he played a role in the battle for the freedom and liberty of Puerto Rico. You'll find a statue of him towards the western end of the park as well as other monuments like the Pavilion of Peace and a Spanish military structure that is home to a replica of the US Liberty Bell. The park is a lovely setting to see different species of plants, shrubs, trees and flowers.
On site, there's an arboretum, an art gallery, a historical museum and a botanical garden, plus pretty impressive architectural displays. If you're interested in the statue of Luis Munoz Rivera, you'll also want to check out the bust sculptures of some other significant Latin American figures that can be found in the park. As you walk around the grounds you'll come across murals on the sidewalks, water fountains and a playground for kids. There's also a gazebo, benches, and picnic areas, so feel free to bring yourself food for a snack.
Eco's Sport Park
If you're looking for entertainment and somewhere to be active in San Juan, the facilities at Eco's Sports Park are just what you need. This is a paradise for sports lovers so try to bring some friends, you'll find plenty of fields and courts where you can have a friendly match.
Inside Eco's Sports Park, you'll find a beach volleyball court and a soccer field plus all of the equipment that you'll need to have a game. Table soccer and a beer pong table are found on site as well.
Tired and in need of refreshments? Head to the outdoor refreshment lounge where you can take your pick from a variety of comfort foods. If you've had enough running around for the day, keep the fun going in the video games room.
Get to know the San Juan parks
San Juan has more parks than you might expect and there are actually many outdoor areas to choose from. Some of the parks mentioned above are quite big with lagoons, walking trails and forests, but even a small park can offer the relaxing getaway you need. If you enjoyed the few hikes that we mentioned briefly above then you'll love discovering more of the treks in San Juan as you get to know the parks.
You're already familiar with a couple of the city's beaches but there are so many more around the island; check out this helpful guide on beaches near San Juan to see where to find them. After a full day, you'll want a nice place to rest. This guide on the best hostels in San Juan points you in the right direction.