San Juan vs. Old San Juan: Which Is Better for Vacation?


If you’re traveling to the beautiful island of Puerto Rico and want to immerse yourself in its rich history and vibrant Caribbean culture, both San Juan and Old San Juan can offer that to you and more! Both areas are breathtaking in their own unique ways, and in this article, we’ll break down how they compare to help you decide which is best for your vacation.

San Juan is better for vacation if you want to experience a newer and bigger city, stay in a top-tier resort, and indulge in signature Puerto Rican dishes. A vacation to Old San Juan is better if you want to visit historical sites, and don’t mind spending a bit more on shopping and food.

CategorySan JuanOld San Juan
Cost of Stay: Weekly (USD)$1,074 per person$1,074 per person
TransportationTaxis, shuttle service, public buses, car rentals, UberTaxis, public buses, car rentals, Uber, tourist trolley
Notable AttractionsFortaleza Street, Plaza Las Americas, Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián, El Capitolio, Museum of Contemporary Art of Puerto RicoPuerta de Tierra, San Cristobal, Ballaja, Plaza de Armas, Fort San Felipe del Morro (El Morro), Casa Blanca, Plaza de San José
WeatherHot all year round with a slightly ‘cooler season’ from December to MarchHot all year round with a slightly ‘cooler season’ from December to March
Food and DrinkPuerto Rican cuisine, seafood, international cuisine, numerous street vendors, lounges, and barsPuerto Rican cuisine, seafood, international cuisine, numerous upscale restaurants
Activities for KidsAqua Adventure, Museo del Nino, Parque del Indio, Miramar Food Truck Park, Museo de Arte de Puerto RicoEl Morro Esplanade, Old San Juan Trolley Ride, El Morro Kite Festival, Old San Juan Segway Tour, Plaze Centennial
Nature AttractionsIsla Verde Beach, La Ventana al Mar, Bosque Urbano de San Patricio, Parque Luis Munoz Marin Playa Puerta de Tierra, Pigeon Park, Parque Las Palomas, Old Town Princesa Park

San Juan is the capital of the magnificent island of Puerto Rico, which is surrounded by the serene blues of the Caribbean ocean; visitors of the city will enjoy seeing the impressive Spanish colonial buildings while sampling the delicious local street food. Meanwhile, Old San Juan, also known as Viejo, is widely known for its captivating culture, exceptional dining, and numerous historical sites. 

This article will explore these two prime spots in Puerto Rico to help you decide which destination will give you the better vacation experience. 

Cost of Stay

A vacation to San Juan and Old San Juan are similar when it comes to price. This is because they are in close proximity to one another, and are popular tourist areas in Puerto Rico. The peak tourist season is from mid-December to mid-April; expect to pay a bit more during your stay on the island if you decide to go during this time. 

Old San Juan has all the beautiful old-world charm you could imagine, but you may find that this comes with a higher price tag. However, the good news is almost all the attractions, and restaurants are within walking distance, so you’ll save on transportation!

There is a wide range of accommodations in San Juan. Most of the hotels in the main tourist zones are well worth the money as they are nice quality. The area known as Condado has a good mix of upscale and mid-priced hotels, while the area of Isla Verde is much larger and has a wider range of prices.

Best Affordable Hotels

If you want a lively beach feel to your island city vacation, San Juan has a variety of cost-efficient lodging options. A great pick in the Condado area is The Wave Hotel, which boasts a stylish rooftop, two whirlpools, and a FREE breakfast every morning!

For such a small area, Viejo is jam-packed with hotel options, and not all of them will break your wallet. The Hotel Milano is one such place; it’s located on the famous Fortaleza Street and is only steps away from major attractions, museums, and shops.

For a luxury experience that is well worth every penny, Hotel El Convento is the crème de la crème. Originally a convent in the 16th century, it has been remodeled and restored and operates as a lovely hotel with a restaurant and bar, fitness center, and splash pool; it’s also located in the heart of Old San Juan, making it close to all major attractions. 

Main Attractions

Old San Juan is packed with a wide variety of historical sites to see and explore. The El Morro Fort is a tourist favorite, as it has several levels and a big lighthouse to check out. You can either tour the fort on your own or join a ranger-guided tour that is offered daily.

You can fully appreciate what Viejo has to offer by taking a segway tour. Not only is it educational, but it’s an exciting way to see the city. The tour lasts from 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on which sites you decide to see.

If you want an area with fantastic beaches, San Juan is the place to go. You can easily jump into clear blue water from almost any point of the capital. The family-friendly, Balneario El Escambron Beach, is excellent for snorkeling and swimming. Whereas, Ocean Park Beach has vast white sands for sports such as beach volleyball and paddle tennis.

Activities for Kids

There are a number of plazas and parks scattered around Viejo. These are wonderful spots to take breaks after exploring all the breathtaking historical forts in the area. 

A snorkeling tour in San Juan with Aqua Adventure Inc. is an exciting treat for kids and parents! A friendly guide will take you and your kids along a rocky reef in search of colorful fish, seahorses, and squids.

Food and Drink

Puerto Rican food is a sultry blend of European, African, Latin, and Caribbean culinary traditions. You’ll find some of the freshest dishes on the streets of San Juan. One restaurant we recommend is the highly popular La Alcapurria Quelma for the yummiest alcapurria fritters!

Old San Juan is known for its exceptional dining. Prepare to spend a little more for food here, but the irresistible flavors are well worth it! If you’re looking for some typical Viejo nightlife, El Asador is a must-stop. This sophisticated bar/restaurant has a stunning indoor patio, high ceilings, and a hint of that old-world feel. 

Weather

Both San Juan and Old San Juan are consistently warm throughout the year, with only minor temperature fluctuations during the ‘rainy season,’ which lasts from May to October. 

Safety

Tourist areas in San Juan and Old San Juan are considered to be safe; however, it is important that visitors stay alert at all times. Avoid deserted areas at night, and always be aware of your surroundings and belongings.

Transportation

The best way to get around in San Juan is by foot, but you can easily jump onto an AMA bus at any time or catch an Uber. 

In Viejo, there is a FREE trolley service that is available to help you get to the most popular attractions in the area.

Conclusion

And there you go — a comprehensive rundown of two beautiful areas in Puerto Rico that would make for a wonderful vacation!

We recommend San Juan for those travelers who want to escape to an exciting city surrounded by the sights and smells of the Caribbean. Meanwhile, Old San Juan is a great getaway for those who want to explore century-old forts, quaint plazas, and expensive restaurants.

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