If you are looking to escape the cold this Christmas season, San Juan could be the ideal escape.
San Juan is Puerto Rico’s capital and the archipelago’s biggest city. It is full of beaches, resorts, nightclubs bars and casinos. You can also enjoy the culture of its colonial buildings, 16th century landmarks and massive fortresses.
All the excitement combines with the historical vibe to make San Juan the perfect city for a Christmas getaway. Here are some things you can do during your visit.
Visit the Governors’ Mansion
The Governors’ Mansion in San Juan is the oldest governor’s mansion in continued use in the Western hemisphere. It was designated as a National Landmark in 1960. It has a lovely aesthetic with a pale blue and white exterior, a tiled roof, a patio and wrought ironwork that is characteristic of classic Spanish architecture.
It was originally constructed in 1540 as a fortress. Hence, it still bears the nickname La Fortaleza. However, it was largely destroyed in the war and had to be reconstructed in 1846.
One of the mansion’s most notable attractions is an ancient clock that stands in its corridors. One Spanish governor of Puerto Rico tapped the clock with his sword before leaving the property stopping time at the last moment of Spanish rule in the new world.
The mansion is a site to see any time of year, but it’s especially fun to stop by at Christmas time. The property is decked out in grand decorations and activities take place throughout the season. Tours are available and children always leave with a special gift.
Shop at Bazar Navideno Ballaja
The Bazar Navideno Ballaja takes place over the course of a weekend in mid-December at the Cuartel De Ballaja in Old Town San Juan. It’s a great place to buy a holiday gift item while supporting local vendors.
Visit La Feria
La Feria is an amusement park that opens in San Juan’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium during the holiday season. It is a place to enjoy rides, games, food, live shows, music, a petting zoo, a circus and holiday lights. All rides and attractions are included in the cost of admission making it an affordable entertainment option.
San Juan Christmas Boat Parade
The San Juan Christmas Boat Parade takes place one afternoon in mid-December. Hosted by Club Nautico, the procession includes various vessels that light up the San Juan Bay. It is a two-hour event that attracts thousands of spectators every year.
Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian
Puerto Rico has a deep Latin religious culture. As such, the people are focused on the Epiphany, which celebrates the day when the Three Wise Men visited Jesus. This falls on Jan. 6. As such, Puerto Rican people keep the party going well into January.
Celebrations culminate in mid-January with the Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian. This is a weeklong street festival with plenty of shopping, dancing and music that runs from day to night.
Attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve
Although the Epiphany is the focus of the Christmas holiday in Puerto Rico, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are still special. Christmas Eve is a day for gift giving, dancing and partying the night away. You may also go to one of the many churches in the area to enjoy a midnight mass.
Christmas day is the day to sleep off all the partying of the previous night. It’s reserved for family and relaxation.
Celebrate Three Kings Day
Three Kings Day is another name for the Epiphany. It is celebrated on January 5th і 6th. Families celebrate by exchanging small gifts and the cities of Puerto Rico typically host parades and festivals.
The city of Juana Diaz is located about 2 hours from San Juan and hosts one of the best-known festivals in Puerto Rico. But if you’d rather stay local, I’m sure San Juan has a lot to offer.
The Festival of Lights in Old San Juan
Old San Juan is a neighborhood that features historical buildings and cobblestone streets. It looks especially beautiful when it’s decked out for the holidays.
Stroll around town to take in all the sights. While there, be sure to check out the Plaza de Armas where you can see City Hall illuminated for the season. Then walk down San Sebastian Street to Plaza de Colon to see more lovely decorations.
Wear a Pava
Pavas are straw hats traditionally worn by Puerto Rican inland mountain workers. Their wide brims are terrific for blocking the strong island sun.
Today, these are still worn by workers, but they are also a popular sign of the culture. Most households own at least one and they are often sported around Christmas time, especially by the people you will find caroling in the streets. Be sure to pick one up as a sign that you are down with the Christmas spirit.
Try the Food and Drink
The holidays are a great time for eating and drinking. While in San Juan, be sure to check out the delicious island cuisine.
You won’t want to miss out on trying a Coquito. This is the Puerto Rican equivalent to egg nog. It is a creamy beverage made from Puerto Rican Bacardi Rum, coconut milk and other delicious ingredients.
You may also want to try the Puerto Rican national dish arroz con grandules. It contains rice, pigeon, peas and pork and its cooked in the same pot with sofrito.
Tembleque is a coconut dessert pudding native to Puerto Rico while arroz con dulce is a coconut rice pudding. Both are sure to bring joy to your holiday season.
If you are seeking out the warm weather this holiday season, San Juan is the place to be. It offers pleasant temperatures, terrific food and plenty of excitement. What will you be doing when you visit?