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Airplane wing | © Sandra/ Flickr
Airplane wing | © Sandra/ Flickr
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A Budget Traveler’s Guide to San Juan, Puerto Rico

Picture of Mariela Santos
Updated: 9 April 2017
Traveling on a budget can be challenging when all you want is to see everything that San Juan offers, and some activities can be pricey. The good news is that there are options for visitors with an eye on their spending that won’t leave them feeling left out or that they missed the best of the capital.

Travel to San Juan and getting around

When booking a flight and accommodations for a trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, it may be helpful to search websites such as Expedia, Priceline, and Orbitz. In addition, different hotels have their own vacation packages so it’s possible to get more bang for your buck. The cheapest way to travel around San Juan is to ditch the car and walk where you can, for example areas such as Old San Juan. Some hotels offer shuttles to and from the San Juan International Airport which can be a money-saving service if it means that guests don’t have to rent a car.

View of San Juan from Fort San Cristobal | © Chad Sparkes/ Flickr
View of San Juan from Fort San Cristobal | © Chad Sparkes/ Flickr

What to do

Must-visit attractions

Entrance to the impressive forts in Old San Juan varies depending on how many people are in the group and how old they are, but it’s still relatively inexpensive. Whether shopping for souvenirs or other items, there are options for practically every budget at multiple shopping centers – including The Mall of San Juan, Plaza las Americas – and the stores in Old San Juan. Movie aficionados have two options for watching independent films at Fine Arts Miramar and Fine Arts Popular, two of the nicest movie theaters in Puerto Rico. An additional and good resource to find activities is the Puerto Rico Tourism Company’s magazine, quepasa.pr.

Where to eat

Fast food joints

Cheap eats are available in different spots throughout San Juan, with the easiest option being fast food places like Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Burger King. Healthier options are Subway and El Meson Sandwiches, a Puerto Rican sandwich chain that also sells soups, salads and breakfast food. In addition, there are food trucks parked along the Plaza Darsena in Old San Juan where patrons can buy pizza, local dishes, and even ice cream.

Casual restaurants

There’s a casual restaurant for many culinary tastes in San Juan that won’t cost visitors an arm and a leg. There are inexpensive chains such as Pizza Hut, Metropol (which serves Cuban and Puerto Rican food), and Raices (Puerto Rican food). There are also more independent establishments including Señor Paleta (artisan ice cream), E.L. Café and various Chinese food restaurants are all located in the capital.

20 dollars bills in a wallet | © 401(K) 2012/ Flickr
20 dollars bills in a wallet | © 401(K) 2012/ Flickr

Tips on cost-free items

Remember, there is nothing more budget-friendly than something that’s free, and the following activities are particularly attractive considering that visitors pay nothing.

Free attractions

Numerous activities in San Juan are free of charge, and among the most notable attractions are the hours spent at the beautiful beaches, attending the popular Festival de la Calle San Sebastian and exploring various architectural treasures.

Free transportation

A free trolley is available that takes visitors throughout Old San Juan and makes stops at various locations, often in front of or near attractions, which can be utilized to augment a walking tour of the historic district; there are both open air and enclosed trolleys. If visitors aren’t interested in walking at all, the open air trolley is a good way to enjoy the atmosphere without the trek. There are a couple of different routes and memorable trolley tour stops are by El Morro Castle, the Capitol Building and Fort San Cristobal.

With tips like these the most expensive item of your trip might be the airplane tickets, unless you’re able to get a good deal on those too.

Backpacking in the Caribbean | © Matthias Ripp/ Flickr
Backpacking in the Caribbean | © Matthias Ripp/ Flickr