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Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in San Juan. Puerto Rico was in the news for the past year and half for all the wrong reasons. It was devastated by Hurricane Maria in the fall of 2017. Thousands of people died because of this hurricane.

You might read this and think, “Then why on earth are you encouraging me to spend 24 hours in San Juan with Ocean Park? Why don’t I go someplace more relaxing like Antarctica or Cleveland?”

Well, one of the reasons I’m writing this article is because I visited San Juan as a tourist just a few months after Hurricane Maria, and I had an amazing time! Yes, there were some buildings that were closed, but my hotels were in excellent condition. Of course, the food was amazing and so were the beaches and historical sights.

The number one thing Puerto Ricans asked me to do was tell people that San Juan is open for business and everyone should come visit! Will do, San Juan! Tourism is one of Puerto Rico’s biggest industries, so the island will have a hard time recovering if travelers stay away. We can have a delicious and relaxing 24 hours in San Juan and do good at the same time! It’s win/win!

24 Hours in San Juan: Ocean Park

Where to Stay?

Ordinarily I have one hotel per city that I recommend to my Very Loyal Internet Strangers!  But in San Juan, I have two favorites, depending on where you want to stay. If you want to stay in the tranquil Ocean Park neighborhood, I love the Andalucia House. It’s a beautiful, restored beach house, and the owner Robert is extremely helpful.

If you’d rather stay in the historic Old Town, the Decanter Hotel also has a great location, a beautiful building, and helpful staff. It all depends on which neighborhood you prefer. And we’ll have a chance to check out both neighborhoods in this 24 hours in San Juan!

If you want a great deal on this hotel, click here. And if you’d rather explore almost 500 other hotels in San Juan, click here.

24 Hours in San Juan: Ocean Park

What to Pack?

You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.

The Caribbean can get very hot, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.

Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!

24 Hours in San Juan

24 Hours in San Juan: Ocean Park

Morning: Flavors of San Juan Food Tour

As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, I am a huge believer in food tours. They combine fun facts with delicious eats. You satisfy your brain and your tummy at the same time. Everyone knows those are the two most useful parts of your body. So the first thing I wanted to do when I arrived in San Juan was the Flavors of San Juan Food Tour. 

Our cheerful local guide introduced us to the many wonders of the local cuisine, all while showing us around Puerto Rico’s historic capital. I hope to convince you of the deliciousness of Puerto Rican food with…

Approximately top 5: san juan food tour edition

san juan food tour
1) Cafe Cuatro Sombras

The Flavors of Old San Juan Food Tour runs in both the morning and the afternoon. I had selected the morning food tour, so I was pleased to see the tour began with breakfast. We stopped at a local cafe called Cafe Cuatro Sombras. Cuatro Sombras means Four Shades. I guess you can have 4 shades of coffee? I never know what shade of coffee mine is because I’m a Philistine and get mine at Starbucks on the way to work. But I do appreciate great coffee when I’m able to find it.

san juan food tour

The coffee at Cuatro Sombras all comes from Puerto Rico, in the mountains of Yauco to the southwest. I was told that the coffee has notes of chocolate and caramel in it. I could definitely taste it once they were pointed out. And some day, I’ll be able to pick those notes out on my own! Even if I have to drink a cup of coffee every morning for the rest of my life, it’s going to happen! Some people really don’t like the taste of coffee, but I think that’s just because they’ve never had the good stuff.

For breakfast, we had a warm croissant sandwich with ham, provolone, and guava jelly. Guava is extremely popular in Puerto Rico. Our guide told us that guava actually has more vitamin C than citrus fruits. I’m pretty sure that means I can eat all the guava candy I want and never catch cold again.

san juan food tour
2) senor paleta

Of course no breakfast is complete without dessert. I was thrilled that we stopped for a paleta at the famous local paleta shop, Senor Paleta. Paletas are ice pops made with fresh fruit. They sure are a treat on a sweltering morning in the Caribbean!

Senor Paleta is famous for its creative fruit flavors like strawberry mojito. You could really taste the flavors of the fresh mint and strawberry in every bite. I’m not actually sure there was any rum in this pop though. I would probably need to eat about five more to be sure.

The best part about taking this food tour is that you get to skip the line for Senor Paleta, which usually snakes around the block. This alone is worth the price of admission.

san juan food tour
3) Local Market

The theme for this tour is really supporting local artists. I was excited that our next stop was at a little artist’s market where we could snack on some Puerto Rican goodies while admiring the crafts. The first snack was an empanada filled with beef and served with pique sauce.

Our guide explained that pique is a local hot sauce and it can come in many flavors. I sure hope one of them is guava, so I could get double my daily dose of Vitamin C! You are supposed to combine the empanada and the pique by opening up the empanada and pouring it inside. That’s both delicious and hygienic! No double dipping required

san juan food tour

Our second bite at the market was a citrusy ceviche. Ceviche is a method of “cooking” raw fish in citrus juice. Of course, the citrus doesn’t kill bacteria the way that heat does, so you can only make ceviche using the freshest of fishes. I wonder if you could use guava in a ceviche since it has so much vitamin C in it. But something tells me it’s the acid and not the Vitamin C in the citrus that cooks the fish.

san juan food tour
24 Hour treasure: vejigante mask

The little artist’s cafe wasn’t just an opportunity to snack on spicy meat pockets and fish that’s pretending to be cooked. We could also do a little patronizing of local artists. One of the most special crafts in Puerto Rico is the vejigante mask. Our guide told us that these masks are made for use during Carnivale to scare people into going to church. I’m pretty sure if someone wearing this mask approached me, I’d do anything they asked! But I don’t think you get too many points in heaven if you only go to church because a masked man forced you to.

san juan food tour
4) Make your own mofongo

We’d been snacking our way through the morning, so it was time for our main course! One of the most celebrated main dishes in Puerto Rican cuisine is the mofongo. This is a dish made by mashing plantains with a mortar and pestle, squishing the mash together with a glue made from garlic and butter, and then filling the whole mash with something delicious.

Our guide said mofongo showed the influence of the three main cultural groups in Puerto Rico. The indigenous population contributed the mortar and pestle, the Africans brought mashing plantains, and the Spanish threw in the garlic and butter.

san juan food tour

My favorite part of the food tour was that we got to make our own mofongo! First you start with the plantains…

san juan food tour

Then you mash them up like you’re crushing the head of your greatest enemy.

san juan food tour

Next, choose a filling. We were given some mildly spicy chicken creole, which went very well with the starchy and garlicky mofongo.

san juan food tour

Et voila! A finished mofongo! Your belly will be full and you’ll feel a pleasing sense of accomplishment. I told you think tour would be good for the brain and the belly.

san juan food tour
5) Hecho en Casa

Now that we worked so hard to make our main course, it was time to reward ourselves with a second dessert. Hecho en Casa means “Homemade”, so you can probably guess that the restaurant specializes in locally made comfort food. We had a Barry White-level smooth flan made with coconut and cream cheese.

I had no idea that you could make flan with cream cheese, but apparently it’s quite common in Puerto Rico. This is a great choice for anyone who doesn’t like their desserts too sweet.

24 hours in san juan

24 Hours in San Juan: Ocean Park

Afternoon: Ocean Park

After all that eating, you’re going to want to slip into a food coma. And what better place to slip into a food coma in Puerto Rico than on the beach? Ocean Park Beach is always my favorite place to stay when I have at least 24 hours in San Juan. The beach is so soothing, and even though I always go in high season (usually February), the beach is never that crowded.

Maybe that’s because there are only a couple of streets that lead into Ocean Park. So you kind of have to know where it is to get there. It’s like a secret society except it’s fun and relaxing instead of super-scary and homoerotic.

It seems kind of strange and counterproductive to tell you things you have to do on the beach or teach you fun facts about the beach. Instead, why don’t I just show you my prettiest photos and help you relax?

24 hours in san juan ocean park

RELAX!

24 hours in san juan ocean park

There’s no one around for miles! Don’t you feel relaxed now? ARE YOU RELAXED YET?

24 hours in san juan ocean park

RELAX! Don’t do it! When you want to go to it!

24 hours in san juan ocean park

I DID IT! I GOT YOU TO RELAX! WELL PLAYED ME! (Commence playing “We Are the Champions!”)

24 hours in san juan
24 Hour Treasure: Reposteria Kasalta

If your tummy rumbling on the beach is stopping you from RELAXING, then just jog on over to the nearby Kasalta bakery. This bakery is a local legend. Even President Obama visited here on his trip to Puerto Rico. (Remember that Puerto Rico is a US territory, so everyone who lives there is a US citizen.)

You can try anything from a coconut pastry to bread filled with melted queso blanco, depending on your mood. The coffee is cheap and yummy as well, though I detected notes of neither chocolate or caramel.

el jibarito san juan

24 Hours in San Juan: Ocean Park

Evening: Dinner at El Jibarito

After a morning filled with eating, and an afternoon filled with RELAXING, you probably won’t want to go too crazy for dinner. My favorite casual restaurant in San Juan is El Jibarito. It’s famous for comida criolla, aka home-style cooking. Get some chicken with mofongo, a local beer, and prepare for a belly full of love.

el jibarito san juan

 The presentation at El Jibarito isn’t exactly gorgeous. After all, my tres leches cake was served in a little tin foil cup. But who cares about presentation when the food is this cozy in your tummy?

That’s 24 Hours in San Juan: Ocean Park

What would you do with 24 hours in San Juan? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in San Juan right now? Could you mash up some fries, fill them with cheese and gravy, and all them Canadian mofongos? DID YOU RELAX YET? Please leave your thoughts below!

Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in San Juan. If you have another 24 hours in San Juan, add this itinerary.

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