Freedom of the Seas was the first Royal Caribbean ship to make stops again in the capital of San Juan, and now this locale is ready to share the island’s vibrant culture and rich history with visitors for the first time since September. You can easily visit the island on a Caribbean cruise—and feel good about your vacation since tourism dollars are essential in helping the region continue to recover.
To get the inside scoop on the ground, we spoke with our crew ambassador Ricci Paul Magpantay, a talented photo enthusiast from the Philippines who documents his #RoyalCrewLife on board Oasis of the Seas at @wheninmyjourneys.
Here’s what draws Ricci to Puerto Rico, his tips on the best spots to explore, and why he thinks this unique destination definitely deserves a place on your vacation lineup:
Strolling Through History
“One of the things that draws me to Puerto Rico is Old San Juan. Amidst the urbanized city of San Juan, there still lies this piece of well-preserved history,” says Ricci.
His favorite place is the San Juan National Historic Site, which features expansive open grounds leading to two impressive 16th-century Spanish forts, Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristobal, as well as the Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery.
San Felipe del Morro is a citadel on the tip of the city that has held up throughout the years and is perhaps the most well-known site; another crew ambassador couldn’t help snapping photos there either. Many excursions will take you to the site’s towering stone walls and numerous lookout stations, and the accompanying museum is an excellent place to dive into the island’s interesting history.
The cemetery offers another glimpse back in time since it was built in 1863 and is where many of Puerto Rico’s most notable citizens have been laid to rest. Perched high on a cliff, its sweeping views of the Atlantic aren’t too bad either.
To get a different perspective of the city, Ricci recommends grabbing your camera and taking a walking tour of Old San Juan to see the colorful buildings and cobblestone streets, some of which date back 500 years. “Every nook and cranny has something interesting,” he says, so strolling is sure to make for some great photo opps, like Ricci found with flocking pigeons at the Parque de las Palomas.
Another fort close by, Fort San Cristóbal, is the largest Spanish fortification in the Americas, which you can explore for a taste of the “old and new city” that Ricci finds so unique here.
Local Spots To Sup And Sip
Another one of Ricci’s must-brings for Puerto Rico? A huge appetite. From celebrated local restaurants like El Jibarito to the expansive food truck scene, Ricci assures that “foodies will be in heaven.”
Personally, he can vouch for the famous Puerto Rican empanadas as well as tripletas: a combo of roasted pork, cube steak and ham, just one of the many pork dishes found on the island.
If you’re looking for refreshments after a day of exploring, a perfect place to start is with the national cocktail: the piña colada. It was invented on the island and like many drinks here, rum plays a central role (mojitos are a refreshing option too). This isn’t surprising since Puerto Rico is home to the world-famous Bacardi distillery.
You can get the story behind the classic rum cocktails and the creation of this renowned company at Casa Bacardi, and try samples as well as enjoy a welcome drink.
Even within the city itself, Ricci has found wildlife, like the Caribbean Brown Pelican resting on a lookout tower of La Fortuleza—another fortification enclosing a mansion, which you can also explore on a tour.
Not far outside of the city though, you can experience more of Puerto Rico’s nature while traveling through the countryside on an ATV to reach El Campo Rico, a 2,200-acre private ranch where you can ride beautiful, well-trained “paso fino” horses and explore the trails surrounding a historic plantation home. The waters around the island are brimming with life as well, so you can try your hand at scuba diving while exploring the Escambron Marine Park and swimming through schools of colorful fish after a training lesson.
One final recommendation Ricci has for appreciating nature in Puerto Rico: catch the sunsets. He likes to head back to his favorite spot, El Morro, at dusk, to watch the different hues paint across the sky above the fortress.
You can follow the rest of Ricci’s travels on his Instagram; he’s always snapping away wherever he travels next on Oasis of the Seas.
If his favorite adventures in Puerto Rico have inspired you to grab your camera and chart your own course for the island, you will be welcomed with open arms. You can plan your next vacation to the Caribbean here.