Stop Over in San Juan

“Have you ever sailed into San Juan?” “No, but we’ve chartered in the Virgin Islands” is the response I often receive...
Author:
Publish date:
Updated on
 Old meets new in Old San Juan, where the ancient city walls nestle against modern hotels, all beside the Caribbean Sea

Old meets new in Old San Juan, where the ancient city walls nestle against modern hotels, all beside the Caribbean Sea


Photo by Neil Rabinowitz

“Have you ever sailed into San Juan?”

“No, but we’ve chartered in the Virgin Islands” is the response I often receive. Whether you own your own boat or charter, you’ll find Puerto Rico’s capital city is easy to get to and worth a visit.

GETTING THERE

From St. Thomas, San Juan is a long daysail; from the British Virgin Islands, it’s three quick hops, with stopovers at St. Thomas, Culebra, and Fajardo, Puerto Rico. There are also charter boats available from Fajardo (visit sailcaribe.com), located on the island’s eastern end.

Approaching from the Virgins, you’ll skirt north of La Cordillera, an underwater mountain range, and run parallel to the famous San Juan Trench. At 5.2 miles deep, it’s the deepest point in the Atlantic and offers amazing marlin fishing in-season.

Once you reach Puerto Rico, continue westward until you see heaven-bound jets from San Juan International Airport emerge from behind Isla Verde’s beachfront resorts. Eventually, the beaches of luxurious Condado yield to a rocky coastline, topped with stone walls that form the fortified perimeter of Old San Juan. Colonial Spaniards built major forts in Havana, Cartegena, Veracruz and Portobello as well, but I’d argue that the forts of San Juan are the most dramatic and best preserved. Don’t miss exploring them on foot.

PR

Before your approach, watch the forecasts for swell height and signs of adverse weather. We entered San Juan Harbor in February and again in November, and both times found the entrance to be well marked and safe. Upon arrival, follow the buoys until the harbor finger dead-ends at two marinas: Club Nautico de San Juan (CNSJ) and San Juan Marina. You can also anchor or pick up a mooring on the 20ft shelf located on the south side.

Slipping into CNSJ, the bilingual staff is pleasant and professional. Fuel, WiFi, a chandlery, a beautiful clubhouse and the convenient location make this an ideal home base during your San Juan exploration.

 A picturesque turret in Old San Juan Photo by Ellen Birrell

A picturesque turret in Old San Juan Photo by Ellen Birrell

STAYING THERE

Once you’re settled in CNSJ, head ashore and explore San Juan in every direction. A five-minute walk southeast leads to a grocery store, restaurants and movie theater, all situated alongside the lush gardens of the modern Puerto Rico Convention Center.

To the northwest, a sidewalk extends along a commercial waterfront road all the way to Old San Juan—10 minutes by bicycle or 25 minutes by foot. Alternatively, a shady promenade through Muñoz Municipal Park parallels the road and offers splendid landscapes and sculptures set to the sound of crashing waves. A block north of Muñoz Park, take your pick of two tranquil beaches.

In Old San Juan, you’ll find 16th and 17th-century buildings muscled up against modern hotels and sparkling new waterfront construction, including the Bahia Urbana City Park and restaurant.

To the east, take your kayak or stand-up paddleboard to Condado Lagoon, where Playito Condado offers an excellent beach and snorkeling destination. On your journey there, watch for manatees and migratory birds.

Last but not least, walk east across Highway 26 into the peppy community of Condado, where Las Vegas gambling meets So-Cal cool. Just beyond Condado, the wave action of Ocean Park creates a fantastic beach life all year round.

Slipping into San Juan is a convenient way to explore Puerto Rico’s diverse and heritage-rich capital city, with its combination of ocean breeze, waving pines, colorful buildings and friendly faces.

LEAVING THERE

Sailing west from San Juan, you won’t find good shelter until you are all the way around to the southwestern area of Boquerón with the Marina Pescaderia, new in 2011. Traveling north, depths plummet across the San Juan Trench, and it’s a significant sail to the next good anchorage. Sailing east, it’s a full-day schlep against wind, swells and current, with a lee shore to boot. But after a solid six-hour motorsail, you’ll turn to starboard and reach into Fajardo or continue east to Culebra, a lovely stop in the Spanish Virgin Islands.

Ellen-Birrell

Ellen Birrell lives and writes aboard the 40ft sloop

Boldly Go in the Caribbean. She recently e-published

Sailing Down Grenada Way, the first in a series titled Bold Shorts

Related

Meridian-X-Spin_2

MOB: A Whistle in the Wind

Mark Wheeler went overboard a few minutes before midnight. He was in the middle of Lake Michigan, 30 miles offshore in 40 knots of wind. As he fumbled for the lanyard to inflate his lifejacket he watched his racing sailboat, Meridian X, disappear into the night at more than 18 ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Slapper stopper  When I came on deck at 0800 to hoist my colors on a visitors’ mooring recently, there was an awkward slop running in. This doesn’t trouble my Mason 44, which has a traditional counter ...read more

Tilly-1

Gear: Tilley Polaris Hat

A True Blue Tilley Sailing is all about fun in the sun, but it sometimes doesn’t take long to get too much of a good thing, especially when on a prolonged cruise or offshore passage. Enter the Tilley Polaris, the latest lid developed by iconic Canadian hat-maker Tilley. ...read more

Sand-TOWEL_MODEL-3

CGear Sand-Free Beach Towel

Sand Be Gone! The summer is hot and full of terrors—not the least of which is the sand that sticks in your beach towel in the hopes of a free ride back to your car or boat. Fortunately, there's now the CGear Sand-Free Beach Towel, engineered in polyester to not only dry quickly ...read more

01-Blowup-Tiwal2_sailing-(3)

Gear: Tiwal Inflatable Sailing Dinghy

Blow-up Boating A few years ago, the French company Tiwal arrived on U.S. shores with that most improbable of products, an inflatable sailing dinghy that actually sails the way a boat is supposed to. Now, nearly 1,000 Tiwal 3’s later, the company is back with its Tiwal 2, an ...read more

Koozy

Gear: 22 Below Koozie

Killer Koozie For all that sailors love the warmth of this time of year, that same warmth can also wreak havoc on their otherwise icy-cold beers. (Unless, of course, you drink them very, very fast. But we won’t go there.) To help deal with this terrible hardship, North ...read more

Cool-Specs

Gear: Gill's Race Fusion Sunglasses

Wicked Cool Specs Is there anything in the world of sailing more fun than a cool pair of shades? Heck, no! And it would hard to find a cooler pair than these new Race Fusion specs from longtime weather-gear manufacture Gill. In addition to looking great, they include a number of ...read more