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:
Updated:
Original:
 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

Profurl

Gear: Profurl Motorized Furlers

Profurl NEXe motorized flying-sail furlers make it possible for shorthanded crews and solo sailors to handle large reaching sails, like gennakers, Code 0s and other A-sails, with minimal effort and in safety. Two versions are available, the NEXe 5.0 for boats with LOAs up to ...read more

01-SUGGEST-CROP

Docking with Twin Rudders

Twin-rudder raceboats have been with us since the mid-1980s. In the last 10 years or so, they’ve also become increasingly popular aboard cruising boats, including those available for charter. It is therefore a good idea to be aware of their idiosyncrasies. In some circles, ...read more

11thHourRacing

Video: 11th Hour Racing Returns to America

Newport welcomed America's ocean racing home team, 11th Hour Racing, back to its waters earlier this week for the start of their autumn training season. In the video, which recounts their Atlantic Crossing from France, Charlie Enright, Mark Towhill and their international crew ...read more

AdobeStock_180386204

BVI Sets Date for Re-Opening

The BVI Tourist Board has set December 1st as the date visitors will be allowed to return to their territory, just in time for the winter charter season to kick off. Several charter companies including Horizon Yacht Charters, Dream Yacht Charter, TMM, CYOA and Conch Charters ...read more

DSC_5337-2

Boat Review: X-Yachts X4⁶

The Danish builder X-Yachts does not simply stick taller or shorter rigs and keels on the same hulls to create boats for both cruisers and racers, as some mass-production builders do. Nor is it content to build two distinct lines of cruisers and racers. Instead, the company has ...read more

Screen Shot 2020-09-18 at 1.18.36 PM

Harken Changes Hands, Stays in the Family

. In a video posted yesterday, Peter Harken cheerfully announced that his company, Harken Inc., the trusted hardware brand bearing his last name, which was formerly owned by founders and their families has changed hands. The owners have sold their shares to employees—"passing ...read more