The price started at $36. Later, another taxi driver offered a special tour of Old San Juan for just $24. And even later, another driver dropped the price to $16.
We had arrived to San Juan at 1 in the afternoon to board Cunard's Countess for a Caribbean cruise. We couldn't board until after 4. Having checked in and stored our luggage, the problem was what to do for three or so hours with four kids and one wife.
However, for the cruise passenger looking to kill time before boarding a ship in San Juan or after disembarking and waiting for a flight home, it's easy to put together your own low-cost tour.
For just 10 cents you can leave the hustle of San Juan and cruise across the harbor on the Catano ferry that leaves from the dock next to the cruise ships.
Or you can walk just a couple of blocks to the historic Old San Juan area and stroll the cobblestone streets of one of the oldest cities in the Western Hemisphere.
Every half-hour the ferry to Catano leaves for its 13-minute run from between cruise-ship Piers 1 and 3. Once off the ferry, you can watch one of the publicos that are at the dock for a 50-cens-per-person trip to the Bacardi plant (or catch the Levittown bus for just 25 cents a person.) Here you can relax in a pleasant setting, sip rum drnks (soft drinks for the kids), tour the plant and catch the aroma of molassas.
San Juan is fast becoming a major cruise port. In addition to the Countess, Cunard also sends its Princess on seven-day cruises of the Caribbean from here along with Costa Cruises' Amerikanis, Carla C., World Renaissance, Chandris Britanis and Victoria and Sun Line's Stella Oceanis. It's also the stopping-off point for a number of other ships including Carnival Cruise Line's Festival.
A person cruising through San Juan will find a number of interesting and inexpensive things to do. There's really no need to spend $10 or more a person for just a few hours. Pick up a copy of Que Pasa, the official guide to Puerto Rico, and some of the many other free commercial guides available at the airport or the tourist center located at Pier 1.
But do save time for Old San Juan. Cunard and other ship lines suggest, along with the regular tours of the area, a complimentary shuttle to Barrachina, a combination gift shop, restaurant and rum-sampling stop located in the heart of the old city. It's a good starting point for a walking tour of the area.
Strolling the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan is a delight. Here you will find history -- from the bones of Ponce de Leon to a museum devoted to Pablo Casals. The influence of Spain is everywhere.
You will find shops offering items from around the world and, except for the higher cost of liquor, very much in competition with St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.
That many of the buildings remain much as they were is due to the original design of the area and the modern day suburban movement. Because the area was so well-fortified back in the 16th century, the growth of the city moved away from this area, taking with it many of the residents. In 1949, the section was declared a historic zone.
At the far end of the area is El Morro, the massive fortress that guards the sea entrance to San Juan. In 1595, its strength forced even Sir Frances Drake to turn away. Today, its ramparts and tunnel echo to the daughter of children. Tours are given daily and there is a small museum history.
We found the buffet lunch at the Hotel El Convento pleasurable. The hotel is a 300-year-old former convent restored and renewed, combining a touch of old-world Spain and modern conveniences. The buffet is held in an open courtyard and offers a fine selection of American and Carribean foods.