San Juan, Puerto Rico is one the Caribbean's most visited cities, so it's not necessarily bursting with undiscovered treasures. Still, it's not impossible to find special places that can surprise and delight — places that are so close to the well-trodden areas it might shock you.
Most visitors to Old San Juan — the island's best known colonial city, cruise port and major tourism zone — are told that the closest beach is Balneario Escambrón, located several miles east. That's only partially true. Escambrón is the closest tourist beach to Old San Juan, and it has amenities like lifeguards, bathrooms, parking and showers.
But what if we told you there was another beach spot, more natural, rugged and secluded, that could easily be reached on foot from Old San Juan?
Enter Playa Peña, a rogue beauty so perfectly hidden that you might never stumble across it unless you knew it was there.
About Playa Peña
Occupying a small, rocky stretch of golden sand, Playa Peña doesn't have the manicured look or feel of some of the better-known tourist beaches to the east, like Condado or Isla Verde. In fact, it will almost make you feel like you've escaped to a secluded island, and it's relatively serene, despite being close to one of the major streets leading into Old San Juan.
Fierce waves crash into rocky walls out in the distance, providing a relaxing natural soundtrack but making swimming a potentially dangerous undertaking. There are no lifeguards here, so swim or wade at your own risk.
Palm trees and other foliage provide some privacy from the promenade above. But if you visit on a weekday, chances are you won't bump into any other beachgoers.
Looking west, you can see a graying, weather-worn structure — that's a corner of Castillo San Cristóbal, the remnants of the largest Spanish fort in the New World, completed in 1783. You can (and should!) tour the site for a mere $5, before or after your hidden beach adventure at Playa Peña.
How to Reach Playa Peña
Playa Peña is located directly across from the ornate Capitolio building. If you're coming from Old San Juan, walk east on Calle San Francisco until you reach the San Cristóbal fort, and then continue walking east on the sidewalk that runs along it. Eventually, you'll encounter a small plaza across from the Capitolio.
When you see the statue of Saint John the Baptist at the center of the plaza, you'll know you've made it. Look for the staircase leading down to the beach — it's at the very eastern edge of the plaza.