The most festive period to be in San Juan is over the Christmas holidays, when you’ll hear live music everywhere: it’s the best time to catch cuatro players and performances of aguinaldos, a type of Christmas folk music unique to the island, but based on traditional Spanish carols. Aguinaldos are performed by groups of singers known as parrandas, going from house to house much like carol singers in Europe or North America. On New Year’s Eve half the city descends on the campo in front of El Morro to watch the sun rise amid a real party atmosphere – bring a blanket and plenty to drink. On January 6 crowds gather in Old San Juan for Three Kings Day, featuring concerts and the governor handing out presents to children, while the official end to the exhaustive holiday season is marked by the Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián (Jan 18–21), with processions, craft stalls and around 70,000 people crammed into Old San Juan.
One of the city’s biggest religious festivals – the Fiestas Patronales de San Juan Bautista – honours its patron saint St John the Baptist, with dancing, feasts, bonfires, parades and more. At midnight on June 23 (the day before St John’s Day itself), half the city can be found on the beaches, where revellers march backwards into the Atlantic three or seven times, to ward off bad luck and evil spirits.