What we’ve learned from the San Sebastian Festival 2024
It’s a party where the whole Island (and world) is invited
In four days almost 750,000 people enjoyed the music, dancing, artisans and cultural traditions of the San Sebastian Festival. To put it into perspective, almost 25% of the population of Puerto Rico showed up.
Every year it gets bigger.
What started as a simple, one-street party, now takes over the entire Old San Juan area and even Cataño, across the bay is joining in the festivities with their own satellite celebration. In Old San Juan there were four different stages, therefore each with their own genre of music from traditional to urban to rock. But on every corner, small percussion groups of pleneros can be heard inspiring the crowd with local songs that everyone sings.
As it gets later, the crowd gets younger
No surprise here. During the San Sebastián Festival, daytime crowds come for the food, artwork, artisans and to meet up with old friends. Families with small children also show up before the streets get too crowded. Then, as the sun goes down the changing of the guard begins, the music gets louder and the streets really fill up with youthful energy.
Side streets and hats are saviors
Sometimes there are so many people that to get anywhere it’s best to use the side streets, particularly on San Sebastian Street. If you’re part of a group, wear distinctive hats, it makes people easier to spot in the crowd if you get separated. Get ready to walk a bit, both up hill and downhill, but that means you can work up a thirst.
It’s well organized and safety is a priority
The organizers have done a really great job in the last few editions with safety as a priority. This year there was a lot of remote vigilance and even emergency call boxes throughout Old San Juan. The vibe at the San Sebastián festival is immensely positive, and respectful almost as if you’re visiting a friend’s house to have fun. It’s part of the magic.
Public transportation is part of the fun
Unless you enjoy being in a traffic jam for hours only to never find a parking spot, don’t even think about driving your car into Old San Juan. The public transportation system that has been designed has become very efficient and even part of the experience. There are two main way stations at the Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Hato Rey and at the Sagrado Corazón train station. There you can jump on the $5 bus that will take to the San Sebastián Festival and back. You might even be treated to a free concert on your way there. If you try to get to the Festival by Uber you should know there is an assigned drop off and pickup area. This spotinvolves a bit more walking than public transportation.
You can even arrive by sea
Make it a truly memorable experience and go by ferry across San Juan Bay from Cataño. You get to see the forts from the water and, to tell you the truth, boat rides are cool. Cataño is now holding its own version of the Festival near the terminal. So you can party on both sides of the bay.
Consider going on Thursday afternoon
It’s the first day, but as a bonus, the crowds are lighter. As a bonus you can get a great spot at the beginning of San Sebastián Street to watch the traditional parade. This procession features a San Sebastián religious statue, local celebrities, the traditional “Cabezudos” and local bands. You can even join in the parade and walk along as if you’re part of the entourage. Be sure to wave!
If you need a break from the crowds…
There’s a lot of people in a small area and if you you’re looking for some room head to the ground of El Morro. This wide open area may be just what you need.
Make sure you check out the artisans
The San Sebastián Festival attracts the best artists and artisans the island has to offer. All sorts of handmade traditional items can be found from $5 key chains to exquisite carved bird figures that sell for the thousands. You will also find a couple of hand made guitars and traditional Puerto Rican Cuatros. More than 200 artisans can be found within and along the periphery of the Ballajá building, right next to El Morro. They are one of the highlights of the Festival.
Literally, everybody goes
Bad Bunny runs around incognito, Japanese models hold photoshoots, news crews from around the world cover the event and everyone from grandfathers to young kids all join into this extended Puerto Rican family party.