San Sebastián Street Festival: The Party of the Year

The dates for the 2017 San Sebastián Festival have not been officially announced yet. Our best guess is that the festival will be January 12-15, 2017.

It is no secret that people in Puerto Rico know how to party, especially around the Christmas holidays. Announce that there will be a parade, music, dancing, libations, food — then add in local artisan crafts for sale — and it all adds up to one crazy celebration!

That is the San Sebastián Street Festival (Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián) in a nutshell. It has been an annual event on Calle San Sebastián in Old San Juan since 1970, and what started as community fund-raiser has become THE festival to go to. Loads of locals and tourists attend this 4-day event.

Early Festivals

San Sebastian Festival

San Sebastián (Saint Sebastian) was a Christian who was martyred for his faith. There is a street on the north side of Old San Juan named in his honor.

The original "festival" (in the 1950′s) was organized by a priest at the San Jose Church, which is located on San Sebastián Street, to celebrate the feast day of San Sabastián. The annual feast-day festival lasted only a few years.

In 1970, the festival was restarted and it has been held annually ever since. It always occurs around San Sebastián’s feast day, which is January 20th. The festival is typically held on the third weekend of January, and runs from Thursday to Sunday. Double check exact dates before making vacation plans around these dates as things have been known to change from year to year.

San Se Today

San Sebastian Festival

The San Se Festival has evolved over time, though it still is full of tradition and Puerto Rican cultural heritage. Mostly, it is a great big party, with people enjoying every aspect of it. It is attended by hundreds of thousands of people, who are very much part of the entertainment scene. Folks lucky enough to have a birds-eye view line the colorful balconies along Calle San Sebastián, and on the rest of the parade route, watching and shouting to the throngs of people in the streets below. Everyone else hits the streets. It’s basically the Puerto Rican version of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, without the beads and breasts.

In 2016, the festival will be held from Thursday, January 14 through Sunday, January 17.

San Sebastian Festival

There are lots of live music shows, both traditional and contemporary. The musicians perform on 4 stages around the Old City , but the main stage is at the Plaza del Quinto Centenario. But also expect music/dance to happen randomly & spontaneously throughout the streets, where people join in the song and dance. There are plenty of dance performances, both folkloric and modern, by professionals and party-goers alike. And all along the parade routes you will find food, drink, and more than 500 artisans displaying/selling their works.

There will be some artisans along Calle San Sebastián, but the main artisan areas are Cuartel de Ballajá. You will find other artisan set-ups throughout the rest of Old San Juan, too.

Things are generally calm, and you will see lots of families, during the day. As the day turns into night, you will see more young people (and fewer families) who are enjoying the lifting of the ban on public drinking in the streets around the Calle San Sebastián area. The police do set up barricades at the limits to contain the on-street drinking.

On Thursday and Friday, the parades and music festivities start at about 5pm. But it goes all day and night on Saturday and Sunday. There is a curfew enforced (Thursday and Sunday at 12 midnight and Friday and Saturday 2 am) so that the people that live there can get some sleep.

Expect to see extra security around Old San Juan. Security cameras and Police dogs will be all over. You are not allowed to bring in weapons, drugs, liquids in bottles, noisemakers, coolers. Everyone must have a picture ID on them at all times. Children under 16 years of age must be accompanied by an adult at all times and after 6:00 pm that “adult” accompanying the minors must be over 21 years old.

Itinerary for 2016 Festival*

Details of the schedule are still coming in. Here’s what we have so far …

Thursday, January 14

  • 10am to 9pm: Over 350 artisans will be displaying works at the Cuartel de Ballajá and and various Plazas and along Calle San Sebastian

• Entertainment Plaza del Quinto Centenario

  • 5pm to 6pm – Opening ceremony and dedication of the Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián. Paradewof Cabezdos starts from the Lincoln School on the far end of Calle San Sebastian at 5pm.
  • 7:30-9pm- Pleneros with Cache
  • 9:30pm-11pm Sonora Pocena

• Entertainment Plaza de Armas

  • 5pm-7pm Dj Scarface
  • 7pm-9pm Dj James
  • 9pm-11pm Dj Xtasy

• Entertainment Plaza de La Barandilla

  • 5pm-6:30p Yubaré
  • 6:30pm-7:30p Tambores Callientes
  • 8pm-9pm Orquesta Macabeo
  • 9:30pm-11p Tommy Torres

• Entertainment in Plaza Colón

  • 5-6:15pm El Topo
  • 6:45p-7:15pm Jenny Roca
  • 7:45p-9pm- Pedro Capo
  • 9:30pm-11p Jerry Medina

Friday, January 15

  • 10am to 9pm: Over 350 artisans will be displaying works at the Cuartel de Ballajá and and various Plazas

• Entertainment in Plaza del Quinto Centenario

  • 5:30pm-7pm: Limi T XXI
  • 7:30pm-9pm: Tego Calderon
  • 9:30p-11pm: Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz

• Entertainment in Plaza de Armas

  • 5:30pm-7:30pm: PJ Porrata
  • 8pm-9pm: Los Bronson
  • 9p-10pm: King Arthur
  • 10p-11p: Black Guayaba

• Entertainment in Plaza de La Barandilla

  • 5:00-6pm: Fusion Jonda
  • 6:30-7:30pm: Tribu de Abrante
  • 8-9pm: Ivette Cepeda
  • 9:30-11pm: Yolandita Monge

• Entertainment in Plaza Colón

  • 5:30-7pm: Misa E’ Gallo
  • 7:30-8:45pm: Anna Isabel
  • 9:30p-11pm: La Mulense

Saturday, January 16

  • 10am to 9pm: Over 350 artisans will be displaying works at the Cuartel de Ballajá and and various Plazas

• Entertainment in Plaza del Quinto Centenario

  • 2pm-3pm: Los Pleneros de la Cresta
  • 3:30pm-5pm: Viento de Agua
  • 5:30-7pm: Plena Libre
  • 7:30-9pm: Andy Montanez
  • 9:30pm-11pm La India

• Entertainment in Plaza de Armas

  • 2-3pm: Guaraison
  • 3:30-4:30pm: Areyto Ballet Folklorico
  • 5-7pm: DJ Ivan Robles
  • 7:30-9:30pm: Dj Metro
  • 10-11pm: Gomba Jahbari

• Entertainment in Plaza de La Barandilla

  • 2:30-3:30pm: Grupo Guamanique
  • 4:30-6pm: Boricubason
  • 6:30-8pm: Planealo
  • 8:30-10:30pm: Lissette & Chucho

• Entertainment in Plaza Colón

  • 2-3pm: Susa & Epifanio
  • 4- 5:30pm: Barreto y su Plena
  • 6-7pm: Caribe Gitano
  • 7:30-9pm: Melina Leon
  • 9:30-11pm: Oscarito “Que Loco”

Sunday, January 17

  • 10am to 9pm: Over 350 artisans will be displaying works at the Cuartel de Ballajá and and various Plazas

• Entertainment in Plaza del Quinto Centenario

  • 2:30-4pm: Ricky Villanueva y su Conjunto Tipico
  • 4:30-6pm: Victoria Sanabria
  • 6:30-8pm: Pirulo
  • 8:30-10pm: Olga Tanon

• Entertainment in Plaza de Armas

  • 2-3pm: Decimania
  • 3:30-4:30pm: 6 Ballare
  • 5-7pm: Emil Cedeno
  • 7:30-9:30p: Lisa M
  • 10-11pm: La Secta

• Entertainment in Plaza de La Barandilla

  • 2-3pm: Agua, So, y Serena
  • 3:30-5pm: Tuna de Cayey
  • 5:30- 6:30pm: Kiani Medina
  • 7-8:30pm: Albita y SJ Habana
  • 9-10pm: Lucecita Benitez

• Entertainment in Plaza Colón

  • 2-3pm: Gira Criolla
  • 3:30-4:30pm: Rondilla de Humacao
  • 5-6pm: Zoraida Santiago
  • 6:30-7:30pm: Plena de Severo
  • 8-9pm: Kanny Garcia
  • 9:30-10:30pm: Vico C

*Itinerary/schedule from Calendario PR

Restrictions During the Festival

Grounds of El Morro – The GROUNDS of El Morro will be closed from 7pm to 5am on January 14 to 18, during the San Sebastian Festival in order to prevent damage to the site, according to federal law (36 CFR 1.5) which will be strictly enforced.

Private Cars in Old San Juan – On Thursday and Friday, private vehicles will not be permitted into Old San Juan after 6pm. On Saturday and Sunday, private vehicles will not be permitted into Old San Juan after 11am.

Businesses in Old San Juan – Businesses in Old San Juan must close by 11pm on Thursday and Sunday. Businesses must close by 1am on Friday and Saturday.

No coolers are allowed to be brought in to OSJ .

Public Transportation To/From Old San Juan

The Department of Transportation is expecting more than half a million people to attend the festivities in Old San Juan over the four days. It is highly recommended that you use public transportation versus trying to drive into Old San Juan.

Click on this link to see a map and full information. The AMA buses and other Guaguas (multi person vans) will operate from the Sagrado Corazón station into Old San Juan from 3p until 10pm on Thursday and Friday, 9am until 10pm on Saturday, and from 9am until 9pm on Sunday. The AMA buses and guaguas will operate from Old San Juan to the Sagrado Corazón station until 1am on Thursday and Friday, until 2am on Saturday and 12 midnight on Sunday. The other buses and guaguas will operate similar hours.

At both Sagrado Corazon and Bithorn Stadium there will be parking at $5 per car, (which includes a round trip ticket for the driver). The bus transportation for the other passengers in the car will cost $1 RT. Taxis will also be there taking people for $5 pp.

The Tren Urbano will operate according to their regular hours.

There will be taxi service at the Convention Center for $5 pp. The parking there is $8 per car.

NOTE- ALL PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION VEHICLES (taxis, buses, guaguas) WILL DROP YOU OFF ON THE NORTH SIDE OF THE CAPITOL BUILDING> YOU HAVE TO WALK FROM THERE. For the way home- ALL TRANSPORT LEAVES FROM CONSTITUTION AVENUE, ON THE SOUTH SIDE OF THE CAPITOL BUILDING.

The ferry (Acuaexpreso) will operate from Cataño to Old San Juan (fee 50¢) from 6am on Thursday and Friday and starting at 8am on Saturday and Sunday. The ferries will operate from Old San Juan to Cataño until 1am on Thursday, until 2 am on Friday and Saturday, and until 12 midnight on Sunday.

We’ve gone to the festival a couple times

San Sebastian Festival

Right off the bat, I will say that we hate crowds. So for us, it was just too many people to be the least bit enjoyable. But people who enjoy mingling with 100,000 of their closest friends will have a great time. It is a bright, colorful, and loud festival!

The first time we went, we got there mid-afternoon on Saturday or Sunday. Big mistake. It was wall-to-wall people. We couldn’t move, let alone see anything. We made a quick exit.

Last year, we went early on Thursday, the first day of the festival. We drove into Old San Juan at about 2-3pm and found parking in our usual parking deck without incident. We had a couple hours before the parade started, so we had plenty of time (and space) to go up and down Calle San Sebastian to check things out. Then we enjoyed the parade, and got out of Old San Juan before 8pm (and before it got too crazy). It worked out great for us!

San Sebastian Festival

My favorite parts of the parade are the vejigantes (masked, clown-like characters), the gigantes (stilt walkers), and the cabezudos (huge, paper mâché heads).

The cabezudos are comical representations of people who are important to Puerto Rican history or heritage. You might see cabezudos of Juan Bobo and his pig (children’s story characters), Maximina la Loca (a wacky dancing girl), La Jíbara (a country woman), famous people like Diplo (a local musician), Ramon Rivero (a local comedian), Maso Rivera (a cuatro player), Toribio (a Güiro player), and Dona Fela (first female mayor of San Juan).

What to Expect at SanSe or Elsewhere in Old San Juan

Traffic is a nightmare, so don’t even try to drive into Old San Juan. Seriously. You will spend hours in traffic and have a huge problem finding parking. We know, because we’ve done it. If you do give it a try- get there early. Vehicular traffic into Old San Juan will be stopped at the bridge before getting to OSJ at 6:00 PM Thursday and Friday and at 11:00 am Saturday and Sunday. The only exceptions will be tour buses, taxis, emergency vehicles, and Old San Juan residents. The schedule of public transportation will be for Thursday and Friday from 3:00 pm to 2:00 am , Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 am and Sunday from 9:00 am to 12:00 am and the cost will be the regular rate in the Tren Urbano and $ 1.50 for the round trip bus route. For $5, you can buy a bracelet that will give you access to “express lines” on the public transportation system.

San Sebastian Festival

If you want to attend the festival, your best bet would be to find lodging in Old San Juan. The next best thing is to stay or park in Condado, Isla Verde, Santurce, Hato Rey, or Catano, and take a bus or ferry into Old San Juan. They will be running extra buses for the festival.

On Calle San Sebastián, there will be a sea of people. So many people that you can hardly walk. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes- or do your own thing- be casual, sexy, or freaky- pretty much anything goes! You wont be the only wacky one!

People will be drinking. A lot. So, occasionally, there are some "issues" between the revelers. But that’s part of the excitement, right?

They do bring in portable restrooms for the festival, and you can expect them to be well-used (to put it politely).

Bring cash for purchases, there is no time for credit card transactions.

It will be HOT, day or night. So drink plenty of water (between those other drinks) to stay hydrated.

For Cruise Ship People — It will take an extra long time to travel between your ship and the airport, or from the festivities in Old San Juan to the Pam Am Pier. Plan accordingly so you don’t miss your ship. The usual 15-minute drive can take hours.

For more info, call the San Juan Tourism office(787-721-0169), or the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (787-722-1709).

Use this map to locate places mentioned in this article. You can click on a placemark to view the GPS coordinates for that place.

PuertoRicoDayTrips.com assumes no responsibility regarding your safety when participating in the activities described in this article. Please use common sense! If your mother or that little voice in your head tells you that you are about to do something stupid … then don't do it! Read more about Safety →

Comments & Discussion Leave a Comment »

There are 39 comments on this article. Add to the Discussion »

That is an old poster....not sure exactly where you can get that one, but there are artisans that sell Tshirts and posters of the event. Try looking here: https://www.facebook.com/events/324490601089158/

Comment by Gwenn on 18 Jan 2016

Great memories, cultural , folklore music , African rhythm , live salsa bands and singers, great food, organized , lots of artist selling their art ware, near El Morro-Spanish fort 400 years old . I was fortunate to attend because I do not know the weeks I took for vacation included the Fiesta De San Sebastián from Jan 14-17, 2016. I was able to attend all days because my hotel-San Jorge Hotel was near and convenient to get to.

Comment by Javier E Perez on 17 Jan 2016

greetings! how can I get information on the fourth image (clown?) on this site? is it a poster or painting? is it available for sale? our son just happened to be in PR Thursday night and stumbled upon this festival. he said it was such fun and I'd like to get him something to remember it by. any information is appreciated. thanks so much!

Comment by dendy pappas on 17 Jan 2016

I believe they do. But if they do, the trolleys will be full. With about 80,000 extra people in town, it is unlikely you will be one of the lucky few that get one of the seats. Probably not an option.

Comment by Gwenn on 13 Jan 2016

Do they run the free trolleys during the festival? We are flying in for a cruise and had no idea this festival was going on and just remember last time that they had free trolleys that took you around Old San Juan.

Comment by Mary Jane on 13 Jan 2016

The music schedule is not usually posted until a few days before the festival. When I see it, I will post it.

Comment by Gwenn on 01 Dec 2015

Id like a schedule of music for 2016 please. I have company then and certain groups we like. When will it be arranged? Thanks. Your site I use a lot for places to see and do things. Wonderful help.

Comment by chris nyikos on 01 Dec 2015

My educated guess would be Jan 12, 13, 14 and 15th 2017

Comment by Gwenn on 16 Nov 2015

When will the festival be in 2017?

Comment by kristin weis on 16 Nov 2015

That hotel will actually work well I think! It is across the bay from OSJ, so it will not be too noisy from the festival. And San Juan usually has the convention parking lot as one of the bus/taxi collection points. You can't drive in- they close the roads. Only public transport and taxis can go. It is a crowded thing- we usually try to go early to avoid most of the crowds. There are loads of artisans- go the the Ballaja to see what they have. Live music throughout day/evening.Lots of drinking. Lots of people- did I mention it was crowded?! The forts and all the regular OSJ things are still open as usual during it also.

Comment by Gwenn on 24 Aug 2015

I'm so excited to learn there going to be a festival the weekend we are going to take a cruise, I seen someone state it some times take 1 hour for a 15 minute car ride. I'm just wondering we will be staying at the Sheraton on Convention Blvd Is this far from cruise port. Also this will be our first festival in SJ any suggestion on what to see during it. Thanks Nan

Comment by Nancy Carreiro on 20 Aug 2015

The forts and grounds around them are open during the day, even during San Sebastian. During the weekend of San Sebastian, they "close" the grounds outside the forts after dark to limit the trash/issues. So you are all good!

Comment by Gwenn on 18 Aug 2015

Hi, First off, love your site, my friend and I use it to look for new places to explore every trip we make to Puerto Rico. Coming up on the 4th trip in January. My question is this : We will be in Old San Juan on the weekend of the San Sebastian Festival. Per the information above "Grounds of El Morro – The GROUNDS of El Morro will be closed from 7pm to 5am on January 15 to 19, during the San Sebastian Festival in order to prevent damage to the site, according to federal law (36 CFR 1.5) which will be strictly enforced." Does this mean El Morro is closed every night from 7 pm to 5 am, or is it closed from 7 pm January 15 through 5 am January 19? While my friend and I have been to the fort every time we've been there, we are bringing in a group of friends we want to show around and, of course, the forts are a large part of that. Thanks!

Comment by Lisa Loftin on 18 Aug 2015

Thanks but Weird! I would have thought it would have tried to coincide with the 20th for San Sebastian's birthday! Good to know

Comment by Gwenn on 22 Jul 2015

Gwen, the Festival dates seem hard to predict, but is ALWAYS the weekend before the Martin Luther King holiday; confusing because it is a "floating" holiday - the 3rd Monday in January. 45 yr Old San Juan resident

Comment by Linda Williams on 17 Jul 2015

Yes, I am 95% sure it will be held those dates.

Comment by Gwenn on 24 Jun 2015

Hi, Is your educated guess still 14-17 Jan 2016? :)

Comment by Astrid on 24 Jun 2015

HAhaha! If you only knew...they don't officially give us the dates until about November! But if I was betting on it, I would say Jan 14-17, 2016.

Comment by Gwenn on 17 Jan 2015

Are the dates set for 2016? Would love to attend.

Comment by Joan on 16 Jan 2015

I don't know...I haven't heard of any, but I would be it would be the same as last year.

Comment by Gwenn on 16 Jan 2015

¡¡Buenos dias!! Quisiera saber, ¿si tendrán un lugar para guardar bicicletas?; como el año pasado en el estacionamiento de Haciendas. Gracias.

Comment by Desirée on 16 Jan 2015

Well....you may have missed it this year too! I happens at the start of the festivities- Thursday at 6pm. But they come out at random times trough out the fest. I think they also are in the parade after church on Sunday.

Comment by Gwenn on 15 Jan 2015

Thanks for the informative article. Do you happen to have more details about the "big head" parade. Where will it start and what time. I missed it last year.

Comment by Felicia on 15 Jan 2015

You must be referring to the Town of San Sebastian festival. The article is about the Festival in Old San Juan tha is on Calle San Sebastian.

Comment by Gwenn on 09 Jan 2015

Your website needs to be updated for 2015. The festival has begun this weekend at the town of San Sebastian, PR.

Comment by Marisol on 09 Jan 2015

CHECK THIS OUT

Comment by ANIS on 24 Nov 2014

Yes, for sure- Jan 15-18 2015

Comment by Gwenn on 12 Oct 2014

Just wanted to make sure that SanSe is going to be Jan 15-18th. Just have not heard the official word.

Comment by Dirk Gunderson on 11 Oct 2014

I haven't heard from official sources yet, but the hotels in OSJ are stating Jan 15-18 (as I guessed). I am 99% sure that is true. But I will post when I see the dates officially posted.

Comment by Gwenn on 07 Jul 2014

Hello, any news as to when the 2015 San Sebastián Street Festival will be?

Comment by Patrick McNearney on 07 Jul 2014

We were fortunate to have encountered the festival, while awaiting our cruise. How WONDERFUL! It was like New Orleans, only 10 times better! Culture, dancing, food and massive amounts of people; but very orderly (police were everywhere)! We arrived a few days early to soak up the culture, and the festival certainly gave us that opportunity. Thanks for good times and great memories!

Comment by Gregory & Angela on 29 Jan 2014

They said the AMA buses were running on their usual schedule and only after their normal hours would they be used for the festival. They usually stop at 10pm. There is always a taxi for late night trips.

Comment by Gwenn on 23 Jan 2014

Went to the festival Thursday night and was told by the the Bus drivers that the last bus (T5 Isla Verde, and the C53 thru Condado ) was leaving at 8PM. What a farce I had to cut short my stay and get on the bus by 8pm

Comment by John Brett on 17 Jan 2014

So, you're sayin' I should drive down before 8PM, right? Just kidding! Thanks for the detailed and accurate information - love the live feed of the street!

Comment by Rich Smith on 17 Jan 2014

Do you have an itinerary for the San Sebastion Festival yet? Thanks for doing such a great job!

Comment by Cheryl on 08 Jan 2014

Our guessimate dates look like they have been confirmed- San Sebastian Fest will be Jan 16-19, 2014

Comment by Gwenn on 21 Sep 2013

Hello! Where should I look to confirm the 2014 dates (or know when they will be confirmed). Best guess is great, though, thanks!

Comment by Mandy Torres on 12 Sep 2013

We strongly believe (90% sure) the dates are Jan 17-20 2013. But we have not had official confirmation yet.

Comment by Gwenn on 08 Nov 2012

Buenos dias necesito sabr la fecha de la Fiesta de la Calle San sebastian 2013 agradezco la informacion...

Comment by Ramon Mezones on 08 Nov 2012

Leave a Comment & Continue the Discussion

All fields are required.

@
Your email address will not be published.
More Info
Ads & Sponsors

Other Puerto Rico Resources …

Coqui's Hideaway Rainforest Villa in Rio Grande Located in the Foothills of El Yunque
San Juan Bus Map - learn about public transportation in the San Juan metro area