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San Sebastián Street Festival: The Party of the Year

Posted on Jan 13th, 2014 by • Updated on Nov 27th, 2014

11/27/14- New this year- a name change! Now it is officially called “Fiestas de la Calle”. But everyone will still call it San Sebastian Festival!

10/11/14 Well, now you are all going to ask when the 2015 San Sebastian Festival will be. The dates for 2015 will be Jan 15-18th, 2015. I will update the itinerary when I get it.

San Sebastian Festival

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 2014, the festival will be held from Thursday, January 16 through Sunday, January 19.

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. New for 2014- EXTRA SECURITY- Security cameras and Police dogs will be all over. You are not allowed to bring in weapons, drugs, liquids in bottles, noisemakers, coolers. You need picture ID. 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 2014 Festival*

Thursday, January 16

  • 10am to 10pm: Over 500 artisans will be displaying works at the Cuartel de Ballajá and and various Plazas
  • 5pm: Parade with cabezudos and the ribbon cutting ceremony, starting at the Abraham Lincoln School and continuing down Calle San Sebastian to Plaza Quinto Centenario

• Entertainment in Plaza Quinto Centenario

  • 5:30pm: Presentation of the San Sebastián awards
  • 6pm: Dedication of the 44th San Sebastián Festival to Raymond Arrieta
  • 8pm: Así Canta Puerto Rico con Luisito Vigoreaux, hijo
  • 10pm: Orq. Homenaje a Tommy Olivencia

• Entertainment in Plaza Colón

  • 4pm: Julio
  • 6pm: DJ – Karaoke
  • 7pm: Adoquín Jamming Nights Band
  • 9pm: DJ – Salsa

• Entertainment in Plaza de Armas

  • 5pm: DJ – Residente Tony G
  • 6:15pm: DJs – Residente Tony G and Hot 102
  • 6:30pm: Banda Rock
  • 7:30pm: Pleneros
  • 8pm: Banda La Pepa
  • 9:30pm: DJ – Gulembo

• Entertainment in Plaza de la Barandilla

  • 5pm: DJ
  • 8pm: La Máquina Insular
  • 9pm: DJ
  • 10pm: Julito Alvarado

Friday, January 17

  • 10am to 10pm: Over 500 artisans will be displaying works at the Cuartel de Ballajá and and various Plazas
  • 5pm: Parade with cabezudos and the ribbon cutting ceremony, starting at the Abraham Lincoln School and continuing down Calle San Sebastian to Plaza Quinto Centenario

• Entertainment in Plaza Quinto Centenario

  • 6pm: Message from the Mayor of San Juan
  • 7pm: Cristian Pagán
  • 8pm: Plenéalo
  • 9pm: Kanny García
  • 10pm: Tito Nieves

• Entertainment in Plaza Colón

  • 3pm: Julio
  • 6pm: Pirulo y la Tribu
  • 8pm: Adoquín Jamming Nights Band
  • 10pm: Plena Libre

• Entertainment in Plaza de Armas

  • 5pm: DJ – Residente Tony G
  • 6:15pm: Banda Mantaraya
  • 7:15pm: DJs – Residente Tony G and Hot 102
  • 8pm: Banda
  • 9:30pm: DJ – King Arthur

• Entertainment in Plaza de la Barandilla

  • 5pm: DJ
  • 7pm: Adoquín Jamming Nights Band
  • 8pm: Polem
  • 10pm: Pirulo y la Tribu

Saturday, January 18

  • 10am to 10pm: Over 500 artisans will be displaying works at the Cuartel de Ballajá and and various Plazas

• Entertainment in Plaza Quinto Centenario

  • 1pm: Music Workshop
  • 3pm: Workshop
  • 5pm: Los Majaderos de Cachete Maldonado
  • 5:30pm: Orquesta la Exclusiva
  • 7:30pm: Baile de Época
  • 9:30pm: Juan José, San Juan Habana

• Entertainment in Plaza Colón

  • 10am: Festival Arroces
  • 12noon: Children’s Show
  • 1pm: La Jungla
  • 3pm: Ricky Villanueva
  • 5pm: Y No Había Luz (Teatro de Máscaras)
  • 7pm: Grupomanía
  • 9pm: Millie Quezada
  • 10pm: DJ – Salsa
  • 11pm: Asopao Rico

• Entertainment in Plaza de Armas

  • 11am: National Circus
  • 12:15pm: Adoquín Jamming Nights Band
  • 4pm: Pleneros
  • 4:40pm: Electronic Music Videos
  • 5pm: Custom Soldiers
  • 6:30pm: Propane
  • 8pm: DJ – Vic
  • 9:30pm: DJ – Jack Novak

• Entertainment in Plaza de la Barandilla

  • 11am: Kids’ Creativity Workshops
  • 1pm: Agua, Sol y Sereno
  • 4pm: Street Artist Performance
  • 7pm: Fernandito Ferrer
  • 8pm: Nudo
  • 9pm: Viento de Agua
  • 10pm: Andrés Jiménez

• Entertainment in TeatroTapia

  • 3pm: Musical Aguinaldo Gibaro, Espíritu Navideño. Free admission.

Sunday, January 19

  • 10am to 10pm: Over 500 artisans will be displaying works at the Cuartel de Ballajá and and various Plazas
  • 11am: Mass in the San Juan Cathedral in honor San Sebastián, patron saint

• Entertainment in Plaza Quinto Centenario

  • 12noon: Rondalla de Humacao
  • 1pm: Orquesta de Güiros
  • 2pm: Grupo Musical Eco Raíces
  • 3pm: Grupo Atabal
  • 5pm: Tributo a Eddie Pérez “La Bala” por la Orquesta El Gran Combo de Hoy
  • 6:30pm: Plena Libre
  • 8pm: Costa Brava
  • 10pm: Mickey Cora y su Grupo

• Entertainment in Plaza Colón

  • 10am: Krazy Kids
  • 12noon: Circo Nacional
  • 1pm: Kids’ Karaoke
  • 3pm: Super K
  • 5pm: Pleneros de las 23 Abajo
  • 7pm: Rumba Caliente

• Entertainment in Plaza de Armas

  • 12noon: Tito Auger
  • 1:15pm: Banda Mantaraya
  • 2pm: Decimanía
  • 3:45pm: Electronic Music Videos
  • 4pm: DJ – Chilling Killing
  • 5:30pm: C C’s
  • 7pm: Cab Calloway
  • 8:30pm: DJ – Laurent Sineca

• Entertainment in Plaza de la Barandilla

  • 11am: Kids’ Creativity Workshops
  • 1pm: Agua, Sol y Sereno
  • 4pm: Street Artist Performance
  • 5pm: Ella
  • 6pm: Adoquín Jamming Nights Band
  • 7pm: Boricubasón
  • 8pm: Juan Pablo Díaz y su Orquesta

• Entertainment in TeatroTapia

  • 3pm: Musical Aguinaldo Gibaro, Espíritu Navideño. Free admission.

*Itinerary/schedule from NotiCel

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.

The Tren Urbano, AMA buses, and the Metrobus will be operating until 2am during the Festival. The ferries (Acuaexpreso) between Old San Juan and Catano will be running until 1am all 4 days, they did not say any additional hours for the Hato Rey line. Extra buses and ferries are running very frequently on those days.

If you want to take the Tren Urbano, there are free parking lots at the Bayamon Central station, San Francisco, Martínez Nadal, Torrimar, Jardines y Sagrado Corazon stations. Park at any of the lots, take the train to Sagrado Corazon station and get the bus connect to OSJ. The cost will be the regular rate for the Tren Urbano and $ 1.00 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.

AMA, Metrobus, and SJ Municipal buses will operate special routes between Sagrado Corazon, and Hiram Birthorn Center to la Isleta de San Juan to the bus terminal in Old San Juan at Covadonga or by the Capital Building. 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. Last buses going into OSJ from the parking lots will be at 10pm all nights of the festival.

If you plan to take a ferry into Old San Juan, there is a parking lot near the ferry terminal in Catano. If you park at the Convention Center, you can take taxis over to OSJ. Taxis will also have special rates to get from the parking areas at Hiram Birthorn and Convention Center to OSJ.

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 12:00 noon 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 $ 1.00 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- be casual, sexy, or freaky- pretty much anything goes!

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).

The "street scene" photo was taken by Liz Saldaña.

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 →

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14 comments
Leave a comment »

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

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

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

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

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

  6. 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!

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

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

  11. 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.

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

  13. Yes, for sure- Jan 15-18 2015

  14. CHECK THIS OUT

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