Imagine yourself walking through the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan — if you love history, shopping and exploring an old walled city, then this is the place to be. As the warm winds caress your face, you’ll be immediately transported back to the 16th century colonial Americas. This 500-year-old city will envelop you with a sense of old-world, romantic European charm. You’ll be mesmerized by the open-air cafes, street vendors, shops, historic buildings, gracious homes and tree-shaded plazas. Where will you go first?
How to Get Around
Hop aboard the free trolley, which takes you around the forts, museums and the center of the city. Get on and off as you want. Or rent a bike for the day and explore at your own pace, while getting a little exercise too!
As you visit the El Morro Fort, now called the San Juan National Historic Site, you’ll come away with a new understanding of Caribbean history. This imposing fortress, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was constructed during the 17th and 18th centuries along the coast of San Juan. When you look out over its dizzying heights, rising some 140 feet above sea level, you’ll see six levels of turrets, towers and dungeons below. Take a guided Tunnel Tour, Outworks Walk or Lighthouse Talk or have fun exploring on your own. Get your camera ready, because wherever you look, you’ll be surrounded by breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Old San Juan is known for its outstanding shopping, with fine jewelry, arts and crafts as well as handcrafted local goods and spirits. Along the historic buildings on Cristo Street you’ll also find great deals at the outlet stores such as Coach, Ralph Lauren Polo, Dooney & Burke, Burberry and more. If you love coffee, you’ll discover some of the best beans in the world. Puerto Rico’s own Alto Grande brand is known as the coffee of kings and popes. Picture yourself sipping the beverage of royalty at an outdoor café. Puerto Rican rums are also among the world’s best. Sample a few, because you’ll want to bring your favorites home!
History Comes Alive
Make sure to stop into some of the museums in Old San Juan highlighting the art and artifacts from the island. You’ll admire the paintings of Puerto Rican artists at the National Gallery, itself a work of art, located in a 16th century Dominican convent. There’s even a Children’s Museum with interactive exhibits to keep your children entertained. The Museo de Casa Blanca, former home of Governor Ponce de Leon’s family, is another historical landmark that will give you a glimpse of the island’s history.
When the sun goes down, there’s a whole of shakin’ going on. Salsa dancing is king, so put on your dancing shoes and have fun learning all the right moves at Nuyorican Café. As you stroll around the broad promenade of Paseo La Princesa, you’ll “ooh” and “ahh” at the lighted Raíces Fountain. On weekends, you might even catch some live music. For romance by moonlight, take the Night Tales in Old San Juan walking tour. As you walk under the stars, you’ll discover the legends and love stories of this 8-by-10 block area they call Old San Juan. It’s pure magic!
Image source: Wikimedia Commons