From walking down the cobblestone streets to breathing the fresh ocean air and enjoying the history behind the old Spanish fortifications located right across a beautiful set of colorful colonial houses, Old San Juan has become my favorite traveling destination of all.
Old San Juan is the historic core of the city of San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. It is the oldest city under United States jurisdiction founded in 1521 by Juan Ponce de Leon, the first governor of the island. In 1493 Christopher Columbus landed on the island on his second voyage, and named it San Juan Bautista in honor of John the Baptist. The location made the original settlement Spain’s most important military outpost in the Caribbean. In 1509 the settlement was relocated to the islet now called Old San Juan and it was named Puerto Rico or rich port. However, around ten years later the confusion of the names led to a switch where the city took the name of San Juan, while the island became Puerto Rico.
Top 5 Things To Do:
Walking or taking the free trolley on a beautiful warm morning to the different fortifications in Old San Juan is a great way to start the day. Old San Juan has over 500 years of history and colonial architecture and visiting the castle San Felipe del Morro, the fort of La Fortaleza and the fort of San Cristobal will allow you to travel back in time with their canons and ramparts used to protect Spain’s empire against Carib Indians, pirates and other countries. These monuments are the must-see attractions in the area and give the region a sense of magic that may not be experienced in other cities.
- Cafe Manolín
After a morning full of walking and sightseeing a delicious lunch is in order. My favorite restaurant at this time of the day is Café Manolín located where San Justo street meets La Fortaleza street. Manolín is a family friendly café that has been there for over 70 years and serves the most exquisite Puerto Rican food at an affordable price. The clientele varies from functionaries of the government to tourists and citizens of the island. This restaurant is opened 7 days a week and offers homemade mouthwatering desserts such as: Tres Leches (three milks cake), chocolate cake, and Flan de Queso (cheese custard). It is also very well known for their traditional coffee called ‘café colao’.
- Art Galleries
A wonderful and relaxing activity after a delicious lunch is to walk up and down the streets of Old San Juan where delightful art galleries can be found. Here, you will be able to find Caribbean and Latin American contemporary art, pop art, sculptures, naïve art, etchings, silkscreen, photography and much more. You can browse the many galleries while getting lost in this beautiful city and enjoy the very special and cozy sunshine that reminds you that you are in an island in the Caribbean.
- Paseo de La Princesa
After enjoying an afternoon full of art and beauty I recommend to head off to one of my favorite spots in old San Juan. Stroll down Paseo de La Princesa when the sun is going down and enjoy the magnificent view of the water and the docks while being entertained by life music and free cultural performances. In the Paseo you can also find street vendors, artisans and a restaurant called Café La Princesa located in a beautiful garden by a colonial fortification that offers traditional Puerto Rican cuisine. Dine in this rustic and homely atmosphere surrounded by the enchantment of a night showered by stars.
- Poet’s Passage
When the night has set in and you have finished dining, there is a wonderful little place that should be visited. The Poet’s Passage is an artsy café located on Cruz street that hosts creative events such as open mic and poetry slams. It is an amazing experience that will stimulate your creative thinking by meeting talented artists, writers and poets. This is definitely a delightful way to end your night.
Old San Juan is a magical place where there is a little bit of everything for everyone’s taste.