Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

San Juan (pronounced sahn hwahn) is the capital of Puerto Rico. San Juan is known as La Ciudad Amurallada (the walled city) and is one of the biggest and best natural harbors in the Caribbean and is the second oldest European-founded city in the Americas. The metropolitan area known as San Juan has 3 distinct areas: Old San Juan, the Beach & Resort area, and other outlying communities. Old San Juan has become one of my favorite places in the world. This place is the perfect example of festivity, vibrancy, fun, Puerto Rican culture, history and absolute gorgeousness. I would strongly recommend putting Old San Juan in your top ten places to visit.

Here I am on the streets of Old San Juan
Colorful buildings on one side and the ocean on the other side. Just beautiful.

Here we are enjoying fresh sugarcane juice. Very refreshing.
Ankit and I taking a break and relaxing like many other tourists here.

Amazing weather in a beautiful city. Perfect for strolling. Don't even think about driving here. The roads are too narrow and there really isn't much space for parking. We walked around the whole city and drank piña coladas.
 Aren't the colors just amazing? The city looks so beautiful and colorful because of these homes.

Old San Juan attracts many tourists, who also enjoy the gambling casinos, fine beaches, and tropical climate. More tourists visit San Juan each year than any other spot in the Caribbean. Driving here is not recommended so if you don't think you're into walking, there is a free trolley service to get you around the city.

There are several forts in Old San Juan if you're interested in history. We visited the two most famous ones: El Morro and Castillo de San Cristóbal. 

View of El Morro from Castillo de San Cristóbal

Castillo de San Cristóbal

El Morro
El Morro is a maze of tunnels, dungeons, barracks, outposts and ramps. It is studded with small, circular sentry boxes called garitas that have become a national symbol. The views of San Juan Bay from El Morro are spectacular. The area was designated a National Historic Site in February, 1949 with 74 total acres. It has the distinction of being the largest fortification in the Caribbean. El Morro Fortress is a National Historic Site administered by the National Park Service. The fort is open to the public everyday from 9am to 6pm except on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Admissions: $3 for adults and children under 15 go for free.

We met this iguana in the fort who was thirsty, I guess. Some brave tourists fed it water.

Castillo de San Cristóbal is El Morro's partner in the city's defense. Built in 1634 (completed in 1771), was considered the Gibraltar of the West Indies. San Cristóbal was supported by a massive system of outworks which provided defense in depth and is is one of the largest defenses ever built in the Americas. It's a World Heritage and National Historic Site, administered by the U.S. National Park Service and is open daily from 9am to 6pm.

Paseo de la Princesa

Raíces Fountain

Paseo La Princesa is a broad promenade that stretches from near the docks at the foot of the city and leads to the lovely Raíces Fountain. We saw all kinds of stalls lining the road. On weekends, they have free cultural performances as well. Paseo La Princesa hugs the old perimeter wall of the city, and beyond the fountain continues around Old San Juan to the San Juan Gate, the only remaining of five entry points into the old city. The best time to enjoy the walk is during sunset, when you'll have gorgeous views of the bay from the fountain and you'll escape the heat of the day.

Papa at Parque de las Palomas
The photo above was taken at the pigeon park located next to Capilla del Cristo at the end of Cristo Street. It is only a small park but offers a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of Old San Juan and provides the pigeons there a great place to find shelter and food. As is typical in cities around the world, where there is a large gathering of birds, there will be someone selling bird food. For $1 you can continue this worldwide tradition. We did. 

And I made a friend :)
Cathedral of San Juan
Cathedral of San Juan
We also visited the Catedral de San Juan Bautista. If you like visiting cathedrals like I do, this is a nice place to stop, appreciate the architecture and also thank God for this life and the opportunity to be somewhere this beautiful.

If you like Piña Coladas and getting caught in the rain, come to Old San Juan
    I loved the fact that there were these stalls all around selling piña coladas. These were so refreshing after a long day in the city. I would also suggest checking out the souvenir shops in Old San Juan. They are all over priced but the stuff they sell is hard to resist. Hammocks are very popular in San Juan and we bought one, too. You'll also find these brightly colored masks called Vejigante. There is a very popular hat shop as well which is crazily overpriced. If you notice a farmer's market, do stop by. It is the best place to buy tropical fruits and vegetables and get fresh juice on a hot, sunny day.

    Me, drinking fresh coconut juice.

    Old San Juan is considered to be a generally “safe” place to walk around. You will notice a large Police presence. They’re there to help you feel safe, not because of any particular recent "problem". 
      That's all I have on Old San Juan for now. The next post will be about attractions around Puerto Rico.

      Have a beautiful day! 


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