Old San Juan is the most visited destination in Puerto Rico and one of the most popular places for tourists in the Caribbean. The city is known for its rich history, being the second oldest city established in the New World. The Puerto Rico tourism bureau cites interesting attractions, a wide variety of hotels, superb cuisine, and unique shops as reasons to visit the city.
The city is actually an islet that is connected to the main island by three bridges located on the southeast corner. It is divided into seven square blocks, with the residential area on the northern side of the city and the commercial and tourist section situated in the southern part of town. The temperature hovers in the mid-’80s during tourist season and the cooling trade winds makes the weather even more pleasant.
Founded in 1519 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, Old San Juan is an exquisite example of Old World elegance with its Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque designs. Many of the 16th and 17th century constructs were restored to their original architectural beauty in the 1940s. Some of the buildings are now considered part of the San Juan National Historic Site and are administered by the National Park Service.
One of the greatest things about the city is nearly everything is within walking distance. Its blue-toned cobblestone streets are lined with brightly colored buildings with beautifully decorated balconies, lively plazas, and shady parks perfect for a quick rest. The seaside offers a stunning view of the San Juan Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. For those who prefer to be transported to the different areas of town, there is a free trolley that stops at many of the most popular attractions.
The city’s architectural and historic treasures make it quite distinct from the rest of the island. Many of the oldest buildings now house museums filled with fascinating artifacts and detailed accounts of the history of the area. Cultural events are held throughout the year, enticing both locals and visitors with their festive atmosphere.
The massive fortresses of Old San Juan are among the most visited attractions in the city. At Castillo de San Felipe del Morro and Castillo de San Cristobal, visitors can view the cannons, ramparts, and layered defenses that have protected the city for centuries. The beautiful La Catedral de San Juan Bautista, a cathedral founded in 1542, is still open daily for services. Visitors can also tour La Fortaleza, or “The Fortress”, a defensive structure that has been repurposed as the governor’s mansion.
Fortaleza Street is the Restaurant Row of the city, hosting some of the best restaurants in town as well as a biannual culinary festival. The city is also known for an active nightlife scene that includes multi-level discos, stylish lounges, and trendy bars. The island is also a popular destination for weddings and honeymoons, with a multitude of romantic spots, intimate restaurants, and luxury hotels for couples to enjoy.
As one of the most historically significant destinations in the Western Hemisphere, the city is a place unlike any other in the world. According to the Puerto Rico tourism bureau, no visit to the island is complete without seeing the enchantment and exuberance of this uniquely authentic community. Visitors can choose to explore it on their own or enlist the services of a tour guide knowledgeable about the rich history of the islet.
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