The top of attractions of Old San Juan can easily be seen on foot for the most part. Although for anyone wishing to save the shoe leather or just get there faster, a taxi to El Morro or San Cristobal should not be too expensive. Since Old San Juan is considered to be the area within the old fort or castle walls and only 7 square blocks, you can see alot in one day on foot if you are so inclined. This area will delight you with its Spanish architecture, churches, shops, restaurants, and museums, not to mention historically significant buildings and other features. Calle Fortaleza is a street favored by many tourists because of its attractive restaurants, hotels and shops.
Since the old town is bordered by San Juan Bay, a walk along the waterfront can be a pleasant way to start or end your walking tours or enjoy a respite while taking in the great vistas it has to offer.
Guided tours of Old San Juan or excursions to other sites on Puerto Rico can be arranged from La Casita (see General Tips) or from your hotel.
This is an old park that locals use to bring their kids to feed the birds here. Literally, it means "Plaza of the Doves," and all you see is pigeons (for those zoologists here, you know that pigeons are a species of dove). On the ground, there are so many pigeons that you cannot see your feet, and it looks like the ground is moving. Truly a sight to see, and younger children will get a kick out of it. Be careful where you step, though, because you might squash one of the birds. Best part: it's totally FREE! Minus the price you'd pay for the bread if you decide to bring some.
Currently the Governor's Mansion, this is the place where the Spanish government would send their hostages and inmates back in the colonial times. You can get a tour of the place, now blue but when I was last there, it was white. The tour is highly reccomended, as the guides take you down to the tiny dungeon and through the grand rooms of the "palace." A home for the conquistadors way back when, the name and shape of the edifice definatley makes one think that it is still a fortress. Even when I was a kid, I enjoyed la Fortaleza for some reason.
One walk around this beautiful city and you'll fall in love. It has it's own unique charm. My favorite thing here were all the colorful houses. The old fashioned cobble stone streets are very charming also. Old San Juan is loaded with shops. It's easy to find a bargain if you don't impulse buy. My favorite store hear was called The Butterfly People, it's a store that sells preserved butterflies to use as decoration. Old San Juan is loaded with historical sites to visit, including El Morro and San Cristobal. Just about every hotel will have a walking tour map of Old San Juan available, if not pick up a free copy of Que Pasa, the local tourist magazine. The best part is most of the places to see here are free, although it will cost you a small amount to tour the forts.
The cobblestone streets and colonial buildings of Old San Juan have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Site and every visitors to San Juan will likely come here without needing of any specific recommendation.
The area is only few square blocks wide and can easily be walked around. I have no specific places, monuments, squares, buildings to recommend, all the places blend well together and there is really in my opinion no monument, plaza, building etc standing out; just walk around and enjoy the architecture and the atmosphere. The most picturesque blocks in my view are bounded by Calle Luna and Calle San Sebastián South/North and Calle Tanca and Calle del Cristo East/West, but, wherever you are landed, Old San Juan is so compact that you don't need a map and, if you enjoy walking, you will likely walk through every "calle" of the center.
The Northern part of Old San Juan overlooks the ocean, and it is here where you will find the two forts El Morro and San Cristóbal. The Southern part faces the San Juan's Bay and it is especially enjoyable at sunset, when the sun sets on the Bay and you can enjoy scenic walks along the bay side. After dark you may want head to Southern part of Calle Fortaleza, adjacent to Plaza Colón, the center of dining and night entertainment.
Those who have visited other colonial towns in Mexico, Central and Latin America will find Old San Juan different. A Colonial Town with a mild flavor, with the look but not the soul of Latin America, the colors without the sounds and the atmosphere, a kind of reconstruction of a Spanish-colonial Town in an American environment.
It is enjoyable though and a must-see if you come in town.
This is the central square in the city, the site of the city's government, souvenir shops, fast food franchises, what must be a thousand pigeons, tourists, lovers sitting on a bench in the shade of a tree, older city residents chatting... You should start your tour of the city here, and end it here as well, sitting on one of the benches and taking in the atmosphere of the city.
San Juan is known as "La Ciudad Amurallada" (the walled city). The wall is made of solid sandstone blocks and held together with mortar, limestone, sand and water. They are 40 feet high in places, 45 feet thick at the base
The red City Gate is the only remaining city gate. It was called the Water Gate. It was one of six original massive wooden doors that, centuries ago, were closed at sundown to protect the residents. We saw this only from the ship but this pretty red-painted Puerta de San Juan or San Juan Gate is where you would have entered the city. Above the gate is inscribed “Benedictus qui venit in nomine domini”- Latin for “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. The wall is about 15 feet thick. If you go straight through the gate and up the hill, you are following the same path many sailors took after a long voyage - straight up the street, to the cathedral, to thank God for a safe journey.
Some of the wall has been torn down in order for the city to expand.
Although I had walked around in Old San Juan on my own during an earlier trip to Puerto Rico, in our most recent visit Karen and I decided to cough up the $45 each for a three hour guided walking tour. Although we thought it a bit pricey, the tour did enable us to see much more than we would have on our own and to also understand more of what we saw. Our tour guide was very knowledgable, animated, and obviously proud to show us around her city. We began with a short bus ride to La Princesa Boulevard where we started our walking tour through fountains and around the old city wall. We passed the Rogativa Monument, walked to San Felipe del Morro, saw the oldest church in the western hemisphere and much more. Our tour went down famed Cristos Street and through other narrow cobblestone streets before ending up at San Juan Bautista Cathedral and Cristo's Chapel. It was a wonderful educational and cultural experience, although we were tired and sweaty after three hours walking in the tropical heat.
Calle San Miguel is a picturesque coastal road that runs between El Morro and San Cristobal. On one side of the road you have a sweeping view of the ocean and the other side are pastel colored houses built in colonial style. If you planning on seeing both forts I would recommend parking at one and then walking down this road to the other, its a perfect way to spend a afternoon in Old San Juan!
This is a promenade built for (and used by) the tourists who get off the cruise ships. Nonetheless, it offers great views of the city walls and the bay, and a fountain in front of which the cruiseship tourists feel compelled to photograph each other.
I don't do much walking, and particularly when it is hot and humid and when the footing is uneven. The streets here are blue cobblestones which do make for sometimes uneven footing. And the streets are steep. The cobbles were used as ballast on the empty Spanish trade ships. The ballast was unloaded when the ships were filled with sugar cane produced in Puerto Rico.
We did have Marian drive us through the city and point out landmarks.
At the end of the street in photo 5, is the old Capilla del Cristo (Cristo Chapel). It was built in 1753. There are different versions of the story of why it was built - either by a thankful father whose his son lived after his son and his horse fell over the wall, or by a sad father whose son died after falling over the wall on his horse.
Old San Juan is a great place to spend at least a few days. Consisting of less than ten blocks north to south and east to west, Old San Juan’s narrow, cobblestone streets are best explored on foot. Many of the colorful buildings have been taken over by shops and restaurants competing for money from cruise ship passengers, but the further away from the cruise pier you get the more the old town shines. Whether simply admiring the architecture, seeking out the local galleries and eateries, or entertaining yourself watching the cruisers (almost invariably these are people who think merely stepping foot in Old San Juan is a brave thing, eating at Senor Frogs is adventurous, and standing around smoking a cigar and bullsh#$&ing in the street with another American with fish-belly white legs is experiencing Puerto Rican culture), Old San Juan will not disappoint.
I forgot what it was called, but there is a government building there that is made entirely of marble. It's beautiful. There are paintings of Ponce de Leon and Columbus on the walls. It only cost a half a million to make. Just breathtaking!
Walking through Old San Juan is like walking through a museum dedicated to the conservation and preservation of Spain's culture in the new world. Multi-colored cement buildings covered with balconies practically explode with charm. You'll want to venture down every street and peek inside every window.
But don't do the latter. You might *** some of the residents off.
This elegant building is hard to see because of the fences, city wall and gardens surrounding it. This is supposed to be the oldest governor's building in the US - it dates from Spanish colonial times.
By contrast, the congress building is a derivative of the US state capitols, without any creative or custom touches; it is located to the east of the old city.