• Laine Alan

San Juan - The Islands Historical Centerpiece

Updated: Dec 14, 2021


Slow Motion Bird Flight, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico


From it's famed cobblestone streets, to its teeming history and massive shoreline fortifications, Puerto Rico begins here. We stayed just outside of the city's center in Isla Verde, which feels like South Beach in Miami. Endless highrises, restaurants, shops, beachlife and crawling traffic make this the place to be for "some". For us, it was our departure point to visit Old San Juan.

Old San Juan transports you back several centuries, feeling like an old world European city, because that is exactly what it is, architecturally speaking. Small one way streets, lined with brightly painted houses with commerce sprinkled throughout. In Old San Juan you will get your fill of food, history and commerce. In the birthplace of the Pina Colada, you will also get your drink on. Sample what is considered the "original '' Pina Colada at the Barrachina Hotel. Friendly staff and bartenders make drinking Pina Coladas in this idyllic setting, an easy chore. There are also rooms available to stay at this famed hotel, bathing you in this original, "old new world". Need a convenient nearby place to stay in San Juan, close to everything? Check out the Monaco Guest Suites. Clean, minimalistic and modern boutique chic, it provides all the necessary amenities requireded for an extraordinary city stay in San Juan. Designed with the traveler in mind, there are four different available suites.


Photo - Castillo San Felipe del Morro

The "must" visit of course to Old San Juan is the Castillo San Felipe del Morro. Protecting the town from rival imperialistic nations, rogue Caribbean pirates, while harboring the exported jewels of the island, the fort, sitting on the very north of San Juan, is brooding and imposing . There are 360 degree views, which encompass the ocean, the fort cemetery, the La Perla neighborhood as well as the distant horizon. It would be wise to time your visit to the early morning, or late afternoon, as the midday sun is without mercy, and there are very few shaded accomodations on the wide and lengthy grounds. It also should be noted at the time of this writing, very few bathrooms as well.


Photo - Castillo San Felipe del Morro

South of the fort, is Old San Juan itself. Cliched in tourist offerings, but the history of the town's surroundings, drown out the commercialism if you should dare to look. The cobble stoned streets, the pastel painted buildings and many cathedrals remind you of why you took the time to visit San Juan, history resides here in abundance.


Photo - Cobblestoned streets of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico


Eating in the San Juan area is easy. In Old San Juan, you'll find restaurants and street side fare for every budget. As mentioned, some good, some not so. If you really want to eat in Old San Juan, or just San Juan for that matter, you have to visit the neighborhoods. While not as shiny or glitzy as the more commercialized spaces nearby, the "barrios* is where food shines. Santurce, an area that is going through revitalization, encompasses my feelings for good Puerto Rican food, and food in general. Two restaurants that fit our palates pretty well were Barbacoa and La Cueva del Mar. Now, before I start on the offerings we enjoyed, Puerto Rico might be the pork capital of the world, and if you stumble into the right place, you'll enjoy pork like you've never had it before. Whether Pulled Pork, Pork Chops, Pork Tacos (Carnitas), they seem to serve it anyway you want it, or have imagined in your pork culinary dreams.


Photo - Pastel stucco homes of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

La Cueva del Mar has an expansive menu and full bar, it is filled with people ( mainly Puerto Ricans), which tells you it's not only popular, it's good. We enjoyed some well garnished Fish Tacos along with Churrasco Steak. The mood was festive, the wait staff is friendly and efficient. Felt like a private party with 70 of our friends. Uh, we did not know any of these people btw. We left full and happy. Barbacoa, is another one of those places locals frequent for smoked meats, and in search of an all out assault to devour all things delicious. More BBQ joint fused with Caribbean and Puerto Rican flavors, it's all very good.


Artsy, foodie and rejuvenated, Santurce should be on the list of places to visit in San Juan. Afternoon and early evening hour visits are suggested, to be on the safer side of things, it is still up and coming, but not without typical urban struggles, some crime, some poverty and the spirit to reimagine itself.


Photos - Cathedral in Old San Juan Puerto, Rico


One of the difficult aspects of travel when visiting San Juan by cruise ship, or with the added destinations of Culebra or Vieques, is getting the lay of the land. Baggage storage became an issue for us, considering our upcoming travel to Culebra and Vieques, as the smaller airline carriers have maximum weight restrictions. We were desperate to store our primary luggage, from five weeks of vacation, and travel lightly to the two smaller islands. The solution for us was PalmSkys Vacation Services. From transport, to luggage storage, to creating island travel itineraries, they offer a little bit of everything. They stored our luggage for 9 days, while also providing airport transport between San Juan International Airport (SJU) and Isla Grande Airport (SIG). They have a host of local travel services to make any Puerto Rico or Caribbean vacation experience a better one.


Photos - Cobblestoned streets of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico


In and around San Juan, you will find a myriad of things to occupy your time. For the adventurer in you, check out these other nearby locations and activities.


The El Yunque Rainforest - The views of the island are unparalleled from this vantage point, with walking and hiking trails through out.


Bio Bay Luminescent Tour - Located in Fajardo, also known as Las Croabas has nightly bio bay tours where you can experience the bioluminescent waters of Puerto Rico. Tours conducted nightly. There are many companies to choose from for your bio bay excursion.


The Rainforest Zipline in the El Yunque National Forest - An adventure that can be paired with your El Yunque Rainforest visit. 7 active lines offering beautiful views of Puerto Rico.


Cayo Icacos - Hire a water taxi or party catamaran to spend an afternoon in the clear waters of Cayo Icacos. Beautiful and idyllic times await you.


Playas Pinones - With beach bars and shoreline a plenty, this not just a scenic drive, but also a great day or afternoon of cultural immersion.

The Carabali Rainforest - ATV or horseback riding? Epic vistas of Puerto Rico are the norm, no matter what mode of transportation you choose.

Casa Bacardi - What better way to experience Puerto Rico, than by tasting the prime ingredient of your Pina Colada at the source. Tours daily of this world famous distillery.


Luquillo Beach and Kiosks - On the weekends, this is where the party is. Get your fill of food, drink and sun. Taste the many flavors of the island and experience the people and culture of Puerto Rico.


The Casino at the Ritz - Carlton San Juan - Feeling lucky? Enjoy an afternoon or evening of gaming and leisure at the Casino Ritz Carlton.


San Juan Sunset Tours - There are multiple operators to choose from for a sunset tour of San Juan. Take in the end of your day on the water.


Need more activities? Check out these favorites as noted by you the traveler. San Juan Tours.

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