The Lure of Old San Juan
July 6th, 2011

Almost all of my clients who travel to San Juan, Puerto Rico go as the embarkation port for a cruise or for the beach and shopping.  Having visited San Juan in April, this trend disappoints me. The city certainly has cruise ships (I’ll admit, I too have been there to start a cruise), beaches and shopping, but it is so much more.  In fact, I went to San Juan for a conference and with the free time that I had, I spent no time on the beach, about 90 minutes total by the hotel pool and the rest of it exploring Old San Juan.

Old San Juan has the feel of a Spanish city with a Caribbean flair. Its brightly colored buildings, center squares, boutique shops and restaurants all resemble southern Spain. It’s “vibe”, though, is undeniably Caribbean. Perhaps it’s the way that people wander around in their bathing suits and flip flops, the close proximity to the water at almost ever point in the old town, or the abundance of mojitos that give it that distinct atmosphere of a culture with multiple influences that blend seamlessly together. One thing that it certainly didn’t feel is especially American. Yes, they use American money and many people speak English, but it didn’t feel like the “51st state” as so many people call it.

Two “must sees” in San Juan are the forts, San Cristobal and San Felipe del Morro. Del Morro might be the more famous of the two – it sits on a hill overlooking the ocean and an incredible cemetery (if one can use that word to describe a cemetery), with views of the rum factory and the town of Old San Juan down below. San Cristobal is just as worthy, if not more so, of a visit. Yes, the forts are popular with tourists and have gift shops, but the history and the views alone make them well worth it. Entry prices are very reasonable – around $3 per person uk kamagra.

Aside from the forts, simply walk the city. Old churches and plazas are dispersed throughout, along with Spanish style architecture, lively markets and restaurants and cafes offering a wide variety of inexpensive cuisine. Music and dancing are an important part of the culture in Puerto Rico, so it’s not uncommon to see groups of people dancing or playing live music in a plaza. The city is very much alive and it’s difficult not to get drawn into the vibrant atmosphere.

Hotel Suggestion: If you’re staying in Old San Juan, try to get a room at El Convento. If you can’t stay there at least go in for a quick visit or lunch.

Restaurant Suggestion: Café Berlin. It offers a delicious combination of cuisines, including local dishes, sits right on the plaza (dine outside) and the staff is very friendly.

Shopping suggestion: Unless your looking for San Juan key chains and t-shirts, avoid the shops adjacent to the cruise ship.  Head into the center of Old San Juan, where you can find local artisan crafts and more authentic shopping.

Day trips and activities:

  • The rum distillery – why not, you’re in Puerto Rico. It will be touristy but fun and it’s the real thing.
  • El Yunque Rainforest: A lush escape from the city; those looking for adventurous activities can enjoy hiking and through the mountains and waterfalls.
  • Arecibo Observatory: Check out the world’s largest and most sensitive single- dish radio telescope.
  • Caves at Camuy: In northwestern Puerto Rico, this system if underground river caverns is the third largest in the world.

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