Old San Juan might be a very small islet in Puerto Rico, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in over 400 years of history and culture. Here’s a quick look at what to do and what you should not miss when in Old San Juan.
Enjoy the Spanish colonial architecture
Walk through the narrow cobbled streets lined with 18th century Spanish colonial architecture. Old San Juan streets are mostly paved with bluish bricks used as ballast to weigh ships coming from Spain in replace of the gold that these ships later carried back to Spain.
The colorful two and three storied buildings represent the true nature of Caribbean Spanish architecture, where high ceilings and big windows let the tropical breeze flow smoothly through the space.
While making your way around the city, take your time to enjoy the impressive views of the old city, the bays, the beaches and the fortress walls that used to protect the city from foreign attacks.
Castillo de San Felipe Del Morro (El Morro) and Castillo San Cristobal
El Morro is a 16th century fortress designed to guard the entrance to the Bay of San Juan and to defend the city of Old San Juan from seaborne enemies. Now a World Heritage Site, it attracts visitors who want to explore the windswept ramparts, old passageways and prison cells. Close to El Morro is Castillo San Cristobal, the “younger brother” of El Morro and still to this day it shows more recent modifications made by the US Army for World War II.
Eat the local cuisine
It’s not hard to find good local cuisine in Old San Juan, but a few places that are highly recommended are Café Manolin, Raíces, and Inaru.
Try traditional Puertorrican dishes like Arroz con Pollo, Mofongo relleno, Tostones, Churrasco a la Parrilla, and others fried snacks.
Go shopping while history hopping
While shopping can be done on every street in Old San Juan, the best ones to stroll down are Fortaleza Street, Calle del Cristo, and Calle San Sebastian. These graceful streets not only show a great variety of high end and traditional shops, but they also mix some important historical sights along the way like Capilla del Cristo, Parque de las Palomas, Catedral San Juan Bautista, La Fortaleza, and a few others.
Paseo de la Princesa
Paseo de la Princesa is an urban promenade located outside the city walls on the southwest part of the islet. The promenade is lined on one side by the imposing fortification walls, and on the other side by the bay and the sea. Take your time to stroll the entire promenade, buy a “piragua” (flavored crushed ice cone) and watch the sunset from the waterfront. You will see how the life of the promenade changes from a family oriented place by day to an urban social spot by night.
What's your favorite thing to do in Old San Juan?