The colourful streets of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
One of the best surprises from our trip to the Caribbean was discovering Old San Juan, the oldest settlement in Puerto Rico and the historical colonial section of San Juan, it’s capital city.
WOW – what an incredible place!
We did a little research about Puerto Rico prior to visiting, but it did nothing to prepare us for how much we would fall for Old San Juan. Most of our research highlighted San Juan’s former defensive forts, Fort San Felipe del Morro and Fort San Cristóbal, as the prime tourist attractions in the old city.
While these historical forts are definitely worth a visit, the clear highlight from our time in Puerto Rico was wandering the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan and admiring its colourful buildings and stunning European-influenced architecture.
Many people are surprised to learn that San Juan is the second most populous metropolitan area in the Caribbean (following Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic). It certainly took us by surprise. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we looked out the airplane window as we approached the city. It’s huge!
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that San Juan is a quaint Caribbean town sheltered by palm trees – it’s a full blown city that’s more comparable to Miami.
San Juan is also the second oldest European-established capital city in the Americas, founded by Spanish colonists in 1521. The city’s rich history is on display as you walk up and down its historical streets. In 1983 the old fortified city was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, a well deserved designation.
The beautiful Plaza de Armas
Free Trolley Service in Old San Juan
On our first day in the city, the plan was to first visit Fort San Felipe del Morro, also known as Castillo San Felipe del Morro or Morro Castle. See above picture. This 16th century citadel, along with the fortified walls and gates that surround the old city, have been declared a San Juan National Historic Site, so it’s often the first stop on most first time visitor’s sightseeing list.
We stayed at the Sheraton Old San Juan Hotel, located on the waterfront near the cruise ship port, which is about a 20 minute walk to the Fort San Felipe del Morro. We planned to walk from the Sheraton to the entrance of the castle grounds because our map showed that if was fairly close. We asked our hotel concierge about the walk and she informed us that, while the distance from the hotel to the fort is not far, it’s mostly uphill. She recommended that we hop on the free trolley service instead of walking uphill in the blistering heat. Conveniently, there’s a trolley stop in front of the Sheraton.
Free trolley service? That’s a nice surprise.
There are 4 routes to choose from with 26 marked stops throughout Old San Juan (similar to a bus stop). There are two types of trolleys – an open-aired trolley that looks like a train of over-sized golf carts and another trolley that looks like a small bus. The longest route takes about 30 minutes to complete. The circuit passes most of the popular attractions on the way, so you can hop on and off as you please.
It’s not a tour and there are no tour guides giving you information, but it’s a great way to see the sights, especially when you’re traveling with two little ones and their grandparents.
Have you ever seen such a good looking Subway restaurant?
Not your average looking Walgreen’s pharmacy either!
Inside the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, one of the oldest buildings in Old San Juan and the second oldest cathedral in the Americas.
Where did we stay?
We stayed at the newly-renovated Sheraton Old San Juan Hotel. This hotel has the perfect location in Old San Juan. It’s located directly on the waterfront promenade, across the street from the cruise ship port. It’s within walking distance to the San Juan National Historic Site and beautiful cobblestone streets of Old San Juan.
The free shuttle we mentioned earlier is located right in front of the hotel, which is perfect for sightseeing. There are plenty of restaurants and shops within a 5 minute walk of the hotel. The hotel has a patio restaurant that overlooks San Juan Bay and offers happy hour specials. We enjoyed many Medalla beers on that patio – here’s evidence.
Learn more here – http://www.sheratonoldsanjuan.com/
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Have you visited Old San Juan? Did you like it?
Share your experiences in the comments section below, we’d love to hear from you!