Puerto Rico is no doubt a beautiful island and I don’t say just because I am Puerto Rican. The beaches, the people, the food, and the sunsets are just part of what constitutes such a touristic and breathtaking paradise. With its historic background and beautiful views, one place in particular that stands out and is known across the world when talking about Puerto Rico, is the majestic El Viejo San Juan (Old San Juan).
I’ve been going to Old San Juan for as long as I can remember and I still can’t get enough of it. The district is surrounded by wondrous architecture. Old and colorful two story buildings that stare at each other’s balconies with cobblestone roads that pave in between them. Other buildings, worn down by the passing of time like those antiques in museums preserving its historical value. It’s truly a fascinating site. It’s not within the human capacity to capture it all with one look, you look right and there’s something to look forward to, look left and another layer of beauty is unveiled.
Old San Juan is the second oldest city in the Western Hemisphere. In its colonial days when Spain had control over the land, they walled in the city and constructed two huge forts to protect themselves from military attacks. San Juan was also site for many Spanish expeditions during the sixteenth century. The incredible architecture among its buildings are product of its reconstruction to conserve its history.
The walls, the cobblestones paths, and the doors of buildings are part of what makes the place so amazing. Every turn you make gets you somewhere even more beautiful. The place is in constant movement, with cars going in and out across road, across cobblestone. In the sidewalks, there are stores every few feet. Jewelry stores, gift shops, popular chain stores such as Coach, Marshalls, and Ralph Lauren just to name a few.
When hunger strikes, don’t fear because the place is swarming in restaurants. For breakfast, I strongly encourage to go to La Bombonera, for the best “mallorca” in the area. If you’re into pizza there’s a good place called La Tortuga with an enormous calzone, enough to feed the whole family. There are many authentic restaurants in Old San Juan and many fast foods as well like Burger King, Wendy’s, etc. Regardless of where you eat, for dessert you must go to Señor Paleta for amazing fruit bars or Barrachina for delicious Pina Colada.
Nothing says a good day like ending up with scratches and a messy hair for feeding hungry pigeons. There are two main places in Old San Juan with pigeons to feed. One of them being in Plaza de Armas, one of the main squares of Old San Juan.
Situated in a very popular area close to Marshalls. The other place is the official pigeon feeding site located on street Tetuan, near the legendary and mysterious Capilla del Cristo. It’s called Parque de las Palomas (Pigeon Park). Both places have flocks of pigeons darting towards you, the moment you step in. You can buy bird food close by, there are always people selling them. As soon as you spread your arms out, a pigeon skirmish is formed and it will feel will feel like the birds are attacking, but don’t fear just embrace the San Juan culture. They don’t hurt they just leave scratches sometiems for standing on your arms. Warning: don’t go with a cute hairdo because it won’t last long. They also like to stand on top of your head.
Forts and Kite Flying
What appears as a beautiful site for the best photographs and the most astonishing view, used to be a site of protection for the Spaniards in the colonial times. Spain started getting attacked by pirates so they decided to construct a fort as military protection. Castillo San Felipe del Morro was the first one of these forts. Later a bigger fort to protect the area from the other side was constructed, el Castillo San Cristobal. El Morro, San Cristobal, along with a smaller fort called San Geronimo, were the major lines of defense for the Spanish against attacks.
Today they are opened to tourists. Featuring barracks, tunnels, ramparts, dungeons, etc. Everything to protect the almighty powerful Spain from its attacks. It has also been the set for many movies including Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie.
The name El Morro is supposed to be just the fort, but now it’s basically used to talk about surroundings too, the whole area including the castle and the wide green fields. A long trail that leads straight to El Morro separates both sides of the long and plain fields that extend until reaching the stone ramparts keeping us from falling into the beautiful landscape.
El Morro is the best place to fly “chiringas” (kites), I say it because I have done it many times. On a normal sunny day, there is an exhibit of kites flying around with parents and kids having a blast. You can bring your own or buy one in a close stall. Although, I do recommend you hold on strong to it seeing as we once lost ours to the wind many years ago. Throughout the year there are specific activities held there like kite flying competitions, marathon endings, dog events, etc.
There is not a more pleasant place to be. Green plains stretched a far with kids running around and a display of kites in the sky. The spectacular view of the fortresses and of the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. A view that in 16 years has never failed to impress me more every time.
The unique experience
Old San Juan is unique in history and in beauty. The colorful architecture displayed in the buildings is purely astonishing. The shopping experience, one of a kind. The history behind it makes it such a touristic point. Not just for tourists but for us Puerto Ricans too. Every time I go, there’s a whole new story being uncovered at plain sight. It is appealing for everyone and I have yet to find one person who thinks otherwise. Old San Juan has still more to offer so stay tuned because I will continue it, but for now, I suggest you visit and give a twist to your Caribbean experience and go back to your hometown with the “Boricua” blood running in your heart and spirit.
La Bombonera-259 Calle San Francisco, San Juan, 00901
La Tortuga-112 Calle San Sebastián, San Juan, 00926
Señor Paleta-153 Calle Tetuan, San Juan, 00901
Barrachina-104 Calle Fortaleza, San Juan, 00901
Plaza de Armas-202 Calle San José, San Juan, 00901
Parque de las Palomas-Calle Tetuan, San Juan, 00901
Castillo San Felipe del Morro-501 Calle Norzagaray, San Juan, 00901