Old San Juan San Juan Viejo
Almost 500 years old, San Juan Viejo (Old San Juan) is a city of Spanish colonial history blended with contemporary Puerto Rican culture.The entire city was designated as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 1983. Situated on a long narrow inlet at the northeast entrance to the San Juan Bay, Old San Juan was founded in 1521. Originally, Ponce de León founded the settlement in 1508 at Caparra for the purpose of mining gold, however the colony was abandoned and moved to the site of what is now San Juan.
El Morro Fort
The Fuerta San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) is the largest fort in the Caribbean. Designated a National Historic Site (1949), El Morro Fort , or Fuerte San Felipe del Morro, was constructed in 1539 but took almost 250 years to evolve to its current shape. Much construction took place between the 1760s and 1780s, when many of the present walls were added. Fuerte San Felipe del Morro is positioned 140ft/43m above sea level, and is surrounded by an 18ft/5.5m thick wall. A maze of ramps, outposts, barracks, dungeons, and tunnels; Fuerte San Felipe del Morro is dotted with small, circular sentry boxes called "garitas". These garitas are unique to Puerto Rican forts and have become a national symbol.
Address: 501 Norzagaray Street, San Juan 00901, Puerto Rico
Opening hours: 9am-6pm
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), Thanksgiving - USA (4th Thursday, Nov), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25)
Entrance fee in USD: Adult $3.00, Child 15 & under FREE
Useful tips: Guided tours begin at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Combination tickets available.
Guides: Guided tour included with admission.
Typical Visit: 2 hours
Designated a World Heritage Site and part of the National Trust, The Fortaleza was completed in 1540 as a defense against the Carib Indians and other foreign invaders. The Fortaleza has been occupied twice by invaders; first by the Earl of Cumberland in 1598 and then by the Dutch General Bowdoin Hendrick in 1625 when fire damaged the building. The Fortaleza eventually lost its military value and became the residence of Puerto Rican governors. 150 governors have resided in the building, as well the current governor.La Fortaleza is the oldest governor's mansion still used as such in the Western Hemisphere. The building itself has undergone many changes in its 300-year history, beginning in 1640. The result is the unification of 16th C military architecture with the refinements of the 19th C.
Address: 52 Calle Fortaleza, San Juan 00901, Puerto Rico
Opening hours: 9am-4pm; Closed: Sun, Sat
Entrance fee: FREE
Useful tips: Proper attire must be worn. Access to official areas is denied. Free guided tours are offered in both English and Spanish from 9:30 to 3:30.
Typical Visit: 1 hour
San Juan's Museo del Indio (Indian Museum) contains a wide range of artefacts related to the indigenous people of Puerto Rico. The Museo del Indio is a good spot for visitors to Puerto Rico to familiarize themselves with the various ancient cultures and traditions prior to heading out of San Juan. Items on display at the Museo del Indio can also be seen at various Indian sites throughout the island.The Indian Museum has a nickname based on the building it is housed in - Casa de los Dos Zaguanes, Building of two Foyers. The museum is particularly noted for its fine collection of small stone gods called cemies.
Museum of the Sea
If you are strolling along Pier #1 in Old San Juan and interested in naval history, you should consider stopping in at the Museo del Mar (Museum of the Sea) This well done museum is a delight for visitors and will appeal to more than just those interested in old seafaring items. It's a great spot to beat the heat and the staff at the museum are friendly and helpful.The collection on display at the Museo del Mar includes ship models, old nautical instruments and well-preserved documents of the Spanish colonial period. Also on display are maps and other interesting naval items.
San Cristóbal Fort
A National Historic Site, Castillo de San Cristóbal (San Cristóbal Fort) began construction in 1634 and was completed in 1771. Castillo de San Cristóbal is one of the largest defenses built in the Americas, rising 150ft/46m and covering 27ac/11ha of land. It is a fascinating place to walk around and explore, you just never know what interesting things you will find. Strategically planned to confuse enemies, Castillo de San Cristóbal features five independent units connected by moat and tunnel, each designed to be self-sufficient should the others fall.On site at the San Cristóbal Fort (Castillo de San Cristóbal) is a small gallery.
House of the Book
The Casa del Libro (House of the Book), is located in an 18th C building in Old San Juan. This book museum exhibits an extensive collection of rare books and manuscripts. The Casa del Libro museum is tiny, but makes for an interesting diversion as you are walking throughout Old San Juan.On display at the Casa del Libro are a range of antique, almost primitive printing tools that historians have collected over the years. The museum staff are friendly and helpful and the museum will be particularly interesting to book collectors or hobbyists.
Address: 225 Calle de Cristo, San Juan 00901, Puerto Rico
Opening hours: 11am-4:30pm; Closed: Sun, Mon
Always closed on: Martin Luther King's Birthday - USA (3rd Monday, Jan), Eugenio María de Hostos' Birthday - Puerto Rico (2nd Monday, Jan), Epiphany (3 Kings' Day ) - Christian (Jan 6), New Year's Day (Jan 1), President's Day - USA (3rd Monday, Feb), Valentine's Day (Feb 14), Emancipation Day - Puerto Rico (Mar 22), José de Diego's Birthday - Puerto Rico (3rd Monday, Apr), Mother's Day - Puerto Rico (2nd Sunday, May), Memorial Day - USA (last Monday, May), Father's Day - Puerto Rico (3rd Sunday, Jun), Luis Muñoz Rivera's Birthday - Puerto Rico (Jul 17), José Celso Barbosa's Birthday - Puerto Rico (Jul 27), Constitution Day - Puerto Rico (Jul 25), American Independance Day (Jul 4), Labor Day - USA (1st Monday, Sep), Columbus Day - USA (2nd Monday, Oct), Discovery of Puerto Rico Day - Puerto Rico (Nov 19), Thanksgiving - USA (4th Thursday, Nov), Veteran's Day - USA (Nov 11), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25), Easter - Christian
Entrance fee: FREE
Pablo Casals Museum
Visitors interested in classical music will want to be sure to stop in the Museo de Casals (Pablo Casals Museum). The name may sound familiar as the Pablo Casals Museum is dedicated to the famed Spanish cellist Pablo Casals, who made his home in Puerto Rico in 1956 and remained for the last 16 years of his life. Casals became the conductor of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra and the president of the Conservatory of Music in Puerto Rico. On display at the Museo de Casais are cellos, photographs, and manuscripts, and other personal items related to the artist himself.
San José Church
Those interested in following the trail of Ponce de León, the man who thought he had found the fountain of life, will want to stop in at the Iglesia de San José.( San José Church).Dominican friars built the Iglesia de San José in 1532. The 16th C Spanish Gothic structure is the second oldest church in the Western Hemisphere. For 300 years Spanish explorer Ponce de León was buried here until his body was moved to the San Juan Cathedral in 1913. José Campeche, a Puerto Rican artist, is buried at San José Church as well.
San Juan Cathedral
The San Juan Cathedral (Catedral de San Juan), begun in 1540, is a rare example of medieval architecture in the New World. The San Juan Cathedral has several interesting features including four vaulted Gothic ceilings and a circular staircase. Followers of the quest for the Fountain of Youth will want to stop by for a vist. Spanish explorer Ponce de León's body has laid here in a marble tomb since 1913. San Pío, a Roman Catholic martyr has also laid in Catedral de San Juan since 1862.The cathedral still holds regular services and tours are available.
Casa Blanca (White House) was built in 1521 as a reward for Ponce de León. Although León died before he could live in it, the building housed his descendants for 250 years. The Casa Blanca is surrounded by a garden and portrays the grandeur of 17th and 18th C Spanish elite. In later years, the house was used as a headquarters for Spanish and then American military. Today the Casa Blanca mansion serves as National Historic Monument, housing a museum of 16th, 17th and 18th C history. Each room is decorated in a style associated with a period of the house's history.
Callejón House with Museum of Colonial Architecture & Museum of Puerto Rican Family
Casa de Callejón is an 18th C house containing the Museum of Colonial Architecture. The museum exhibits fortifications and architectural plans. Also inside the Casa de Callejón is the Museum of the Puerto Rican Family on the second floor.The building itself is a Spanish style structure and has been undergoing restoration work. Visitors should phone ahead to see if the museum's are open before visiting.
Carmelite Convent (El Convento Hotel)
The Convento de las Carmelitas in Old San Juan was the first Carmelite convent built in the Caribbean. It was constructed in the 1650s for the Carmelites but over the years was used for a multitude of purposes. Today, after a major restoration in the late 1990s, the Convento de las Carmelitas is now an upper end hotel called "El Convento". The restoration work was beautifully completed and the open beamed ceilings are complimented with beautiful Spanish style furnishings. Consequently it probably doesn't resemble the modest Carmelite Convent it once was but it is a charming piece of architecture that is definitely worth a look while walking the streets of Old San Juan.
Built by Dominican friars in 1523, the Dominican Convent (Convento de los Dominicos) has served as a convent and later as a shelter from Carib Indian raids. After the Spanish-American War, the U.S. used the Dominican Convent as an Army headquarters. Presently, the restored building provides a venue for musical concerts on the patio.This picturesque white domed building dominates the Plaza San Juan and make for interesting photographic opportunities. The Dominican Convent; Convento de los Dominicos is considered an excellent example of colonial architecture and has been beautifully restored. The Dominican Convent; Convento de los Dominicos also has a store selling arts and crafts along with music and books.
Home for the Poor (Institute of Puerto Rican Culture)
The Casa de Beneficencia (Home for the Poor) an historical building, was built in the 1840s for the indigent people. Inside it is the Institute / Museum of Puerto Rican Culture, which exhibits artifacts dating from pre-European Puerto Rico and a recreation of a Taíno village. In addition to these exhibits are travelling exhibitions of general interest that rotate through on a regular basis. Check with the reception desk inside the Casa de Beneficencia building to see what is coming.If you are looking for an escape from the heat, hustle, and bustle of San Juan, head inside to one of the two patios located inside the Casa de Beneficencia. These patios are usually quiet and deserted.
San Juan Bay
The Bahiá de San Juan (San Juan Bay) is one of the busiest ocean ports in the Caribbean, bringing in over one million visitors a year aboard cruise ships and half of the region's trade. There are many bay side shops carrying everything from jewellery to Island crafts along this stretch.A natural indent in the island forms Bahiá de San Juan. To one side is Old San Juan and on the other side is Isla de Cabras. The Bahiá de San Juan is a fascinating place to stroll around as there is always something going on.If the heat gets to be too much, grab a cold drink and sit in the shade on one of the many restaurants and watch the ships come and go in Bahiá de San Juan.
Near Parque de las Polamas in Old San Juan stands the Capilla del Cristo (Christ's Chapel), which dates to around the mid 18th Century. This little chapel is the centre of a number of legends. The most common story visitors will here is that the Capilla del Cristo was built to commemorate a horse and rider who galloped off the sea wall and were miraculously saved. Or at least, the rider was saved. Some experts even say the rider was actually killed. Nonetheless the chapel has become a place of worship where the faithful come to pray for miracles. Inside a silver altar has become the main centre piece where followers leave offerings.
Doña Fela Museum
The Museo de Doña Fela (Doña Fela Museum) is the original home of Felisa Rincón de Gautier, San Juan's first female Mayor (in office 1946-1968). The Museo de Doña Fela features personal belongings, period memorabilia and awards granted to Doña Fela.The Museo de Doña Fela has everything you could possibly imagine related to Doña Fela - plus a few you may not expect. In addition to the political memorabilia on display, visitors will find the extensive wardrobe collection of Doña Fela along with her outlandish wigs and accessories. The Museo de Doña Fela is really geared towards the people of Puerto Rico, who consider her practically a national hero.
This long, gray and white structure is La Princesa, built in 1837 and formally the San Juan penitentiary. It now houses an art gallery featuring Puerto Rican art. Surrounding the building are gardens and a fountain.Another feature of La Princesa are the ever changing exhibits by artists from Puerto Rico. Check to see what is coming up or currently playing by giving La Princesa a call.La Princesa can be easily identified not only by its structure and color but by the bronze statue out in front. This statue is of Doña Felisa Gautier, San Juan's mayor form 1946 to 1968The Puerto Rican Tourism Company has its main office in the La Princesa Building.
The Plaza de Armas was the original main square in Old San Juan, carefully planned and serving as a meeting place for generations. The square is mostly a concrete area with a central fountain and benches, and is designed after the public squares in Spain. On special occaisions such as holidays and public events, the Plaza de Armas comes to life and is the place to be. People sometimes flock here, vendors set up stalls, and musicians fill the air with Puerto Rican music.Located on the Plaza de Armas are the Alcadia (City Hall), and a couple of other government buildings.
Built in the early 1812, the Casa Rosa (Pink House) served as a barracks for the Spanish militia. Today it operates as a day care center for the children of employees of the Government of Puerto Rico. This beautiful, well restored home is a photographers dream both for its interesting architecture and the pink color. In the evening the soft pastels of the pink colour really come into their own.The Casa Rosa cannot usually be entered by the general public, however if you ask nicely, you may be lucky enough to be admitted. The Casa Rosa should be part of any walking tour visitors may undertake in old San Juan.
San Juan Plaza
In the center of San José Square (Plaza de San José) is a bronze statue of explorer Ponce de León, built from British Cannons that were confiscated after the English attempts to conquer the island in 1797. Ponce de León is the famous Spanish Explorer whose quest was for the Fountain of Youth.San Juan Plaza (Plaza de San José) is surrounded by many historical buildings that make for interesting exploration. If you are hungry, tired, or thirsty, the San Juan Plaza (Plaza de San José is well serviced by restaurants, cafés, and bars. Plaza de San José is a pleasant place to linger and watch the comings and goings of Old San Juan.
Small Plaza of the Religious Procession
The Small Plaza of the Religious Procession (Plazuela de la Rogativa) commemorates a religious torch-lit procession, which took place in 1797. It is said that the British were frightened off by the appearance of this torch lit procession, believing that it was a procession of troop reinforcements.A modern bronze statue of the Bishop of San Juan and three torch-bearing women stands in the park. The Plazuela de la Rogativa is a good spot for scenic views, due to is fine location overlooking the bay. The beautiful bronze statue at The Small Plaza of the Religious Procession is the work of Lindsay Daen.
Walkway of the Princess
Paseo de la Princesa (Walkway of the Princess) is a 19th C walkway lined with trees, antique street lamps, benches, fountains, vendors, and street entertainers on weekends. The Paseo de la Princesa leads to a fountain and a bronze sculpture by Luis Sanguino, depicting the diversity of the island's cultural roots. Restored in the 1990's, the walkway's new pink stones lead to the San Juan Bay.The Paseo de Princesa is a great spot to people watch and just relax. If you are feeling the heat after walking around old San Juan, the pleasant breezes off the bay are quite refreshing.
Weekend Craft Market at La Casita
A weekend craft market surrounds La Casita (Little House), a miniature 1937 neoclassical structure. The craft market's schedule may vary according to cruise ship's itineraries. On display at the Weekend Craft Market is some of the best works of island artists from all across Puerto Rico. Items for sale include jewellery, leathers, soaps, paintings, along with the requisite t shirts. Be aware that the Weekend Craft Market can be very crowded when the cruise ships come to town.Also at the market are a variety of vendors selling food and drinks including piraguas which are snow cones.
These ancient Caparra Ruins are of a fort built on the first settlement in Puerto Rico, Caparra. Ponce de León, famous for among other things, his search for the fountain of youth, established the colony in 1508 and Caparra is considered one of the oldest Puerto Rican cities. Some of the remains of the home of Ponce de León can still be seen among the ruins.Historical documents, exhibits and artifacts related to the Colonization of Puerto Rico are displayed at the Museum of the Conquest and Colonization of Puerto Rico, located at the Caparra Ruins.
An activity for both parents and children, the Museo del Niño (Children's Museum) in San Juan is a favorite with children. Exhibits range from simple to more complex with a number of interactive exhibits on a wide range of themes. Through fun displays the museum addresses health, safety issues in a number of circumstances, history and heritage, and more. Displays are designed to be both educational and fun, as well as relaxing for parents. The Museo del Niño recently underwent expansion on the third floor to add new displays that include weather and nature themes.
El Arsenal in Old San Juan is a low, gray fortress with a Roman arched entrance. The structure was built in 1800, and existed as a naval station and home to the Spanish military following the Spanish-American War. El Arsenal is worth of visit both for its historical significance as well as its current occupant, which is a division of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. Visitors will find three galleries with fine and decorative arts, adding a unique flare to this old fortress.El Arsenal can be found on La Puntilla, jutting out to the south of Old San Juan.
House of Buttresses and Pharmacy Museum
Pharmacy Museum) is housed in a traditional Spanish-style home, dating back to the early 18th C. It is considered the oldest colonial residence in Puerto Rice. The first floor houses a pharmacy museum, which is a reconstruction of an apothecary shop complete with bottles and scales.The Casa de los Contrafuertes y Museo de la Farmaciaes is also a museum dedicated to Latin American Prints, many of which are on display. It also hosts periodic displays, check with the curator to see what sort of interesting exhibitions are coming up.
Museum of Art and History
Formerly a market building built in 1855, this building, now the Museo de Arte E Historia (Museum of Art and History) was restored in 1979 as a cultural center. This museum showcases Puerto Rican history, art and music, and is a tribute to Puerto Rican culture.The Museo de Arte e Historia features a regular roster of rotating exhibits from Puerto Rico and beyond. The displays are in both English and Spanish and museum staff are friendly and helpful. The building housing the Museo de Arte e Historia is a fine example of colonial architecture.
Casa Alcaldía (City Hall) in Old San Juan began construction in 1602 and was completed in 1789. The building, a neo Classical design, was remodelled in the 1840's in order to replicate the building façade to that of the City Hall in Madrid. It was most recently renovated in the late 1960s.Casa Alcaldía sits on the Plaza de Armas and is currently home to the office of the mayor. The building is open to the public and has occaisional exhibitions. There is also a small information both here with staff to answer questions.
Address: Plaza de Armas, San Juan 00901, Puerto Rico
Opening hours: 9am-5pm; Closed: Sun, Sat
Always closed on: Eugenio María de Hostos' Birthday - Puerto Rico (2nd Monday, Jan), Epiphany (3 Kings' Day ) - Christian (Jan 6), New Year's Day (Jan 1), Valentine's Day (Feb 14), President's Day - USA (3rd Monday, Feb), Emancipation Day - Puerto Rico (Mar 22), José de Diego's Birthday - Puerto Rico (3rd Monday, Apr), Memorial Day - USA (last Monday, May), Mother's Day - Puerto Rico (2nd Sunday, May), Father's Day - Puerto Rico (3rd Sunday, Jun), Luis Muñoz Rivera's Birthday - Puerto Rico (Jul 17), José Celso Barbosa's Birthday - Puerto Rico (Jul 27), Constitution Day - Puerto Rico (Jul 25), American Independance Day (Jul 4), Labor Day - USA (1st Monday, Sep), Columbus Day - USA (2nd Monday, Oct), Veteran's Day - USA (Nov 11), Discovery of Puerto Rico Day - Puerto Rico (Nov 19), Thanksgiving - USA (4th Thursday, Nov), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25), Good Friday - Christian, Easter - Christian
Entrance fee: FREE
Parques de las Palomas (Pigeon Park) is a pleasant place to relax, with good views out over Bahía de San Juan. The cobblestone square is frequented by pigeons, which people regularly feed. Children in particular seem to enjoy this past time. You can even purchase bird seed from sellers near the main entrance. It's also a nice shady spot with trees. Across the street to the east of Parques de las Palomas is the Capilla de Cristo (Christ's Chapel) which is also worth walking by if you are in the area.
San Juan Cemetery
An interesting and fascinating way to explore an area is to visit its most historic cemeteries and the San Juan Cemetery (Cementario de San Juan) is no exception to this rule. The San Juan Cemetery is noted for elaborate tombstones and a circular, red-domed neoclassical chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalene. The architecture of the chapel dates to the 19th C and many of the Puerto Rico's earliest colonists are buried in the cemetery.Located high up on the cliffs above the Atlantic, the view from the Cementario de San Juan is quite stunning.
San Juan Gate
Built in the late 1700s, the San Juan Gate (Puerta de San Juan) is one of six original massive wooden doors in the City Wall surrounding Old San Juan. Each night, the doors were closed at sundown to protect San Juan's inhabitants and impede access to the city.The Puerta de San Juan is actually a tunnel through the thick city walls and in the days of yore, all goods from trading ships had to pass through it. The San Juan Gate is one of three remaining gates in the city and from the Puerta de San Juan visitors can wander out onto Paseo de la Princesa.
Named for the Puerto Rican playwright Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, the Teatro Tapia (Tapia Theater) was built in 1832, remodelled in 1949, and again in 1987. Ballets, operettas and plays are performed at this venue. The Teatro Tapia is the oldest free standing drama stage in continuous use in the United States.The building was almost torn down in the 1940's but was saved by the then Mayor of San Juan, Felisa Rincón (who has her own museum dedicated to her). The Tapia Theater holds 700 people and is a very pleasant spot to see a variety of cultural attractions.
Construction of the La Muralla (the City Wall) in Old San Juan began in 1539 and was completed in 1782. It is built from sandstone blocks and measures 20ft/6m in thickness. You can appreciated the thickness best when passing through the gate.La Muralla originally surrounded the entire colonial city and effectively guarded San Juan against enemy attack.The wall is found south of the Bahia de San Juan near the oceanfront, at Paseo and La Princesa, south of Caleta de San Juan.
Near the eastern end of Old San Juan is the Plaza de Colón. It was Built in the late 18th Century to commemorate the first expedition of Christopher Columbus. A statue of Columbus stands in the square. The Plaza de Colón is a busy area with traffic entering this end of the city off Av Munoz Rivera. This is a good place to catch a taxi or a bus along the south end of the plaza. Teatro Tapia is also located along the south side, across the street from the Plaza Colón.
The 16th C Bishop's Palace (Palacio Episcopal) was burned down by the Dutch in 1625 and completely rebuilt in 1733. The Bishop's Place is located at the corner of Calle del Cristo and Calle San Sebastián, at the Plaza de San José. Visitors can not enter the Bishop's Palace but if you are passing by the square it is worth having a look just from the outside.
Museum of Our African Roots
The Museum of our African Roots highlights Puerto Ricos African influences. The two floors feature musical instruments, history of the slave trade, African language, and everyday items.