Dating back to the early 16th century, and home to one of the first ever European settlements west of the Atlantic, San Juan is now the last one still in American hands, and – being guarded by a formidable, towering stone wall - has become known as ‘the walled city’. Head for the heart of the city, in fact, and you’ll be standing in an area populated by latter-day Americans almost a full century before the Mayflower landed, making it difficult not to be absorbed into a significant piece of regional history.
Those city walls are a full fifteen feet thick, and inside you’ll find everything from sparkling gated communities to all-night gambling dens, and even the occasional luxury resort. The city takes its influences from all over. There’s a hefty American influence garnered from more than five million annual tourists, as well as corners that seem closer to France, Spain and even parts of Africa scattered throughout the city, making for a genuinely enticing cultural experience.
The old city is all cobble stones and quaint old plazas, but these days it’s also drowned in heavy traffic. Surrounded by rustic, arched buildings dating back nearly as far as the city, many of the plazas celebrate the islands proud history of defying the British, or honor discoverer Columbus. El Morro is an overwhelming six-story fortress soaring 140 meters above sea level, while the marble tombs and medieval architecture of San Juan Cathedral offer an entirely different take on old-world beauty.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Puerto Rico without its own enticing drinking culture, and ramshackle bars serving Bacardi mixed into Cuba libres, mojitos or pina coladas in the heart of the 51st state.
American-owned it may be, but San Juan’s far from typically American, and you’ll find the tropical, heady environment tantalizing, laid back and – of you’re prepared to explore – palm-tree and architecture strewn environment that’s phenomenally fun to explore, or simply relax amongst and soak up some well-earned rays.
Old San Juan is the historic colonial district of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the oldest settlement within the territory of the United States. The city is characterized by its narrow cobblesto…