In Old San Juan

San Juan Travel Blog

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First sighting of San Juan

After two and a half days sail from New York, we reached our first destination, Puerto Rico. At 2:00 p.m. the northern coast of Puerto Rico coud be sighted on the horizon directly ahead. Carnival Miracle was headed straight in. A crowd formed on deck as the San Juan skyline became more distinct. The day was a bit hazy, but couldn't have been brighter! Great weather for an afternoon and evening in Old San Juan!

Beofre long, the stone walls of both the San Cristóbal and El Morro fortifications became distinct There was a spectacular view of El Morro as the ship rounded the point and entered Bahia de San Juan. We were treated to more virtual sightseeing as the old City Wall and the blue La Fortaleza, an early fort dating from 1533 and still used as an administrative center passed by. Carnival Miracle docked at 3:00 p.m. and customs was cleared by 3:30. The four of us were soon of the ship and looking for a taxi.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Our strategy was to go first to the El Morro historic site via taxi and then walk through Old San Juan. Taxis at the pier, however, only wanted to take one for a tour, not point-to-point. But, we found a  regular taxi stand at the nearby Sheraton hotel. This was no ordinary Saturday I soon sensed. Many street were blocked off and there seemed to be groups of colorfully attired people everywhere. (There was a big fiesta, but that's for later.) The taxi driver had to find numerous alternative routes up the hill to El Morro, but we arrived there in due course.

El Castillo San Felipe del Morro is an impressive sight, to say the least! You can sense this history oozing out of it. It's huge, even viewed form the end of the long pathway leading to the entrance. El Morro, together with Castillo San Cristóbal, form the San Juan National Historic Site, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I was eager to go in and explore. Julia preferred not to, and so she an Susan headed for the streets and byways of Old San Juan while Drew and I walked up the path to enter EL Morro.

Castillo San Cristobal
(US cell phone service works in Puerto Rico, so we could use our phones to keep our two groups in contact.)

I explored El Morro until closing time at 5:00 p.m., going down the steep stairs to the lower Batería de Santa Barbara, walking along the walls with their round sentry boxes, seeing the storehouses, and finally walking up along the topmost Batería de Austria.

Castillo San Cristobal
Leaving El Morro, I walked back along the large green expanse that separates the fortress from Old San Juan. A brisk wind was up and many families were out to fly kites on a pleasant Saturday afternoon.

The next step was to rendezvous with Susan at the Sheraton hotel by 5:45 p.m. I had a map of Old San Juan that I had been studying and had a route all planned out. Of, course, historic sites were alogn the way. Casa Blanca was nearby, the home of Ponce de Leon's family for 250 years.

Rounding El Morro
It's a museum, but was not open as a wedding reception was taking place. (I was able to see the outside at least.) From there, we traversed the steep steps of Callejón del Hospital (Hospital Alley) to return to the lower section of Old San Juan near the Cathedral. (One wedding had just ended and another was beginning!) Calle del Sol took us to the Plaza de Armas. A huge fiesta was in progress here, with music and fokloric dancers and the plaza filled with spectators. One of those seredipitous travel moments!

Not long after that, Drew and I ran into Susan and Julia, also exploring the lower town.

El Morro
 No worries about meeting up! The Sheraton was next, to meet for the Night Tales of Old San Juan walking tour. Our guide, Debbie, was waiting for us. (We'd booked this tour online after reading rave reviews about it.) One other family, from Maryland, was on the tour. The group set out for Plaza Colon, while Debbie described the architecture and balconies of Old San Juan. At Plaza Colon, more fiesta festivites were in progress. There were marching bands and all sorts of costumed groups assembling. We zig-zagged our way through Old San Juan, arriving at Plaza San José. The Iglesia de San José, begun in 1523 is the oldest church in San Juan. Another wedding party was having pictures taken here. (June 21 was obviously the day to be married in San Juan!!) Nearby was Plaza de Quinto Centenario, dedicated in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversay of Columbus' voyage. A tall (40 ft.
Sentry Box
/12m) granite column symbolizes the roots of the Americas. Childen were having fun playing in the Plaza's fountain.

We were now back at Calle Norzagaray and the Malecon along the sea in the uppermost part of Old San Juan. Debbie expained that the long-term plan is to prohibit motor traffic in Old San Juan and restore the 1890s cobblestone pavement. It is hoped that all of Old San Juan will be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We reached El Morro as the sun set. We saw the courtyard at nearby Cuartel de Ballajá, originally a Spanish barracks constructed in 1863. It was used by the US Army until the 1970s and is now restored as the Museum of the Americas. We could not go in as still another wedding reception was occurring at this location! Our walk took us back along the City Wall. Now after dark, the lights of the city shown on the water of the bay. The tour ended at the Catedral de San Juan, begun in 1540 and most recently rebuilt in 1917.

Evening Mass was going on, but we did venture in to see the tomb of Juan Ponce de León and the side altars.

The tour broke up near 9:00 p.m. The four of us went back in the direction of the Sheraton. Julia wanted to meet up at Señor Frogs with friends she'd made on the ship, were they were dancing the evening away. Susan, Drew, and I decided on an easy option for dinner at Chicago Burger Co. After dinner, I walked around Old San Juan a bit more, waiting for Julia and soaking up atmosphere. Weddings. Fiestas. Parades. Skateboarders in the plazas. What a vibrant place was Viejo San Juan! The fiesta and its attendant parades and fokloric dancing were over for the evening. But, the action had moved on to the many local restaurants and clubs. Before long, it was time to reboard Carnvial Miracle for the Midnight sailing.

Once again, Carnival Miracle slipped by El Morro, now illuminated. Far out to sea, the flashing beacon from the El Morro lighthouse could be seen marking the now distant shoreline.

City wall
 That night was the Midnight Mexican Buffet. I had a few cinnamon crisps for dessert, passing on the main courses. They were tasty as the light atop El Morro shone in the distance. The chefs used this opportunity to bring out their first food sculptures--watermelons carved in the shape of Mayans.

missandrea81 says:
I wish I was there right now!
Posted on: Mar 15, 2010
couchdesurfer says:
nice, liked the blog and pics!
Posted on: Mar 14, 2010
sylviandavid says:
Sounds like a hard town to leave.... Enjoyed your descriptions.... Sylvia
Posted on: Mar 12, 2010
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First sighting of San Juan
First sighting of San Juan
Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Castillo San Cristobal
Castillo San Cristobal
Castillo San Cristobal
Castillo San Cristobal
Rounding El Morro
Rounding El Morro
El Morro
El Morro
Sentry Box
Sentry Box
City wall
City wall
La Fortaleza
La Fortaleza
Old San Juan
Old San Juan
San Juan Harbor
San Juan Harbor
San Juan
San Juan
San Juan
San Juan
San Juan cruise terminal
San Juan cruise terminal
Carnival Miracle at San Juan
Carnival Miracle at San Juan
Tram transporation in Old San Juan
Tram transporation in Old San Juan
San Juan National Historic Site
San Juan National Historic Site
San Juans Defenses interpretive m…
San Juan's Defenses interpretive …
El Morro sally port
El Morro sally port
Crest over El Morros gateway
Crest over El Morro's gateway
Entry to El Morro
Entry to El Morro
El Morro timeline
El Morro timeline
Stairs to Bateria de Santa Barbara
Stairs to Bateria de Santa Barbara
Interpretive marker
Interpretive marker
Harbor Defenses interpretive marker
Harbor Defenses interpretive marker
View over Old San Juan
View over Old San Juan
Me at El Morro
Me at El Morro
Three Flags over El Morro
Three Flags over El Morro
Bastion de Austria
Bastion de Austria
EL Morro lighthouse (rebuilt 1908)
EL Morro lighthouse (rebuilt 1908)
View from El Morro
View from El Morro
Kite sailing at El Morro
Kite sailing at El Morro
View across Bahia de San Juan
View across Bahia de San Juan
Plaza de Beneficiencia
Plaza de Beneficiencia
Casa Blanca (1521)
Casa Blanca (1521)
Hospital Alley
Hospital Alley
Catedral de San Juan (1540)
Catedral de San Juan (1540)
Alcaldia
Alcaldia
Fiesta Dancers
Fiesta Dancers
Fiesta Dancers
Fiesta Dancers
Fiesta Stage in Plaza de Armas
Fiesta Stage in Plaza de Armas
Balconies of Old San Juan
Balconies of Old San Juan
Iglesia de Santa Ana
Iglesia de Santa Ana
Art Deco bank
Art Deco bank
Fiesta Banner
Fiesta Banner
Marching Band
Marching Band
Fiesta parade
Fiesta parade
Pastel colored houses
Pastel colored houses
Calle del Cristo leading to the Ca…
Calle del Cristo leading to the C…
Viejo San Juan
Viejo San Juan
St. Jude tile
St. Jude tile
Wedding party
Wedding party
Quinto Centenario monument (1992)
Quinto Centenario monument (1992)
Plaza de San Jose and Iglesia San …
Plaza de San Jose and Iglesia San…
Fountain at Plaza del Quinto Cente…
Fountain at Plaza del Quinto Cent…
Cementerio de San Juan
Cementerio de San Juan
Cuartel de Ballaja
Cuartel de Ballaja
Skateboarders enjoy a Saturday eve…
Skateboarders enjoy a Saturday ev…
City Wall illuminated
City Wall illuminated
Bahia de San Juan
Bahia de San Juan
Hotel El Convento
Hotel El Convento
Plaza de la Catedral
Plaza de la Catedral
Catedral de San Juan
Catedral de San Juan
Cathedral Interior
Cathedral Interior
Tomb of Juan Ponce de Leon
Tomb of Juan Ponce de Leon
Alcaldia
Alcaldia
Carnival Miracle Illuminated
Carnival Miracle Illuminated
Sailaway from Old San Juan
Sailaway from Old San Juan
Watermelon Sculpture at the Mexica…
Watermelon Sculpture at the Mexic…
San Juan Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Chicago Burger CO.
Chciago Burger Co. is a surprise in Old San Juan. You may not immediately think of having a burger when visiting there. But, Chicago Burger Co. deleiv… read entire review
San Juan Sights & Attractions review
San Juan National Historic Site
The San Juan National Historic Site includes the Spanish fortresses of San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) and San Cristóbal as well as the San Juan city… read entire review
San Juan
photo by: sethwd2