The village of Old San Juan in San
Juan, Puerto Rico makes for one of the best stops in the Caribbean
islands. Columbus claimed Puerto Rico for Spain on his second
voyage to the Americas in 1493 and it was inhabited at that time by the
Tainos. It is officially known as the Commonwealth of Puerto
Rico. In Spanish it is known as Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico
- the free state of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is one of the larger
islands in the Caribbean, but one of the smaller islands in the Greater
Antilles. It is 110 miles east/west and 40 miles north/south.
The Dominican Republic is to its west and the Virgin Islands are to the
east. The two forts in Old San Juan were built by the Spanish and
succesfully held out the British and Netherlands. In 1898 Spain
ceded Puerto Rico to the United States as part of the treaty after the
Spanish-American war. The
capital and cruise port is San Juan, which has year round summer
weather. Puerto Rico has a permanent
population of about 3.8 million.
Taxis in San Juan have standardized pricing from Luis Munoz Marin International Airport
to the cruise ship terminal and vans are commonly
used. From the airport to the cruise ship terminal in 2011 it was $20.50
for the van and $1 per bag. Share with others and it's very
inexpensive. The cruise ship was charging $28 for two, so it was
less expensive and faster to use local transportation between the ship
and the airport.
Old San Juan
Attractions in Puerto Rico:
Things to see and do:
Old San Juan - see below for details on things to see by walking
about in Old San Juan.
The Capitol Building – a walk of about 5 blocks east from San Cristobal, but leaving Old San Juan behind. The mosaics on the rotunda depict the 500 year history including the original Taino inhabitants and the arrival of Columbus on the island in 1493. The detail and the 24k gold are impressive.
Modern San Juan – shopping, the Condado resort area, Bacardi Rum distillery
El Yunque Rainforest – the only rainforest in the US National Park system; Las Coca waterfall
Bio Bay Adventures – take a night time kayaking trip and view the bioluminescent plankton in
the waters of Fajardo
Rainforest Zipline – located at Guaynabo
Visit the Puerto Rican islands of Culebra and Vieques – white sand beaches and water activities; accessible by ferry or by tour
Toro Verde Nature Adventure Park – one of the longest ziplines in the world; located in Orocovis
Old San Juan is located on a point at the entrance to San Juan Harbor. We paid $5 each for six of us to take a cab from the
cruise ship pier to Old San Juan. Taxi rates are standardized by zone in San Juan.
Carnival docks in Old San Juan, so no need for a taxi for their
passengers. There are many things you can do on your own walking tour of Old San Juan:
Ride the free trolley between El Morro, San Cristobal and Old San Juan
Visit the fort of El Morro – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, officially known as Castillo San Felipe del Morro. It was established in 1539 to protect San Juan harbor. Sir Francis Drake attacked El Morro in 1595, but was unsuccessful in his bid to take it. In 1898 the US took over the fort and the island as part of the Spanish-American War. The lighthouse still guides ships into the harbor today.
El Morro, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Visit the fort at San Cristobal – another fort established in 1634 to further support domination of the port by protecting El
Morro and the city.
Casa Blanca – take a tour of the home of Ponce de Leon, who came to the island in 1508. Not clearly advertised and no fee is charged so we
had the place to ourselves.
Cathedral San Juan Bautista – the main church in Old San Juan. We chose to listen to the Spanish sermon that Sunday while scores of tourists paraded through the alcoves. It seemed sacrilegious for them to tour the church while services were on.
Wander the quaint streets and plazas of Old San Juan - Plaza de Colon with a statue of Columbus, Plaza de San Jose with a statue of Ponce de Leon.
La Forteleza – the Governor’s residence, only open to the public Monday to Friday; it was the first fort established in San Juan