Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Old San Juan is a community found within San Juan specifically located at
western half of a little islet within the boundaries of San Juan called the Isleta de San Juan.
Old San Juan (El Viejo San Juan) is the oldest settlement within the territory of the United
States and it is part of the historic colonial section of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
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It remains to be a culturally, economically and historically significant spot, not just in San Juan, but in the
entire island of Puerto Rico. Old San Juan is connected to the mainland of Puerto Rico by bridges and a causeway.
The city, which is characterized by its narrow cobblestone streets and colorful buildings dates back to the 16th
and 17th century when Puerto Rico was a possession of Spain.
Old San Juan is a main spot for tourism and the district is also characterized by numerous public
plazas and churches. The Cathedral of San Juan Bautista contains the tomb of the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de
It also houses the most ancient Catholic school for Elementary education in Puerto Rico, the
Colegio de Párvulos, built in 1865.
There are open air cafés, shops, historic places, museums, restaurants, tree-shaded plazas, and its old beauty and
architectonical peculiarity, A free Tourist trolley serves the city.
Make it a point to stroll through the Calle del Cristo (Cristo street), and while you are at it,
don't forget to bring your camera. The panoramic views are breathtaking, especially the intersection of Calle
Cristo and Calle de San Sebastián.
This street is host to several monuments of San Juan, such as the Iglesia San José, and the Capilla de Cristo, not
to mention its excellent selection of world-class restaurants. It's definitely one of the most important walks in
the old city.
At the end of Calle Cristo, stop to feed the pigeons at the Parque de las Palomas (Pigeon's
Park). It was constructed during the 18th century and originally a rampart for cannon emplacement, the park got its
name from the hundreds of pigeons that live here.
There is a kiosk where one dollar buys you a bag of seed for feeding. You can watch the pigeons and kids run
The children's museum (Museo del Niño) www.museodelninopr.org is an entertaining stop for adults and kids. There are three floors
and are filled with interactive learning activities, art projects, a mock plaza with a food market, puppet shows
and special events.
While there make juggling balls out of balloons and rice. The museum also has a beautiful rooftop
A walk through Old San Juan should include a visit to El Castillo San Felipe Del Morro, a fortress built by Spanish colonists on a promontory
140 feet above the sea. Kids love to touch the fort's cannons and explore the maze of dungeons, towers and
tunnels. We've dedicated a full page to El Morro .
Where El Morro guarded against attacks from the sea, San Cristóbal, a fort one mile to the east,
was built to stave off land attacks. It was finished in 1790 and covers 27 acres of land.
The fort offers spectacular views and a chance to walk on the ramparts. Both forts are managed by the National Park
Service and are Unesco world heritage sites.
Down the Road from El Morro, we can find another fortress called San Cristobal Fort,
the largest fortification ever built by the Spanish in the New World.
Declared a World Heritage site in 1983, this massive fortification which covers 27 acres contains an unsuspected
treasure which we invite you to explore as you learn about its fascinating history.
While driving through the castles and forts in the Old San Juan you can't miss the El Capitolio
(Capitol Hill) de Puerto Rico stands as a powerful symbol of self-government. The white-marble Capitol, a fine
example of Italian Renaissance-style, dates from 1929.
Built on a hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, El Capitolio is in the Puerta de Tierra district near Old San Juan
and contains both chambers; the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Over the years, Puerto Rico's capitol complex has grown to now include two legislative annex buildings. Guided
tours by appointment only, Monday-Friday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is free.
Near El Capitolio in the Old San Juan, and only minutes from the most exclusive hotels,
restaurants, casinos and the biggest shopping mall on the Caribbean, the San Juan Bay is the busiest ocean port in
the Caribbean, and is the fourth busiest seaport in the Western Hemisphere, bringing a good percentage of the
region's trade and over one million visitors a year on cruise ships.
The Quinto Centenario (quincentennial) plaza was built in 1992 to commemorate the Fifth
Centenary of the discovery of America and extends from the San José Church and the rebuilt Ballajá Barracks.
Each of its elements represents a particular period of the Island’s history. Its lowest level
includes a fountain that symbolizes the first one hundred years after the discovery.
Two needle-like structures stand on this end, pointing towards the North Star, which was
historically used by explorers to determine their latitude. Two sculpted staircases, representing another
centennial, lead up to the plaza’s upper and most important level.
The 'Tótem Telúrico', an impressive 40 feet tall, contemporary sculpture made by the local
artist Jaime Suárez graces its center. It was shaped out of black granite and ceramic replicas of archeological
artifacts. The Plaza provides an excellent view of the El Morro grounds, the old
San Juan cemetery, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Teenagers can be found at the plaza, on weekends, skating and having fun; while, tourists like
it as a place to relax, away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
While visiting the streets of Puerto Rico you have to stop and taste the "piraguas" a
Puerto Rican frozen treat, shaped like a pyramid, made of shaved ice and covered with fruit flavored syrup which
are sold by venders, known as Piragüeros, in small colorful pushcarts.
The word piragua is derived from the combination of the Spanish words "Piramide" (pyramid) and
"Agua" (water). The tropical syrup flavors vary from lemon and strawberry to passion fruit and guava. You
can find the Piragüeros in places, usually close to the town plazas.
The Cathedral of San Juan Bautista (Saint John the Baptist) in Old San Juan, is one of the
oldest buildings in San Juan, and is the second oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere.
This Cathedral is an authentic and rare New World example of medieval architecture, considered one of the most
impressive religious monuments in Puerto Rico.
Since 1913, the Cathedral, which features Doric columns and elliptical vaults, contains the tomb of Juan Ponce de
Leon (the island's first governor) and the relic of San Pio, a Roman martyr.
San Juan Cathedral still holds religious services on a regular schedule. It is also open for tours daily from
8:30am to 4pm.
Take the upper road to Casa Blanca, or the White House, located at 1 Calle San Sebastián. For 250 years it was the
residence of the descendants of Juan Ponce de León, the first governor of Puerto Rico.
The house is now a museum of 16th and 17th century family life and houses a miniature replica of a Taíno village.
The Casa Blanca mansion was built to house and protect the governor Ponce de Leon, as the threat of attack was very
Interestingly enough, Ponce de Leon never lived there himself, but his family did, as did his descendants. The
house is comprised of a foyer, study, two bedrooms, dining room, kitchen, oratorio, garden, orchard, and a special
throne room intended for royal visits.
Much of the furniture, such as the bureau and thrones of the throne room, are typical
furnishings from the XVI and XVII centuries.
La Fortaleza (The Fortress) in the Old San Juan is the official residence of the Governor of
Puerto Rico. Built between 1533 and 1540 to defend the harbor of San Juan, was the first defensive fortification
built for the city of San Juan, and the first of a series of military structures.
The structure is also known as Palacio de Santa Catalina (Santa Catalina Palace).
La Fortaleza has acted as the residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico, making it the oldest executive mansion in
continuous use in the Americas.
Although established to defend against Caribe Indian raids, invaders only took the fortress
twice in its history: first, by the English in 1598, and then by the Dutch in 1625.
This National Historic Site in Old San Juan is open 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday-Friday.
Map Puerto Rico provides most of
Old San Juan information as accurate as possible but
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