Puerto Rico, also known as the island of enchantment to the locals. We stopped in the capital city of San Juan for the day. I was told this was a port you had to watch the cruise ship come into the port as the view of the city from the cruise port was not to be missed. I was not disappointed – watching the old city of San Juan come into view was spectacular to watch from the 14th floor of the Oasis of the Seas. You can see the forts that dominate either end of the city and the old merged with the new throughout the old town.
San Juan was established in 1508 making it the second oldest settlement in the New World and the oldest city under US jurisdiction. The town is truly unique it is a complete mix of old and new. This walled city has the old historical aspects of its founding history as well as a sprawling modern metropolis with the towering skyscrapers and five-star hotels surrounded by the intimating forts, cobblestoned streets and notable churches. In 1493, Christopher Columbus discovered Purerto Rico and claimed it for Spain. Originally he had called the whole island San Juan in honour of Saint John the Baptist.
The Oasis of the Seas docked at the port in Old San Juan making it a very quick walk to most historical sites as well as streets lined with local and brand name shops.
Cobblestoned Old San Juan features colourful Spanish colonial buildings and 16th century landmarks that include El Morro, La Foralexa, San Cristobal and Catedral de San Juan Bautista. A short thirty minute walk from the cruise ship terminal will take you to Castillo San Felipe del Morron, the massive fortress with sweeping ocean view. This is a military masterpiece with a 6-story-tall complex with 65-foot high, 18-foot thick walls rising 150 feet about the Atlantic Ocean. This is one of Puerto Rico’s leading tourist attractions with over two million visitors a year.
If you have the chance walk along the water on Paseo del Morro Recreation Trail the walk is worth it as you are treated to panoramic ocean views, a view of the city disappearing behind you and the towering fortress as you get closer to El Morror. As you walk the trail you will pass this towering red gate which is the last remaining gate into the once completely walled city. San Juan at one time used to have approximately three miles of city walls that protected the city from attack and this historic San Juan Gate is the last remaining gate still standing.
Along your walk you will most likely run into some of the many stray cats that are resident in San Juan. You cant help but noticing a colony of cats roaming the sidewalks, hiding in the bushes and sunning themselves on the rocks. This is one of the four colonies of cats that call San Juan their home.
These cats are not stray cats, per se, but animals who happily live in the rocks around the harbour. They are believed to be descendants of the original cats that arrived on the ships with the first group of Spanish settlers. These cats although live a ferrel lifestyle they are fed and cared for by Save a Gato (gato is Spanish for Cat).
Save a Gato is a volunteer organization that manages the care and feeding of colonial cats of Old San Juan. They manage the colony through T/N/R which stands for trap, neuter and release. These cats are humanely trapped and then with the help of local vets they are neutered, vaccinated and de-wormed. They are then returned to their outdoor home. I was really impressed with their program and how the majority of the cats looked to be in good health and shape.
After a very hot walk along the Paseo del Morro Recreation Trail you will come to the base of the towering fortress of El Morro. Here a quick climb up some stairs and the hill with take you towards the main entrance of the fort.
The cost to get into the fort is $5USD per person (Kids under 15 are free) and it is worth it to tour around this 500 year old piece of San Juan’s history. This six-level fort was named in honour of Spain’s King Philip II. The fort was not as initially big as it is today over the last 500 years it has gone through various modifications and additions to keep up with the growing city. Some points of interest that you should check out while in the fort are the Garitas, or sentry boxes, are located around the outer walls of the fort and some you can even go in.
The light house is another great attraction within the fortress to check out. It was rebuilt in 1908 after it was badly damaged in the 1898 Spanish-American war.
The canon water battery was an area that was one of the first lines of defence as pirates came into the San Juan harbour. There are not many original canons left but there are a few left standing.
There are some very unique staircases throughout El Morro. One that I found particularly interesting and everyone should try going up or down is the triangular staircase.
we exited El Morro to continue our adventure around the city the massive cemetary of Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis caught our eye. This colonial-era cemetary is the final resting place for some of the original residents of Puerto Rico.
Another popular historical site to visit is Cathedral de San Juan Bautista, or Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. One of the oldest buildings in Old San Juan and the second oldest in the Americas, this Roman Catholic Cathedral built in 1521 is the resting place of Ponce de Leon and St. Pio.
Somethings to consider when visiting San Juan. You are walking around an old city in the tropics it is very hot and humid most of the time so make sure to wear proper footwear and bring lots of water. Old San Juan is a safe place to walk around and tour on your own. You may notice a large police force presence throughout the city that is to help make you feel safe. If you do not want to walk the entire city there are free trolleys that are available to take you around the city. The free trolley does not goon Cristo Street, where most of the historical sites are located, but they will take you close enough.
Exploring San Juan is very inexpensive the most you will pay is a nominal entrance fee into the forts. You could spend several days exploring San Juan so make sure you plan your routes before you visit to make sure you get to see everything! As we headed back onto the ship we settled in for a late lunch and watched it pull out of the port. It was a very hot but great day in San Juan and I would definitely recommend people to visit this beautiful old walled city.