Puerto Rico’s Old San Juan is the oldest settlement in the country. Established more than 400 years ago, Old San Juan remains a captivating commercial and residential district worth visiting. With great Spanish influence, the district features adoquine cobbled streets and hundreds of exquisite colonial buildings, built between the 16th and 17th century.
Old San Juan also has nice beaches and gambling casinos that regularly attract domestic and international tourists. The best way to fully explore this old quarter is on foot. Since the streets in the vicinity are steep and narrow, there is usually a heavy flow of vehicle traffic. To avoid spending most of your time in traffic and to truly experience the district’s Old World charm use your feet.
One Day Old San Juan Tips & Tricks
Strolling around Old San Juan for one day generally covers most points of interests. Important things to bring on your walking tour are a hat, water, sun protection and comfortable shoes. The weather here, especially during the summer is notoriously hot and humid. If you don’t feel walking all the way, there are also free trolleys that run through different parts of the town. Exploring Old San Juan on a Segway is becoming increasing popular. Segway Tours offers this service daily from 9 am to 5pm. Renting a Segway usually includes an audio guide and how to ride lessons.
Some of the best places to relax and people watch in Old San Juan are the plazas or public squares. Plaza de San Jose is one the most popular among the district’s plazas. People of all ages love to convene in this plaza which is also known for housing the bronze statue of Ponce de Leon and a number of historical buildings. But Plaza de Armas is considered the main square in the district and is also a favorite social meeting spot for locals and visitors alike. Plaza de Colon also presently called Columbus Square was renamed to commemorate Christopher Columbus, and his discovery of Puerto Rico.
There are so many structures in Old San Juan worth visiting. One of them is the Castillo de San Cristobal (Saint Christopher Castle), which is not only the biggest fort in Puerto Rico but is also the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. The fort is situated within the San Juan National Historic Site, which opens from 9 am to 5 pm. There is also a National Park Service visitor center which houses a bookshop, exhibits and films about the Historic Site. The visitor center is located off the
Avenida Luis Muñoz Rivera.
Another prominent structure within the park is the Castillo San Felipe del Morro or el Morro for short. This citadel can be found at the end of Calle Norzagaray and features scenic views of the San Juan Harbor. There is a minimal entrance fee to gain entrance into both forts. Other interesting sites you should consider visiting include the Casa Blanca museum, Alcadia (city hall), San Jose Church, La Casa del Libro, and San Juan Cathedral.
Many cruise ships often stop at the port of San Juan, and passengers make their way to the old district, even though it is not a popular beach destination. So try and plan your visit when there are a minimal number of ships in port to avoid crowds.
You can make your way to Old San Juan via bus services. However, there are day tours that can be arranged with hotels especially if you are staying outside the district.