Hey There All! So I recently had the chance to go to Puerto Rico for a week towards the end of March, and wanted to share my experience with you all. I just want to say first, IT WAS UH MAY ZING! One of my favorite trips so far because there is so much Puerto Rico has to offer from historical landmarks, enchanting rainforests, endless sandy beaches, culture, food, the list goes on. We had a packed itinerary and we still did not have enough time to do and see everything.
First Things First
Puerto Rico is only about 1,300 miles from the equator and located in the heart of the Caribbean so the humidity (my favorite) is strong and can vary depending on the time of year you go. I chose to go in March for two reasons Average Precipitation in March is second lowest, only behind February and I wanted to avoid being drenched the whole time. Second, I wanted to go after the winter rush when the island was supposedly less swamped with tourists. Just keep some of these things in mind when planning your trip especially if you have a set itinerary and want to get the most of your time.
Since we were only in Puerto Rico for a week, we chose a hotel in San Juan and rented a car for our day-trips (note: next blog post I’ll talk about great day trips from San Juan). We stayed At Wind Chimes Boutique Hotel which was located in New San Juan about a half mile from the Condado Plaza and Condado Area. The photo above was our garden view from our room, the hotel was perfect for what we needed and the hotel staff was friendly and informative- the manager gave us a great lesson on the history, politics, and economics of Puerto Rico. Although we did get a rental, we did choose to either walk or take a taxi when exploring New and Old San Juan because parking is NO JOKE (worse than San Francisco on Christmas).
Old San Juan
By far my favorite area in all of Puerto Rico! I immediately fell in love the moment our taxi drove over the bridge to enter into Old San Juan. There is a great deal of Spanish influence in Puerto Rico, given their history, and much of their influence can be seen in Old San Juan. There are a lot of blue brick colored streets and colorful buildings all throughout Old San Juan. Old San Juan reminded me a lot of Antigua, Guatemala which also has a great deal of Spanish influence.
There are a lot of “must see” spots in Old San Juan including the two famous forts, El Morro and Castillo San Cristobal, they’re breathtaking. There are also several churches including the San Jose Church, where Juan Ponce de Leon’s remains still lay today. Our hotel (and most all hotels) had a detailed map of Puerto Rico with larger scale maps of some of the popular areas on the island including San Juan, Ponce, Rincon, Fajardo, etc.
I felt that the best way to see Old San Juan was with our guided map for a few hours and then for a few hours just getting lost. There’s plenty of beautiful architecture, restaurants, stores, lounges to check out in Old San Juan. There are small alleyways that are lined with restaurants, bars, and live music.
Definitely a must see in Old San Juan, this six level fort which took over 250 years to complete still stands today with much of its original structure. El Morro is now a part of the National Park Service so entrance into El Morro and Castillo San Cristobal is $5 and your ticket is good for an entire week (SCORE!). We had to split the sites up into two days because there is a lot to see at both forts and I am a stickler about reading all of the posts and descriptions.
Standing next to the walls that fortify El Morro, you just imagine how it must have been for the English, Dutch, Taino Indians and others who tried to conquer this fort. The walls do not look scalable, and all the guns from above are aimed directly at you. If somehow by the grace of God you were able to get inside of El Morro there were so many other defenses inside you would have to penetrate.
Since the fort was once used for military purposes at one point, there were hundreds if not couple thousands of people residing in Old San Juan at one point. I would recommend dedicating a few hours to spending at El Morro if you want to check out all of it. The outside is just as spectacular as the interior. You can check out the barracks, kitchen, chapel, and other common areas of El Morro.
Castillo San Cristobal
Castillo San Cristobal is another large fort located in Old San Juan. Unlike El Morro it is located closer to the entrance of Old San Juan and will be the first fort you see as you come to San Juan. Remember your ticket that you purchased for El Morro also work here as long as its within 7 days from the date of purchase.
There were a lot of similarities between the two forts, yet as you can see in the two models they are uniquely different. Puerto Rico was particularly important for the Spanish because it was the “gateway” or “front door” to their other colonies in North, Central, and South America. It was an important first port from Spain into the “New World” as well as for the reverse route.
Other Sites- Old San Juan
The two forts are definitely the grand view points in Old San Juan. However, there are still a ton of churches and historic buildings to see. There is Casa Blanca, La Fortaleza, the totem pole, San Juan Cemetery, San Juan Gate, the Capitol Building, etc.
Juan Ponce de Leon, who is known as the founder of Puerto Rico (for the Spanish because the Taino Indians had already been here for centuries), is buried here at this church. It is open to the public daily with no entrance fee.