EXPLORING OLD SAN JUAN
Trip Start Oct 05, 2009
325Trip End Oct 31, 2013
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WEATHER: Still humid and hot -30 degrees in the early part of the month - WINTER
Definitely the only way to explore the narrow, cobbled streets of Old San Juan is on foot. The streets are very narrow and cars still negotiate the tight squeeze between buildings- a few streets don't allow parking but others make for tricky driving getting by the parked cars. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes!
The city is home to 5 star hotels, ocean front apartments, casinos, fine dining, sophisticated bars, and is a huge destination for Americans escaping a cold, snowy winter. It is also a cruise ship destination.
We really loved visiting this old area, as do thousands of tourists and quite a few locals. Over Xmas there were concerts and street decorations to attract everyone.
The only downside was searching for parking and competing with the traffic during this time! One Saturday afternoon after almost reaching Old San Juan we decided to turn around and go back home due to the traffic moving at a snail's pace.
We made a few evening trips to look at the street decorations and lights and to grab a "Ben and Jerry" icecream where Sheila's top choice was "chocolate therapy"
This historic city was built 500 years ago and features huge stone fortresses along the sea front. Spanish style architecture is prominent and the city is home to Puerto Ricans living in the gorgeous well maintained apartments, trendy cafes and bars, as well as lots of shopping.
There are a number of plazas or city squares that are so typical of Spanish towns; these plazas are traditionally where people meet and relax and of course have a good old yarn. During festivals they are the centre for music and dancing.
Walking the square mile that is old San Juan, you admire the artistic pastel colours that enhance the wonderful buildings and the beautiful architecture. The port with its regular cruise liners dispatching thousands of passengers for a day in town is always busy.
There are many cathedrals and museums/art galleries to visit and of course you get to choose favourite restaurants, cafes and bars.
We enjoyed the sea front walk from Old San Juan to the famous Caribe Hilton where it is claimed the Pina Colada was invented. There are some attractive beaches along the way and we would stop and take a refreshing swim before moving on.
El Hamburger has been a favourite since Sheila was a student here 30 years ago and it still produces a great little hamburger, fabulous washed down with a freezing cold Medalla, the local beer. It is a good stop off point returning to Old San Juan on the sea front walk. By the way, there is nearly always a long queue and a wait to grab a table.
The walk is scenic and views over the Atlantic Ocean are spectacular.
It is a wonderful city of contrasts and beauty; strangely right on the sea front is the little district of La Perla which can only be described as a slum. The area which is outside the city walls apparently once housed an abattoir and the workers were allowed to live around the workplace -late 1900s. Now it is known as a drug distribution area and it's a no-no to access the place. La Perla means the pearl and the location is certainly a pearl; narcotic police raid the area from time to time. No place for us!!
San Juan cemetry is nearby on a steep slope to the sea-the dead have great views of the Atlantic.
We enjoy a beer at the Harbour Brewery where you can buy the boutique beers in a tower around ice that keeps the liquid cool to the last drop. We loved the Coqui Gold Lager.
Sheila's brother Danny chose to celebrate his birthday there and we ate some pretty good steak!
Everyone's favourite is the cafe/bakery, Bombonera and because of its listing in Tourist Guides is always packed become with tourists and locals; the waiting staff are all men and some look like they have been here forever. The place is known for a little pastry called mallorca and can be discribe as similar to brioche.
Our visits to the galleries included the Museum of Arts where we did a tour of the Jose Campeche exhibition with Marisa and learned so much about the colonization of PR by the Spanish. Campeche was born in 1700 and never ventured out of San Juan but produced paintings of amazing historical detail; Marisa also accompanied us to other areas of the museum and it was wonderful to get such informed descriptions of the art.
Well, a lot more can be written about this great historical city and Sheila says that it's her favourite place on the island and we got to visit her old school friend Naydi who has a fabulous apartment in one of San Juan's best streets.
This little island has a lot to offer the traveller!