Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Photo: Paseo de la Princesa fountain © Mikolaj64 | Dreamstime.com

- February 4, 2016

Considering this neighborhood receives many of the millions of annual visitors who travel to Puerto Rico, some might say it’s a tourist area, not a city neighborhood. But just a few blocks from the meetings and conventions, Old San Juan offers a taste of a dramatic journey spanning 500 years.

Most visitors who’ve traveled thousands of miles to share the beaches, history and spicy cuisine of Puerto Rico discover the island’s oldest, most interesting neighborhood. But despite the history and architecture, Old San Juan is also a working neighborhood with students, artists, craftspeople, retailers, government workers and restaurateurs.

Parks and leafy walks connect a ring of historic fortresses with beautifully restored, colonial government buildings next to cafés and museums. Up the steep cobblestone streets reside some of the best restaurants and hotels in the city in an interesting patina of restoration.

One of the neighborhood's many cozy cafés

One of the neighborhood’s many cozy cafés © Lawrence Weslowski Jr | Dreamstime.com

You won’t need a car when exploring Old San Juan. Its parks and cobblestone streets beg to be walked. A walking tour takes you between two of the oldest forts in the Americas. In contrast, you’ll pass designer shops like Coach, Polo and Tommy Hilfiger, as well as El Convento, formerly a convent and now home to one of the city’s most luxurious boutique hotels and fine-dining restaurants.

Beginning at the San Cristóbal Fort, Old San Juan stretches through the walled city to another fort, El Morro, and then back around the bay to La Fortaleza and the governor’s mansion. Dine along the way on Fortaleza Street and experience the fusion of Caribbean and global cuisine.

Visit the Paseo de la Princesa promenade, a major destination that comes alive at sunset with gushing fountains and views of the bay. Stop in for a salsa lesson, shop for a locally crafted souvenir or browse a gallery for original Caribbean art. Enjoy a mojito, a local rum cocktail, at an outdoor café. Many cafés feature live music and are perfect for people-watching. There’s no need to be in a hurry.

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