May 14, 2019

My Walking Tour of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico


I recently had the pleasure of visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico, a charming city full of vibrant colors and flavors. This video is just a little taste of my wonderful stay, including a walking tour that will lead you to some of my favorite spots.  

You will probably fly into Luis Munoz Airport and from there take a taxi to your hotel.  Uber, the only ridesharing option in San Juan, is not allowed to pick up from the airport so a taxi or a rental are your top choices. There are flat rates posted on the wall so there are no surprises. The 10-12 minute ride to Old San Juan costs $24, plus a dollar for every piece of luggage and a dollar for every extra person. The Uber ride to the airport from Old San Juan costs about $10.  

I decided to stay in Old San Juan for a few nights then transfer to a hotel in the Isla Verde neighborhood for a different experience.  Old San Juan is a quaint neighborhood with cobblestoned streets and colonial era buildings painted in rainbow sherbet colors.  Staying here is a must.  And since it is a compact area, everything is within walking distance. You don’t need a car at all.  Uber or a taxi is sufficient for going to and from the airport or to and from other neighborhoods such as Isla Verde, Santurce or Condado.

To start my walking tour, make your way to Plaza Darsenas, which is near the piers where cruise ships dock.  This is a lively area in the weekends with food trucks, live music, and vendors selling souvenirs.  There’s also a social-media ready photo spot, hashtag Puerto Rico.  


To the right is the Paseo de La Princesa – a tree-shaded promenade by the sea, made for slow strolls.  Lots of trees and benches for resting.

The Paseo runs into the beautiful La Princesa Fountain.  

Past the fountain, follow the promenade, which leads you to Puerta de San Juan or San Juan Gate. For centuries, San Juan gate was the formal entrance to San Juan.  Nowadays, street musicians usually perform within its passageway.  There is a large shady tree nearby where you can sit underneath and enjoy the music.  

If you go through the gate and up the stairs to your left, you will be rewarded by this view of the sea and the promenade below.


From the gate, turn right and keep going until you hit Calle de San Francisco.  Go up a block then turn right and walk to Fortelaza Street, where you will find one of San Juan’s newest attractions – Paseo de Las Sombrillas.

From Fortelaza Street turn left on Calle del Cristo and walk up.  At the corner of Calle del Cristo and Caleta de las Monjas is a little shady square where you can rest and gaze at the beautiful Hotel El Convento, which used to be a convent turned into a hotel.  

Continuing your walk up Calle del Cristo, continue a few more minutes then turn right at Calle San Sebastian, which dead-ends to my favorite place for cool, quiet solitude, Museo de Casa Blanca, the former home of Ponce de Leon, turned museum.  The museum itself is not the draw for me but its beautiful garden, which seems to be free. Both times I went there, I wandered the grounds to my heart’s content without paying an entrance fee.  


The courtyard’s shady trees, water fountains and benches beckon as if to say, stay awhile, rest your feet, traveler, refresh your spirits.  

On the other side of the museum are more grounds for wandering, with views of the sea beyond.

At this point, you could choose not go inside the museum, but if you didn’t, then you would miss a spectacular view from the second floor, well worth the $3-to-$5 entrance fee.

Once you’ve had your fill of Casa Blanca’s rejuvenating gardens, exit the gate and turn left, which will take you through Plaza de Benficencia and past the plaza towards the expansive lawn fronting El Morro, one of San Juan’s two forts.  Both times I visited here, it was pretty windy, refreshingly so during a hot day.  In the weekends, you can find picnics and people flying their kites here.  

  
Continuing on your walk, stay on the boulevard that runs parallel with the old fort walls, Norzagaray Street.  Turn right at Calle Imperial, which dead ends to this giant, painted Puerto Rican flag

Turn right again for an entrance to the courtyard of the Museum of Art and History.  On Saturdays, from 8-1 pm, there are artisans selling crafts, food stands and live music.  This is also a perfect place to sit on a shaded bench and rest.

At this point, you can end the walk or explore San Juan’s colorful streets without any particular destination in mind.  

If you have some time in the morning free, perhaps after a hearty breakfast, I suggest taking another walk.  This one starts at San Juan Gate and ends in El Morro.  It is less than a mile and because most of it is exposed to the west, better experienced in the cooler morning hours.  Not many tourists here, but lots of lovely views of the sea.


If you were wondering whether San Juan has fully recovered from Hurricane Maria, I can only say that everything seemed to be in normal working order from my perspective. As a tourist, I had only a most pleasant experience.  

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