EXPLORE OLD SAN JUAN | OPULENT PALACES, ANCIENT FORTS & QUAINT COBBLESTONE ALLEYS
After couple of weeks of vacationing in Florida and beyond, I’m back refreshed, inspired and full of fascinating stories for my readers. Those of you who are following me onInstagram (if you aren’t, please do so now! ) probably know that Mr. B and I together with his parents went on a blissful Caribbean cruise for an 8-day family retreat on Carnival Conquest. We spent 4 days at sea and hit 4 beautiful islands on our way around the eastern part of this tropical region: St. Maarten, St. Kitts, San Juan and Grand Turk.
I am particularly excited to start my series of cruise-related blog posts with San Juan because this colorful city with its hospitable dwellers, beautiful colonial architecture, outstanding culinary scene, gorgeous coastline, and ancient forts charmed us all. A majestic mix of Latin flavor and European history, San Juan is the crowning glory of Puerto Rico.
Since we were limited in time, we got a chance to explore only Old San Juan which is a destination on its own with an endless supply of undiscovered attractions to enjoy. Due to its quant vibe and brights hues, San Juan is a real photographer’s dream! Thanks to my talented father-in-law’s photography skills and my own attempts to capture the beauty of this harbor city, there is a lot of visuals and information to share! So here are my favorite not-to-miss sights in Old San Juan which make this historic part of the city so special….
ANCIENT FORTS | SAN FELIPE DEL MORRO
The cobblestone streets of Old San Juan are windows to the past with historic forts and colonial architecture setting the scene.
It’s important to now that Puerto Rico was incredibly important, geopolitically. The island was a vital strategic base from the 16th through 18th century as Spain battled with other European powers for colonial control of the region. Whoever held Puerto Rico controlled the “door” to the Caribbean, Central America, Cuba, Mexico, the southeastern United States, northern South America… and all the riches therein.
Spain colonized Puerto Rico in 1493, launched by Christopher Columbus and furthered by the bloody efforts of Ponce de Leon. It soon became clear to Spain, however, that the rest of Europe lusted for this island, and so in the 1530s, the Spanish king ordered construction of two forts: La Fortaleza (which is now the official residence of Puerto Rico’s governor) and San Felipe del Morro.
Protecting the entrance to San Juan Bay, the fort, commonly referred to as El Morro, is dramatically perched above the sea on a point of land jutting out into the ocean.
El Morro was built in 1539, with ongoing construction for 250 years, and is one of the largest Spanish forts in the Caribbean. Rising 140 feet above the sea, the massive six-level fortress was built to protect the port and has a commanding view of the harbor.
Declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations, El Morro features a maze of secret access tunnels, dungeons, lookouts, ramps, barracks, and vaults.