Old San Juan is the historic town of San Juan. This is one of the must see places if you are visiting San Juan mainly to learn about the history and culture of the city. Since it’s a very popular tourist spot, the town is crowded and packed almost every corner of the street. I would recommend minimum half day to explore the town if you don’t have much time to cover rest of the places in San Juan. The town is beautiful and the homes are uniquely styled and architected throughout the entire downtown. The parallel streets resemble much of European cities with small shops fitted in between homes is a great sight to watch while walking through the town.
About the history of San Juan, you can find plenty of articles in Wikipedia describing the origin of this town. I’m not going to write much about the history of San Juan in this section. The city of San Juan is protected by multiple forts and it’s said that the walls safe-guarded multiple attacks by the British and Dutch. This town has the stop for cruise ships and one of the most common sight of people boarding the cruise line. On our visit to the town, we saw the Carnival Liberty cruise line waiting for the passengers to board the ship.
How do I get to the town ?- Transportation options
Most of the shops, parking centers accept only cash and would recommend to carry enough cash with you when visiting the town.
Travel by Car
Street parking is a big pain in Old San Juan town. You will find many one-way streets and these streets are more of stoned type similar to the ones in Rome. I could also relate to the architecture of the homes resemble many of the Indian homes. There are very limited parking spots in the town and getting a spot to the closest parking area is difficult especially if you are visiting during the weekend. The parking that is near the Castillo San Felipe Del Morro is Plaza Quinto Centenario. The 3 other parking centers on the south end of the town are La Puntilla, Dona Fella and Paseo Portuario. The parking charges are not very expensive and around 1$ to 1.25$ per hour. Since the city itself can be seen walking, you can park in one of these parking centers if you do not find a closest parking spot near the town (El Morro). The only hassle that you’ll get into is one-way streets and bumper-to-bumper car on a peak day especially the weekends. Since these are parallel streets, you will never get lost in this island. Just a little bit of patience is needed but you can get to enjoy viewing the beautiful homes, shops while travelling down the streets.
Use public transportation
There is a free trolley service that you can use to hop on and off around the forts and many places inside the Old San Juan town. This trolley service is crowded as well and they do not board any additional people if there are no seats in the trolley. You will need to plan ahead if you are using this service. You will see trolley sign boards with numbers representing the stops.
There is also public bus services for 75 cents per person.
The entire town can be visited by foot and majority of the places are walking distance. This was one piece of feedback that was given to us by our hotel concierge services. It might vary for people especially if you travelling with young kids or seniors. So choose whichever is convenient for your family. The weather is difficult to predict as it can be extremely sunny with temperature ranging as high as 85 degrees F and it can rain anytime. So be prepared for the weather and carry a map with you for your navigation within the town. If you don’t like to wait in traffic driving down the streets, this is your best option. If you are travelling in a group or as a family, it’s fun to walk down the streets and have a great time with your family and friends.
Places to See in Old Town
1. San Juan National Historic Site – This site has two main attractions Castillo San Cristobal and El Morro fort. San Cristobal is largest fortress and has a visitor center in this site. It is also said that you can walk through their internal tunnel to the other end of the fort El Morro from Castillo San Cristobal. The entrance fee is 5$ and can be used to access both the sites which is valid for a week. Kite flying is very popular in San Felipe del Morro castle and you’ll see beautiful kites that is being enjoyed from young kids to adults.
2. Stroll through the downtown to ferry point where you’ll get to see cruise ships – This is the point for people to onboard their cruise ships
3.San Juan’s City hall
4.San Juan cathedral (Burial site right next to El Morro fort)
There are plenty of food choices in Old San Juan town. It’s a great plan to explore different types cuisine and coffee and ice cream flavors are other favorite that you would not want to miss. Some of our favorite restaurants in Old San Juan :
– Café Puerto Rico : If you wanted to try some Puerto rican food, this is a nice place to visit. Mofongo is one of the most prominent Puerto rican dish that most restaurants will offer. Plantain, Rice and beans are used abundantly in Puerto Rican cuisine and you’ll find several dishes based out of these 3 main ingredients.
– Parrot Club restaurant
– Café Berlin
– Dragon fly Sushi restaurant
– Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream place