Posted on May 01, 2017 by Janet Steinberg
Sunny San Juan: Sea, Sand, and Serenity

Saludos Amigos !  Bienvenido a Puerto Rico.  Greetings friends.  Welcome to Puerto Rico.  This sun-drenched island wears three faces: historic old San Juan…a lush, colorful interior…and lively, opulent beach resorts. Whether you are looking for a secluded retreat or a mecca of activity, you can find it all in sunny San Juan.

 
WELCOME TO SAN JUAN

San Juan, where palm-fringed beaches of the Atlantic meet aquamarine waters of the Caribbean, is a city teeming with vitality and culture.  And much of it can be observed by boarding one of the free trolleys that allows both locals and tourists to hop on and off around different routes of the city.  All trolleys stop at the cruise ship pier.

Old San Juan is 500-plus years of Spanish history with a network of tunnels strategically labyrinthed under it.  The ruins of the 200-acre El Morro fortress, and the winding streets of Old San Juan, are virtually unchanged since the days of the Spanish Main.     

Savor the ambiance in Old San Juan.  A safari into Old San Juan takes the visitor through almost five hundred years of history in a single day's time. Through narrow streets paved with blue adoquines(cobblestones), and dating back to 1521, you can explore historic fortresses and browse through charming courtyards framed by gems of colonial architecture and pastel-tinted shops.  Once within the solid limestone walls that surround the old city, major sightseeing attractions are encompassed within a seven square block radius.  Wear your walking shoes for the uphill-downhill jaunt that is about to follow.      

 
 
STREETS ARE PAVED WITH BLUE ADOQUINES (COBBLESTONES)


EL MORRO FORTRESS, (aka San Felipe del Morro Castle) standing 150-feet above the sea is easily the Caribbean's most imposing--and perhaps most photographed--historical structure.  Having climbed the steep ramps of the fortress, which dates back to the 1600s, one is rewarded with a sweeping view of the sea. El Morro consists of a vast field covering a system of mining tunnels and six levels of guns still pointing seaward.

 
EL MORRO FORTRESS OVERLOOKING THE SEA

SAN CRISTOBAL CASTLE, El Morro's counterpart in defending the island, was built in the 17th century to ward off inland attacks.  The mighty fortress, which became known as the "Gibraltar of the West Indies", has a ground floor museum showing the history, design and people involved in the construction of the fortress.     

LA FORTALEZA, situated on a hill overlooking the harbor, was constructed in 1533 by Charles I as another of San Juan's military defenses against raids by Carib Indians.  Now the official residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico, it is the oldest executive mansion in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere.   

THE PLAZA OF THE FIFTH CENTURY (Plaza De Quinto Centenario) commemorates the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in what is now Puerto Rico. Constructed in 1992, the multilevel level plaza has a series of stairs leading up to the granite Telurico Totem (El Tótem Telúrico). The 40-foot Totem is encrusted with replicas of artifacts representing the native culture of Puerto  Rico.

 

THE PLAZA OF THE FIFTH CENTURY 

The CAPITOL OF PUERTO RICO is located just outside the walls of Old San Juan. Housing the Puerto Rico Legislature, El Capitolio de Puerto Rico is Puerto Rico’s symbol of self government. Within the structure, murals depict Puerto Rico’s history.

 

THE CAPITOL OF PUERTO RICO

The PABLO CASALS MUSEUM, located in a charming two-story, 18th century building features glimpses of the life and work of Pablo Casals.  The legendary Spanish cellist and composer lived in Puerto Rico the last 17 years of his life.  In 1950, he founded the Casals Music Festival in France, but moved it to Puerto Rico in 1957 where it has been held ever since.    
Buen provecho! Good appetite!  Dining in San Juan is a gastronomic fiesta fantastica.    Now that you've acquired a taste for exotic rum drinks, you must accompany them with an order of platanutres  (slices of crisp fried green plantains).    For your main course, try arroz con pollo (chicken with rice), Puerto Rico's national dish or asopao de pollo, a delicate combination of chicken, rice, asparagus, peas, and pimentos.   Punto de Vista, by the port, is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant/bar that serves up tasty, authentic Puerto Rican food.

 
A HEARTFELT WELCOME AT PUNTO DE VISTA

For a mid-day treat, sip a fresh-squeezed orange juice in the courtyard of the Hotel El Convento, that was originally a Carmelite convent more than 350 years ago.  This landmark monument to the Conquistador Age is a loving restoration of Spanish Colonial architecture and design.

 

THE COURTYARD OF HOTEL EL CONVENTO

"Hecho en Puerto Rico"  "Made in Puerto Rico" are four words that tap into a rich vein of artisan creations.  If shopping for crafts is your thing, San Juan offers a plethora of Puerto Rican folk art.  Jewelry and crafts, made from fruits and vegetables are hardened and preserved by a chemical process conceived by a local physician.  No two are ever alike.  Artisans also fashion mundillo, handmade bobbin lace which is worked on a mundillo frame, into bands, doilies, collars, tablecloths, and other dainty items.  Interesting island masks include vejigantes used in festivities and papier mache masks popular during the carnival festivities in Ponce.   Other traditional crafts include Puerto Rican pavas  (straw hats), ceramics with Indian designs, papier mache fruits, replicas of Indian bohios  (huts), macrame wall hangings, and folk dolls. 

Que pasa en Puerto Rico?  (What’s happening in Puerto Rico?)  Go see for yourself. 

JANET STEINBERG is the winner of 43 national Travel Writer Awards and is a Travel Consultant with The Travel Authority in Cincinnati, Ohio

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