Discovered in 1493 by Christopher Columbus and occupied by the Spaniards in 1508, San Juan in Puerto Rico is one of the oldest European settlements in the Americas. The Spaniards used it as a military outpost, which made other Caribbean islands safer and more accessible. The city also became a major point of defense, which allowed the Spaniards to launch campaigns against other colonial powers that sought to snatch their territories.
Today, the city is one of the primary points of interest in the Caribbean. Travelers going here will see a thriving Spanish heritage that span hundreds of years. One will also notice its mix with the local culture, which makes for a colorful identity that is uniquely Puerto Rican. This makes an enjoyable introduction to Puerto Rico, which can attract tourists to come back again.
What to see & do
Travelers seeing San Juan for the first time will have fun going around to see important points of interest. Those going to see the old part of the city can start with La Fortaleza, the largest Spanish military structure in the Americas. Found to be hard to defend, the castle became the governor's residence instead. Those going here will find a remodeled look which combined 16th military architecture with 19th century refinements. Those looking out will see magnificent views of the Bay of San Juan and El Morro.
Those who want to see the might of the Spanish defense should see San Felipe del Morro, which was then called El Morro. It rises 140 feet above the sea with an 18-foot-thick wall, tunnels, dungeons, barracks, ramps, and posting areas. One going around here will appreciate the structure of the place. From here, the Castillo de San Cristóbal is also a delight to see. It allowed soldiers to watch over the land east of the Old San Juan, which helped to repel a British invasion in 1797, which was led by Sir Ralph Abercrombie. Its unusual layout effectively kept them at bay due to its various layers fortified to slow down incoming enemies.
Those going around in the city proper must take their time to visit various sites to view them properly. The Casa de los Dos Zaguanes makes an informative stopover for those who want to learn about the precolonial heritage of the city. It features collections on the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean, as well as relics and artifacts found in San Juan. Ceramics and other cultural items can also be found in the spots reserved for archeological digs. The Casa del Libro also makes a nice place to visit, due to its rare repository of old manuscripts and nearly 5,000 books that date back to the 15th century. Those going here will also find two royal mandates carried by Columbus which authorized him to get resources for his 1493 expedition.
How to get around within San Juan
Those going around the city of San Juan will find it easy when boarding buses. The bus stops are marked, which make it relatively easy to determine the location. One must confirm the route with the driver before sitting down at the bus, though, to prevent from going to other places instead of the intended destination. One can also opt to ride a public car, which is mainly a van or a large sedan shared by various passengers. Travelers can also ride the Mass Transit – Tren Urbano to get through the congested areas of the city. It links the financial district and other major establishments to downtown and other areas.
Tourists who want to visit Old San Juan can board a ferry from the industrial and residential community of Cataño. Those who want to rent a car going there or around the city will find the commute a challenge due to traffic, parking issues, and the maze of streets. One can take the taxi instead and ask the driver to turn the meter on. Negotiating with the price is also recommended before boarding the taxi.
How to get there
Those who want to visit San Juan can board flights going to Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. Airlines going here include: Air Antilles Express, Air Canada, Air Europa, Air Flamenco, Air Sunshine, American Airlines, Avianca, Cape Air, Condor, Copa Airlines, Delta Air Lines, InterCaribbean Airways, JetBlue Airways, LIAT, Seaborne Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, Sunwing Airlines, Tradewind Aviation, United Airlines, US Airways, Vieques Air Link, and WestJet.
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