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The old walled city of San Juan is the gateway to Puerto Rico, whether you’re arriving by sea or by air. Founded by Spanish colonists in 1521, San Juan is the second-oldest city in the Americas (after Santo Domingo). Covering just seven square blocks, the historic heart of the city boasts some of the finest Spanish colonial architecture this side of Madrid. Fort San Cristóbal and El Morro stand watch over the harbor entrance, connected by underground tunnels or the more recently added trolleys above ground. Check out the Art Deco buildings along Avenida Ponce de León in Santurce, still striking despite varying states of repair. The Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, along with countless galleries, showcase the island’s finest artwork. For the latest in trendy restaurants, boutiques and bars, head to the SoFo (South of Fortaleza) district, where watermelon sangrias and Nuevo Latino cuisine hit just the right note.
 

ATTRACTIONS

Castillo de San Felipe del Morro

Towering proudly at 140 feet (42m) above the entrance to San Juan Bay at the islet’s most northwestern point, this mammoth six-level fortress was named after King Philip II of Spain. The original fort, constructed from 1539 first featured a round tower (still visible inside the castle), but following completion two centuries later the structure boasted additional walls and cannon-firing posts. Designed to protect the harbor entrance, the fortress was attacked repeatedly by the English and the Dutch. Ancient underground tunnels connect El Morro to Fort San Cristóbal, but modern trolleys transfer visitors back and forth. The U.S. National Park Service has protected the two fortifications since 1961 which represent the San Juan National Historic Site and UNESCO added El Morro to their listing of World Heritage sites in 1983. Park rangers conduct hourly tours and informational brochures provided in English and Spanish highlight the history for visitors to independently roam the dungeons, barracks, vaults, lookouts, and ramps.

Open: Daily 09:00hrs-18:00hrs

Location: Calle del Morro, Old San Juan

Phone: +1 787 729 6960

Admission: Adults USD 3.00 (16 and older) or USD 5.00 which includes admission to Fuerte San Cristóbal

Website: www.nps.gov/saju

Fuerte San Cristóbal

San Juan’s second major fortification, Fuerte San Cristóbal presides over the eastern gate of the walled city. One of the largest Spanish forts ever built, construction of the huge stone structure began in 1634 following an attack by the Dutch a decade earlier. The building of the fort was completed in 1790 although modifications continued long into the 18th Century and during this period it was known as the Gibraltar of the West Indies. While sister El Morro was designed to protect attacks made by sea, San Cristóbal guarded against enemy approaches by land. With impressive high walls reaching 150 feet (46m), the fort once covered 27 acres with five separate units, interconnected via tunnels. In order to ease congestion in the old town, the fort was relieved of seven acres in 1897. As with El Morro, Fuerte San Cristóbal was recognized as an attraction of National Historic importance in 1949 and also named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. Actively used until 1961 when the United States military ceased operating from there as a base, the fortress became the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Visitors are welcome to explore the gun turrets, officers' quarters, and the re-created 18th-century barracks. Park Rangers offer complimentary guided tours in both Spanish and English.

Open: Daily 09:00hrs-18:00hrs

Location: Calle Norzagaray at Av. Muñoz Rivera, Old San Juan

Phone: +1 787 729 6960

Admission: Adults USD 3.00 (16 and older) or USD 5.00 for combined entry to Castillo de San Felipe del Morro

Website: www.nps.gov/saju

Isla de Cabras & Fortín San Juan de la Cruz

The smallest fort in San Juan’s harbor defense system, Fortín San Juan de la Cruz (Fort Saint John of the Cross), better known as El Cañuelo and built on an island of the same name, is located to the western side of the entrance to San Juan Bay. Combined, El Cañuelo and El Morro posed valuable crossfire protection for the entrance to the bay. The massive sandstone walls of this square shaped fort date back to the 1630’s and although bombarded by the U.S. Navy in 1898, it remained intact. The attraction is part of the San Juan National Historic Site, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and mentioned in the National Register of Historic Places.

Open: No entry but visitors can walk around the fort

Location: El Cañuelo, Western Entrance of San Juan Bay

Phone: +1 787 788 0440

La Fortaleza, Residencia del Gobernador

Built as a fortress from 1533 onwards to protect San Juan's Spanish settlers from raids by Carib tribesmen and pirates, the building was restored several times. Still the residence and office of Puerto Rico’s governor and the oldest continuously used executive mansion in the Western Hemisphere, the building has served as San Juan’s seat of government for over three centuries, housing several governors since the Spanish and American colonialist rule. The fort was attacked on several occasions and occupied twice, first by the British in 1598 and then the Dutch in 1625. Designated as a National Historic site by the U.S. Government, La Fortaleza is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Guided tours are offered in Spanish and English during the week except holidays, but due to schedule changes it is recommended to call ahead and reserve your spot. Proper attire is required, sleeveless shirts and inappropriate dress are not permitted. Guided tours begin at the yellow building called the Real Audiencia, situated near the main gate which can be found by walking up Recinto Oeste to the top of the Old City wall.

Open: Mon to Fri 09:00hrs-15:30hrs

Location: Western end of Calle de la Fortaleza

Phone: +1 787 721 7000

Admission: Complimentary

Website: www.fortaleza.gobierno.pr

El Yunque National Rainforest

Located 35 miles (56 km) east of San Juan, the 28,000 acre El Yunque represents the the United States National Forest System’s sole tropical rainforest. Named by the Spanish for its distinctive anvil-shaped peak, the area differs from all U.S. National Forests due to the year-round tropical climate and immense biodiversity. Home to thousands of native plants, the rainforest receives a staggering 100 billion gallons of rainfall each year. Dozens of trails marked by difficulty are outlined on the official map, including the El Toro Trail to the peak, a 6-mile (9.7 km) hike and the forest’s most challenging. The 45 minute trail to La Mina Falls runs through lush jungle and ends at a picturesque spot where waterfalls plunge into a natural mountain pool below. Interpretive signs line the route and outline the foliage along the way.

Open: Daily 07:30hrs-18:00hrs

Location: Rio Grande, 35 miles (56 km) east of San Juan

Phone: +1 787 888 1880

Website: www.seepuertorico.com/en/experiences/nature

Casa Bacardí

The Bacardi family moved to Puerto Rico after exile from Cuba in the 1950’s and set up a small rum distillery. Today San Juan is home to the famous Bacardí rum with the largest distillery in the world, producing 100,000 gallons of spirits per day or 21 million cases a year. A visit to the popular Casa Bacardi Visitor Centre provides an interesting insight to the company’s history dating back to its origins in Cuba, the distillery itself, the bottling plant and a museum. Little trams trolley visitors around the facility, approximately 45 minutes in duration, concluding at a classical-style bar where a bartender teaches the correct methods to prepare Cuba libres and mojitos. All visitors receive two complimentary drink vouchers, redeemed for cold Bacardi-based beverages, and the onsite gift shop sells Bacardi products and apparel. Casa Bacardí is approximately 10 miles (16 km) from the port and can be reached by taking the ferry from Pier 2 and then a público (public van service) from the ferry pier to the factory for about $2-3 per person.

Open: Mon to Sat 09:00hrs-18:00hrs (last tour at 16:15hrs)

Address: Bay View Industrial Park, Rte. 165, Km 2.6, Cataño

Phone: +1 787 788 8400 / 1500

Admission: Complimentary

Website: www.casabacardi.org

ATTRACTIONS

Castillo de San Felipe del Morro

Towering proudly at 140 feet (42m) above the entrance to San Juan Bay at the islet’s most northwestern point, this mammoth six-level fortress was named after King Philip II of Spain. The original fort, constructed from 1539 first featured a round tower (still visible inside the castle), but following completion two centuries later the structure boasted additional walls and cannon-firing posts. Designed to protect the harbor entrance, the fortress was attacked repeatedly by the English and the Dutch. Ancient underground tunnels connect El Morro to Fort San Cristóbal, but modern trolleys transfer visitors back and forth. The U.S. National Park Service has protected the two fortifications since 1961 which represent the San Juan National Historic Site and UNESCO added El Morro to their listing of World Heritage sites in 1983. Park rangers conduct hourly tours and informational brochures provided in English and Spanish highlight the history for visitors to independently roam the dungeons, barracks, vaults, lookouts, and ramps.

Open: Daily 09:00hrs-18:00hrs

Location: Calle del Morro, Old San Juan

Phone: +1 787 729 6960

Admission: Adults USD 3.00 (16 and older) or USD 5.00 which includes admission to Fuerte San Cristóbal

Website: www.nps.gov/saju

Fuerte San Cristóbal

San Juan’s second major fortification, Fuerte San Cristóbal presides over the eastern gate of the walled city. One of the largest Spanish forts ever built, construction of the huge stone structure began in 1634 following an attack by the Dutch a decade earlier. The building of the fort was completed in 1790 although modifications continued long into the 18th Century and during this period it was known as the Gibraltar of the West Indies. While sister El Morro was designed to protect attacks made by sea, San Cristóbal guarded against enemy approaches by land. With impressive high walls reaching 150 feet (46m), the fort once covered 27 acres with five separate units, interconnected via tunnels. In order to ease congestion in the old town, the fort was relieved of seven acres in 1897. As with El Morro, Fuerte San Cristóbal was recognized as an attraction of National Historic importance in 1949 and also named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. Actively used until 1961 when the United States military ceased operating from there as a base, the fortress became the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Visitors are welcome to explore the gun turrets, officers' quarters, and the re-created 18th-century barracks. Park Rangers offer complimentary guided tours in both Spanish and English.

Open: Daily 09:00hrs-18:00hrs

Location: Calle Norzagaray at Av. Muñoz Rivera, Old San Juan

Phone: +1 787 729 6960

Admission: Adults USD 3.00 (16 and older) or USD 5.00 for combined entry to Castillo de San Felipe del Morro

Website: www.nps.gov/saju

Isla de Cabras & Fortín San Juan de la Cruz

The smallest fort in San Juan’s harbor defense system, Fortín San Juan de la Cruz (Fort Saint John of the Cross), better known as El Cañuelo and built on an island of the same name, is located to the western side of the entrance to San Juan Bay. Combined, El Cañuelo and El Morro posed valuable crossfire protection for the entrance to the bay. The massive sandstone walls of this square shaped fort date back to the 1630’s and although bombarded by the U.S. Navy in 1898, it remained intact. The attraction is part of the San Juan National Historic Site, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and mentioned in the National Register of Historic Places.

Open: No entry but visitors can walk around the fort

Location: El Cañuelo, Western Entrance of San Juan Bay

Phone: +1 787 788 0440

La Fortaleza, Residencia del Gobernador

Built as a fortress from 1533 onwards to protect San Juan's Spanish settlers from raids by Carib tribesmen and pirates, the building was restored several times. Still the residence and office of Puerto Rico’s governor and the oldest continuously used executive mansion in the Western Hemisphere, the building has served as San Juan’s seat of government for over three centuries, housing several governors since the Spanish and American colonialist rule. The fort was attacked on several occasions and occupied twice, first by the British in 1598 and then the Dutch in 1625. Designated as a National Historic site by the U.S. Government, La Fortaleza is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Guided tours are offered in Spanish and English during the week except holidays, but due to schedule changes it is recommended to call ahead and reserve your spot. Proper attire is required, sleeveless shirts and inappropriate dress are not permitted. Guided tours begin at the yellow building called the Real Audiencia, situated near the main gate which can be found by walking up Recinto Oeste to the top of the Old City wall.

Open: Mon to Fri 09:00hrs-15:30hrs

Location: Western end of Calle de la Fortaleza

Phone: +1 787 721 7000

Admission: Complimentary

Website: www.fortaleza.gobierno.pr

El Yunque National Rainforest

Located 35 miles (56 km) east of San Juan, the 28,000 acre El Yunque represents the the United States National Forest System’s sole tropical rainforest. Named by the Spanish for its distinctive anvil-shaped peak, the area differs from all U.S. National Forests due to the year-round tropical climate and immense biodiversity. Home to thousands of native plants, the rainforest receives a staggering 100 billion gallons of rainfall each year. Dozens of trails marked by difficulty are outlined on the official map, including the El Toro Trail to the peak, a 6-mile (9.7 km) hike and the forest’s most challenging. The 45 minute trail to La Mina Falls runs through lush jungle and ends at a picturesque spot where waterfalls plunge into a natural mountain pool below. Interpretive signs line the route and outline the foliage along the way.

Open: Daily 07:30hrs-18:00hrs

Location: Rio Grande, 35 miles (56 km) east of San Juan

Phone: +1 787 888 1880

Website: www.seepuertorico.com/en/experiences/nature

Casa Bacardí

The Bacardi family moved to Puerto Rico after exile from Cuba in the 1950’s and set up a small rum distillery. Today San Juan is home to the famous Bacardí rum with the largest distillery in the world, producing 100,000 gallons of spirits per day or 21 million cases a year. A visit to the popular Casa Bacardi Visitor Centre provides an interesting insight to the company’s history dating back to its origins in Cuba, the distillery itself, the bottling plant and a museum. Little trams trolley visitors around the facility, approximately 45 minutes in duration, concluding at a classical-style bar where a bartender teaches the correct methods to prepare Cuba libres and mojitos. All visitors receive two complimentary drink vouchers, redeemed for cold Bacardi-based beverages, and the onsite gift shop sells Bacardi products and apparel. Casa Bacardí is approximately 10 miles (16 km) from the port and can be reached by taking the ferry from Pier 2 and then a público (public van service) from the ferry pier to the factory for about $2-3 per person.

Open: Mon to Sat 09:00hrs-18:00hrs (last tour at 16:15hrs)

Address: Bay View Industrial Park, Rte. 165, Km 2.6, Cataño

Phone: +1 787 788 8400 / 1500

Admission: Complimentary

Website: www.casabacardi.org