Old San Juan: A Travel Diary

July 9, 2017

colorful old san juanThis year, I spent 4th of July weekend in Puerto Rico. At the risk of sounding cliché, while I knew what to expect about the island after having seen countless pictures of the old town’s buildings, being there in the flesh was just increíble. Old San Juan is located on a small islet connected to the main island by bridges, and its colorful facades provide a fascinating juxtaposition alongside the imposing, ancient presence of the forts that punctuate Isleta de San Juan. At just 7 city blocks, the old town is definitely densely packed with sightseeing and activities!

Garita in Old San JuanOne of my favorite parts of exploring Old San Juan was happening upon these sentry boxes, or garitas. I found them so adorable (ironic, because they stand as part of the large wall that was built around Old San Juan for protection against invasion) that many of my rambles ended up resembling informal scavenger hunts for the next garita. By the end of my trip, I needed to know more about the different types of garitas and even fancied myself getting a Ph.D in Garita Studies (would be awesome if such a field existed)!

Sadly, as my casual research continued, I learned that someone had successfully preceded me in the quest to become Garita Chronicler. This PDF book gives a super in-depth look into the history of garitas and even goes so far as to map out every sentry box in Viejo San Juan!

Odd garita fascination aside, I enjoyed wandering about the forts and seeing the lengths Spain went to in order to ensure that San Juan would be impervious to attack. Castillo San Cristobal (the larger of the two more well-known forts) has been described as “labyrinthine,” and, finding myself lost in all its tunnels and hideouts, I truly did feel as if I were exploring around the fictional worlds of my childhood video games. San Cristobal was so enthralling (and large) that I went back a second time to check out anything I may have missed the first time around.

garita in old san juan

garita castillo san felipe del morro san juan

(The two-piece set I’m wearing in the garita photographs can be found here.)

I don’t want to go into too much historical detail as I’m sure anyone who goes to visit San Juan can read the ubiquitous educational placards just as well as I could. Instead, by way of the pictures below I’ll briefly touch on the places I visited in Old San Juan. If you’re looking for recommendations on what to do and what to eat, I’ve written another post detailing how to visit Old San Juan when you’re in a time crunch. That being said, Old San Juan is definitely just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Puerto Rico, so be on the lookout as well for my post on kayaking in the bioluminescent bay and hiking in the rainforest.

santa maria magdalena de pazzis cemetery san juaj

Above, Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery’s distinctive red dome. In the background are El Morro and its lighthouse. Below, a view from San Cristobal of the La Perla neighborhood, with El Morro visible in the distance. I did say this area was small!

san juan la perla

Below, a view of Calle Fortaleza leading up to the governor’s palace. This is probably the best picture ever taken of that pigeon standing in the middle of the street! At bottom, a residential street in Old San Juan provides the perfect calmness for pictures alongside the colorful buildings.

Old San Juan streets, Calle Fortaleza with the governor's palace in the background.

All photos were taken using my Sony RX100 II. Thanks for reading!

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