July 4, 2014
It isn’t called the island of enchantment for nothing, at 100 miles long and 35 miles wide Puerto Rico may be small but it certainly delivers when it comes to aesthetics and atmosphere. A majestic mix of Latin flavour and European history, San Juan is the crowning glory of Puerto Rico. From pristine beaches to island charm, visiting San Juan is a great way to experience a tropical sanctuary with a zest for life.
Walking through the 465-year old streets of Old San Juan is like stepping onto a film set. The quaint cobblestone streets, the grandeur of the colonial architecture, and the brightly coloured houses that litter the streets are a testament to the alluring magnetism of the city. Nothing beats leisurely roaming through the backstreets and plazas dotted throughout the old town to experience the affable presence of the locals. Whilst you’re at it, stop off at the Luis Muoz Rivera Park, a glorious oceanfront park space that offers great views and is the perfect picnic spot.
The collection of forts located across Puerto Rico stand as monuments to the island’s fascinating colonial past. And none more so than The El Morro Fort; located high above a rocky peak overlooking San Juan Bay, it is hands down the most famous of all the forts on the island and the oldest European structure in the US National Park Service. Walk the corridors and observe the impressive panoramic outlooks of the city and coastline. It’s wise to take advantage of the friendly guides who run regular tours each day – nothing beats having a clear overview of the history behind the structure to really appreciate the importance of this fascinating local landmark.
Santurce is the cultural heart of San Juan, having become a melting pot for burgeoning artists, musicians and creatives from all over the island in recent years. The high concentration of artistic communities means this renowned art district has a string of great galleries, museums and a vibrant nightlife ready to be explored by curious visitors. Galleries such as Espacio 1414 have expanded to encompass a wide range of contemporary art, specifically from Latin America. Others like Galeria Petrus celebrate local Puerto Rican art; the exhibition space has been around for over ten years and has cultivated a strong following across the island, as well as internationally.
The cultural district of Carolina is also worthy of some time. The urban markets that set up each day in the plaza, and the presence of the Museum of Art and History (which exhibits ancient, religious and colonial artworks and artefacts), ensures that there’s always a lively atmosphere and the chance to mingle with friendly locals.
San Juan has long been known as a surfing haven, with windsurfing and kitesurfing becoming more and more popular too. Ocean Park beach, situated within Santurce district, and La Ocho are great for hitting the waves and have perfect conditions for surfers of all levels. Condado is also home to one of the area’s finest beaches – it’s so good that many visitors never bother to stray much farther afield. But they should. If you’re up for escaping the crowds then hop in a car and drive 30 minutes along route three to Luquillo, it offers a far less crowded, but no less impressive stretch of coastline ornamented with huge palm trees and pretty beach huts. Isla Verde beach could possibly walk away with the crown for best beach on the island. Keen divers and snorkelers will enjoy the exotic underwater delights found in the reef marine reserve just a few miles offshore.
Whether you’re a beach bum or a culture vulture, visiting San Juan will surpass your expectations and surprise you at every corner.
Header image: A view of Old San Juan © 12345543/istock/Thinkstock
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Written by Chantelle Symester