A Day in Old San Juan (Photo Essay)

Filed in Gather Travel Essential by on January 22, 2011 0 Comments

My husband and I try to take a little getaway by ourselves at least once a year.  That has to coincide with the vist of a grandparent since few other people in our lives have the space or time to watch our 4 children for more than a day.  This year, hubby won two nights at a hotel in virgin Gorda (British Virgin Islands)where he stayed on business in the spring.  From Barbados (where we live) there are no direct flights to BVI, so we needed to spend one night in Puerto Rico.  We chose to stay in Old San Juan.

Old San Juan is so charming and beautiful.  Both my husband and I love history, so it was a natural choice for us.  The hotel we chose was El Convento.  El Convento, you might have guessed, was converted from a convent.  It’s a beautiful bright yellow building with thick walls, small terraces on which to eat breakfast and shutters that shut out the strong tropical light if you feel like a nap during the day.  We stayed on the second floor, which was part of the original convent.  The upper floor are part of a beautifully done and historically correct addition. 









My husband was meeting me in San Juan on a later flight because he was on another island on business.  I decided to leave my bags and go explore a bit.  I decided to head for one of the old forts nearby–Castillo San Felipe Del Morro.  It certainly sounded worth seeing and since it wasn’t that far away, I decided it would be the perfect short adventure for me to take while waiting for my husband to arrive.  It was early afternoon when I set off.  I took a water bottle because the tropical sun is hot even in October.  Some of the streets of Old San Juan are a beautiful light blue because the bricks that make up the streets are actually glazed. The streets are narrow since they were origianally build for foot and horse traffic.  I also quickly found out that the streets are very steep.  I was sweating by the time I got to the top of the hill that stands in front of El Morro.










The fort really does sit on “a windy promintory” for which I was profoundly grateful by the time I got there.  It quickly cooled me off.  There was a small entrance fee and I could have purchased, for a slightly larger fee, a dual ticket that would also have given me admission to the other fort which was really too far for me to walk in the time I had.  I’ll have to check that one out next time. 

The entrance to the fort is very imposing.  The walls are bricks stuccoed to smoothness and there are moat-like ditches that flank the entrance.  The entry is actually into the forth of 6 levels.  The Spanish were serious about fortifications!  On that entrance level there were rooms that had old cannons, one with a movie in English about the fort’s history (which really was fascinating), diaramas and artifacts from various time periods of the fort’s occupation and a gift shop.  I looked through the rooms, watched the movie and then bought some more water at the gift shop. (You have to stay hydrated in the tropics). 











According to Wikipedia the fort “Lies on the northwestern-most point of the islet of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Named in honor of King Philip II of Spain, the fort, also referred to as el Morro or promontory, was designed to guard the entrance to the San Juan Bay, and defend the city of Old San Juan from seaborne enemies. In 1983, during the Reagan Administration, the fort was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in conjunction with the San Juan National Historic Site. Over two (2) million visitors a year explore the windswept ramparts and passageways making the fort one of Puerto Rico’s main visitor attractions.”









The views from the ramparts are just breathtaking.  I walked up the ramp to the 6th level to see the whole panoramic view.  You go up a ramp because that’s how they took canon up.  From the top level, you can look down into the main level as well.  All around the fort, there are little domed structures called, garitas.  They are tiny domed sentry boxes–much more decorative looking that you would expect.  There is a more modern lighthouse on the top level.  The bricks along the edge of the top walls tell of the fort’s great age.  They’ve been eroded by the acidity of the sea water. 







After I went to the top of the fort I walked down and explored two lower levels.  By that time it was time to head back to the hotel to meet my husband.  We emerged from our room at sunset to take advantage of the wine and cheese on the 3rd floor terrace.  We sipped our wine and watched the sunset until it was full dark then we walked into Old San Juan to eat at one of the many delicious restaurants it offers.  I highly recommend Old San Juan as a romantic and historic getaway.  I hope you enjoyed it!  If you want to enjoy the bigger versions of the pictures, click on the photos at the bottom of the page.  There are some I didn’t include in the text.

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A happy wife, mother and teacher.

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