Old San Juan Puerto Rico

Immersing yourself in Puerto Rico's rich history is easy, just head to the center of Old San Juan—here you'll find the remains of the original city. Founded in 1521, it is now a U.S. Historic Zone, complete with over 400 remarkably preserved buildings dating back to the city's inception. Exquisite examples of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century architecture abound in Old San Juan Puerto Rico, as do aging stone walkways that occasionally become so narrow they barely seem traversable, small gardens outfitted with tropical plants and so many attractions, shops and cafes it will surely take you more than a single day to see.

The original city walls still tower in the background, and if you follow them long enough you'll reach El Morro. Overlooking the sea from the northwestern tip of San Juan, this massive fort is truly a sight to behold. A winding maze of dungeons, towers and an impressive system of tunnels, this was once the center of the Spanish occupation of Puerto Rico, and now it is one of the most important Old San Juan attractions, tracing the history of the city, the fort and its people. And El Morro isn't even the biggest fort in Old San Juan Puerto Rico - there's also Fuerte San Cristobal. While El Morro's job was to defend from sea attacks, San Cristobal was there to defend against those wishing to attack by land.

Another of the great Old San Juan attractions is La Fortaleza. On a scenic hill overlooking the harbor, this is another former fort, though this was long ago converted into the official residence of Puerto Rico's governor. Armaments were gradually replaced with medieval-looking towers, stained glass masterpieces and opulent decorations reminiscent of Renaissance Europe. Everywhere you look now is marble, mahogany and bright artwork.

Though most of Old San Juan reminds you of the city's history as a military stronghold, many of these structures have been reworked for the tourist industry. The former barracks now hold the Museo de Las Americas, which focuses on Latin American folk art. Religious structures are also widespread throughout Old San Juan Puerto Rico. The San Juan Cathedral is a mishmash of Gothic and modern architecture, owing to its constant renovations since the church's opening in 1540. Also on the list of Old San Juan attractions is the Dominican Convent, a perfectly restored building that was once the city's main shelter in times of attack, and is now the home to a wide array of religious documents and artwork.

Take a walk down Paseo de la Princesa and you'll see a wondrous fountain, an old prison, and what remains of the original city gate. You'll also come across Plaza de Armas, the original main square of Old San Juan Puerto Rico. This is where the Alcadia is, a city hall that took over a century to complete and was made to replicate the city hall in Madrid. The towers, balconies and courtyards were designed to remind colonists of the land they left behind.

No matter where you start your trek through Old San Juan, there is plenty to see and do—this is, after all, Puerto Rico's number one tourist attraction. A trip right into the heart of sixteenth-century island life, the cracked city walls and expert Spanish architecture present the city as it used to be: one of the most important cultural landmarks in all of the Caribbean.

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