Old San Juan

We went to Old San Juan, because we had to get out of here, and it was so much more fabulous than we expected.

The rental unit we leased in Rincón is regularly an AirBNB, and as we were deciding to rent it for the 6 months it was available, it got booked for 10 days. So, after being here for 3 weeks or so, we had to GTFO for a spell. Where to go, where to go?

We (I) am still leery of the south coast, considering the earthquake situation. There have not been any large ones in a month or so, but 33 of the 60 earthquakes in the last 24 hours have been off the southern coast of Puerto Rico. See?


Even though the quakes have been too small to feel – seismic activity like that is not something I’m willing to play chicken with. Someday, we’ll visit Ponce, but not while it’s still rumbling. We decided to go north, north-west.

Our PR Travel book had much to say about these areas: bioluminescent bays, incredible tropical islands, a national forest with rainforest habitats, incredible scuba-diving, not to mention Old San Juan (OSJ). We’ll save the west coast adventure for another post and roll around with OSJ here.

Old San Juan

This historic little town inside an overflowing, modern, metropolis felt like another world. Literally, another continent in another time, and I loved it. B and I kept saying to each other, “I can’t believe this is in America”, and it is – sort of. In my experience, Americans usually destroy old things in favor of new and modern things. We ‘Mericans are not used to treasuring old buildings and towns. I don’t know what has preserved OSJ. I’m sure builders and developers would love to build skyscrapers on this stunning island/peninsula – but whoever fought to maintain and retain this place, I bow to you. There is no better way to explain how unique and special it is than to show you, BUT FIRST, just look at how delightfully small it is.

The blocks are packed with color and life and the streets are paved with wood-fired bricks. You can walk from one side to the other in 20 minutes. This little area, the true OSJ – I want to call it a citadel, was once completely surrounded by an epic rock wall. If you wanted to enter, you had to come through The (Bloody?) Gate. To pull up to the gate with your ship, you had to pass a solid wall of Cannons and Watchmen in every Tower. Good luck with that.

I imagine this citadel was almost impenetrable. Almost. Much of the original wall still surrounds OSJ, and seeing it (and wondering how in the hell it was built in the 15-1600’s with just men and no machines) is a marvel. My imagination is too feeble to even speculate as to how it was done.

Once you get over being mesmerized by this feat of humanity, take a walk through the city. And then, just keep walking.

We were only there for 24 hours, but I could have spent a week walking those few blocks, and never been bored. There were plenty of places to eat, pray and love, like this stunning Cathedral, El Catedral Metropolitana Basílica de San Juan Bautista built in 1511. It is the oldest cathedral in the Americas, and home to the Tomb of Ponce de Leon.

From 1511 until today in 2020, can you imagine how much prayer, hope, grief, suffering, pleas and gratitude has been offered up within these walls? Especially considering the history of the city, the two nearly impenetrable fortresses, the attempted take-overs, battles, and the solitude of life as a soldier. Wowza! And, yes, we went to El Morro (Castillo San Felipe del Morro), and yes, I was in shocked awe, but we’ll save that story for another day. As a tease, I’ll leave this photo, taken from a lookout at El Morro:

Looking out over the wild Atlantic Ocean, past the 20 foot deep wall surrounding the city, into San Juan.

Back to the nitty-gritty: OSJ is expensive – like, new America prices. The parking garages are $20 for 24 hours; the room we found (at a discount) was $120/night after all the fees. The food was $18 for a 12-inch pizza (what?), $12 for fish tacos, $10 for chicken strips and fries (not a bad deal), you get the picture. We could have gone broke there. The Castillo del Moro, which was incredible and worth every penny, was $10/adult. All in all, not excessive prices for anything in particular, but it sure adds up.

It’s a good thing we only had one day to stay! However, since it’s only a 3 hour car ride from Rincon, if anyone ever comes to visit us, maybe we’ll go back! 😉

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