Exploring Old San Juan was on my bucket list this year, but I had no idea that I would discover such rich history, culture, and over-overwhelmingly beautiful architecture. From San Juan Marriott, the old city is a short drive or taxi ride. Set aside an entire day to wander the streets of Old San Juan and meander through the forts that guarded its harbor. Understanding the significance of the forts helps you understand Old San Juan. Follow a fort tour with walking around the cobblestone streets in one of the oldest American cities filled with boutique shops, churches, museums, and restaurants and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
Spain built Castillo San Felipe del Morro, the massive fortification in front of you, to guard San Juan’s harbor. To control the harbor was to control the entrance to the Caribbean Sea and access to the riches of the New World.
Puerto Rico was the first major island with fresh water that ships encountered as the sailed west from Europe. San Juan’s excellent harbor was the first secure, deep-water port. The nation that controlled the harbor could protect their merchant ships and send warships out to control shipping to and from the Caribbean. For almost 400 years, Spain defended San Juan and its harbor. El Morro was the key to that defense.
We only reserved 45 minutes to wander around El Morro but I could have stayed there all day. Each level was uniquely beautiful. Level six gave the best vistas of the harbor while level four put the entire fort before my eyes. Detailed signs and maps described the significant features of the fort and the history of Old San Juan. It was the best way to start the day in the city. It was a quick lesson before continuing into the streets.
After leaving the fort, I spent an hour purposely lost on the cobblestone streets, enjoying the shops and the culture of the city.
The weathered buildings, the cobblestone streets, and even the elderly man feeding pigeons in the park reminded me of Marseille, France. The laid-back, relaxed, timeless feel was refreshing. Going in and out of stores and people watching, I didn’t worry about checking my watch or what I was going to do next. I was content to be there in the moment.
Over the last two years of travel, I’ve learned to go with the flow more, to relax and submit myself to my surroundings. It can be difficult for a planner like me to let go but it’s in those moments that I truly enjoy travel the most.