Explore the Surroundings from San Juan Marriott – Old San Juan

Old San Juan

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. FromΒ 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.

San Juan National Historic Site - El Morro

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.

El Morro, San Juan

El Morro, San Juan

El Morro, San Juan 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.

Old San Juan Buildings

Old San Juan Buildings

Old San Juan Pigeons in the Park

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.

60 thoughts on “Explore the Surroundings from San Juan Marriott – Old San Juan

  1. Your bright and vibrant pictures were a welcomed sight up here in the frosty Inland Northwest! You’re right about the architecture! It is truly stunning. Do you have a flickr account with more of your pictures from Old San Juan?


  2. We loved OSJ! We stayed at El Convento- beautiful historic hotel. The man feeding the pigeons reminded me of my 4 kids having a blast- even my 14 year old- feeding the pigeons in one of the courtyards while a busker played nearby.


  3. Very interesting and beautiful pics. I’ve been reading the Caribbean by James Michener the last while and it’s great to actually see the places he’s talking about. I love the colors of the buildings and cobblestones. Nice to have the old colonial villages preserved.


  4. I see you visiting my blog quite frequently but seeing your amazing photos I am asking myself what is Budapest comparing to wild cities you have visited πŸ™‚ If you ever wish to visit I have to think really hard where to take you to give you some real adventure:)


  5. Love the colors. Even the park bench is a bright green. And the blue/yellow/orange buildings! I want to paint our house bright orange. It really cheers a person up, doesn’t it? Glad you had a chance to explore. The fort is amazing. It reminds me of a scene from a novel. Cheers and have fun.


  6. That was our playground when I was a little girl. My cousins and I would go with our great uncle on Saturdays. I haven’t been home in a long time, and this just brought such fond memories…especially on a cold and dreary day like today. πŸ˜€


  7. My husband and I were in San Juan 20 years ago on 6th Jan, which was a ‘fiesta’, New Year’s Day over there, I think. Your blog brought back wonderful memories. I too loved the cobbled streets and El Morro. We spent a day driving through the Carribbean National forest, and one evening on a boat with people we met at the jetty, a family that had sailed in from Miami for a holiday!


  8. I don’t know why but I had a totally different impression of what San Juan would look like, your photos and descriptions have altered my opinion significantly. What vibrant colors and the history of the buildings and even of the individual cobblestones tell a story of a rich and varied culture. Great job, love San Juan. I’ve got to put it on my bucket list.


  9. I love Puerto Rico! I still have family there, but I haven’t visited in 8 years. Old San Juan is so gorgeous and colorful, I’ll never forget walking down the blue cobblestone streets. My other favorite places on the island: El Yunque (the only rainforest within the US), the beach at Fajardo, and the bioluminescent fish in the waters near Ponce. Then there are the crazy, narrow, windy streets that go up the mountainside near Caguas, with no guardrail to keep you from driving off into oblivion and drivers who turn the corner coming the other way and barely miss your car. When I was a kid, I asked my dad why there were white crosses everywhere on the side of road. “Each one represents the place where someone was killed in an accident.” I think I covered my eyes for the rest of that drive.


    • We visited El Yunque and the bio bay too! I loved them both. I’ll post about the bio bay shortly.

      Thankfully, I didn’t drive along that road.

      I think it’s time for another trip for you πŸ˜‰


  10. Loved Old San Juan. We went while preggers with #2 and used the trip to read lots of pirate books to my daughter. So much to see.


      • There are some built-in aspects to the upcoming trip, since it is for a wedding (two of Richard’s grad students who are like family to us), so we’ll only be in SJ for a couple of days and the others will be somewhat preset with wedding and family events in and around Fabiana’s hometown of Manati. We spent a few hours in SJ (including a much-too-short stop at El Morro) en route to the southern Carib many years ago and know we’ll enjoy our time in San Juan Viejo and elsewhere, but haven’t set any don’t-miss stuff yet, so are certainly open to your suggestions, Lesley!! Your post here is apropos, because we’re very big on the Wander Around and See What Happens approach ourselves. πŸ˜€


  11. Pingback: 2014 Bucket List | Bucket List Publications

  12. So I found your blog via another post someone shared on Google+, and decided to explore it a little. I found your 2014 bucket list, and found this on it. I’m excited by this post, because I am doing a 3 part series on my blog with pics from a vacay we took to Old San Juan a few years ago. The second post in the series is up right now. I loved the Spanish-style architecture and blue cobblestone roads.

    (I shared how I found your post, because I always think it’s fun to see how people found a particular post on my blog.)


  13. Pingback: 2014 Bucket List Update | Bucket List Publications

  14. Ha, I loved your impressions of Old San Juan. This is inspiring me to finally do a blog post or two about my trip to PR in May…also, do you follow Cindy Knoke? She did a post of gorgeous photos from OSJ earlier this year.


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