“Nothing is better for your soul than to visit Puerto Rico.”
San Juan was supposed to have been a throw-away spot; a destination that we had little expectations for. We had only planned on stopping in San Juan as it was cheaper to end our cruise here as opposed to one of the Florida ports. However, things turned out very differently and we ended up loving our stay in this beautiful, sun-drenched city in Puerto Rico.
Let’s make no mistake about this. It was hot! It was about 32 degrees with humidity sitting at around 68% or more for most of the time we were there. This made the beaches nice as we enjoyed the breezes coming off the ocean but the city itself very tiring as the sun beat down on us. However, we experienced lots of neat things as we wandered the old town of Puerto Rico’s San Juan.
The Old City
The old city is an amazing collection of old buildings painted in bright pastels. The sun shining on the buildings fills the air with colours. It rejuvenated my wandering spirit, which had been shut firmly away while on our cruise (My stomach took somewhat more precedence on the cruise, unfortunately). Many of the streets we wandered were made from blue cobblestone bricks. We learned that these bricks were the original bricks used when the roads were first built. When the Spanish came over to start hauling gold away in their ships, they brought these blue cobblestones from Spain as ballast. So, upon arriving at the port of San Juan, they would dump all the blue cobblestone before filling up with gold. The locals would use all the pretty blue stone to pave the streets. They were very pretty to look at but very tiresome on the feet after awhile.
We spent quite a bit of time just wandering up and down the streets of San Juan. The one day we walked around, we discovered that it was so crowded due to the fact that there were seven cruise ships docked that day. It made San Juan not only a very hot day but a very crowded day. However, some shaved ice helped to keep us cool and kept us going! As we wandered, we came across a street which had beautiful brightly coloured umbrellas hanging over the street leading to the Governor’s residence. It was quite striking!
On another day, our wanderings took us to the largest Cathedral in Puerto Rico. We discovered that they just happened to be celebrating the Patron Saint of Puerto Rico. The front of the church was decorated with Spanish soldiers and a small cannon. According to a source near us, they were actually going to shoot the muskets and cannon after the church service had concluded. Now, we always enjoy a good cannon blasting, so we hung around and were not disappointed. It took a little waiting (enjoying some authentic street music while we waited), but finally, they shot the cannons over the crowds three times creating lots of noise. The kids enjoyed the noise and smoke of the cannons and muskets. To our surprise, a procession came out of the church carrying the Mother Mary on an altar. This procession was joined by a walking band to create a small parade with the congregation streaming out of the church to follow the altar. We love a good parade and so naturally joined in as the parade wound its way through the streets of Old San Juan. We eventually left the parade but all agreed that it had been worth waiting for.
We have been trying to save money by not eating out at restaurants all the time but did want to try some authentic food from San Juan while visiting. The various websites we read listed El Jibarito as a good place to try. Sure enough, the atmosphere was great and the food very tasty. We had fried cod chips followed by a couple of pork and chicken dishes with rice and beans. All very tasty. It was a nice splurge as food of any type in Puerto Rico is very expensive.
One of the major sites in San Juan are the forts that dominate the city. Built by the Spanish to defend against the British, they were used right up to the Second World War until being turned into a National Park. These fortresses are huge. The walls of the fort almost surround the entire city. The main fort is at the very tip of the jut of land that extends past the city. There is a huge green space where the troops used to practice and which is now used as a space for people to picnic or fly kites. The main fort sits on the very edge of the cliff facing out onto the Caribbean. The kids had lots of fun clambering through all the various levels and running through all the doorways and hallways. There was a lot to see and the fortress also had a Junior Park Rangers activity booklet that the kids used to help them understand all the things the fortress had on display. When the kids finished the booklet, the Park Ranger did a nice little ceremony to celebrate. We have done these activity booklets before and they are always well done in helping explain the history of these sites in an easy to understand way.
After visiting this huge structure, you would think that that would be another thing to check off the to-do list. However, this structure is vast. Shooting off the main fortress, the walls of the fortress wind along the cliffs surrounding the city. These walls extend over a vast distance and connect to another fortress built to protect the back of the city. This fortress was not as detailed or interesting so we didn’t spend as much time at this site. It was also very hot so we were happy to catch an uber back to our air-conditioned hotel to relax after a busy day exploring.
Looking for Tidal Pools
Our daughter had her 10th birthday while we were in San Juan and for her birthday, we all went to the beach to find some tidal pools. Our daughter loves looking for sea life and tidal pools are the epitome of fun for her. Luckily, there was a beautiful beach nearby with lots of tidal pools. Siena and Liam spent a happy couple of hours finding lots of sea life including many hermit crabs. Siena found a particularly large one which she named Hermie the Hermit. She was very sad that she could not bring it home as a pet. The beach was very clean and the sand was that perfect sand that doesn’t embed itself into your skin. It’s interesting how sand at the beach can be different. We do not enjoy those beaches where the sand is impossible to get off no matter what you do. This sand was the fairly non-stick kind.
We all really enjoyed San Juan. With the sometimes overwhelming heat, four days was enough to see the city, but the beautiful colours and the friendly people made us feel like this would be a place we would love to visit again. Next time, we would like to stay right in the heart of the city (we were somewhat on the outskirts of the old city though in a very nice area) and have time to explore more of the rich musical history of San Juan.