Featured Neighborhood – Old San Juan





San Juan, Puerto Rico Ponce


I love the colors of the old colonial buildings and the narrow streets.  Among the tourist shops there are some nice galleries, boutiques, a number of museums and great restaurants. It is a good area to stay, eat, walk and explore.

Catedral de San Juan Bautista: One of the oldest churches in the Americas, this church is worth the visit though it is not elaborately decorated. It is located at Calle del Cristo #151-153.

Hotel el Convento: Located  across from the Catedral de San Juan Bautista, at Calle del Cristo #100 on a pleasant square, this is the perfect hotel. It was opened as a Carmelite convent in 1651. It was closed in 1903 and opened as a hotel in 1962. It has a great deal of old world charm and a lovely center courtyard. The staff could not have been more helpful and friendly. There is a nice room on the third floor with complimentary cocktails from 6-7 pm, and free water, coffee and tea at all times. I liked my room but changed due to street noise from a bar across the street. The second room was equally nice and much quieter. So choose room 103 over 324. The breakfasts in the courtyard were quite good.

If you want French, Trois Cent Onze, not part of the group mentioned above, is well-regarded at 311 Calle Fortaleza.

La Fortaleza and San Juan Historic Site: I enjoyed seeing these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Old San Juan. One of the major sites is the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, or El Morro Fort, which are  massive fortifications built to protect San Juan Bay on a rocky peak of land. It is a triangular bastion that is well worth the visit. The cemetery below, Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis, is amazing with its tombs and beautiful structures. La Fortaleza is a beautiful structure that is the residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico. The gardens are open for daily visits.

Ballaja Barracks: Walk through the former barracks near the El Morro Fort which has been restored to its original beauty.

San Juan Gate: Walk under La Fortaleza to the Paseo de la Princesa along the water. Here you will see the San Juan Gate, the former entrance to the city. Nearby is the interesting sculpture la Rogativa showing a priest leading a religious procession in 1797 when the British attacked Old San Juan.

Castillo San Cristobal: I also walked through Castillo San Cristobal which is another historical fort. It is the biggest European fortification in the Americas. On Tuesdays at 6 pm (and I read Sundays also) they have a music and dance performance by the Ballet Folklorico as part of the National Park’s cultural mission. It was a nice backdrop by which to tour the large structure.

Plaza Colon: An attractive plaza next to Antiguo Casino and Teatro Tapia with a large statue of Christopher Columbus.

Café el Punto: Located at 105 Fortaleza, this is a real local’s spot with fresh local ingredients. I enjoyed my first mofongo which is a Puerto Rican specialty featuring mashed plantains. I had one topped with crab and shrimp. They have great pina coladas and other juices plus avocados stuffed with shrimp and  seafood. Very casual with good food. They have a large selection of folk art for sale, also. I bought a great painted mask made from a coconut for my collection.

Galeria Botello: Located  at 208 Calle Cristo in old San Juan, this is a quality art gallery worth visiting and checking out. It had by far the best art that I saw.

There is a gallery walk, Noche de Galerias which happens the first Tuesday of every month.

Marmalade Restaurant and Wine Bar: Located at 317 Fortaleza Street, this is a wonderful restaurant owned by chef Peter Schintler. Having worked in the U.S., Singapore, France and Spain, Peter brings some wonderful Asian influence to Napa Valley cuisine. The ono poke appetizer was really outstanding as was my mero fish entrée. The white bean soup with truffles and pancetta was to die for and I enjoyed the light chamomile sorbet. The service was great and I enjoyed meeting Peter and his wife. The atmosphere is contemporary and sleek.