About This Place
San Juan, Puerto Rico is a large city with many different personalities. It is at once a major historical site, a Caribbean playground, a springboard for travel to other islands and the center of Puerto Rican government and culture.
The city stretches 12 miles along the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The oldest part occupies the rocky promontory at the northwestern edge of the city, next to its bay. From there eastward are a multitude of districts, each with its own distinct personality.
Condado, roughly 3 miles west of Old San Juan, is where you will find nightlife like casinos and restaurants. Further east is the residential neighborhood of Ocean Beach, while south is the business and residential neighborhood of Miramar. The Isla Verde district has the best beaches in the city, a host of newer resort hotels and nearby, the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport. South of Isla Verde lies the bohemian Santurce district.
San Juan visitors will have plenty to do and see for a week or longer. Southeast of Miramar, in the newer Hato Rey business and financial district, tourists can explore the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean, Plaza Las Americas, which has a mutiplex cinema and more than 300 stores. In historic contrast, Old San Juan contains the beautiful Cathedral of San Juan, home to the remains of the first governor of Puerto Rico, explorer Juan Ponce de Leon. Though this cathedral was built in 1540, its impressive Gothic supports were a 19th-century innovation.
The National Park Service administers El Morro, the old fort at the northwestern tip of Old San Juan, and nearby Casa San Cristobal. El Morro’s full name is Castillo San Felipe del Morro, and it dates to 1539. On display are weapons, old uniforms and ancient Spanish blueprints for other forts in the Americas. Castillo San Cristobal is both older (1534) and much larger, consisting of five sections divided by dry moats. Rangers offer bilingual tours to visitors.
Among the most popular San Juan area attractions is the Bacardi rum distillery, located across San Juan Bay in Catano. The largest rum distillery in the world, it moved here in 1962 from Cuba when Fidel Castro nationalized the Cuban rum industry. About an hour west is the Arecibo Observatory, which was featured in the movie “Contact” and is the world’s largest radar-radio telescope. Nearby is the 268-acre Rio Camuy Cave Park, the third largest cave system in the world, where visitors descend 200 feet on well-maintained trails through a ravine into a network of some 200 caverns.
A half-hour drive east of San Juan is El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest within the U.S. National Forest system. At its heart is a 3,500-foot forested mountain, El Yunque, with plenty of rushing streams and waterfalls to explore. Within the park is a rainforest-education center. After a workout on the trails, cool off in the crystalline waters of Luquillo Beach, which is a beautiful crescent-shaped beach set due north of El Yunque.