Old San Juan – Getting There
Old San Juan is located on a point at the entrance to San Juan Harbor. We paid $5 each for six of us to take a cab from the cruise ship pier to Old San Juan. Taxi rates are standardized by zone in San Juan. Carnival docks in Old San Juan, so no need for a taxi for their passengers. The return fare is much higher if return without a large group. There are many things you can do on your own self-guided Old San Juan walking tour.
Old San Juan – El Morro & San Cristobal
We started our walking tour at El Morro – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, officially known as Castillo San Felipe del Morro. The fort was built in 1539 to protect San Juan harbor. Sir Francis Drake attacked El Morro in 1595, but was unsuccessful in his bid to take it. In 1898 the US took over the fort and the island as part of the Spanish-American War. The lighthouse still guides ships into the harbor today. Close by El Morro along the water is another fort – San Cristobal. It was built in 1634 to further protect El Morro and the city. San Cristobal has views to the Capitol, so we walked there after our self-guided tour of Old San Juan. You can ride the free trolley between El Morro, San Cristobal and Old San Juan.
Old San Juan – the Old Town
From El Morro, we walked into the heart of the Old Town. We came across Casa Blanca, which was the home of the famous Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon. He cam to San Juan in 1508. Casa Blanca is not clearly advertised, so we had the place to ourselves. There’s no admission fee, but your guide will appreciate a tip. After viewing the mansion and exhibits, we wandered the extensive gardens. We saw the eeriest bright green lizard, scurrying along the walkway. His long claws scratched ominously on the paved stones as he moved at lightning speed.
Next we wandered the quaint streets and plazas of Old San Juan. At Plaza de Colon there’s a statue of Christopher Columbus. Plaza de San Jose has a statue of Ponce de Leon. The Cathedral San Juan Bautista is the main church in Old San Juan. We chose to listen to the Spanish sermon that Sunday while scores of tourists paraded through the alcoves. It seemed sacrilegious for them to tour the church while services were on. After that we walked past La Forteleza – the Governor’s residence built in 1533. It is only open to the public Monday to Friday.
Old San Juan – the Capitol
After touring the Old Town, we walked back to San Cristobal. From this fort you get wonderful views over the city of San Juan. The Capitol building was close enough that we decided to walk to it. Security staff allow visitors inside to see the murals painted on the domed ceiling. We were the only ones visiting, which was surprising given how lovely the building is. A staff member explained the historical background to all the paintings over head. Afterward we caught a taxi back to the ship. With only two of us, the cab ride back was 4 times as much as the 8 person ride at the start of our day.