Thursday, April 24, 2014

Old San Juan Self Guided Walking Tour Part 1

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico may be small (around 7 square blocks), but there are still lots of attractions to see. You can easily spend a full day exploring the walled city of San Juan, but if you only have a few hours to spare, you can still get a feel for the place.

This self-guided walking tour of Old San Juan will be split into two parts. The first part will take you from near the cruise ship piers at the La Casita (Tourist Information Center) along the Paseo La Princesa, through the San Juan gate and then on to El Morro. In Part 2 we will then head back into Old San Juan and take you to La Fortaleza, the shopping district, San Cristobel Fort and back to the Tourist Information Center.

The first thing that you will notice about Old San Juan is that it is a walled city that looks today as it did 300 – 400 years ago, when the Spanish defended the city from the invading British. As you wander around the city, enjoy the Spanish colonial buildings that make up the heart of the city.

To orientate yourself, take a look at the Old San Juan map that highlights attractions and related articles.

La Casita

The tour starts at the La Casita which is now the Tourist Information Center. The building is located close to the cruise ship piers at Plaza de la Darsena.This is a great place to start your tour of Old San Juan, as you can get information on attractions, maps, restaurants and more from the helpful staff (bilingual).

La Casita is open daily from 8am – 8pm, but the free drinks only start at 1pm and are not available on Thursday / Friday. 787-729-6777

Coqui bonus: Sample a free drink courtesy of ‘Rums of Puerto Rico’

Coqui note: On Saturday / Sunday (late afternoon / evening) the area around the La Casita is a popular spot as local artisans display their crafts and local musicians fill the air with traditional music.

Paseo La Princesa

From La Casita keep the San Juan bay on your left and head towards the Paseo La Princesa promenade. This is a tree lined walk (and one of my favorite spots) with gardens, benches, and street vendors. The promenade takes you along the outside of the city wall. The wall is impressive and you can see how it would be so imposing to anyone attempting to take the city by force. The wall is about 20ft thick raising to heights of around 60ft in places.

Further along the promenade you will pass the Old San Juan Jail – La Princesa. No longer a jail, it is the home of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company. The building is open weekdays to the general public, where you can take a tour of the cells.

Continue past the jail towards the Raices fountain; a bronze sculpture fountain designed by Luis Sanguino. This is a great photo opportunity spot.

Past the fountain the Paseo La Princesa continues to follow the city wall and the San Juan Bay. The walkway curves to the right and leads you to The San Juan Gate (city gate).

At this point, you can continue to follow the walkway towards El Morro or head through the large city gate.

Coqui note: The walk towards El Morro is nice with some great photo opportunities of El Morro, but unfortunately it is a dead end and you will need to retrace your steps back to the San Juan Gate

San Juan Gate

To enter into the city, pass through the large red gate. This gate is the last remaining gate that is still standing in the city. As you pass through the gate, look up to view the inscription ‘Benedictus qui venit in nomine domini’ – translated ‘blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’. Here you can see just how thick the wall of the city is. Once through the gate, head up the hill towards the San Juan Cathedral. As you reach the top of the hill, you will see the Cathedral straight ahead and the Hotel El Convento on your left.

Coqui note: The Hotel El Convento has a great tapas restaurant that has an open air courtyard; just in case you are feeling hungry. Also close by is the Children’s Museum, which is open daily except Mondays.

San Juan Cathedral

The small; San Juan Cathedral was built 400 years ago and contains the remains of Ponce De Leon. Mass is offered Daily in Spanish.

With the Cathedral on your right, head up the hill (you are currently on Cristo Street). This street contains craft shops as well as ‘outlet stores’ for Coach, Ralph Lauren and others. There are also art galleries and restaurants to check out if you have the time.

At the top of Cristo Street you will find the Pablo Casals Museum, the African Heritage Museum and the Puerto Rico National Gallery (open daily except Sunday and Monday form 9am – 4:30pm).

At the top of Cristo Street turn left. You should see a large Totem pole. This is the Plaza del Quinto Centenario. The plaza is a popular spot, especially on hot days, due to the fountain, that is a big hit with children.

From the plaza you will see in the distance, the impressive structure of El Morro. El Morro is situated on the cliff edge with a large expansive field in front. If you are fortunate to be here on a weekend with good weather, you should see the field filled with families enjoying the sea breeze, as both young and old fly their kites.

Coqui note: You can purchase small kites from the street vendors located along the roadside.

Coqui caution: If you plan to walk to El Morro when the kites are flying, just be careful. You never know, when one might decide to come back down to earth…

El Morro

As you approach El Morro you will get a sense of just how impressive this fortress is. Built on 6 levels to defend San Juan from sea attack; the fort was initially completed in 1589, with improvements made to the walls in the 1700’s.

El Morro is a National Historic Site maintained by the US National Park Service. Entrance costs a few dollars and you can either tour the fort on your own or join one of the regular ranger tours that are given in English (on the hour) or Spanish (30mins past the hour). Inside you will find a chapel, kitchen, latrine, barracks, all with informational displays.

El Morrow is open daily from 9am – 5pm (June to November) and 9am – 6pm (December – May).
Tel: 787-729-6777

Coqui note: The views from El Morro are striking at any time of the day and you will have plenty of photo opportunities from around the fort. It is also possible to arrange a wedding at the fort.

Coqui note: If you now want to see San Cristobel fort, jump on the free trolley that will take you to San Cristobel. If you are feeling energetic, you can walk along Nozagaray Street with the ocean to your left. (this walk is not recommended at night).

The Self Guided Walking Tour of Old San Juan will continue in Part 2.

Other ways to see Old San Juan:
Take a Segway Tour of Old San Juan
See Old San Juan from a Jet Ski or a Carriage Ride
Take a Night Time Tour of Old San Juan

Photo resource:
Entrance to San Juan by djonemore
Paseo La Princesa Promenade by oscalito
Street in Old San Juan by caliellis
El Morro by philfromottawa

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Comments

  1. Nanatravel says:

    Is there anyway that I can print all of this out?

    • Christina says:

      Hello:

      Great reading this and am excited to get back to “mi Borinquen querida” after many, many years. Can you send a copy of the tour and map with walking route as others requested?

      Thank you

      Christina

  2. You should be able to just print the page using the print option in your internet browser.

    If you have problems, I have also emailed you a copy

    • Diane Doebley says:

      What a great page, pleease e-mail me a copy also. Could you also e-mail a copy of a map with the walking route. We are planning to go there in September. Thank you

      • Thanks, have sent you an email.

        • We are going in September. Will the weather be good? Worried about hurricanes. Can you send me a copy of the walking tours and the map? Thanks.

          • September is hurricane season but that does not mean we will get one, weather should be good unless a Tropical Storm is close to the island.

            Best bet is to keep an eye on our weather page and or the National Hurricane Center for latest weather info

        • Your (part 1 and part 2) walking tours sound amazing. Could you email a copy to me and also the map? We are heading to PR for our first trip in Jan 2013 and look forward to exploring Old San Juan on foot. Thank you for providing such a great tour.

        • Hello coqui,

          Found your article extremely interesting and plan to follow your walking tour directions when we visit PR and Old San Juan in Feb. 2013. Would you kindly also email me a copy as well as your walking map? Much appreciated!

  3. Wow. I feel like I was there!! Beautifully written!!!!

  4. Hi Melissa.

    Thanks for the comments, much appreciated

  5. What a great tour. I hope to visit Puerto Rico one day and I’ll know where to start. Love the photo, too.

  6. Sharon, thanks for the positive feedback. Hope you make it over one day.

  7. Thanks for this tour of the highlights. Nice photos too.

  8. Hi Marilyn

    Thanks for stopping by

  9. Thank you for this wonderful tour! We look forward to walking it when we are in San Juan. Could you possibly email a copy to me so we can print it out and take it?
    Thanks again!
    Louise

  10. Hi Louise,

    Hope you find the guide useful.

  11. Thanks for all the info. We are going to SJ April 10th for a week. I can’t wait to take all your advice. Mary

  12. Alice A. Bonner says:

    Can you please email the walking tour information to me. Thanks.

  13. Pat Rinderle says:

    Please mail me a copy of the walking tour. We’d like to take it when we are there in June.

    THANK YOU!!!

  14. Nice guide; we plan to give it a try in a few weeks!

    To those of you who want to print this all out, just copy and paste into your favorite word processor and print from there. You can even add page breaks to make it easier to use during the walk.

    Thanks again!

  15. pm hours of the shops in old San Juan?
    we were just there on a cruise and liked walking around so much, we booked another cruise next December [2011] just discovered the cruise ship gets in on a friday, but not until 2pm [and leaves at 10pm]. How late are the shops open on Friday night? [not just the fancy touristy ones, but all the little shops?
    Thank you

    • Don’t know the exact closing times, but imagine they will be open late enough, especially when a ship is in town. Enjoy your next visit here

  16. i would definitely do this with my husband and son during our trip this November. thanks for the information. makes me so excited just reading about all the attractions!

  17. Approximately how long does Part 1 of the walking tour take? Part 2? Just the walking not including shopping time? Thanks

    • Hi it’s been a while since I have walked the exact route in those two guides but I would say about 1 to 1.5 hours each with no stops but I’d recommend you give yourself more time and just enjoy all the sites ;)

  18. Hi there! This is such a great article. My family and I are travelling to San Juan next week. Is it possible you can also email me the walking route for this self guided tour? Thanks a million.

  19. This is awesome !! We will be going on the 10th of next month. Could you email me a copy as well? Along with the map? Thank you sooo much. I love the site!

  20. textwoman says:

    Wow. If you still have the walking tour map, I would like a copy. MAny thanks.

  21. Is there a map available that corresponds to the tour?

  22. Your walking tour has us very much looking forward to our visit in a few weeks! Would you be able to email me the entire tour with map?

    Thanks so much! And thanks for taking the time to pull this together, what a great resource!!

  23. Found your walking tour info to be quite helpful and interesting. We are arriving on Jan. 29 2013. Would appreciate a copy of the tour and a map. Many thanks.

  24. We would love a copy emailed of the tour and the map with your notes as others have requested. I too can’t get it to print quite right. Curious how long the tour takes/distance. We have a 4 and 5 1/2 year old. sounds so fun! Thanks for sharing with all.

  25. Hello! Could you please email the map? We’re leaving for PR tomorow and would LOVE to have this with us as a guide. Thanks!!

  26. I would love an email with the map as well parts 1 and 2 if they are different. Thank you so much, can’t wait to get to walking.

  27. Hello! Thanks for such a wonderful guide.
    Could you please email the map? We’re planning a trip to San Juan in second week of December and would be very helpful to have this with us as a guide.
    Thanks!!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] the Self Guided Tour of Old San Juan Part 1, we started down by the cruise ships and took the Paseo La Princesa Promenade to the San Juan Gate. [...]

  2. [...] presents Self Guided Walking Tour of Old San Juan Part 1 posted at Visit The Coqui, saying, “The best way to see the walled city of Old San Juan is on [...]

  3. [...] presents Self Guided Walking Tour of Old San Juan Part 1 posted at Visit The Coqui, saying, “The best way to see the walled city of Old San Juan is on [...]

  4. [...] El Escambron (Escambron Beach) is the closest beach to Old San Juan, located close to the Third Millennium Park , just to the west of the Normandie Hotel (and Caribe [...]

  5. [...] Post: Old San Juan Paseo La Princesa Escambron Beach, San Juan Amazon.com [...]

  6. [...] Isla Verde Area Zone 3 – Hotels in the Condado and Miramar Areas Zone 4 – Hotels & Piers in Old San Juan, Puerta de Tierra & Miramar Zone 5 – PanAmerican Pier, Convention Center & the Luis Rivas [...]

  7. [...] a third option. Virgin Atlantic will start weekly flights from London Gatwick (airport code LGW) to San Juan, Puerto Rico (airport code SJU). The flights will operate via Antigua, so they are not direct in [...]

  8. [...] oldest bakeries on the island and one that is popular with locals and a MUST for any one visiting Old San Juan; La Bombanera. Here he tried a local favorite Mallorcas (a Spanish pastry) and Cocas which are [...]

  9. [...] the best way to see the city? A walking tour of Old San Juan is by far the best way to see the city. You will find it relatively easy to walk around the narrow [...]

  10. [...] should also check out: 41 Things to see in Old San Juan A Walking Tour of Old San Juan Kite Flying at El Morro Amazon.com [...]

  11. [...] Bombonera in Old San Juan has been around for over 100 years, today it’s still one of the most popular places with locals [...]

  12. [...] 1630, the construction of the city walls started and were completed around 1678. These are the same walls that you will see today as you tour Old San Juan [...]

  13. [...] with El Morro Fort it forms the center pieces to the extensive fortifications that have protected Old San Juan for hundreds of [...]

  14. [...] is a popular sport for the local kids: Dos Hermanos bridge diving. The bridge connects Condado with Old San Juan and you will usually see kids diving off the bridge most [...]

  15. [...] San Sebastian Street Festival kicks off in Old San Juan this Thursday Jan 13 until Sunday Jan 16. This is the largest festival in Puerto Rico with [...]

  16. [...] Bounty, the 1960’s replica of the original Bounty is currently docked in Old San Juan for its winter break. This beautiful tall ship was built for the 1962 movie Mutiny on the Bounty, [...]

  17. [...] love Old San Juan, it’s a great place to wander around and enjoy the architecture, the open spaces and of [...]

  18. [...] Fountain in Old San Juan, is one of my favorite places and makes for a great photo opportunity along Paseo de la [...]

  19. [...] call the Cataño Ferry, La Lancha de Cataño and it crosses the San Juan Bay between Pier 2 in Old San Juan over to the ferry terminal in Cataño. It’s a short 5 minute ferry ride with the ferry running [...]

  20. [...] For those who are okay with being in close proximity to Pigeons then Parque de las Palomas makes for a great stop during your walking tour of Old San Juan. [...]

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