In 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. From there we passed the Cathedral on our way to El Morro.
If you don’t have the time to do part 1 of the self-guided tour of Old San Juan. Then jump on the free trolley that will take you directly to El Morro.
Part 2 of the self guided walking tour of Old San starts at El Morro and heads back into the city towards La Fortaleza, the shopping district, San Cristobel Fort and back to the Tourist Information Center.
On leaving the fort you will have the San Juan Cemetery on your left. Again the views from around the cemetery are impressive. The San Juan Cemetery is the final resting place of several well known Puerto Ricans and is also known for its intricate gravestones, tombs and central round chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalen
From the grounds of El Morro go straight a head to the Plaza de Ballaja. The building here is the ‘old barracks’ which now houses several museums. These museums are definitely worth checking out if you have the time.
From here head across Plaza de Beneficial where you will see Casa Blanca to the right. This building was completed in 1521 for Ponce de Leon. Unfortunately, he died before seeing it completed. Today it is a National Historic Monument and home to the Museum of Period Furnishings. Casa Blanca is open daily 8:30am – 4pm (except Sunday and Monday). Admission to the house is $3, but you can tour the gardens for free.
From Casa Blanca, head along San Sebastian Street (famous for its amazing festival held every year in January). Once back on Cristo Street head downhill towards Fortazela Street. Here on Cristo Street, you will pass numerous shops (including outlet stores for Coach and Ralph Lauren), galleries and restaurants. As you walk downhill on Cristo Street, you will again pass the Hotel El Convento (a good stop for tapas) and the San Juan Cathedral. Both of these a well worth a visit if you did not do part 1 of the guided walk.
When you get to Fortaleza Street, turn right. The blue building in the distance is La Fortaleza (Governors Mansion). Built back in the 1500’s it is now home to the Governor of Puerto Rico and it is the oldest executive mansion in continuous use in the Americas.
The mansion and gardens are open to the public.
La Fortaleza is open Monday – Friday
9am – 3pm for tours in English and Spanish (these tours alternate).
Head back the way you came and when you reach Cristo Street turn right. Here you will find the Cristo Chapel. This small chapel is not always open, but is definitely worth the short detour even when closed.
The small chapel was built in the 1700’s. and the story goes that it was built by a man whose life was saved, when his runaway horse just suddenly stopped at the top of the cliff before plunging over the edge. The man built the chapel to thank God for saving his life. The Chapel stands at the exact point where the horse stopped, so legend says…
Close to Cristo Chapel is the Parque de las Palomas (Pigeon Park). If you have an aversion to birds (pigeons) you might want to skip this part. Pigeon Park is the place to go to feed the pigeons, but you also get amazing views from the top of the city walls.
Return to Fortaleza Street and turn right. Continue along passing more shops, restaurants and jewelry stores. This is a great place to pick up local Puerto Rico crafts as well as Jewelry. As you walk along Fortezela street you will pass a building that holds the the Casa de la Familia and Museo de la Farmacia. Both museums are in the same building with the first floor housing the pharmacy museum and the top floor the family museum.. Here you will see how people lived back in the 1800’s.
Coqui note: As you come to the end of Fortaleza Street (south end, also known as SoFo) you will pass several great restaurants; Parrot Club, Tantra, AquaViva and Dragonfly to name a few.
Once at the end, turn left and head to Plaza de Colon. The plaza contains a statue commemorating Christopher Columbus. Cross the plaza to san Francisco Street, where you will be able to see Old San Juan’s second fort; San Cristobel.
San Cristobel Fort
Head across the road to the fort entrance. Admission is $3. San Cristobel was built in 1634 – 1771 and again was to protect San Juan from sea invasion. San Cristobel is actually bigger than El Morro and it is made up of smaller units that are connected by tunnels, with each unit being self sufficient. Aagin you can either do a self guided tour or see the fort with one of the organized ranger tours.
San Cristobel is also maintained by the US National Parks Service and is open daily from 9am – 5pm (June – November) and 9am – 6pm (December – May).
Coqui note: If you are able to visit San Cristobel Fort on a Tuesday, there is the Le Lo Lai show, which is a weekly local music and dance show that takes place at 6pm. The show lasts about 45 minutes and is a great way to experience part of the Puerto Rico culture.
From San Cristobel, head back down the hill on Calle del Recinto Sur towards the La Casita. Once back at La Casita (if you are a rum fan) turn left with the San Juan bay on your right and you will come to the Casa Don Q. Here you will see a brief history of rum making by the Serralles family.
Coqui bonus: You can also get a free tasting of rum at Casa Don Q.
That completes this two part self-guided walking tour of Old San Juan. If you are short of time you can skip some of the walking by jumping on the free trolley service that runs through the city. There are 3 different routes, so if you plan on seeing the two forts, make sure you jump on the trolley marked ‘El Morro’
Coqui note: The streets in Old San Juan can become congested at times and walking can in fact turn out to be the fasted way to see the sights.
Totem_pole by joeguitar
San Juan Cemetery by crossfirecw
La Fortezela in Distabce by bitshaker
Cristo Cheapel by daquellamanera
Pigeon Park by coltharp
San Cristobel Fort entrance by daquellamanera