A sight for sore, weary Canadian eyes, the colourful palette of San Juan was a zesty change from the impending winter equinox. Far from being deterred by the adverse news coverage pertaining to Puerto Rico and the Greater Antilles, I was on the contrary compelled by the desire to witness its capital rise from the post-hurricane ashes like the relentless phoenix that it is.
With just 24 hours to spare, I explored the hilly historic centre, filled my lungs with salty sea air, ate my weight in ice cream, but most importantly, I discovered a largely underrated archipelago and a facet of America I didn’t know existed.
The Colourful Houses of San Juan
While most guidebooks point in the direction of defensive fortresses and focus on the military heritage of the capital, what really made my heart sway was the technicolour display of centennial houses.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, though; just two years shy of 400, San Juan is the second oldest European-established capital in the Americas — and a UNESCO World Heritage Site to boot.
Here’s a tip if you’re a lazy wanderer (ahem, like me); start your journey atop San Juan and make your way downhill as you go along.
With no itinerary in hand and several hours to spare, I sauntered aimlessly in Old San Juan with the vigorous Atlantic Ocean as my sole point of reference. Up and down the cobblestone hills, I walked past emerald, cerulean, magenta, and tangerine facades, a photogenic rainbow-hued ensemble whose attractiveness is only heightened by the unique colonial-meets-Caribbean architectural features.
Throw in a healthy population of vivid bougainvillea, wooden balconies, Latin rhythms, and sweeping views of the ocean, and you’ve got yourself quite the living postcard.
“In the juxtaposition of its two worlds, the tropical paradise versus the struggling island, Puerto Rico is representative of the many fragile places around the globe.”
-Mireya Navarro, New York Times
Additional Things To Do in San Juan
Aside from overindulging in ice cream popsicles from cheerful Señor Paleta (153 Calle de Tetuan) and justifying the purchase of yet another sun hat over at the old-fashioned emporium Olé (105 Calle De la Fortaleza), there are plenty of other things to do in San Juan:
- Take a walking tour of Old San Juan for a comprehensive overview of the area’s rich history
- Visit Castillo San Cristóbal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro
- Hone your photography skills on a workshop throughout Old San Juan
- Book a catamaran trip to Flamenco Beach
- Tour the Bacardi Rum Factory and enjoy a 90-minute rum tasting session
- Drive up to the island’s highlands to learn about the Puerto Rican coffee trade
- Enjoy the sun on Isla Verde beach
- Venture underwater with sea turtles on a Vieques snorkelling experience
- Go on a day trip to El Yunque Rainforest, the only subtropical rainforest in the United States
- Excite your taste buds on a San Juan food tour
I travelled to San Juan and Puerto Rico with Transat.