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Published: August 15th 2012
We wake up really tired in the morning and it has almost nothing to do with the late flight that we came in. Our car rental went ok, we navigated San Juan ok, we found the parking garage in Old San Juan relatively fast and we arrived at the hotel at about 1AM ready to go to sleep. So why didn't we sleep well at night? Well - it was Saturday night and it is party time in San Juan. Even as we walk to the hotel with our luggage we notice the people everywhere going to a club or just enjoying the night outside dressed for a night out. And unfortunately our hotel, Hotel Milano, is close to a nightclub which is blasting loud music all through the night which keeps us awake till almost 6 AM.
Given that we have no provisions we go out to take a look at the old city and also to find a supermarket close to our hotel room. There are lots of beautiful decorated houses and quite a few stores but all of them closed - it is Sunday after all. We find a cat also searching for food and it seems to have more luck than us. The streets are almost empty compared to the evening with everyone still sleeping or being at church. After a bit of walking we arrive at the Central Market Square near the City Hall where we find a large supermarket, which is open, so we solve our provision problem and go back to the hotel to eat from the newly acquired supplies.
And then we are off to visit this Unesco Heritage City and it is quite beautiful. We pass by the Cristobal Colon Statue and get to the Castillo de San Cristobal. We go first to the garita (soldier sentry post) outside the fortress that extends from the wall into the ocean, it looks scary but it was probably more boring to spend the whole day in this really small enclosure. Before entering the fortress we notice a fashion photo shoot nearby - quite interesting. We then enter the Castillo the San Cristobal, it is a US National Park so we had our Annual Pass with us. The ranger was really surprised and said that he sees very few of them and discussed with us about the different Western US NPs that he intended to visit and work in.
The fortress is really interesting with quite a few exhibits and lots of visitors. We walk through the rooms where the soldiers slept and trained and then go on top to view the city from above - there are great views all around the fortress. There are also a lot of garitas and a few world war II bunkers that you can visit. Then we went into the tunnels that were used by the soldiers to move safely from one part of the fort to another and I am sure also to escape the heat. Beneath the fort are also the cells of the former inmates/sailors/captives who were held in the dungeons, there are haunting paintings of caravels and lots of inscriptions on the walls of the cells.
We then walk along the wall to the other important castle in San Juan, San Felipe del Morro Castle. The views and the houses are really interesting and we pass the La Perla area which the guidebooks are warning us not to go into so we just glance into it from above - it looks colorful and peaceful. Suddenly the number of people starts to pick up and we arrive at an Arts and Crafts area that we visit briefly and then we enter the nearby Las Americas Museum. While we do not see the exhibits we are taking a look at the interior architecture - it seems like there is an event going on and there are a lot of people milling around.
And then it is a short walk through a nice grassy area that many people appear to use to fly kites and then we arrive at El Morro. It is both similar and different to Castillo de San Cristobal - it looks more imposing but it also seems smaller. We walk across the different floors seeing the cannons and the exhibits and taking in the views in all directions. We also try to exit directly at the bottom but after descending multiple floors we encounter a locked gate so we need to climb all those stairs again which is really exhausting.
After exiting to fortress we view a live cannon exercise they are doing on the lawn, it almost seems like they are shooting at the cruise ship that is entering the harbor. Then our tour of the city continues toward the coast hiking trail which is just outside the city walls however it is hot and humid so we put in a token effort and then run back to the shade of the city. We continue through the now quiet streets to Casa Blanca which is the former residence of Juan Ponce de Leon of the Fountain of Youth legend and his descendants and is now a museum. Unfortunately it is closing so we just wander through the grounds and then move towards the Fortaleza which is the official residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico. The narrow quiet streets are really picturesque so we take quite a few pictures as we wander through the city. Most streets in the city are still paved with cobblestones which look great but I am sure are difficult to maintain and make for a bit more difficult walking.
Before we turn towards the hotel we visit the Parque de Las Palomas which for us was simply the Pigeon Park. It has nice houses for the pigeons and also there are lots of people feeding them so of course there are a lot of pigeons most of which are really tame. There are also a few interesting sculptures and we also find a few huge caterpillars that are milling about which we watch for some time. Then as we go back towards the hotel we notice the slimmest building in San Juan and we have to take a picture of it and we also visit different curio shops including an interesting shop that is dedicated to different forms of art created using butterflies.
We get to the hotel really tired and we go to sleep relatively fast to catch up on the lost sleep before leaving towards the east of the island.
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