San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico, a popular tourist destination island in the Caribbean. The city of San Juan was founded in 1521 and is known as La Ciudad Amurallada, meaning the walled city. San Juan is the biggest natural harbor in the Caribbean and the second oldest city in the Americas. The city is a major port and tourist resort and the oldest city under the flag of the United States.
The Spanish made San Juan the focal point for trade during the 16th century and fortified the entire city, now known as Old San Juan. The city has now expanded beyond its walled confines and incorporates suburban Miramar, Santurce, Condado, Hato Rey and Rio Piedras. Today, San Juan is the largest processing center for petroleum, as well as known for sugar refining, brewing and distilling. Cement, pharmaceutical and tobacco industries have been set up, which make it one of the busiest ports in the Caribbean, and the second largest sea port in the area, after New York City. San Juan is also the financial capital of Puerto Rico with many U.S. banks and corporations having set up offices there in recent times.
The city of Old San Juan was originally a military stronghold. It is now a charming residential and commercial district with streets paved with cobbles of blue stone. Over 400 carefully restored 16th century Spanish colonial buildings line the city. Tourists seeking an experience of old world charm flock to the city every year.
The Plaza de San Jose is skirted by a number of historic buildings and is a favorite meeting place for many residents and tourists. The bronze statue of Ponce de Leon stands at the center of the plaza.
The Parque de las Palomas or Pigeon Park, offers a breath-taking view of the city’s harbor and mountains. The park overlooks the restored La Princesa Jail, now an art gallery.
Begun in 1540, the Castillo de San Felipe del Morro is a six-level fortress that was eventually completed in 1589. The fort is a maze of tunnels, dungeons, barracks and ramps. Its 18-foot-thick wall rises 140 feet above sea level; it provided a formidable defense against attacks in the 16th century. The fort is studded with small, circular sentry boxes called ‘Garitas’, now a national symbol.
The Capilla del Cristo or Cristo Chapel was built in 1753. The altar and beautiful Campeche paintings inside can be seen through the church’s glass doors.
For those who want to really experience the charm of San Juan, there is nothing like a leisure tour on foot through the narrow and steep streets of the city. San Juan is a quaint city that combines historic charm with modern vision and comfort.