I am a board game addict and love board games. It started with Monopoly and Cluedo in my youth and culminated in the award-winning games of Agricola, Puerto Rico and San Juan. That’s where my interest in Puerto Rico and San Juan began. Are these just board game titles? Of course not! They are named after real places. So I went exploring:
Old San Juan is located on a narrow island north of Condado and Isla Verde. It’s a city within a city, and has a history to compete with almost any other. San Juan is connected to mainland Puerto Rico through three bridges, the Puente Dos Hermanos, the Puente G. Esteves, and the Puente San Antonio. It is the best place to visit if you are in the vicinity because it is away from the busy and bustling (and slightly in your face) Condado beachfront and the chink-chink casinos of Isla Verde. If you like architecture you are in for a treat. Rather like down-town Havanait’s awash with great colonial architecture and did I mention the brilliant (and strong) Pina Coladas. On man!
San Juan was deemed a National Historic Landmark District only last year, more than 40 years after being listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It is Puerto Rico’s oldest settlement offers a delightful collision of old and should be walked end-to-end with a camera. You won’t stop clicking, I guarantee it!
You get hills, cobblestoned streets and cracked and peeling facades painted in pastel blues, pinks, and yellows. Look up to the wooden balconies and iron-work railings packed with bright flowers and chipped terracotta pots. And smiling faces. Did I say that people in San Juan are the friendliest you will find anywhere in the world? Walk to the coast and see iconic forts mixing it with bars and bric-a-brac shops under a (usually) azure sky.
Is it hot? Then try a piragua traditional shaved ice drizzled with flavoured syrup from a street cart, or spend weekend wandering through stalls at a pop-up, organic farmers market selling fresh produce, like locally grown sweet mangos, speckled dark-green calabaza pumpkins, and plantains.
It is a place that knows it is cool and hip, but unlike other towns doesn’t shove it in your face and scrape out your wallet or purse. The quasi Caribbean cuisine is sufficiently local to intrigue your taste buds and stop you thinking you are in Montego Bay.
In the evenings, local street musicians turn the plazas into al fresco stages playing a mix of Latin music, from salsa and merengue to bachata. Feel free to put down your drink and Zumba- no matter how ungainly you might be you will be clapped!
There are, of course the to-die-for beaches, but the real joy and heart of old San Juan is in the interior. It’s a place that you will be boring your friends back home about for years to come… It’d a mini-Havana with brass (or maybe iron) knobs on. Superb.