Staying in Old San Juan certainly had its perks. This part of town is quite walkable and it was not necessary to take a bus or drive around. It’s also an immensely picturesque part of San Juan. Indeed, one of my friends who had been to Cuba said that Old San Juan was by far prettier than Cuba itself. In about one hour you’ve probably seen most of its attractions, so it’s relatively small and you will certainly see the same people over and over again.
Highlights of Old San Juan, other than the cute little shops and stores, were the two Castillos. I was staying close to the Castillo de San Cristobal, so naturally this was my first stop. For $5, you get entry to both castles for the duration of one week, so make sure to hold on to your ticket if you want to re-visit either location within 7 days. $5 perhaps implies that you are not getting a fully restored Castillo. That’s fine though – we are not in fancy pants Europe. Instead, you get to see the old stones and bricks from 500 years ago and lots of history. I was missing the rooms that explained more about how Spanish soldiers cooked their meals or lived in general but overall I think I got a good picture of history.
A few dungeons were part of daily life back then. The Castillo de San Felipe del Morro lies a 20 minute walk or a short trolley ride away. Trolleys depart every 15-30 minutes, depending on day of the week. I managed to miss every single one, so I decided to walk instead. This structure is more extensive and also offers way more steps and views. But after about an hour of walking around I got tired of this part of culture and decided to explore more of the city itself. If you feel like walking some more, you can also take a scenic walk all the way from here along the water to another part of Old San Juan.
Close to the Castillo del Morro are two museums: the Museo de Las Americas and the Museo de Arte e Historia. The latter is free so I swung by here and saw some great paintings and other art. It was also a welcoming relief to be indoors and feel the cold air of the AC.
Since I was in Old San Juan during the week, I didn’t get to experience it during weekend days. I heard that Thursday night there is a party on the streets, which I probably missed by a few hours. I am sure that weekend nights are booming, so perhaps I will be able to experience it during a Friday or Saturday one time.
Overall, San Juan reminded me of one of those overtouristed areas you have in Europe, such as the Canary Islands or Mallorca. Because it’s relatively easy for Americans to travel here since it’s a US Territory and they don’t need a passport, you will find – big surprise – a fair amount of drunk and incoherently speaking Americans at one point in day. It must be weird for Puerto Ricans to exist solely off of tourism, but I guess other countries are the same (see Italy). Puerto Rican culture by itself is quite adorable and nothing like Puerto Rican “culture” here in New York, which has been grossly diluted by the U.S. American culture and where some ‘natives’ don’t even speak Spanish anymore. Indeed, I could even tell that the Latin warmth was present amongst some of the people native to San Juan.
Where to eat:
Breakfast: I divided my time between the Café Manolin and the Cafeteria Mallorca. The latter was an excellent source for Mallorca pastries, which look somewhat like the picture below. They are indeed very yummy.
Brunch/ Lunch/ Happy Hour:
I discovered a great happy hour deal at the St. Germain Bistro.
A friend said that brunch was pretty excellent here, too. We stayed for $4 drink special and food. The Hummus spread was divine, and the pizza was pretty god, too. Only complaint: Our service was a bit slow that day so it took almost one hour to get our food. Bummer!
Dinner: Anywhere they have Mofongo (plantain-based dish) and seafood. On my first night, we ended up at the Mojito’s Restaurant. Granted, they had amazing cocktails, such as mojito and Pina Colada. But their Mofongo and Pina Colada was pretty divine, too!
I also ended up eating tacos at a Mom and Pop shop close to the Calle de Christo on my second day.
Last but not least Café el Punto had a great vegetarian special and a good value for food. It’s across the street from the Barrachina, which has a nice setting and ambience, too. I wasn’t drawn into it on my last day, so I ended up at El Punto and devoured a lunch special for $15, which was quite a portion.