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San Juan Travel Guide, Puerto Rico

Located in the Caribbean, in the Northern Coastal Plains of the island Puerto Rico, San Juan is the capital of this island.

Known as "La Ciudad Amurallada" (the walled city), San Juan is an important port and also the oldest city in US territory. It is divided into three large areas: Old San Juan, a conglomerate of communities among which Hato Rey, Puerta de Tierra, Río Piedras, Santurce, and the Beach & Resort area. The second largest port in the Caribbean after New York City, this city is an industrial pillar in sugar refining, brewing and distilling, production of pharmaceuticals, cement, clothing, and tobacco.

In 1521 Ponce de León founded San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. At the beginning of the 16th century from San Juan were started Spanish expeditions having as purpose the foundation of new settlements in unexplored regions of the New World. With strong fortifications, the city resisted the attacks of Sir Francis Drake in 1595.

In the last century San Juan underwent a great expansion, incorporating Condado, Hato Rey, Miramar, Santurce and Río Piedras.

San Juan draws tourists with its historical buildings, exquisite cuisine and a wide range of lodgings. Among the main attractions there is Catedral de San Juan (San Juan Cathedral). Built in the 1520s and having a medieval architecture, the actual cathedral has suffered many restorations due to the hurricanes that destroyed it. It shelters the shrine of Ponce de León, the founder of San Juan, and the relic of a Roman martyr.

Built in 1832, The Teatro Tapia (Tapia Theater) has the name of Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, the famous Puerto Rican playwright. Being the oldest theatre in the Western Hemisphere, it hosts even today plays, concerts and other arts.

Another site that is part of the city’s history is The Casa Blanca (White House). Built in 1521, this house belonged to Ponce de León and his descendants for over two centuries. After being used as a residence for military commanders (1898-1966), The White House houses nowadays a museum of 16th, 17th and 18th century history, as well as Taino (native Indian) artifacts.

If you want to visit an impressive building, then go to El Morro Fort, a six-level fortress whose construction lasted 49 years. The fort, comprising dungeons, barracks and tunnels, is a conglomerate of circular sentry boxes called "garitas"; these boxes were turned into a national symbol. Since 1949 the 74 acres of the fortress, known to be the largest fortification in the Caribbean, became a National Historic Site. What is even more spectacular then the fortress itself is the magnificent view of San Juan Bay.

The Casino of Puerto Rico, built in the style of French mansions of the Louis XVI era, dates back before World War I. The 12-foot chandelier in a large ballroom will make you dream about the balls that once took place here.

And if you are in San Juan it would be a pity not to visit Old San Juan, a 465-year-old neighborhood that has evolved into a charming residential. Having narrow streets paved with cobbles of adoquine, Old San Juan consists of more than 400 Spanish colonial buildings, fine beaches and casinos where you can try your luck. You should visit this historical site on foot so you may catch glimpses of day-by-day life.

The main square in Old San Juan is Plaza de Armas (arms square). With its four statues representing the four seasons, this plaza represents a meeting place.

A more recent square, opened in 1992, Plaza del Quinto Centenario celebrates the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the New World through a 12 meter sculpture in granite and ceramics. The monument, the work of Jaime Suarez, was meant to be a symbol of the roots of the American history.

Such a beautiful city has also a park, Parque de las Palomas (pigeon park) situated at the top of the city wall. Offering a marvelous panorama of the port and La Princesa Jail, the park is the perfect place to relax after wandering in the city.

And if you are in the mood for a trip, then near San Juan there are El Yunque rainforest, the Rio Camuy Cave Park and the finest beaches in the Caribbean.

Visit San Juan, a place where history and modernism mingle and offer a spectacular view to the inquisitive look of travelers!

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