Old San Juan

Some of you may have noticed the new Travel with Me page that I added to my site several months ago.  I have been partnering with Jared at Percussive Tours to start a new domestic division of his company, and I am now planning and leading group trips within the Unites States.  My recent trip to Puerto Rico was my very first of these endeavors, and was a different and interesting travel experience for me.  I had complete control over the itinerary for this trip, and I had a great time picking out all of the activities I wanted to offer in the vacation package.  Jared was there with me throughout the whole journey.  He even accompanied me on the trip to help guide me through my first guiding experience, and while I did run into some surprises along the way, the trip ended up being a ton of fun.

For the first half of our vacation we stayed at the Aquarius Vacation Club in Dorado.  We arrived around sunset after a day of travel, and everyone was extremely excited to enjoy a warm evening by the ocean, a welcome escape from the cold and snow back home in Michigan.

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The pool at the Aquarius Vacation Club

The next morning we were up and moving early because I had booked a walking tour of Old San Juan.  We piled into the 15 passenger van Jared and I had booked for the trip and drove though heavy traffic into the city, where we met up with our guide, Sara, at the Plaza Colón.

She guided us through the most scenic and historic areas of San Juan, and I enjoyed seeing vibrant, colorful buildings lining the cobblestone streets of the city.

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Walking around Old San Juan

My favorite part of the tour was walking down Fortaleza Street, the first road that was ever constructed in Puerto Rico.  It leads directly to the governor’s house, and is now canopied by bright umbrellas.  Sara explained that the umbrellas were installed to symbolize that tourism could return to Puerto Rico following the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

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Calle Fortaleza

The walking tour eventually ended just outside of Castillo San Felipe del Morro, which was perfect because visiting the 16th century Spanish Fort was the next item on our itinerary.  I paid for the group’s admission- $7 gets you access to both of the forts in Old San Juan for 24 hours- and then set everyone free to explore the citadel.

The old fort offered great views of the ocean and the city, and Vince and I meandered from turret to turret, enjoying the beautiful sunny weather.

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Castillo San Felipe del Morro
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Castillo San Felipe del Morro

Downhill from the fort, we could see a gleaming, white cemetery that Sara had pointed out to us earlier.  I decided that we would walk down and check it out once the group reconvened.

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Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

Once everyone was gathered back up, we strolled downhill to the cemetery together.  The Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery was constructed in the late 1800’s and houses the burial sites of many of Puerto Rico’s most famous citizens.  It is by far the most beautiful burial ground I’ve ever seen, with it’s shining white tombstones accented with detailed sculptures, and it’s panoramic views of the Atlantic, the old fort, and the colorful buildings of San Juan.

After looking down at the cemetery from the 30 foot walls that surround it, most of the group went inside to walk among the marble monoliths.  We came across a group of artists sketching in the late afternoon sun while we wandered around admiring the white, marble sculptures.

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Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery
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Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

I would have wanted to stay longer if I hadn’t been growing increasingly hungry.  It was now 2 pm, and we hadn’t eaten anything but popsicles since leaving the hotel around 8, so everyone was starting to require food.  We set off in the direction we had come, retracing our path back to the Plaza Colón, which was close to our final stop of the day, Castillo San Cristóbal.

After a quick lunch/dinner, we walked a few blocks over the second fort of the day.  San Cristóbal was constructed in the late 1700’s, and was built to protect the city from land-based attacks, whereas San Felipe was meant to protect against sea-born invaders.

San Cristóbal was smaller than San Felipe, and it took less time for us to explore.  Once again, the views of the ocean and the city could not be beat, and it had more of the turrets that are so common in the forts and along what remains of the city’s walls.

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Castillo San Cristóbal

Cristóbal even managed to offer up a wildlife sighting in the form of a big iguana, which easily scaled the wall of the fort as I snapped pictures.

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An iguana climbs the wall of Castillo San Cristóbal

At this point in the day, I set the group free to wander around the old city for a couple of hours.  Most of the group ended up coming with me to a nearby beach that I had read was a hotspot for finding beach glass.  I had researched this spot because my parents were along on the trip, and searching for beach glass is somewhat of a family pastime in our family.  We didn’t have far to walk, access to Playa Peña is just down the road from Castillo San Cristóbal, across from the Puerto Rico Capitol building.

Playa Peña is fringed with rocky outcroppings in the water that are perfect for trapping washed up sea glass, and when we arrived at the beach we immediately saw that it was covered in glass.

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Sea glass at Playa Peña

What’s more, there were ruins of another fort a short ways down the beach.  Vince and I walked over to check them out.  I liked the aesthetic of the 18th century ruins, framing a modern city skyline in the background.

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Ruins on the beach

The sun set as we poked around on the beach, collecting glass and sending hermit crabs scurrying off whenever we got too close.  It was a peaceful end to a long day in the city.



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