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San Juan

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San Juan Basics

San Juan

For many, Puerto Rico’s capital of San Juan is their entrance to the Caribbean, as the city has become a regional transportation hub. The city is one of the most dynamic in the entire region. There is Spanish colonial architecture, turquoise oceans, effervescent rum-soaked nightlife and a decidedly Latin vibe. San Juan is the only Puerto Rico most people know.

Spanish colonists founded the city in 1521 as San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico, making it the second-oldest European-established city in the Americas. Merchant and military ships traveling from Spain and returning from the New World laden with silver and gold made San Juan an important point of transit—which explains the military fortifications that still surround the city today.

The focal point of the city is Old San Juan, or San Juan Viejo, the oldest quarter, which sits on a small peninsula extending from the mainland. Here cobblestone streets are lined with charming colonial-era buildings and wrought iron balconies have been refurbished to hold Latin fusion restaurants, cafés, jazz clubs and gift and jewelry shops. Most cruise ships dock right beside the neighborhood, and passengers often take over the streets during the daytime hours.

Leading inland from Old San Juan are the districts of Condado, Santurce, Isla Verde and Ocean Park. This string of neighborhoods is reminiscent of Miami Beach, with modern glass condominium towers, the majority of all hotels and casinos, great restaurants and fine Caribbean sands. From here, the metropolitan area heads inland into a vast network of traffic-clogged roads that are of little interest to the passing traveler.

While cruise ship-oriented shops and chain restaurants have priced out some of the local flavor, San Juan continues to enchant and fascinate for a bewitching atmosphere that is unique in the Caribbean.

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