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October 13, 2015 / oneworld82

Honyemoon, Part II – San Juan, PR (or A Postcard from a Wonderful Colonial City)

The Condado Plaza Hilton, one of the historic hotels of San Juan and previously a Conrad, conveniently sits halfway between the airport and the old town. The hotel is expansive, with a casino (currently under renovation), various (overpriced) restaurants, a couple of bars/lounges, and multiple pools.

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We stayed in the Ocean Tower, very close to the beach, and since I am Hilton HHonors Gold we were upgraded to a corner oceanview room, which sat at the 8th floor and enjoyed dramatic views over the Atlantic Ocean.

The pool area was very nicely kept, and featured a saltwater pool (apparently the only one in San Juan) and a swim up bar. The beach was staffed and nice as well, and you could bathe in the laguna, which had calm waters and good snorkeling.

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We spent Saturday morning relaxing by the pool and working on our tan, before heading out to the old city. Initially we wanted to take the bus, but a passing taxi offered us to take to the city for $3 each, and we decided to take the offer.

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The ride lasted 5-6 minutes, and we were dropped off at the entrance of the old city, near the San Cristobal Castel. This marked the eastern limit of the city, while the El Morro fort on the opposite side marked the western end. The fort is big, perfectly kept. The views over the ocean were incredible.

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Then we started walking around the streets of town, from Calle Sol to Plaza Salvador Brau, then on to Plaza de Armas. San Juan is a stunning city – perfectly preserved, colorful, with many cute bars, cafes, and restaurants dotting the old houses. Heat aside, walking through the cobblestone streets was very enjoyable.

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San Juan’s old city’s architecture is truly remarkable – a perfect example of Spanish colonial architecture. While it was very hot (it was August, after all), walking in the shade of these pretty, old buildings was most enjoyable. You could really get a feeling of how life must have been two hundred years ago – the balconies, the stores, the alleyways all breath history. Compared to another important Spanish colonial city in the Caribbean – Santo Domingo – San Juan wins hands down, as it is much better preserved.

After Plaza de Armas we encountered La Fortaleza and the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, where a wedding was taking place.

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From there it’s a ten minutes walk to the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, the real highlight of any visit to San Juan. This fort is built on a promontory overlooking the main entrance the the port and bay. It features an expansive esplanade in front of it (for defensive purposes) which is a local’s favorite hangout spot. It’s very windy here, and plenty of families flying kites can be found. The complex was built in the first half of the XVI century, making it one of the oldest man-made structures in Central America still standing.

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Then you reach the main entrance to the Castillo, with its dry moths surrounding the land portion of the walls. The interiors are perfectly kept, and you can visit it all: the soldier’s quarters, the various halls, and all the bastions surrounding the fort. Needless to say, views from here are amazing, and span all the way to the Castillo San Cristobal. The sun was setting fast on the horizon, which made it difficult to take pictures facing west. Still, this fort was very photogenic and we got some very good shots out of it.

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Unfortunately, our visit was somewhat rushed as the fort was closing shop, but the time we spent there was enough to enjoy this beautiful monument to Spanish military architecture.

At the tropics, the sun sets very fast, and by 6.15p it was getting dark. We strolled around Old San Juan, had a beer at La Fabrica del Lupolo (featuring many US craft brews), and we then headed to El Jibarito, one of the highest-rated restaurants in Old San Juan featuring local cuisine. The place was not fancy, but traditional. We had a local Magna beer, empanaditas with chorizo, a veal stew with bean and rice, and a skirt steak with fried plantains. Everything was really good, and we left stuffed for about $35 – not bad for a meal for two in one of the most raved-about places in town.

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After another short walk we reached the local bus station and caught a bus – the last of the day at 8p – back to the Condado Plaza Hilton.

The next morning we spent time by the pool before grabbing some lunch at the Denny’s nearby and then catching a taxi (for $20) to the Old San Juan port, where our Carnival Liberty ship was docked. Our next chapter of this already eventful trip was about to begin!

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