By Mimi Kmet
In San Juan, Puerto Rico, you’d be hard pressed to find any neighborhood as charming, historic and culturally significant as Old San Juan. Covering just seven square blocks, this is where San Juan was founded.
Walk along cobblestone streets and through public plazas that are alive with local vendors and music. Wander amid restored Colonial architecture. Shop at boutiques, browse galleries, and dine at any of a number of restaurants, cafes and bars. Here is where you’ll also find several of the city’s main attractions, including Castillo San Felipe del Morro, the island’s first fortress; Casa Blanca, the original home of the Ponce de León family; Galería Nacional, exhibiting works by artists like José Campeche and Francisco Oller; Paseo La Princesa, a restored, 19th century esplanade; and San Juan Bautista Cathedral, the Americas’ second oldest cathedral.
But the city has grown well beyond Old San Juan, and several other distinct neighborhoods are worth visiting. Among them:
The bohemian neighborhood of Santurce is the city’s urban culture and art center. Here, you’ll find Plaza del Mercado, a public market by day and a nightlife hot spot in the evenings and on weekends. You’ll also find the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico and the Luis A. Ferre Performing Arts Center.
Isla Verde, San Juan’s beach district, is home to hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton, San Juan and the InterContinental San Juan. This crescent-shaped shoreline, which is actually located in the adjacent town of Carolina, is ideal for sunbathing and water sports.
Fashionable Condado is the place to shop in designer boutiques, play at beachfront casinos, and dine in some of the city’s finest restaurants. The village-like area has a hipster vibe and plenty of open space.
Hato Rey is San Juan’s main business and financial district. The Plaza Las Americas, the Caribbean’s largest mall, is located here. So is the Coliseum José Miguel Agrelot, the Caribbean’s largest indoor arena.
Explore Puerto Rico, as well as Trinidad and Tobago, French Guiana, and Brazil — including Rio de Janeiro on New Year’s Eve 2015 — during a luxury cruise on Voyage 5232: Brazilian Holiday. (Featured image of Castillo San Felipe Del Morro by Sean Pavone)