Just a few hours away from New York City is a history lover’s dream: Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Founded by the Spanish over 500 years ago, it’s a perfectly preserved time portal. Walk around Castillo San Felipe del Morro, the ancient Spanish fort that surrounds the old city. Inside the walls, ramble through narrow cobblestone streets and past the cathedral (where Jennifer Lopez married Marc Anthony) and pick up a piragua — a Puerto Rican snow cone that comes in flavors like passion fruit, mango, and tangerine.
Half the price of Miami and without the club music booming through the streets, Old San Juan is the perfect place to get away from it all — no passport required.
Just watch out for the pigeons. One of the most popular spots in the old city is Plaza de Armas, located up the hill from where the cruise ships park, it is the main point of entry to the old city for many tourists. It is also a pigeon mecca. Thousands of the birds flock there and, despite Puerto Rico having a large cat population, they waddle, sit, and roost unmolested. This would be fine if they also hadn’t gotten into the habit of hanging out, sitting and roosting on people. On any given day, tourists will throw breadcrumbs and turn into living pigeon trees. This is problematic for so, so many reasons, least of which is THEY ARE BASICALLY FLYING RATS! Do you know how many diseased pigeons carry? (answer: LOTS!). That and they have no sphincter muscles so the poop just flies at will. Enter that park at your own risk.
Old San Juan has absolutely everything you need for the perfect getaway. (Photo: ABA Staff)
Here’s everything you need to know to do the city properly.
Warning: From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the cruise ships hit and certain areas of the old city are packed with cruisers. Hit the shops before or after this time to avoid a massive headache.
Stay: Hotel El Convento, the Chateau Marmont of the Caribbean. Housed in a former convent, the rooms surround an inner terrace with huge trees. The rooftop pool offers some of the best views in the city, and the restaurant is legendary.
Shop: Ole Curiosidades. This famous hat store lets you get measured, pick your ribbon color, and walk out with a personally fitted, handmade Panama-style hat for around $70 — three times less than almost anywhere else in the world.
This was not the first hat that Paula tried on.