Puerto Rico: Main Sights
Gatekeeper of the Caribbean Sea
Puerto Rico’s natural scenic beauty is what attracts most travelers to this small island country. The long white sandy beaches, miles and miles of rain forests and the rocky mountain ranges make for an amazing natural experience. Puerto Rico is also blessed with a rich history and culture that you will be able to see in the monuments, museums, churches, historic sites and forts spread across the different islands of the country.
El Morro Fort and San Cristobel Fort
Fort San Felipe Del Morro, commonly known as El Morro Fort is located in the northwestern most point of San Juan. The 400 year old fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Puerto Rico’s main tourist sights, attracting over 2 millions visitors yearly. The fort covers an area of 70 acres and the structure itself stands over 145feet tall, and was built as a defensive military fortification and a major component of San Juan's harbor defense system. The fort is situated atop a high promontory overlooking the San Juan Bay. The El Morro Fort is part of the National Park Service. The fort has on display artifacts used by the Spanish, Indians and Africans. Ship Models as well as historical timelines and narratives are also on display. The El Morro Fort is open from 9:00am to 6:00pm everyday, except Christmas Day, Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. The entrance fee for a full day ticket is $3.
Considered the Gibraltar of the West Indies, the San Cristobel Fort, also known as the Devil’s Guerite, is one of the largest defences built in the Americas and the sister fort of El Morro. The fort covers an area of 27 acres, rising to 150feet in height. The structure was built by the Spaniards to intimidate enemies and protect against land based attacks on the city. The fort includes an extensive tunnel system connecting various sections of the fort, a guardhouse, troop quarters and a sentry post along with an artillery observation post built by the U.S. Army. Many military exhibits are on display in the fort. The San Cristobel Fort provides a breathtaking view of the city of San Juan. Timings and fees applicable are the same as the El Morro Fort.
Casa de Callejon (Callejon House with the museum of Colonial Architecture)
The Casa de Callejon is an 18th century house that has the Museum of Colonial Architecture. The museum, housed on the 1st floor, contains exhibits of fortifications and architectural plans. The museum of the Puerto Rican Families is located on the 2nd floor and the exhibits include objects, clothing, utensils and other everyday appliances that would have been used in the upper class homes during the nineteenth century. Documents and historical personal items stand proudly in the museum as a reminder to the progress and growth that Puerto Rico has undergone. The Callejon House is a unique attraction that truly gives one insight into Puerto Rico’s heritage. The ground floor of the house is dedicated to the pharmaceutical industry of the 19th century and is known as the Museo De La Farmacia, and the exhibits include a spectacular collection of equipment, medicines and items that were used in pharmacies in Puerto Rico during this time period. Casa de Callejon is located in San Juan. The entrance fee to the house is $2 per person. The Museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday, 9:00am to 4:30pm.
Plazas of Old San Juan
Old San Juan is filled with beautiful plazas which give tourists a feel of the Spanish colonial era. Plaza de San Jose is surrounded by a number of historical buildings of great importance and has become a much sought after meeting place for tourists, students, couples and children. The Plaza de Armas is the main square of old San Juan located on San Jose Street. The plaza also serves as a meeting place, and is renowned for the 4 statues present in the square that represent the four seasons. The Plaza del Quinto Centenario has a sculpture which rises 12 meters (40 feet). The monumental totemic sculpture in black granite and ceramics symbolizes the earthen and clay roots of American history. The Plaza de Colón was built to honor Christopher Columbus on the 400th anniversary of his discovery of Puerto Rico. The Plaza de Hostos is located near La Casita and features artisan displays, snack stands, and traditional piragüeros, who sell shaved ice topped with tropical fruit syrup. The Plazuela de la Rogativa features a modern sculpture depicting a procession of religious women commemorates an event that took place on the site in 1797.
Catedral de San Juan Bautista (San Juan Bautista Cathedral)
The Cathedral of San Juan Bautista is one of the oldest buildings in San Juan and the second oldest cathedral in the western hemisphere. The cathedral contains the marble tomb of the island's first governor Juan Ponce de León and the relic of San Pio, a Roman martyr. San Juan Cathedral still holds religious services on a regular schedule. Visitors can explore the cathedral from 8:30am to 4pm daily. The architecture of the cathedral is outstanding, being a rare example of medieval architecture. The Cathedral is located on Calle Cristo in old San Juan.
The Pablo Casals Museum
The Pablo Casals Museum is dedicated to the famed Spanish cellist Pablo Casals who made Puerto Rico his home. Casals became the conductor of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra and the President of the Conservatory of Music in Puerto Rico. Exhibits in the museum include cellos, photographs, manuscripts and other personal belongings of Pablo Casals. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30am to 5:30pm and the entrance fee is $1. The museum is located in old San Juan at the Plaza San Jose.
The Casa Blanca (White House)
The Casa Blanca is a National Historic Monument, housing a museum of 16th, 17th and 18th century history. Each room is decorated in a style associated with a period of the house's history. Casa Blanca is the oldest continuously occupied residence in the Western Hemisphere. Also known as the ‘White House’ the building was constructed in 1521 and was lived in by the descendants of Puerto Rico’s first governor Juan Ponce de León for 250 years. Casa Blanca also served as the first military structure on the island; built of stone, it was used as a fort during Puerto Rico's infancy. Today, it is a museum that chronicles the life of modern Puerto Rico's founding family. A guided tour takes visitors through the main rooms of the house, where original and recreated period furniture help to capture the spirit of life on the island as well as an ethnographic museum. The Casa Blanca is located on San Sebastian Street in old San Juan and is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday, 9:00am to 4:30pm. Entry fees are $2 per person.
Centro Nacional de Artes Populares y Artesanias (Popular Arts and Crafts Centre)
The Popular Arts and Crafts Center is part of the Puerto Rico Institute of Culture and showcases the best in local crafts of the islands. Handmade items such as native crafts, paintings, leather work and hand woven items are on display in the center and are also for sale. The time treasured crafts are made with incredible skills and there is a large selection of items to choose from and make excellent souvenirs. The Center is open from Monday to Saturday, 9:00am to 5:00pm and is located in Calle del Cristo.
Cementerio de San Juan (San Juan Cemetery)
The San Juan Cemetery is renowned for its elaborate tombstones and the circular red- domed neo-classical chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalene. The architecture of the San Juan Cemetery dates back to the 19th century, with many of Puerto Rico’s celebrated patriots being buried here. The cemetery was initially constructed as a resting place for war veterans from the colonial era. The cemetery is located high up on the cliffs beside the El Morro Fort and makes for an excellent view of the city.
Rio Camuy Cave Park
The Rio Camuy Cave Park is located 63 miles from San Juan and takes close to an hour and a half to reach. The park covers an area of 268 acres and is site of the great subterranean caverns carved out by the Camuy River over one million years ago. The Rio Camuy Cave Park is the 3rd largest cave system in the world with its trails descending 200 feet into the ravines. From sinkholes and cathedral-like caverns to views of the mysterious river and its stalactites and stalagmites the Rio Camuy Cave Park has it all. Three crater-like sinkholes and one cave of the huge system in the park are open to the public and they are truly memorable experiences. The park is equipped with picnic areas, walking trails, food facilities, and exhibition hall and a souvenir shop, making it the perfect place to spend a day. The Rio Camuy Cave Park is open from Wednesday to Sunday, 8:00am to 4:00pm, but prior reservations are mandatory.