Imagine a place where pristine, white sand beaches grace the coastline, tropical rainforests expand as far as the eye can see, historic, charming towns dot the landscape, and beautiful, generous people converge. Puerto Rico, you are my paradise.
My husband and I have this deal. You see, he hates beaches and humidity, yet I can’t live without some equatorial exposure now and then. Rather than endure the misery of the tropics, he happily deposits me at the airport with a trusted gal pal and bids me farewell. While he slaves away in corporate America, I gallivant about the Caribbean. It’s a fairly good trade off, wouldn’t you agree?
Consequently, Natalie and I ended up in Puerto Rico last week. Now before you start conjuring images of two Spring Breakers lounging poolside with cute umbrella drinks in hand (although that would be nice, wouldn’t it?), Natalie and I had other plans. Puerto Rico is bursting with culture and history, and we were ready to experience it all.
Old San Juan was our first destination and we wasted no time getting acquainted with this historic, yet modern, metropolis. From the 500 year old fortified walls of El Morro to the crisp, window displays of Burberry and Coach, Old San Juan has something for everyone. Wandering down cobblestone paths surrounded by Spanish colonial architecture it was easy to feel as though we had been whisked away to another time and place.
The grid-like pattern of the city makes navigation a cinch. Although most of Old San Juan can fit into two categories: residential and souvenir shop, the colorful, pastel buildings make even divey, tourist trap streets charming.
The looming presence of El Morro and Fuerte San Cristobal are hard to miss. Both forts tower over the city and serve as a reminder that Puerto Rico's past was often a difficult one. For hundreds of years, the walls of these forts protected the city of San Juan from repeated invasions by British and Dutch forces. Today they serve as Unesco World Heritage sights and see nearly five million visitors annually.
On the coastal side of the forts are broad, paved paths which nearly encircle the city. Not only does this vantage point provide great perspective on the enormity of the forts, but these breezy walkways provide great relief from the scorching sun. Bonus for feline lovers: hundreds of stray cats await your affection (a whole separate blog entry is necessary for the discussion of Puerto Rico's cat population, stay tuned).
During the evenings and weekends, the grounds of El Morro take on a lively picnic atmosphere as families gather to converse and break bread. Strong Easterly winds make kite flying a breeze and at times hundreds of kites could be seen overhead.
Just as the kites danced in the wind, it was easy to become swept away by Old San Juan. Forget the 90 degree weather and hoards of tourists, Old San Juan was a delight for the senses. As we lounged amongst locals in sidewalk cafes and strolled the tree lined street of Paseo de la Princesa, we were no longer foreigners in this piece of paradise: Puerto Rico had become our home.