Riviera will be in
San Juan for New Year’s Eve, and what a beautiful place to be on this day. As
Blogger-at-Large, I recently had a wonderful time exploring San Juan and highly
recommend taking advantage of one of the many cruises that stop in San Juan
during the winter months.
My first stop was the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. Housed
in a stately building built in the 1920s, it was once the San Juan Municipal
Hospital. It is one of the biggest museums in the Caribbean and holds a
permanent collection of the most significant Puerto Rican art from the 16th century to the present. In addition, the museum offers numerous temporary
exhibitions designed to support the visual arts heritage of Puerto Rico. If you
visit, check out the museum’s website to find out what special exhibitions will
be featured while you are there.
The museum has added several wings over the years, including
a beautiful garden with sculptures by local artists that is naturally framed by trees
and plants native to Puerto Rico, as well as water falls, koi ponds and native
After a lovely visit to the museum, I headed to Castillo San
Cristóbal, built by the Spanish from 1634 to 1790 to protect against attacks on
San Juan. Designed specifically to guard against enemy approaches by land, the
fort is on the eastern side of Old San Juan.
The largest fort built by the Spanish in the New World, it
covers 27 acres and the views up and down the coast are truly breathtaking. In
one direction was the white domed capital building of San Juan, in another,
dramatic views of Castillo San Felipe de Morro, built 100 years prior to San
Cristóbal to protect from sea attacks. Also along the banks stands the Santa
Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, the final resting place of many of Puerto
Rico’s prominent residents.
The fort has an intricate system of tunnels that allowed
Spanish troops to move around the fort unseen. The tunnels were also devised as
a defense system and could be secretly loaded with explosives and set off if invading
troops attempted to overrun the fort. Because this clever tactic was never used,
the tunnels stand in good condition today and are safe for guided exploration.
I spent the last part of my day wandering the streets of Old
San Juan and taking in the sights and sounds of this beautiful city. Plaza
Colón is a lovely memorial to Christopher Columbus, who landed in Puerto Rico
in 1493. (In Spanish, “Christopher Columbus” is “Cristobal Colón.”)
San Juan is an incredibly colorful city, and I was
particularly charmed by its blue-tiled streets. The blue cobblestones, called “adoquines,” were used in San Juan in the
16th and 17th centuries. Cast in Spain from the slag of iron furnaces, the
bricks were used as ballast in the empty galleons of Spanish ships. When they
arrived in Puerto Rico, they would dump the bricks and load the ships with plundered
gold and silver for the trip back home. Time and moisture has given the bricks
their bluish hue.
My adventures led me to my final stop at Old San Juan’s main
square, Plaza de Armas. In the middle of the square, surrounding a fountain,
there are four statues, all over 100 years old, that represent the four
seasons. I guess they need some representation of the
seasons here since it’s 85 degrees year-round in San Juan! The square was
beautiful and bustling with daily life.
I bid a fond farewell to this delightful city as we sailed
away, and the sail away itself was as lovely a part of the San Juan experience
as being on shore. Judging by the number of fellow guests who joined me to
watch the island fade into the distance, I would say that this is an occasion
not to be missed.
To everyone celebrating onboard Oceania Cruises ships, and to
all of you following the blog and dreaming of your next Oceania Cruises
vacation, I wish you a Happy New Year! I hope to run into you on the high seas