Monday, November 11, 2013

Visiting San Juan on an Eastern Caribbean Cruise

Puerto Rico is the smallest of the Greater Antilles Islands, which include Cuba, Haiti and Dominicana (sharing an island), and Jamaica.  Although Christopher Columbus discovered Puerto Rico on his second voyage in 1493, it wasn’t until 1508 that Ponce de Leon was sent to conquer the island for Spain.  In the late 1800’s Puerto Ricans began to press for independence and Spain relented by granting the island broad powers of self-government. But during the Spanish-American War of 1898 American troops invaded the island and Spain ceded it to the U.S. Since then, Puerto Rico has remained a U.S. territory with its people granted American citizenship under the Jones Act in 1917.  Today, San Juan is one of the world’s busiest cruise ports and one of gems of an Eastern Caribbean cruise.  

Favorite Beaches: Beaches in the Eastern Caribbean are lovely.   The best beaches of San Juan can be found at the resort areas, but there’s nothing to worry about...all the beaches are open to the public!

Condado Beach is just a 10-minute drive from the pier. It’s a fusion of both the natural and urban environment that brings the best of both worlds to beachgoers. With the clear Caribbean water and fine grain sand of the beach, you have the backdrop of trendy shops and restaurants steps away on Ashford Avenue.  The waters are generally calm so it's an ideal beach for families. Condado may not be the beach for you if you are looking for wide open, quiet spaces.

Isla Verde is directly adjacent to Condado Beach. Plenty of shady palms, local restaurants, parking and shower facilities are just a few of the amenities that make this beach so popular with visitors and locals alike. Here you can rent beach chairs and lifeguards are usually on duty.

Favorite Attractions: There is always plenty to do in the ports of call of an Eastern Caribbean cruise, and San Juan is no exception!

Old San Juan: A leisurely walk through Old San Juan is one of the most pleasant experiences anyone could have here in Puerto Rico. The colonial architecture of hanging balconies and cobble stone streets make you feel like you have gone back in time.  You can also take advantage of the free trolleys. The one marked ""City Hall"" concentrates on the streets of Old Town while El Morro Fort takes a very scenic route by the sea up Calle Norzagaray, past the museums and eventually to the Castillo San Felipe del Morro. Castillo de San Felipe: Commonly known as ""El Morro” this stronghold is believed to be one of the oldest Spanish forts in the Caribbean. Built to deter invaders who sought to topple the Spanish Empire, this six level fortress has 140-foot walls (15-feet thick) some of them dating back to 1539, it is even topped by a lighthouse! You can take an enjoyable guided tour through the whole complex which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

El Yunque: Forty minutes outside of the city, this national rainforest which is protected and maintained by the US Forest Service, is definitely worth the visit!  Inside its misty, dense vegetation you’ll find rare Puerto Rican parrots, hear the constant cheep of the tiny coqui frog and come across small waterfalls with picturesque pools to take a dip in. There’s a road to the top of the mountain so you can drive in, or you can park below and try to hike up. The visitor’s center about mid-way up the mountain has useful information on the rainforest’s plant and animal life, plus maps, restrooms and a cafeteria.  

Bacardi Run Factory: The six-story pink tower, where rum is distilled, is called the “Cathedral of Rum.” There are free tours of the plant leaving every 30 minutes, which allow you to see all the inner workings of this factory, which pumps out over 100,000 gallons of rum daily.

Shopping: The streets of the Old City are where you need to head for great shopping. Native handicrafts can be good buys, including needlework, straw work, ceramics, hammocks, as well as paintings and sculptures by Puerto Rican artists.  Look for santos, carved religious figures that have been produced since the 1500s. If you’re looking for designer handbags, there is a Coach and Dooney & Bourke shop to check out.

Discerning shoppers will want to visit the designer shops in the Condado Area. Condado offers brand-name stores such as Gucci, Dior, and Salvatore Ferragamo."

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