This is our second post on Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. To read the first post, click HERE.
Catedral Metropolitana Basílica de San Juan Bautista
Paseo de la Princesa
The Red Gate
Lunch at Cafe de Princesa
Uber transport to Pan American Pier (for cruise)
Our final morning in Old San Juan, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast as the morning sun awakened the town. (I have to take a moment here to acknowledge the wonderful coffee that is found on Puerto Rico. Deep and robust, the coffee is as delicious as the chocolate. We purchased some to take home with us and have continued buying it online!)
That morning, I captured a sweet picture of Rayna on the balcony (The Gallery Inn), holding her beloved (stuffed) cat, Boots. Boots always travels with us, near or far!
Since it was Sunday, some things were closed but we were able to visit the Catedral Metropolitana Basílica de San Juan Bautista (wow, that's a mouthful!). This is the oldest cathedral in the United States and the second oldest in the Americas, constructed in 1540. This is also where the tomb of Juan Ponce de Leon resides so this was an excellent opportunity to give Rayna a quick history lesson on the life of Puerto Rico's first governor (and his search for the Fountain of Youth, which is actually untrue according to modern historians.) And for some pop culture trivia, this was also the place that Jennifer Lopez married Marc Anthony.
A few blocks later, we reached the western part of the city that has been named as "one of the most scenic walkways in the world" and immediately fall in love with the slightly European-like promenade. Lamp posts adorn the San Juan Bay side while ancient trees generously provide shade on the other side. Rayna loved skipping down the walkway.
A little farther down the way though, the effects of Hurricane Maria and Irma became evident. Though most of Old San Juan had been cleaned and repaired, even the best of crews were unable to work their magic to restore the hundred year old ficus trees. These are beautiful, towering trees with snaking root systems and we could only imagine their previous splendor.
We knew tons of clean up crews had worked hard to clean up the Paseo de Princesa promenade and most of it, luckily, was salvaged. One landmark not to miss is the Red Gate, which is literally bright red. Only one of the six original gates remaining, this was the formal, welcome gate for the San Juan Bay.
As you meander further south, you are greeted by bronze figures of the Raices Fountain which highlights Puerto Rico's founding roots of the Spanish, African and Tainos (native) cultures. Like most children, Rayna was fascinated by the fountain as it lightly misted her!
Since we were headed to a Disney cruise from here, we wrapped up our walk and grabbed a bite of lunch at the Cafe Princesa, right off the main promenade that most of the cruise ships unload from. The food here was tasty and fresh and the open-air restaurant was very kid-friendly. Outside the restaurant, local merchants had set up shop to display hand crafts and native fare. We browsed a bit as we waited for our Uber driver to arrive. We used Uber on two separate occasions in Puerto Rico and the only issue we encountered was poor cell service which made communication with the drivers a little difficult. I am sure some of that has improved as more restoration work continues on their cellular infrastructure.
Puerto Rico ranks high as one of our favorite Caribbean islands. It has it all: beautiful beaches, history and charm, and a vibrant culture. It also boasts many natural wonders including the El Yunque Rainforest and one of the rare places in the world to encounter the bio-luminescent organisms in its bays. Both of these activities were on our list to do but the hurricane damage prevented us. The bio bay tours are up and running now and I would suggest booking through Bio Island. In the weeks before we left, I communicated with them to see if they would be offering the (eco-friendly!) electrical boat tour by the time we visited. Sadly, we were a few weeks early and missed this phenomenal experience. Guess we will just have to go back to Puerto Rico again sometime! :)