Old San Juan is both rich in history and vibrant with modern life. Renowned explorer and seeker of the Fountain of Youth, Juan Ponce de León, our first Governor, founded the city in the second decade of the 1500’s. Today it is a magnet for cultural events including the San Sebastian Arts Festival in January.
The Old City abounds with historical, cultural and shopping attractions along with an exciting nightlife of top restaurants, bars, and clubs. La Terraza’s staff will be happy to recommend points of interest to you and make the necessary arrangements and reservations, whether you are looking for the perfect restaurant to taste our island cuisine, an art gallery, museum, a shopper’s paradise, a day in the sun or a leisurely walk of discovery through our historic sites.
La Terraza de San Juan is on one of the most historic streets in Old San Juan. At the head of the street is the Castillo de San Cristobal, the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the Western Hemisphere and at the end of the street is La Casa Blanca, the house constructed by Juan Ponce de León. The house has been turned into a museum with beautiful shady gardens, perfect to visit after a day in the tropical sun. Other important museums include the Puerto Rico National Art Gallery and the Museum of the Americas, which holds an incredible variety of art and cultural artifacts from all of the Americas.
The city was designed with impressive battlements including the forts San Felipe del Morro and San Cristobal, which formed part of the defenses of the walled city. San Juan was once a major port for expeditions into uncharted territories and the return trip to Spain with the New World’s riches.
Old San Juan’s rich history includes the second oldest church in the New World, Iglesia San José. Construction began in 1523 and the church is one of the earliest examples of 16th Century Spanish Gothic architecture in the Western Hemisphere. Ponce de León donated the land to the Dominican friars and his coat of arms is still in place near the altar. Another historic site that should not be missed is the Catedral San Juan Bautista. The cathedral looks unassuming from the outside, with its baroque façade, but offers one of the few examples of medieval architecture in the New World on the inside.
The hotel is located within walking distance of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes La Fortaleza, the Governor’s Mansion, which can be toured inside and out by appointment, the abovementioned two forts and the old city walls.
Our historic city has been the object of various restoration and renovation booms, including one inspired by the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. The architectural styles of the more than 400 historic structures in Old San Juan run the gamut from Spanish Conquest to neoclassical 19th century. The blue, cobblestoned streets are lined with buildings in all stages of conservation, with pristinely renovated structures sharing walls with others in assorted phases of restoration.
Take time to stroll along the streets and see the fascinating mélange of architectural styles. When you do, make sure to look up. The façade of each building is unique: balconies abound, as does elaborate scrollwork in metal and cement, mosaics from Moorish to modern, and a pleasing palette of colors. Buildings with bland storefronts at ground level can and do prove to be beautifully restored gems one story up.
Within a short drive of the historic district, San Juan’s beaches attract both sun worshippers and surfers alike with a 78 degree year-round average temperature, soft sand and warm, azure waters. Surfers refer to Puerto Rico as the Hawaii of the East for its sizable waves.
The island is a paradise for all other kinds of watersports as well, including kite surfing, wind surfing, paddleboarding, kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving. With all of these attractions, San Juan remains as the gateway to the Caribbean and one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.