So you already booked a trip to Puerto Rico —or you just arrived— and the forts in Old San Juan are closed? You thought about visiting El Yunque National Rainforest but, guess what? That’s closed too.
Now you have an entire day at your disposal (if you arrived on a cruise ship) or several, if you arrived by plane. Nothing to do? Don’t despair.
Puerto Rico has dozens of places to see, things to do and opportunities to have fun. You just have to know about them. So I’ve put together a list for you.
Four are perfect for people who arrive on cruise ships. Did you know that the average tourist that arrives by ship spends only around eight hours in Puerto Rico? That’s a tragedy. So, with so little time to spend you can’t spend it all driving.
First on our list is the Bacardi Rum Distillery. It’s right across the bay. You can catch a guided tour right on the peer. Once there, you’ll get to see the facilities, learn how rum is made and taste some of their most famous liquors.
If you’re a beach lover you can visit Carolina Beach. Did you know that this beach is ranked among the best in the world? That’s right! It’s a Blue Flag Beach. That means that it meets, and in many cases surpasses, the highest standards of cleanliness and quality. Oh, and did I mention that it’s absolutely gorgeous? That’s right! It’s gorgeous and it’s free! The only thing you’ll pay is for parking. And the fluffy white sand and emerald-blue water will leave you breathless.
If architecture is your thing, then you’re in for a treat in Old San Juan. The “Ballajá Military Baracks” were the last and largest military structure built by the Spaniards in the New World.
The building is in tip top shape and it houses two excellent museums: the “Museo de Las Américas” (Museum of the Américas), which has an outstanding collection of Caribbean and European art, and the “Pablo Casals Museum”, which is temporarily there. Of course, Pablo Casals was the world famous Catalan cellist who was instrumental (no pun intended) in creating the Puerto Rican Conservatory of Music and the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra.
Other interesting buildings in Old San Juan include “La Casa Blanca” (The White House) which was built for Juan Ponce De Leon, although he never actually lived there; the Dominican Convent or “Convento de Los Dominicos”, a 16th Century building right next to Quincentennial Square; and the “Center for Advanced Studies on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean”, a 19th century structure which was the first post secondary learning center on the Island.
A little further down Cristo Street from the Center for Advanced Studies on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean is “San Juan Cathedral”. As cathedrals go it’s nowhere as pompous as the ones you’ll find in Spain, but it’s the oldest church in Puerto Rico and possibly in the New World.
San Juan Cathedral is also a rare example of medieval construction in the new world. The remains of Spanish conquistador, and Puerto Rico’s first governor “Juan Ponce de Leon” are buried there in a beautiful marble crypt.
Finally, at the very end of Cristo Street is “La Capilla De Cristo”, a tiny little chapel built at the very end of the pavement. And right next to the chapel is “El Parque De Las Palomas” (Pidgeon’s Park) where you can rest after a day’s worth of walking and sip a delicious “piragua”.
“Piraguas” are local style snow cones covered in fruit syrup. They are very popular among the locals and they will give you that “sugar buzz” that’ll get you through the rest of the day. Stay away if you’re a diabetic!
Next, I would normally suggest the San Juan Botanical Gardens. But I went there yesterday and the conditions are dismal. Instead, I’ll suggest the “Jardín Botánico y Cultural William Miranda Marín” (William Miranda Marín Botanical Garden and Cultural Center) in the nearby town of Caguas. The place is beautiful, well-kept, chock full of things to see and do, and just an hour away from Old San Juan. We are yet to cover this attraction for Puerto Rico by GPS but you can find more information on their website site. Sadly, the site is only in Spanish. Sorry.
If you’re feeling a little bit more adventurous, maybe you’d like to visit a restored sugar plantation. That’s right. For several centuries sugar was one of Puerto Rico’s most important export products. And Hacienda La Esperanza, in the town of Manatí, was one of the largest sugar plantations on the Island.
Today, the place is owned by the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust and there are daily tours to educate the public about this forgotten part of Puerto Rico’s history. For more information call 787-722-5882.
A little further to the west, in the town of Arecibo, is the “Arecibo Radio-Telescope Observatory”. This 1,000-foot dish is the largest in the world and it has been the backdrop for many blockbuster Hollywood movies like Jody Foster’s “Contact” and Pierce Brosman’s James Bond megahit “Golden Eye”.
But this place is no Hollywood prop or facade. This is a real, honest-to-goodness, working scientific facility dedicated to the fields of astronomy, atmospheric investigation and planetary exploration. It’s funny but their site (http://www.naic.edu/) doesn’t list any telephone numbers, so you’ll just have to drop by. The coordinates are on the map at the bottom of this post.
About 20 minutes south of the Arecibo Radio-Telescope Observatory, on road 129, are the “Camuy River Caverns”. This place is amazing. You can fit a 17-story building inside the tallest of these caves.
The entire system has been carved throughout the ages by the roaring waters of the Camuy River, the third largest underground river in the world. There are daily excursions, with trained personnel, that will guide you through your entire visit.
The place is safe, well kept and absolutely astonishing. For information call (787) 898-3100.
And if you’re really into caving, and you would like to see something really awesome, take a small detour to “Cueva Ventana”. I discovered this cave by accident. But the place is unlike any other. It’s wild, it’s pretty much undisturbed, and it’s DANGEROUS.
You are on your own when you visit Cueva Ventana. The fall is several hundred feet high if you go too close to the edge and there are parts where it’s so dark that you won’t see your hands in front of your face. Oh, and let me also throw in that the floor is uneven. So make sure to bring a flashlight and watch your step.
But the view… my God, it’s all worth it. Check out the coordinates on the map below.
And finally, if art is your thing, then there are two excellent museums that you can visit. First is the “Puerto Rico Museum of Art”, located at the corner of De Diego Street and Baldorioty Ave, about 10 minutes away from Old San Juan.
There you will find paintings, religious art and woodcarvings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, as well as recent art from the 20th century. It also has a beautiful sculpture garden with fountains, ponds, pathways and rest areas. For information call 787-977-6277.
And last, but certainly not least, is the Ponce Museum of Art, located on our southern coast, in the town of Ponce. The Ponce Museum of Art is a wonderful, world renowned, and recently restored museum founded by governor Luis A. Ferré in 1965.
The building itself is a work of art. It was designed by renowned American architect Edward Durell Stone and was awarded the National Architecture Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1967.
The museum has a large and varied collection that includes exquisite European art as well as paintings by renowned Puerto Rican Artists. It also presents itinerating exhibits from important museums from all around the world.
The town of Ponce is about an hour and a half away from Old San Juan but, if you are an art lover, this is the one place that you don’t want to miss. For information call 787-840-1510.
And there they are… ten places to explore even if the federal government is closed. Of course, Puerto Rico has much, much more, and most of it is right here on Puerto Rico by GPS. And we’re adding more and more every week. So join the fun. Click on the right hand banner above, where it says: “Join The Fun”, and we’ll let you know every time we add new information.
Enjoy Puerto Rico,
©2013,Orlando Mergal, MA
Bilingual Content Creator, Blogger, Podcaster,
Author, Photographer and New Media Expert
Tel. 787-750-0000, Mobile 787-306-1590