In Puerto Rico the word “arrabal” means “slum”, and it is commonly associated with poor crime ridden parts of the Island. However, the word “arrabal” has its roots in the Arabic language and it actually means “area outside the wall”.
In medieval times cities in Europe would have huge walls all around them to protect the townspeople from attacking enemy forces. The rich and well to do would live inside the city walls, while the poor would generally live in huts outside the walls in the area called “el arrabal”. As cities grew the walls would be moved further out, those that were less poor would move inside the city walls, and the poorest of all would remain outside in the “arrabal”.
In the Spanish/Arabic sense “La Perla” is the only true “arrabal” in Puerto Rico. Not because it’s a slum or not, but because it sits just outside of the city wall. However, don’t tell the people that live there today that they live in an “arrabal” because in everyday Puerto Rican lingo that would be offensive.
However, the truth is that “La Perla” is the most economically depressed area in old San Juan. And many people say that most of the crime and drug trafficking that goes on in the city is committed by “La Perla” residents.
There are no tourist attractions in “La Perla”, just the homes of hundreds of low income Puerto Ricans who have lived there for close to 100 years. However, as you can see, the area makes for great pictures, especially from the Fort San Cristóbal vantage point.