Old San Juan, a UNESCO world heritage site, with its 16th century cobblestone streets, Spanish town houses with wrought iron balconies, busy plazas, museums and historical sites, is the most well preserved declaration of our Spanish colonial heritage. It is part of an island that connects to the mainland of Puerto Rico by bridges and a causeway. It was founded in 1521 by the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León. The port of San Juan is one of the busiest cruise ports in the world, according to the Cruise Industry Statistical Review. The docks are within walking distance just south of the city.
The oldest areas of the city remain partly enclosed by massive walls. Among the city's forts are the San Felipe del Morro, San Cristobal, and El Palacio de Santa Catalina, also known as La Fortaleza. La Fortaleza continues to serve as the executive mansion for the Governor of Puerto Rico.
Old San Juan is also the hippest place to be at day or night. In its streets you will find the most young, vibrant and diverse combination of culinary, shopping and entertainment experiences of the whole island. There are many stores highlighting the work of local and international arts and crafts artists which include hand-carved wooden religious figures, festival masks made from coconut husks or papier-macché, hand-embroidered linens, blouses and dresses, Spanish-style jewelry of copper, diamonds, gold and silver, handbags, hammocks, baskets, ceramics, and many items made from mahogany. You will also find plenty of stores and boutiques selling clothing, furniture, cigars, art galleries and probably the best and most complete variety of restaurants.
The amount of sun exposure received from simply walking around the streets can burn your skin. Sunblock is available at many stores in town. Wearing good walking shoes to deal with the hills and cobblestone streets is highly recommended. Brief showers are quite common, especially at midday or the beginning of the afternoon so watch your step, as the cobblestones can get quite slippery.
As a general rule, Old San Juan is quite safe. Tourists should be aware that a small neighborhood, La Perla, between the northern city wall and the Atlantic Ocean is not a tourist area. Visitors are recommended to avoid this area. However, it is not easy to accidentally wander into La Perla, as there are only a few access points through or over the city walls. At night it is also best to avoid the bastions of the northern city wall, overlooking La Perla. As in any other foreign city, it is not advisable to go out alone late at night, unless you have a friend or guide to escort you.