Founded in 1521, San Juan is the oldest city under the jurisdiction of the United States. A contradictory juxtaposition of rich colonial history and sleek, contemporary architecture, the San Juan of today is an exotic and ever-evolving city that fuses European, Caribbean, African and American cultural and stylistic influences into a one-of-a-kind character. San Juan draws about five million visitors every year, and there's plenty to see and do in and around the city.
Some of San Juan's must-see districts and attractions include:
- Old San Juan: The city's most celebrated neighborhood, Old San Juan is where many visitors spend the majority of their time, taking in the unique sights and sounds of the city. Old San Juan houses the city's major galleries and museums, and is filled with historical attractions and curiosities.
- El Castillo San Felipe del Morro: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the citadel dates back to the 1500s and offers a unique glimpse into the storied colonial history of the island.
- San Juan Cathedral (El Catedral de San Juan Bautista): Rebuilt in 1540 after a devastating hurricane flattened the original church, San Juan Cathedral houses the tomb of the famous explorer Ponce de Leon and is considered to be one of the most beautiful churches in the New World.
- Santa Catalina Palace (Palacio de Santa Catalina): Commonly called "the fortress" ("la fortaleza"), Santa Catalina Palace is the residence of San Juan's governor, the highest official in the Puerto Rican government. Built in the early 16th century, Santa Catalina Palace is the oldest occupied government residence in all of North America.
- Capilla del Cristo: Located near Dove Park (Parque de las Palomas), Capilla del Cristo is where the superstitious and religious alike come to pray for miracles. Various legends about the site claim it was built to honor a miracle that saved the city and that its walls offer divine protection from falling into the sea.
Whether you're staying in Old San Juan or by the city's famous beaches, a vacation rental is a comfortable alternative to staying in a hotel. Offering more privacy and space with home-style comforts, beach villas, condos and cabins are widely available and very affordable. If you want to move on to explore the local area beyond the city of San Juan, be sure to check out the beaches and parks in the Condado and Isla Verde regions just beyond the city limits.
As featured in USA TODAY and recommended by Travel + Leisure in its annual Villa Guide:
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