Guest Posts · Travel

Top 15 Historical Sites You Can’t Miss in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Hi everyone! I hope you’ve all been having a fantastic weekend! I’m delighted to share with you this guest post by Vanessa Ramos (please make sure to read the author bio at the bottom to learn more about her and her amazing sites). It was such a pleasure collaborating with her and I hope you all enjoy this amazing post that she wrote! Her post is below:

Are you a fan of historical sites? Do you appreciate classical architecture and colorful landscapes? Then you must immediately add Puerto Rico to your travel bucket list.

Puerto Rico is an archipelago in the Caribbean. It consists of the main island, five small islands, and dozens of cays. Although it is widely known for its nature, the country’s historical capital will make any visitor fall in love with it. This mesmerising place is known as Old San Juan.

Even with the modern lifestyle, Old San Juan gives the illusion of being a city frozen in time.

A Bit of History

Christopher Colombus anchored in Puerto Rico in his second journey to the New World in 1493. Afterward, he named the island San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist).

The Spanish occupation on the island lasted from 1493 to 1898. In that year, Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States.

However, the island’s capital kept most of the Spanish colonial-era structures, that date back as far as the 16th century, until nowadays.

Therefore, if you are a history enthusiast, here are 15 historical sites and landmarks you should see in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

1. San Juan Cathedral

Cathedral San Juan Historical Site

One of the most popular historical sites in San Juan is the Cathedral Basilica of Saint John the Baptist. This cathedral is the second oldest church in the New World. Although the original building was demolished by a hurricane, the current one dates back to 1529.

Currently, the body of Juan Ponce de Leon, a conqueror that was appointed as the first governor in 1509, is kept in this church.

2. La Fortaleza

La Fortaleza was built between 1533 and 1540. It has been the official residence of 156 governors of Puerto Rico since the 16th century. In 1983, UNESCO listed it as part of the World Heritage Site

Even after multiple remodelings, the facade keeps two medieval towers that prove the original military purpose of the building.

3. Castillo San Felipe del Morro

Castillo San Felipe del Morro is a citadel built between 1539 and 1790. The name originated from the king of Spain, Philip II, and the promontory where the structure was built on, which is called morro in Spanish. The Fort was built strategically to protect the island’s capital from any sea incoming attacks.

4. Teatro Tapia 

Photo source: wikimedia commons

The Tapia Theater was inaugurated in 1832. Even if its exterior looks simple, the interior has a breath-taking neoclassical facade. Nowadays, it is still used for its original purpose.

5. Castillo San Cristóbal

Castillo San Cristóbal is the biggest fortification the Spaniards did in the New World. This historical site was built between 1635 and 1783. The San Cristobal Fortress’s purpose was to defend the city from possible land attacks.

Moreover, the Fortress is home to one of the most popular legends of the country. According to the legend, soldiers randomly disappeared from one of the guerites known as The Devil’s Guerite.

6. Cuartel Ballajá

This historical site was built between 1854 and 1864. It served as the infantry’s barracks. Later, it was used until 1898 as a house for the Spaniards soldiers’ families.

Afterward, in 1931, it became the accommodation of the American Soldiers and a hospital. At present, it harbors the Museum of Las Americas.

7. Capilla del Cristo 

La Capilla del Cristo is a chapel that was built in 1753. Its construction began after Baltazar Montañez, a horseman, survived miraculously from falling from a cliff during a race.

Moreover, the chapel’s altar is made of silver. In addition, most objects on it are from 1753 and it has paintings from the 16th and 19th centuries.

8. La Puerta de San Juan 

The San Juan Gate is the only door left from the six doors that once gave access to the city. It dates back to 1635 and it was used as the entrance for important people.

The inscription written on top of the door in Latin means “Welcome those who come in the name of God.”

This 16 feet tall entrance connects with Paseo de la Princesa, which is one of the most touristic sites of the city.

9. Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis

The Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery is outside the walls of the city. This cemetery is the final resting place for important figures of the country’s history.

In fact, the piece of land became a place for burials around 1814. Back then, a royal order prohibited the burial of people inside the church as a public health measure.

10. La Perla

La Perla is a relatively young landmark in comparison with the previous historical sites. The place was originally a slaughterhouse. By the end of the 19th century, workers started to live around it. Back then, the Spanish law stated that cemeteries and the slaughterhouses had to be outside of the city. 

You can see the community in popular music videos and movies such as Despacito.

11. Antiguo Manicomio

The Old Asylum was created in 1841. Although there was already a charity asylum, it was crowded. Hence, the second asylum was built. It was destined just for mental health patients. Currently, the building is home to the School of Plastic Arts of Puerto Rico.

12. Casa Rosa

The Pink House is a colorful historical site in San Juan. This place was built in 1812 to serve as barracks for the troops. However, in 1881 it was remodeled to be the residency of officials.

Eventually, it would become home to multiple government leaders. At the moment, it operates as a daycare.

13. Antigua Cárcel de la Princesa 

The Old Prison was built in 1837. It was a prison up to the year 1970 and it had the capacity to hold 240 convicts. Now, there are a few original cells left that are open to the public. Currently, it serves as the office for the Company of Tourism of Puerto Rico.

14. El Convento 

El Convento was founded in 1651. It was occupied by nuns until 1903. This was the first convent in Puerto Rico. In 1902 it was turned into a hotel by Robert Frederic Woolworth. Although it was closed for a few years, it reopened again in 1997 as a luxury hotel.

15. Polvorín de Santa Elena

El Polvorín de Santa Elena was built in 1787. Its purpose was to store gunpowder and munitions. Nowadays, this structure, close to El Morro, is the office of the National Park Service.

The Historical Sites in Old San Juan…

In conclusion, these are just some of the dozens of historical sites and landmarks to visit in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Inside this city, you can find everything from museums, to forts and galleries. Altogether, they will tell you about the history of a 100×35 squared miles island that has come a long way since the Spaniards arrived at its coasts.

In fact, strolling between the colonial-era structures will allow you to feel as if you are living that history yourself.


Vanessa Ramos is a blogger and content creator. She´s the writer of Existence as I Know It and the developer of The Dreamer´s Life Digital Planner. She uses her experience in career growth and self-education to motivate people to improve their lives while she travels the world. You can find her on Instagram or on Pinterest.

19 thoughts on “Top 15 Historical Sites You Can’t Miss in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

    1. It’s great that you can virtually explore places like this, particularly with everything that is going on now. There are so many cool spots to visit in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico – it would certainly make for a fun adventure!


    1. It’s great to “virtually” meet another history graduate! Visiting historical sites is just such a great thing to do, every time I go away, I always make sure to look and find out what historical places there are! And all of these places in Puerto Rico are well worth a visit!


  1. This is such a great guide!! Puerto Rico isn’t somewhere I know much about in terms of history and I always love to do the historical sites when I travel so this was really interesting. It all looks beautiful as well x



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