San Juan: The Vibrant Walled City

We all slept at my apartment so that we could drive to the airport together for our 6:30 a.m. flight. Waking up at 4:00 a.m. would usually be a struggle. However, when you are waking up to fly to the Caribbean, it is a breeze. I woke up bright eyed and ready to begin my adventure.

We didn’t have any issues getting to the airport and within no time we were up in the air.

There is something so magical about the sunrise. Yet, nothing can compare to a sunrise over the clouds. The sky is so dark when you first arrive in the sky. The clouds seemed ominous. Then, all of a sudden this burning orb enters the sky. The clouds soften to hues of pinks and oranges. Next thing you know, the sun is high above, the clouds become soft and airy. There is a angelic hue to the air. The day has begun.

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Our first layover was in Philadelphia. We arrived with plenty of time to get Chipotle for breakfast. Burritos may not be a traditional breakfast, but in my opinion it should be a staple for every meal. Once we were fully fed, we maneuvered through the airport. We walked past stands selling Philadelphia pretzels and took the shuttle to our gate.

After one layover, we were finally in Puerto Rico. We had a shuttle arranged to pick us up from the airport. We were easily able to spot out the Carnival Cruise pick up spot by the bright red sign.

The moment we stepped outside, I could feel the warm tropical air. I could smell the scent of salt, taste the Caribbean Sea which was not even a mile away from me. After a long winter, 80 degree weather was appreciated.

It was a very long drive to the port. We had our luggage in tow on a shuttle bus from the airport. I found myself starring out the window, trying to take in everything on our way to Old San Juan. Locals were lounging on the beaches, enjoying the warm day in the water. Young boys were seen jumping off the bridge that connected Old San Juan to the rest of the city. The carefree attitude was emanating out of San Juan.

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Before boarding the cruise ship, we first stopped at a CVS Pharmacy that was conveniently located a short walk from the cruise port. We needed some essentials: sunscreen and wine. While it was a short walk, it felt long with suitcases. Two of us were rolling our suitcases however one of the wheels feel off a suitcase, cue Ashley dragging her suitcase down the street.

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I saw some parrots by the port. These tropical birds solidified that I was in the tropics. I had entered paradise.

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Before we could explore San Juan, we had to check into the ship and get rid of our luggage. It was time to enter our vessel, The Carnival Valor, which would become our home for the next week.

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Once we checked into the ship, we had to get some food in us. We were then able to get an eagle eye view of San Juan from the top deck while enjoying some ice cream. The view that caught my interest was Fort San Cristobal in the distance. It looked like such a close walk, we had to go. Relaxation will have to wait until our eagerness for adventure fades.

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On the walk to the fort, I was intrigued by the houses and buildings. I have never seen such a brightly colored place before. These Spanish Colonial style houses were painted as vibrant as the people living in them.

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After a short five minute walk, we arrived at the entrance to the San Juan National Historical Site. We walked into the office to see about touring the forts. The man working there said they would be closing shortly, so we wouldn’t be able to see inside of them. However, we were free to walk the grounds.

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We were able to get a good look at the stone walls that surround the city. Old San Juan is the walled city, forts built in the 1700s by the Spanish covering the entire coast. Yet, from these walls you get an excellent vantage point of the city. While these walls were originally created to spot oncoming threats to the city, they now offer pristine views of the coastline below.

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Fort San Cristobal was my favorite of the two forts. We were able to climb high atop the fort and see the whole city. I stepped inside many of the overhangs, also known as garitas. The view from here contrasted from the smell. A claustrophobic person would not be too queen to step in here. It was tight and reeked of a stale musty smell. The view was eerie from the small dark space. Yet, I would stand in any space to get that view of the water.

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Next to this old fort, there were warn houses beside the ocean below. Even though these houses seemed forgotten compared to the rest of the city, you can not beat the view the people living in these homes have. A material object such as a fancy home seems trivial when there is an ocean beside you. However, that is just one opinion.

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Between Fort San Cristobal and Fort Felipe Del Morro is the Cementerio Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis, a cemetery among the ruins of the old forts. I have never been so captivated by a cemetery in my entire life, nor did I ever think a cemetery could ever captivate me. Cemetery are usually grey. The attitude when in them tends to be bleak. However, this is not the case here in Old San Juan. Facing the Atlantic Ocean, this seems like an ideal resting place.

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Yet, this beautiful cemetery was not what was so compelling about the Cementerio Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis. Rather, it was the people. In the grass behind the cemetery were families relaxing and playing. Their were hundreds of kites flying in the sky. Everyone seemed happy. The cemetery bellow them did not haunt them. They were enjoying life to the fullest.

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We made it to Fort Felipe Del Morro as the sun was starting to set. We were as furthest tip of San Juan. We could not go any further unless we dove into the ocean below.

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On the way back to the cruise port, we cut through Quincentennial Square. While we did not have time to sit and enjoy the square, I was able to take in the totem pole as we cut through. The square seemed to be a peaceful spot to take in the city of San Juan.

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The sun was almost set yet San Juan was not ready to sleep. The city was very lively for a Sunday night. The clubs and bars were full of people. I wished I had to the opportunity to stay and be a part of the nightlife. The sun was no longer shining bright on the houses, yet it was time for the people of San Juan to shine.

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Details:  7 Day Southern Caribbean Cruise with Carnival Cruise!

6 thoughts on “San Juan: The Vibrant Walled City

    1. Anna Hammerschmidt Post author

      No, I didn’t have the time for any water excursions in San Juan. However I did do some snorkeling in other ports! We actually brought our own snorkel gear and went shore snorkeling.

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