Capital: San Juan
When the first Spanish settlers arrived in 1608, the island was called "Boriquen", meaning "land of the great god" by the Taino Indians who believed that the god Juracan who controlled the weather lived in the mountains. It is said that the word "Hurricane" comes from that god's name!
Puerto Rico's strategic location at the entrance of the Caribbean made it important for the Spanish who fortified it to protect their Latin American empire from French, British and Dutch invaders. After the loss of its other American colonies, Spain held on to Puerto Rico and Cuba whose sugar plantations remained an important source of revenue until 1898 when the two islands fell into American hands.
The USA ruled Puerto Rico as a colonial protectorate for the next five decades, despite continued calls for autonomy. Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship in 1917 with their own senate and house of delegates but were not allowed to elect their governor until 1948. In 1952 it became a Commonwealth associated with the United States. Since then, the island's status is a matter of constant debate between the New Progressive Party (NPP) in favour of full Statehood and the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) amenable to the Commonwealth and the smaller Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP).
Most Puerto Ricans claim to be unhappy with their present status but they don't seem to be able to agree on what they want. Puerto Rico is part of the US but its culture and soul is completely Latin American and most Puerto Ricans don't speak English.
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San Juan has a big airport for its size. The passenger traffic into Puerto Rico is exceptionally heavy because San Juan is the principal base port for the numerous cruise ships that make the Caribbean one of the most heavily touristed areas in the world ( see Tourist Saturation Index).
The dockside avenue in Old San Juan is overwhelmed by these gigantic cruise ships carrying up to 3 000 passengers each. There were three more in port when these three were photographed.
Here is another one of them at another pier.
These are different boats, taken on the next day.
San Juan, with a population of one million receives four million visitors a year! Most of them are cruise ship passengers who spend little time in town.
The well restored and maintained colonial architecture of Old San Juan is definitively worth a visit.
This is looking north on calle San José.
And here is the City Hall on the Plaza de Armas.
Further north we come to calle Luna.
And still further north, to calle Sol on the corner with calle Justo.
Old San Juan is built on a peninsula between a protected bay where the harbour is and the Atlantic. The San Felipe del Morro fort was built in 1591 at the western tip of the peninsula to control the entrance to the bay.
One of the courtyards of the San Felipe del Morro fort.
And the lower battery defending the harbour entrance.
In April 1797, the British general Abercrombie tried to take San Juan with 68 ships and 3000 men but was repulsed after two weeks of bombardment.
A view of Old San Juan across the "Campo del Morro". The large square building once was the Ballajá Infantry Barracks.
Moving east we cross calle Justo again.
Everything in old San Juan is geared to impress the visiting tourist including these quaint city busses that are used only here.
Still further on calle Fortaleza we come to the corner of calle Tanka where I had the good fortune of finding a minuscule and very basic room for only 15 $US.
A little further, is this narrow "callejon de la Capilla".
At the northern end of calle Tanka we come to a cliff overlooking the Atlantic and can see the San Cristobal fort in the distance.
Here are the barracks inside the San Cristobal fort
The San Cristobal fort was built at the base of the peninsula to protect the land approaches of Old San Juan.
If you look carefully you can get a glimpse of modern San Juan in the background. It's like any other American city of one million.
Here is one last photo of a square at the junction of Recinto Sur and Tetuan in lovely Old San Juan. (I forgot whose statue that is.)
You will love San Juan if you travel only for the sights, but with four million visitors a year, you are just one out of many, like a shopper in a busy supermarket. It's a nice place to look at but it is not an easy place to make personal acquaintances.