San Juan - Puerto Rico


Whether you are planning a Puerto Rico vacation for the first time, or returning to San Juan, as your favorite Caribbean getaway destination, there is no place quite like this tropical volcanic island, no Caribbean island quite like Puerto Rico and no better place to base your adventures than the beautiful and strategically located resort of Caribe Hilton.

The geography of Puerto Rico is very unusual, as it encompasses distinctly different kinds of topography and microclimates in a relatively small area. Puerto Rico is only about 100 miles long and 35 miles wide, so its most distant points are only a three-hour drive apart. It also means that just about every tropical landscape in existence is a short trip from Caribe Hilton in San Juan. What’s more, Puerto Rico’s blend of cultures accommodates every visitor’s needs and tastes.

San Juan

San Juan was founded in 1508 by Juan Ponce de Leon and is the oldest city under the U.S. flag. In the 20th century the city expanded beyond its walled confines, known as Old San Juan, to incorporate suburban Miramar, Santurce, Condado, Hato Rey and Río Piedras. For travelers looking for a cosmopolitan vacation, San Juan offers a myriad of attractions, including, exclusive shopping, fine museums, trendy restaurants and hip nightclubs. And the team of seasoned concierges at the Caribe Hilton Hotel will be more than pleased to help coordinate any of your desired activities

Old San Juan

Old San Juan is the heart and soul of the island. A melting pot of Spanish, Afro-Caribbean, Taíno and Anglo influences converge in its history, architecture, galleries, music and gastronomy making it home to countless must-see sites. Designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations, this really is a cultural district not to be missed. Walking tours allow you to explore at your leisure, while a free trolley ride lets you sit and relax while it takes you around streets paved with blue cobblestones.

SAN JUAN ATTRACTIONS


MUSEUMS

San Juan Museum of Art and History
Built in 1855 as a market and restored in 1979 as a cultural center, it now showcases Puerto Rican art and music, including concerts and festivals.

San Juan Cathedral

Originally built in 1520 and restored in 1917, this is an authentic and rare example of medieval architecture in the New World. Casa de los Dos Zaguanes (House of the Two Foyers)
This is the home to the Museo del Indio (Museum of the Indian) and features exhibits on the indigenous people of the Caribbean region, with exhibits, ceramics and archaeological digs.

Pablo Casals Museum
This is the Spanish master's legacy to the people of Puerto Rico. The museum features manuscripts, memorabilia, photographs and a library of videotapes of Festival Casals concerts. Casals moved to Puerto Rico with his wife in the 1950s. He became the conductor of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra and the president of the Conservatory of Music in Puerto Rico.

Casa Blanca (White House)
Built in 1521 and lived in by Ponce de León descendants for over 250 years. In 1779 it was taken over by the Spanish military and later used by the United States as a residence for military commanders (1898-1966). Today the mansion serves as National Historic Monument, housing a museum of 16th, 17th and 18th century history. Each room is decorated in a style associated with a period of the house's history. Casa Blanca is the oldest continuously occupied residence in the Western Hemisphere.

Cuartel de Ballajá (Ballajá Barracks or Ballajá Quarters)
This building was built to house Spanish soldiers and their families in the late 1800s, and could accommodate up to 1,000 people. The construction began in 1854, the main building was completed in 1863 and the chapel was added in 1881. The Cuartel de Ballajá is a three-story square building with large gates on two ends, ample balconies, designed with a series of arches and a protected central courtyard that served as a plaza and covers a reservoir. The Cuartel de Ballajá was the last and largest building constructed by the Spaniards in the New World. Today it houses the Museum of the Americas, featuring changing exhibitions.

National Gallery
This museum, located in an old Dominican Convent that was built in the 16th century, and contains a gallery of paintings from Puerto Rican masters such as Jose Campeche y Francisco Oller . There are a number of rooms of paintings and other works of art from Puerto Rican artisans of the 18th - 20th centuries.

FORTS

La Fortaleza (Governor’s House)
La Fortaleza was the first fortification built in San Juan harbor. Constructed between 1533 and 1540, the original fort consisted of a circular tower and four massive stone walls. The Spanish military constructed a second tower, called the Austral, at the end of the 16th century. The original tower, now called Torre del Homenaje, or "tower of homage," still stands; its name derives from an island tradition in which the resident governor climbs to the top of the tower to pledge a solemn oath of loyalty and courage during dangerous times. Today, the building serves as the official residence and offices of Puerto Rico's Governor.

San Felipe del Morro Fort (El Morro)
El Morro, officially known as Fuerte San Felipe del Morro, sits atop a high peninsula overlooking the entrance to San Juan Bay. It is the result of the efforts of many different Spanish engineers over a period of more than 200 years and is one of the largest forts built by the Spaniards in the Caribbean.

Although the foundations were laid in 1539, the six-level fort was not considered completed until 1787. This massive structure suffered countless attacks from the likes of Sir Francis Drake in 1595 and the Dutch fleet in 1625. In 1898 American ships fired on it during the Spanish-American War, destroying its lighthouse, which was later restored.

Visit hidden passages, aim your camera on the cannons that still guard the harbor, and gaze over the 60-foot tall walls at the ocean. Stroll on the lawns where soldiers once marched and watch the children flying their kites in the afternoon sea breezes.

San Cristobal Fort

Finished in 1783, Fort San Cristóbal stands as the largest fortification built in the New World by the Spanish. It originally encompassed 27 acres, encircling the city and walling it off from intruders approaching by land.

If you are interested in history, enjoy a walk on the ramparts, where half a millennium ago Spanish soldiers held their watch. A labyrinth of tunnels crisscrosses deep underground where the dungeons are located, and the outside walls fall 150 feet straight onto the rocks of the north shore.

If you love to photograph spectacular views, this fort is a goldmine for you, with its panoramic view of the coast from Old San Juan to Condado area and beyond.

OTHER SAN JUAN ATTRACTIONS:

Casa Bacardi Rum Distillery
The largest in the world and is only a 15-minute drive from San Juan and one of the most popular visitors’ destinations in Puerto Rico. Visitors are treated to a fascinating guided tour of the facilities at the "Cathedral of Rum." Everything from the vast fermentation vats to the high-speed bottling machinery is at work and on display. A trolley takes you to the Bacardi family museum, where a history of the product and landmarks in its development are seen. You can sample the world-famous rum and buy souvenirs or a variety of Bacardi products at the gift shop.

If you are lucky, your trip may coincide with the annual Bacardi Arts and Crafts Fair, a joyfully crowded, two-day event that features local artists and artisans and plenty of music.

Capilla del Cristo Chapel
Located at Parque de las Palomas (Pigeon's Park ) on Calle Cristo , this is a beautiful and unique chapel set at the foot of steep cliffs. This small chapel was built in the 1700's. According to a legend the builder was a man whose life was saved when he and his runaway horse suddenly stopped short before plunging over the cliffs. In an act of gratitude to God for saving his life, this saved soul built the chapel on the exact spot where his life was spared.

José Miguel Agrelot Coliseum
Officially named "Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot" (and nicknamed El Choliseo, in honor of Agrelot's best known character, Don Cholito), this is the biggest indoor arena in Puerto Rico dedicated to entertainment. It can accommodate up to 18,000 spectators and can be reached by the Tren Urbano (Urban Train) system from a nearby station.

University of Puerto Rico
Founded in 1903, the University of Puerto Rico (Universidad de Puerto Rico in Spanish, UPR) is the oldest and largest university system in Puerto Rico. Though Puerto Rico is not a U.S. state, the system is run much like a state university system and its programs have been accredited by U.S. accreditation agencies. UPR consists of 11 campuses with approximately 64,740 student and faculty. (Approximately 60,000 are undergraduates).

Puerto Rico Convention Center
The new Puerto Rico Convention Center is the largest in the Caribbean and the most technologically advanced throughout both the Caribbean and Latin America. Boasting 580,000 square feet of total space, the Center can accommodate groups of up to 10,000, in an ideal setting at the gateway to all the Island has to offer.

Plaza Las Américas Shopping Mall
San Juan shopping is abundant, and with over 400 shops, this is the largest shopping mall in Puerto Rico.

PUERTO RICO TOURS AND EXCURSIONS

Bioluminescent Bays
Imagine the blackness of the sea on a moonless night. Now watch it sparkle with the darting lights of a million fireflies. Nature lovers will not want to miss the phenomenal experience of visiting a tropical phosphorescent bay!

The phosphorescence is actually bioluminescence generated by microscopic organisms in the water. It is believed to be part of a natural defense system triggered by the movement of predators. Many scientists believe the tiny organisms light up so their predators can see more desirable prey - and thus leave them alone.

The phenomenon occurs sporadically in warm seas around the world, but Puerto Rico is one of the only places on the planet where you can depend on it every evening at two different protected bays and a lagoon. The best known is at La Parguera, between Mayagez and Ponce in the southwest of the island. A cottage industry in the village is based on showing the bay to visitors.

The more spectacular phosphorescent bay is Mosquito Bay in Vieques, the island municipality off of the main island's northeastern shore. The experience of seeing-and being surrounded by-this eerie light is nothing less than magical!

Camuy River Cave Park
There are only two other places in the world where you will find a cave system as massive or dramatic as the Río Camuy Cave Park - and neither of them has a tropical underground river thundering through it!

Only a small part of the complex is open to the public: three crater-like sinkholes and two caves... but what a spectacular part it is! Visitors ride a trolley that descends into a sinkhole lined with dense tropical vegetation while a guide describes the sights. After a walk across ramps and bridges and through the dramatically illuminated, 170-foot high Cueva Clara, another tram shuttles you to a platform overlooking the 400 foot deep Tres Pueblos Sinkhole.

Another attraction is the Spiral Sinkhole and Cave. You can walk the 205 steps down into the sinkhole, but the cave itself is off limits to all but experienced spelunkers. The sinkhole is believed to have once been an enormous cavern, and is indeed an impressive sight. Cathedral cave is home to an enigmatic collection of petroglyphs etched into the walls by the ancient Taínos (native Indians).

The 268-acre grounds include a cafeteria, picnic area, gift shop, walking trails, exhibition hall, and theater. Advanced cave explorers can arrange for special tours and rappelling trips through undeveloped sections of the caves.

Arecibo Radio Telescope & Observatory
In the northwest mountains of the island, nestled among the karst-country hills, is the Arecibo Ionospheric Observatory, or Radio Telescope, the largest of its kind and one of the most important research facilities on the face of the earth.

The huge dish-more than a dozen football fields could fit inside-sits in a sinkhole and is forever aimed at the sky, tuned to detect the slightest sounds emitted by the farthest stars.

It is the place where planets outside our solar system were discovered and is the home base for NASA's SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, which you may remember from the Jodie Foster movie "Contact," part of which was filmed here.

In the Visitors' Center you will see how the colossal structure is used to study radio emissions from distant galaxies, quasars, pulsars and many other cosmic sources. The exhibits are interactive and contain extensive information on astronomy and atmospheric science.

It is the impressive size and magnitude of the tiled dish that leaves visitors breathless when they hike to the viewing platform and see it glimmering in the sun. Indeed it is one of the only landmarks in Puerto Rico that can easily be seen from a jetliner passing by at 33,000 feet!

Guanica's Dry Forest
Meet the Guánica Dry Forest Reserve: 10,000 acres of dry land inhabited by over 600 uncommon types of plants and animals, including 48 endangered species and 16 that are unique to Puerto Rico! This is a surprisingly captivating terrain, splashed with pastel colors and bursting with wildlife.

Nature's creative touch is just as enthralling in Guánica. This United Nations Biosphere Reserve is especially alluring to hikers and cyclists, as they forage far into the Dry Forest through twelve trails of varying difficulty. You can also enjoy the uncommon scenery by car on the narrow road that hugs the border of this strikingly scenic, desert-like expanse.

Puerto Rico is so ecologically diverse within such a small stretch of land that a visit to Guánica's Dry Forest Reserve may well require bringing along both a bathing suit and good pair of walking shoes. One of the most beautiful beaches on the island is located right next to the Dry Forest.

El Yunque Rainforest
The Caribbean National Forest, often called El Yunque Rainforest, has the highest visitation of any natural site in Puerto Rico. When you see it, you'll easily understand why.

Named after the benevolent Indian spirit Yuquiyu, El Yunque is the only rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System. Comprised of some 240 different species of trees, it is actually a series of forests, each one determined by its altitude. El Toro, the highest peak in the forest at 3,532 feet, has only odd dwarf vegetation clinging to its sides.

More than 100 billion gallons of precipitation fall each year, creating the jungle-like ambience of lush foliage, sparkling leaves, shining wet rocks, and shadowy paths occasionally pierced by sunlight. Spectacular waterfalls rush alongside its well-maintained (but slippery) trails. There are many favorite spots for visitors to take photos or a refreshing dip in the pristine pools.

No one knows how many specimens of the noisy, ubiquitous tree frog, el coquí, live here, but you'll hear them. You will also find endangered Puerto Rican parrots. You can see the forest best on foot, but much of its splendor can be appreciated during a slow drive up and down the mountain. You can explore on your own, park along a roadside tower to see the view, or take a guided tour.

Hacienda Buena Vista Coffee Plantation
In 1833 a Spaniard who emigrated from Venezuela to Puerto Rico purchased a large parcel of fertile land in the hills north of Ponce. He built a lovely two-story main house, slave quarters, farm buildings and processing areas. The hacienda soon became a major producer of coffee, corn and other products. His son and grandson introduced some of the most innovative farm machinery on the island, powered by a nearby 100-foot waterfall.

A series of hurricanes and the failing coffee market brought operations to a standstill by 1900, and gradually Hacienda Buena Vista fell into disrepair and was abandoned. In 1984, the Conservation Trust purchased and lovingly restored it.

A visit to the farm today is a journey into the past. It is a "working" coffee plantation that recaptures rural life in 19th century Puerto Rico. The impressive machines are once again in motion. Farm animals roam the grounds and the fully furnished rooms seem ready for their occupants to return at any moment. The scent of freshly roasted, freshly brewed coffee fills the air.

Gilligan’s Island – a secluded paradise
How would you like to have your own little island, just for you, your family, and friends? On Gilligan's Island you can be king or queen for a day and rule over white sand beaches, mazes of mangroves, and crystalline waters.

Think sun, think picnic, but especially think snorkeling. The shallow waters around the island and the fascinating series of mangrove-lined channels that crisscross it are amazingly clear and are brimming with marine life.

Luquillo Beach

For generations families have made the trek from San Juan and all over the eastern region for a day at Luquillo Beach. A vacation in Puerto Rico was considered incomplete without a visit to this well-loved place on the coast. The view from the beach is spectacular: a long gold crescent of sand lined by countless coconut palms, with the misty mountains of the rainforest towering in the distance. Toro Negro Forest & Lookout Tower

This fantastic natural forest is unique from others with impressive panoramic views, waterfalls, small creeks, a man-made fresh water lake, and migratory birds to watch. The park is managed by State's Natural Resources Department. Toro Negro has several hiking trails for walking with proper shoes. Some snack food and refreshments purveyors area available in its surroundings. At Toro Negro Forest you can hike the two tallest peaks of Puerto Rico: Cerro Punta & Cerro La Rosa.

Angels Cave
This journey into the forest begins via a thrilling Tyrolean, followed by a 200-foot rappel into the enormous mouth of the Angeles Sinkhole. This is only the beginning! In Angels Cave's enormous chambers, you will witness the pristine clarity of natural pools and striking calcite formations, a gallery of speleological wonders. This is followed by a mudslide swish into the Camuy River where you float the currents through the river's imposing canyons. A once in a lifetime experience!

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