Old San Juan At Night

Avenida de Princesa

On this visit to Puerto Rico, I decided that it was time to revisit Old San Juan for some photos at night and I was rewarded with a clear, warm evening. Before I start in with my photos, here’s a short extract about Old San Juan from several sources:

Old San Juan (Spanish: Viejo San Juan) is the historic colonial district of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the oldest settlement within the territory of the United States. It is one of the two barrios of San Juan as of 1951, before Río Piedras was added to the city (the other being Santurce), and is subdivided into seven sub-barrios:

  • Ballajá
  • Catedral
  • Marina
  • Mercado
  • Puerta de Tierra
  • San Cristóbal
  • San Francisco

The slum neighborhood of La Perla is on the rocky north coast, outside of the city limits, and belongs to sub-barrios Mercado and San Cristóbal. Old San Juan is located on a small island connected to the mainland of Puerto Rico by bridges and a causeway. The city is characterized by its narrow cobblestone streets and colorful buildings which date back to the 16th and 17th century when Puerto Rico was a Spanish possession.The district is also characterized by numerous public plazas and churches including the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, which contains the tomb of the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León. It also houses the most ancient Catholic school for Elementary education in Puerto Rico, the Colegio de Párvulos, built in 1865. With its abundance of shops, historic places, museums, open air cafés, restaurants, gracious homes, tree-shaded “plazas”, and its old beauty and architectonical peculiarity, “Old San Juan” is a main spot for local and internal tourism. A free Tourist trolley serves the city.

The oldest parts of the district of Old San Juan remain partly enclosed by massive walls. Several defensive structures and notable forts, such as the emblematic Fort San Felipe del Morro, Fort San Cristóbal, and El Palacio de Santa Catalina, also known as La Fortaleza, acted as the primary defenses of the settlement which was subjected to numerous attacks. La Fortaleza continues to serve also as the executive mansion for the Governor of Puerto Rico. Many of the historic fortifications are part of San Juan National Historic Site.

In 1508, Juan Ponce de León founded the original settlement, Caparra (named after the province Caceres, Spain, birthplace of the then-governor of Spain’s Caribbean territories, Nicolas de Ovando). The ruins of Caparra are known as the Pueblo Viejo sector of Guaynabo, behind the almost land-locked harbor just to the west of the present San Juan metropolitan area. In 1509, the settlement was abandoned and moved to a site which was called at the time “Puerto Rico” (meaning “rich port” or “good port”), a name that evoked that of a similar geographical harbor in the island of Gran Canaria, Canary Islands. In 1521, the name “San Juan” was added, and the newer settlement was given its formal name of “San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico”, following the usual custom of christening the town with both its formal name and the name which Christopher Columbus had originally given the island, honoring John the Baptist.

Old San Juan along with La Fortaleza were declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1983.

Jewel of the Seas

For those of you who have been reading these posts regularly, you may remember seeing the cruise ship port from the air while we were on the approach to runway 08 last week. Here’s what it looks like close up at sunset with a large cruise ship getting ready to depart for the islands.

The “Port of San Juan” is the general name used to call various passenger and cargo facilities located in lands around the San Juan Bay (Bahía de San Juan). The port is composed of a total of sixteen piers, of which eight are used for passenger ships and eight for cargo ships. The port’s facilities, in addition to Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport and the “Lancha de Cataño” services, are property of the Port Authority of Puerto Rico.

The bay and its docks are located along San Antonio Creek, a narrow navigable section of San Juan Bay lying south of Old San Juan and San Juan island, and north and west of the Puerto Rico Convention Center District and Isla Grande Airport. The municipalities of Cataño, Guaynabo and San Juan compose the south side of the bay and port.

Poop Deck?

The Jewel of the Seas is immense. To give you a sense of the size of this ship, I shot the aft section with a zoom lens. For scale, try spotting the people walking around on the dock…

While the cargo ships dock on the south side of the bay, cruise ships arrive at one of the seven cruise piers located along San Antonio Creek. This arrangement allows tourists to walk to major attractions such as Old San Juan and the Puerto Rico Convention Center District. The short distance between the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport and the cruise ship docks is 7 miles and makes the area a prime location for cruise companies. Cruise ship companies, such as Carnival Cruises and Royal Caribbean prefer this setting, and have made the San Juan one of their ports of call. Some of the most recognized ships to have docked at the Port of San Juan during the late 1970s and early 1980s, were the Carla C, and Cunard’s Countess and Princess ships.

Shimmering Waters

Along the Avenida Princesa there are several parks and an open air market which corresponds to when the cruise ships are making port call. The famed el Paseo la Princesa was a notorious and much-feared prison located in San Juan which is now occupied by the tourism board of Puerto Rico. The Avenida Princesa lies outside the walls of old San Juan, which were considered impregnable for centuries.

Princesa Fountain 1

At the west end of Avenida Princesa is the fountain Princesa. This is a very popular stop while walking in Old San juan, and you’ll find photographers, tourists, lovers, and artists here at all times of the night and day.

Princesa Fountain 2

Here’s a close-up of the fountain. It is just gorgeous at night, and I plan to return here with a tripod for some high quality shots in the near future. All of the photos taken tonight were shot freehand.

Getting the point

The city walls are really quite amazing, and this walkway contains plenty of little hidden treasures. One of them is this sculpture garden which is very nicely lit at night. Some folks passing by commented on the sculptures as being inappropriate for the area architecturally, but I disagree. I thought they looked fantastic.

Hard Rock SJU

As we headed back into the city itself, we happened to pass this icon of American pop culture. I didn’t bother to go in, but I snapped a quickie shot for those of you who love this place. If there was an equivalent place dedicated to merengue and salsa, I would have likely spent the night!

Governor’s Mansion

Here’s a shot down the narrow streets of the Governor’s Mansion. The full sized version of this photo is really neat – the couple on the corner add a lot of character.

The Bar

Old San Juan is filled with boutiques, bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. Maria’s is one of the better known watering holes for locals and tourists alike.

The Narrow Streets

No night shoot would be complete without a shot of shiny, lonely streets. I had a challenge shooting this one without a tripod… I think I’ll have to buy a cheapie and stash it down here somewhere.

Cobbles 1

I took shots toward the end of the night, after a couple glasses of sangria, playing around with the depth of field. Here, the chain and posts are in focus…

Cobbles 2

And here the cobblestones in the foreground are in clear focus. Which one do you guys like the best?

Dock from afar

Finally, a shot of the cruise ship’s pier from higher in Old San Juan. The Jewel of the Seas had already sailed by this time, but Carnival still had a ship in port.


~ by JG on February 28, 2008.

3 Responses to “Old San Juan At Night”

  1. What is the large sculpure IN the harbor area called? When was it built? It looks sort of like two unfurled sailes and was right next to our cruise ship.

  2. […] last two pictures were taken by John Grace for his travel blog: Windward Journey, both of them link back to his original post where you can see more of his beautiful pictures of […]

  3. so are there hotels right there by the port we are getting there a day early and wanted to wonder around and maybe even hit a beach?

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