Back to Old San Juan for a day full of fortresses and some shopping!
Today was our highly anticipated day back to Old San Juan! We were up at 8 (that’s early for us, when on vacation), dressed, out the door and driven to Plaza Colon by 9 am. We decided to try out Café Berlin for breakfast (I had heard good reviews about one of their morning drinks). We sat on the terrace in order to enjoy the nice weather and do some people-watching.
Breakfast: 2 eggs, any style (Caro = sunny-side up, Salem = scrambled) for $2.50. 2 orders of tomato-basil bread ($2.00) – Oh my was this bread ever something to write home about! One coffee, one americano and their famous breakfast juice (zucchini, mint, lemon). The coffee was great, the breakfast juice was amazing. Honestly, we wish we could’ve gone back again to experience breakfast all over again! Great service too, all for less than $20. Woot woot!
Castillo San Cristobal
Our tour started around 10:30 at the Castillo San Cristobal about 100m away. We were lucky – it was some sort of federal park day so entrance was free. Salem’s co-workers had said it would only take an hour to visit. Right… It took us over 2 hours, but then again, we like history and reading the information plaques and taking pictures, etc.
Let me share a bit of history with you: The fortress was originally built in 1634 to defend (Spanish) Puerto Rico and the Americas from attacks by other European powers (ie: English, Dutch, French) as well as other entities in the Caribbean sea.
Very nice views of the sea and city are offered and the fortress itself is very well maintained and offers a lot of information. Admission is $3.00 for this fortress alone or you can do a combo of Castillo San Cristobal and Castillo El Morro for $5.00.
There’s a shuttle between San Cristobal and El Morro which is included in your entrance fee. Or, you can do like us and walk the 1.5-2 km stretch from one to the other. If you’re going to do the walk along the fortification walls, I would suggest you stay just south of the wall (as many are advised on Trip Advisor forums) otherwise you might end up in La Perla, which is supposed to be a bit of a rougher neighbourhood. it’s a 15 minute walk which felt like longer because we had a backpack, it was hot and the sun was at its zenith. Woops! Thankfully, we had plenty of water, sunscreen and snacks.
Castillo El Morro
El Morro is a bit more of a maze and is larger than Castillo San Cristobal and it is also older (construction started in 1529 but expansions continued over the next 400 years). It spans 6 different levels (you start on level 5). We went to the 6th level for some amazing views and went down to the 4th level but we gave up after that because it was so hot (stone fortress + full sun + humidity + not much air circulation in most areas). Either way, it was almost 2 pm and we were getting hungry. This too offers great views of the sea and historical info.
We took the free shuttle back to the more central part of Old San Juan and made our way to Barrachina (104 Calle Fortaleza) as I had heard some good reviews about it. You can either sit indoors or in a “courtyard”. Of course, we picked the courtyard. I ordered the shrimp mofongo in a tomato sauce over cassava, Salem ordered the combo mofongo (chicken, beef, shrimp) in a slightly different tomato sauce over a plantain base. Very tasty. We also had 2 virgin Pina Coladas which were just what we needed! Unfortunately, the only dessert available at the time was rhum cake. :( Total was $54 + tip. The service was very friendly so we tipped accordingly.
After refueling, we went souvenir shopping. I’m trying my best to stay away from “junk” souvenir stores in order to support more local artists – and Puerto Rico has lots of artists. Thankfully, Salem was agreed with me given what was available. So, less volume as far as souvenirs go, pay a bit more, but get something authentic and locally-made.
We purchased from the following stores:
- Puerto Rican Arts & Crafts (204 Calle Fortaleza)
- Mundo Taino (Calle San José)
- The Handcraft Store (208 Calle Fortaleza)
Unfortunately, the backpack was getting very heavy and giving Salem problems. So we decided to take a coffee break at Café Cola’o. Can I just repeat how great their coffee is? This must’ve been one of the best cups of coffee I have ever had. That, and the barista made some nice art with the foam – I loved it! PS You can buy coffee beans there!
We took a taxi back in the early evening and just had a quiet night eating supplier-sponsored cheese and crackers on our balcony, enjoying Starbucks coffee from the lobby.