San Juan is by far the busiest cruise ship port in the Caribbean (and possibly the second busiest in the world, after Miami). The advantage of cruising from Puerto Rico is that you avoid the days at sea required to sail from Florida to most of the Caribbean islands, especially important for a short cruise.
Being such a cruising destination, you often see beautiful displays of cruising fashion.
Being a bit of a nerd, I wanted to visit the Arecibo Observatory, the largest radio telescope in the world, with a 305 m dish (an even 1,000 feet). We drove at least an hour east of San Juan, only to find it closed until further notice. Upon detailed inspection of their web site, we did find a small hidden notice to that effect. I later learned the suspension system had been slightly damaged just 4 days before by a minor earthquake.
So instead, we headed south, to Puerto Rico’s second largest city, Ponce, named after the Conquistador Ponce de Leon or his grandson, Governor of Puerto Rico. There seems to be no agreement on this.
For a relatively small city, it boasts an impressive art museum financed by local wealthy patrons.
And possibly some corporate sponsorships.
While the collection of old European art was nice, the most interesting was the Latin-Caribbean art I am not at all familiar with, such this painting by Puerto Rican artist Jorge Rechany, called “The Consultation”.
And some antiques reminding us functional objects are not made with such aesthetic concern anymore.
The old fire station.
Although I may be wrong, it appears few tourists to Puerto Rico venture outside San Juan. In Ponce, I don’t think we saw any.
San Juan is in good part a strip of beach front hotels, with the Caribbean’s largest shopping mall. Overall, unremarkable, except Old San Juan, with its exciting Spanish colonial architecture and colourful streets.
Layers of history in the architecture of this very old city (by American standards), founded in 1521.
At the eastern most point of the Old City lies Fort San Felipe del Morro, which started being built in 1539. The whole site reminded me a lot of Quebec City’s Plaines d’Abraham with the Citadelle at the end.
With the addition of a cemetery.
While part of the USA, the culture of litigation may not be as intense in PR. I certainly can’t see a National Park on the mainland allowing you to do this!
In the distance (top left) Isla de Cabras, where, in the old days, lepers were sent to live and die. Speaking of morbid things, unlike in the continental US, cockfighting is legal in PR. We did not partake.
This kind of opening is highly unusual in a fortress of this era. The anomaly is explained by the fact that the place remained under control of the military until 1961, when the National Park Service took it over. This small bunker was built on the fortress during World War II, to observe the surrounding waters for the presence of German U-Boats.
The kind of ships sailing these waters have certainly changed over the years. The Santa Maria, flagship of Christopher Columbus – with Michelle hiding behind – has been replaced by slightly larger ships…
Such as this Carnival ship, a tiny portion of which manages to block the entire view on this side of the fortress. Annoyed, the soldiers – one of whom having thrown his hat over the wall in anger – marched to the top floor.
And fired a few cannon balls at the ship.
I will admit that in the end, I honestly don’t have much to say about Puerto Rico. We hung around for a few days before and after the cruise, and Michelle went shopping.
However I will mention the food. Puerto Rican cuisine is not exactly the dream of vegetarians. If vegetables were made illegal, I bet most people would not notice. The daily special in a nice restaurant we found by chance: a gigantic pork chop with rice and beans AND potato salad! The vegetable: a twig of parsley.
Deciding to really go local, I even had a dinner in the supermarket’s cafeteria. Again, beef, potatoes and beans, all in rather gigantic quantities. And that was Puerto Rico.