San Juan Puerto Rico is a great port stop for cruise ship passengers who don’t want to spend much if any money. Of course excursions are available as are taxis and van tours at the port for those who want them. You can also rent bikes to ride around town or beyond. Two old forts sit within walking distance of the cruise ship docks in old San Juan. There’s also a free shuttle that takes people around old town. Shops sit just across the street from the pier. You don’t have to walk far to come across some of San Juan’s blue brick roads and the colorful buildings of old town.
The blue bricks came to San Juan as ballast from Spanish ships of the 1800’s, which used furnace slag for their ballast on the journey to Puerto Rico. Colonists made good use of this ready-made paving material that the ships left behind, paving their streets with the blue bricks. Unfortunately less and less streets have these unique cobblestones as more of them keep getting paved over.
The biggest attractions in town are the forts, Castillo San Cristobol and Castillo San Felipe del Morro, commonly known as El Morro. Both historic forts belong to the US park system and one fee allows visits to both. Anyone not wishing to walk to or between the forts can catch the free shuttle around old town, which stops at both forts.
Having visited the forts on prior trips to San Juan, and with the Breeze having a short and early day in port, we opted to just take a walk down the Paseo de la Princessa, a walkway near the cruise ship docks. The portion from the red San Juan Gate toward El Morro is called Paseo del Morro. When the construction going on at the time of our visit completes tourists can walk the seaside pathway all the way to the entrance of El Morro rather than having to turn around at a dead end as we did.
Take a left at the end of the cruise ship pier and stay as close to the water as you can and you will come to the Paseo de la Princesa leading to the Raices Fountain and the waterfront part of the pathway, which was once a maintenance road for the city wall.
Tall metal spikes sit between the pathway and the wall in one place. If you look up to the top of the wall there you can see the governor’s mansion, called La Fortaleza.
The trail passes a large rainforest tree and soon comes to the red gate, once the main gate from the sea into the city when the entire city sat behind the protective wall.
Along they way feral cats sleep hidden in bushes or among the rocks. Some come out in plain sight. San Juan’s cat colony has lived there for centuries, and is now cared for by Save A Gato, who has a feeding station alongside the trail a short distance past the red gate.
Save a Gato runs a trap neuter release program as well as finding homes for some of the cats and providing the feeding stations for the others.
Looking up at the top of the walls every so often a garita still stands guard, though other than tourists they now sit empty, the need for watchful eyes above the city long gone.
A flock of hungry pelicans made numerous attacks on fish just below the water’s surface as we walked by. The large birds flew around, sometimes hovering and sometimes landing gracefully on the water.
diving pelicans video (very short video)
Other times one would dive straight down from high above, shooting into the water like an arrow and coming up already swallowing the fish it just caught.
Though the wall and forts have survived for centuries, it appears they need some help to remain intact as part of the wall had scaffolding and workers on top doing maintenance. The pathway was closed not far past the red gate with other workers and road machinery.
You would think when our ship, the Carnival Breeze, arrived at 7:00am, the third of three as the Dream and Sunshine were already there, that any business near the docks would be open waiting to help all those cruise ship passengers streaming off the ships anxious to empty their wallets. Especially since both the Breeze and Sunshine departed about 2:00pm and the Dream was ending one cruise and starting another. Though plenty of vans awaited passengers wanting taxis or island tours, many local shops didn’t open until 10:00am. Disappointed passengers who had gone out early to shop were already returning when we went ashore.
We had thought about doing a segway tour if we found any, having seen them on the Paseo de la Princesa before and thinking it looked like fun. We left the ship around 7:30, late enough for the crowd at the gangway to clear, but early enough to get out before the heat of the day – and it was already warm. On the way back we saw a shop near the ship putting segways out getting ready to open at 10:00am, just in time for peak sunburning hours.
Had the shop been open on our way out we would have rented them, but by then we were ready to go back to the ship and have a chance to use the waterslides while nobody was on them and wash clothes while most passengers were still in port. A good plan with good timing because we could slide with no waiting and I had no trouble finding empty machines, but by the time I went to get our clothes out of the dryer the washers were all full with more people lined up waiting to pounce as soon as one finished so any later would have been too late.