Sanjuaneros have Fidel Castro to thank for the world's largest rum distillery calling Puerto Rico home. Bacardi built its first distillery in Cuba in 1862. When the Castro regime confiscated the factory in the 1960s the family moved operations to Cataño, across San Juan Bay from the heart of the city. A short drive brings you to the \"Cathedral of Rum\" where you can take a free 45-minute guided tour with interactive elements. You will learn what it takes to produce 100,000 gallons per day of the heady concoction and will see a bartender demonstrating how popular Bacardi-based drinks are made. A gift shop sells souvenirs and rare drinks bottled under the Bacardi label.
San Juan's city hall design was inspired by the city hall in Madrid, Spain. The building was constructed in stages beginning in 1604 and finishing in 1789. A small information center is located near the entrance and there is an art gallery on the first floor. Like many other buildings of the picturesque old city, it has its own tiled courtyard and overhanging balcony.
The \\"Promenade of the Princess\\" passes by some of Old San Juan's most impressive sites. A lovely, tree-lined walk designed and built in the 19th century features benches, decorative street lamps and shady sidewalks that make walking the path a pleasure. As you amble you will pass La Princesa, which used to be the city's prison but now houses the Puerto Rico Tourism Company. Continue on to walk beside La Muralla, the impressive fortification built in 1635 to protect the city of San Juan. All the while there are unbeatable views of the rocky shore, the harbor full of boats and possible guest appearances of a dolphin or two.
A visit to this historic site should be on every tourist's itinerary. A wonderful bronze statue of three women in a procession commemorates a miraculous event that took place in 1797. With the British fleet anchored outside the walls of San Juan and blocking any incoming supplies, the citizens waited in desperation for inland reinforcements to arrive. The governor ordered a "rogativa" to ask the saints for assistance. As the women in the city marched through the streets carrying torches, the British believed reinforcements had arrived and abandoned their siege.
This important square in Old San Juan was originally called St. James Square but was renamed in 1893 to honor Christopher Columbus on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of his discovery of Puerto Rico. A massive statue dedicated to the explorer, and bronze plaques chronicling his life and achievements, are the highlights of the busy, old town plaza.
This Old San Juan plaza was inaugurated in October of 1992. Its location at the highest point of the city ensures beautiful views of the ocean and Old San Juan. The square was constructed to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus's discovery with a massive statue composed of black granite and ceramics created by Puerto Rican artist Jaime Suarez, dedicated to the humble beginnings of the New World. Two obelisks point toward the North Star, guiding light of explorers. Be inspired to do some exploring of your own and visit the Plaza del Quinto Centenario.
You might recognize some areas of the observatory from the movie "Contact," part of which was filmed here. The facility is associated with Cornell University's National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center and boasts the world's largest radar-radio telescope. A visitor center features interactive learning opportunities on subjects such as weather, meteors and the solar system, but be sure to walk around the platform and view the dish in a sea of surrounding greenery. The observatory is about 50 miles from San Juan, but astronomy buffs and many others will find the trip extremely worthwhile.
This building is home to the 1952 Constitution, the Senate and the House of Representatives. First built in the 1920s, the building is still a marvel with its intricate friezes, colorful mosaics and spacious gallery. You can identify the large white building by its enormous dome (over 100 feet high inside!) and distinctive white columns. Seven doors on the north and south facades represent the seven districts of Puerto Rico at the time of completion.
After a failed British attack in 1797, the citizens of San Juan took the enemy's cannons, melted them down and fashioned the statue of Ponce de Leon that still stands guard over this square. Historic buildings and small museums surround the plaza, which is a popular meeting place for people of all ages.
This beautiful cathedral was begun in 1540 to serve as the Catholic center of the city. Its original wooden walls and thatched roof were blown apart by a hurricane in 1529. After a subsequent looting and another hurricane, it was well into the 19th century before the building gained the graceful gothic vaults and the central spiral staircase you see today. In 1908 the remains of the island's first governor, Juan Ponce de Leon, were moved here. Mass is still celebrated daily.