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Great places to visit in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Apr 22, 2014 - Founded in 1521, San Juan, Puerto Rico, is the second oldest European settlement in the Western Hemisphere. If you're interested in learning more about the colonial history of the Americas, you'll definitely want to include this city on the itinerary of your next Caribbean cruise vacation.

While San Juan is almost like a museum in some places, with colonial artifacts at every turn, it's also a
bustling modern city with bumper-to-bumper traffic and packed sidewalks. This probably doesn't come as a surprise to you — Puerto Rico is a United States territory after all! Despite this almost contradictory atmosphere, there are plenty of interesting places to visit.

Here are our top picks from your friends at CruiseExperts.com:

El Morro

Also known as the "Gibraltar of the Caribbean," El Morro is a six-story fort with a lighthouse that looks out to the Caribbean Sea. The Spanish conquerors built El Morro in 1539 and it is believed to be the oldest Spanish military installation in the New World.

The National Park Service (NPS) maintains this UNESCO World Heritage Site and the small museum that is also on the property. If you go on one of the free guided tours of the fort, you will be able to visit the top of the lighthouse, learn more about its construction and get some great views of the sea.

nps-el-morro Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/San Juan National Historic Site

Iglesia de San José

Constructed in 1523, this church is almost as old as the San Juan settlement itself. The building's vaulted Gothic ceilings and and well-preserved carvings bring in worshipers and architecture buffs alike. For 350 years, the remains of the famed explorer Juan Ponce de León rested in a crypt within Iglesia de San José, until they were moved to a larger cathedral. Nonetheless, his family's coat of arms is still displayed prominently within the church.

Iglesia de San José is currently undergoing some construction, but is still open to the public during limited visiting hours. There is an exhibit in English and Spanish that details some of the discoveries that have been made during the restoration.

Jardín Botánico

This 75-acre tract of green space is administered by the territory's agricultural office, but is open to the public.

jardin-botanico-caguas-rex Photo courtesy of Jardin Botanico

The property is full of hiking trails lined with an almost countless number of plant species including 30,000 flowers and 120 variants of palm.

jardin-botanico-caguas-bridge Photo courtesy of Jardin Botanico

If you have any children who are obsessed with bugs, be sure to check out Jardín Botánico's small Museum of Entomology and Tropical Biodiversity. Here, you can explore rooms of pinned and jarred insects that are native to the region.

Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico

San Juan is home to one of the largest art museums in the Caribbean. Located in what was once a hospital, Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (MAPR) houses 18 exhibition halls in a 130,000-square-foot space. In addition to space for art, there is a sculpture garden, conservation laboratory and a 400-seat theater.

MAPR's collection includes paintings, sculptures, posters and carvings from the 17th to the 21st century. Be sure to check out pieces from famed Puerto Rican artists like José Campeche, Francisco Oller, Nick Quijano and Rafael Ferrer.

If you have been considering a Caribbean cruise vacation, or any other fabulous destination, there's no need to wait any longer! Contact one of the agents at CruiseExperts.com to get started on planning the trip of a lifetime. Not only can we help you map out an ideal itinerary, we love to provide suggestions about interesting places to visit. We love to travel and want you to have as much fun as possible! Contact us anytime by calling 1-888-804-CRUIse(2784) or visiting our website www.CruiseExperts.com.

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