Three Days in Puerto Rico –

By Shari Benyousky
And Antoine Garza
Guest columnists


“How far is it?” asked an exasperated middle-aged father behind cheering teenage girls in shorts and pink baseball caps. “And why are we doing this at noon? The sun shone on the path between the walls of the fortress and the pounding of the waves of the sea. “Come on dad.” They each took an arm. “It’s only a mile.”

To our left, the waves hit the breakwater and the foam bubbles in the swell. We had just rounded the tip of the promontory of Castillo Del Morro in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. El Morro means ‘front’ which describes the tip of the deep water base the Spanish began to build in 1539. It is not hard to imagine a huge Spanish fleet anchored in the bay to our left to gain access to the red door entrance. Towards the city. Now the high walls are pockmarked from age and hurricanes, and a dozen beached kites adorn the brushy shrubbery on the walls. Kites? Stay with me here.

Point: Make sure your hat has a clip under your chin. I had to set one up from handfuls of trash bags to keep my straw hat from blowing into the ocean.

We pass stands of snakes and dozens of well-fed feral cats on Paseo Del Morro. We climb the steep steps through the dry moat and into the walls where large iguanas sunbathe out of reach of tourists taking selfies along the walls and in the guard towers that hang over the edges. At the top, the view is breathtaking: miles of rolling waves and coastline, half a mile of rolling lawn dotted with tourists and children flying kites in the strong breeze. Sure, the story is fascinating, but there are other reasons to love El Morro.

Point: Before entering the grounds of EL Morro, stop by the lavender Galleria Nacional and purchase a $4 kite as the “front” is the absolute queen of kite flying venues.

Walking so much makes you hungry, but several promising restaurants were already full. In desperation, we saw a small, unassuming pink sign that said Tropical Taste Puertorriqueño. We had been looking for some authentic local food, and this had a speakeasy feel as we entered a dark shop and followed tiny yellow arrows on the floor through the aisles and up winding steps to the restaurant. What had we gotten ourselves into? I wanted sweet plantains with rice and beans, but didn’t see the words maduros anywhere on the menu. “No no.” The server clocked in. “Amarillos. Yellow plantains. Tony ordered a Fritanga – a trio of Puerto Rican fried items including fried yellow corn sticks, pork-stuffed plantains and crispy flat discs of codfish. Along with that and a chilled sangria containing real seeds from guava, the first day was sold out, we took an Uber home to our Airbnb in the Carolina neighborhood.

Point: Uber rides are plentiful and cheap in San Juan. A 15 minute ride costs around $10 and we rarely waited more than five minutes. Get the app. It helps to wear something distinctive so you can send a message to the driver as well.


“You must stand completely still for a full minute.” We made our way through the winding tunnels to the keep of the second fortress. As we rounded a corner, three middle schoolers were taking selfies in the dark, one flat on the floor. “Sorry!” they have a choir. “It’s for our Instagram.” We detoured into a side tunnel which turned out to be the dungeon where the mutineers of the San Cristobal Artillery Brigade had been held awaiting execution in 1855. Scratched across the walls are several magnificent galleons, the last feelings of the condemned men who turned the guns on a panicked city for 24 hours.

Point: If you like exploring history without the crowds, avoid Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays, as those are the big days when vast cruise ships will dock and gut massive waves of guests in Old San Juan.

Castillo San Cristobal is the counterpart of El Morro intended to protect old San Juan from land attacks. It is about a mile from El Morro, and it is the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the New World, covering 27 acres. Explore it for the many tunnels and two-foot-thick bomb-proof weapon ports.

Point: When you get hungry, try the bookstore in the plaza where the soldiers drilled to find the famous Puerto Rican candy Delzura, which comes in all sorts of cool tropical flavors. We tried the Sesame Honey Bars and the Coconut Ginger Bites for $1.39 each.

The San Cristobal Canons Office overlooks one of the most interesting additions, the Cemeterio Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzi. And yes, you can climb into the gaps in the walls where each cannon sat. Now the cannons are gone and you look at the cemetery which is a cluster of monuments, statues, flowers and dozens of flags overlooking the vast ocean. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear the rooster and see a brood of chicks running around, happily co-existing with the wild dog and cats. We even saw a modern-day pirate in a ruffled purple shirt and a bunch of gold chains.


On day three, when you’ve had enough of the narrow lanes of pastel-colored houses and your eyes are tired of reading the plates, check out the 10-minute, $1.00 ferry across San Bay. Juan to Catano. Buy your tickets online here and get a QR code, because sometimes there is no one at the ticket office When the ferry runs (every 15-30 minutes) this is the best deal in town. Most tourists cross the bay for the Bacardi factory tour, but Catano has other interesting parts, especially if you have museum-weary kids.

The Catano promenade is a one kilometer stretch of playground, sculptures and themed docks with a beautiful view of El Morro across the bay. Check out the Taino monument for natives (sometimes you’ll hear the Taino word “Boricua” for Puerto Rico), the Rainbow Dock, the Puente Rosado where you can lock up your loved one’s love, and the dock to put evidence of autism. Kids will enjoy access to shallow bays, a jump off the dock or building sand castles. Look for bike and scooter rentals, bubble blowers and the occasional clown.

When you’re tired, grab a drink and some food from one of the outdoor restaurants or food trucks along the route. Some have live bands and everyone has plenty of local rum. You will enjoy the shade with a cold drink and the view of the bay. Be careful though, Puerto Rico often has thunderstorms in the afternoon, so bring your umbrella. If you forget, Uber will pick you up from just about anywhere along this route.

Point: keep an eye out for Greater Antillean grackles that will eat out of your hands and the occasional pelican that rushes in to fish.

Now you’ve had three quality days soaking up sunburn, afternoon rainbows, and seafood, and your feet hurt from walking. You’ve noticed that things aren’t cheap in Puerto Rico (the island only produces 15% of its own food and imports everything else), but the people are friendly and laid back, and you feel rested and ready to go. curl up in the cold ice of the house again.

Que tenga un buen día!

(Have a nice day!)

Iguanas (bottom left) are a common sight.

Tony takes a break from a visit to San Juan.

Inside a historic dungeon were several magnificent galleons on a wall.

Intermittent rain often leaves behind a rainbow in San Juan.

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