San Juan, Puerto Rico is probably one of the most expensive places on the island. Tourism is a booming business and vendors expect visitors to be rolling in cash. Free public restrooms are rare, and the food downtown is a least $14 a plate. Places like El Morro (castle-like wall that surrounds San Juan Viejo) is a must see. However, when I went to San Juan this spring with a group of friends; we were short on cash so we saw the city through the eyes of poor college students. My buddy, Corey, and I wandered through the streets snapping photographs (check out his Instagram) and soaking the culture. Here are five haunts that are worth seeing and also free.
The best part of San Juan are the old cobblestone streets lined with colorful buildings. Some, alleys even have old street lamps. Most streets follow the old tradition of tile street plaques on the corners of the acient buildings. Here and there you’ll see a balcony jutting over the street. Perhaps, a bougainvillea will tumbling out of a pot and through the wooden rails. Many are abandoned, but some have little shops or art galleries inside. I wish the walls could talk and tell the stories of those old streets.
Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery
A wise man said, “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything…” There’s no better way to contemplate your mortality than to wander through the graves of this famous cemetery overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The marble statues that decorate the graves are works of art. And it’s fun to peep through the windows of the buildings and watch the waves crash against the rocks below. Perhaps, you’ll spot the grave of one of the many notable people that are buried here.
The mourning Flag
La Puerta de Bandera (the flag door) is a famous landmark in Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican flag is painted on a door in the center of a deteriorating red brick wall with peeling white wash and painted black and white figures on la Calle San Jose (San Jose Street). Recently, the colorful blue and red of the flag was painted over with black paint to signify mourning over the La Junta an American board created to manage Puerto Rico’s debt crisis. Although this pains the heart of whoever saw the landmark in its vibrant glory, it is still rich with the story of the Puerto Rican people.
Catedral Metropolitana Basílica de San Juan Bautista
Also known as Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Saint John the Baptist, this small cathedral is located on Calle del Cristo. It was last renovated with neoclassical architecture in 1917. It has lofty arches, high ceilings, intricate stained glass and glossy checkered marble floors. It’s also like a mini-museum with a sort of little relics in the little rooms of the wide atrium of a chapel.
The bird pit
Pigeons can be found all through the city of San Juan. If you are an animal lover, I dare to jump in and play with them! They’ll eat almost whatever you offer them and one little piece of granola bar made us a lot of feathered friends. Be careful not to get scratched or pooped on!
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