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Self Guided Walking Tour of Old San Juan – Part 1

La Casita

3/21- Due to COVID, I am not sure if the Tourism Office is open. There are no cruise ships at this time either.

So you decided to spend some time exploring Old San Juan? You will not be disappointed! The old city is a small area, only 7 square blocks. But there is so much to do and see in that small area that you can spend days there and never see everything. Or if you are in a hurry, you can get an feel for the city in just a few short hours.

Thanks to conservation efforts, this beautiful old city remains largely as it did 300 to 400 years ago (but better, due to many modern conveniences!) with about 400 restored 16th- and 17th-century Spanish colonial buildings.

I will break this tour up into a number of parts. Part one will be your guide from the Casita to El Morro along the Paseo de la Princesa, and up Calle Cristo.

One of the first things you will probably notice about the old city is the streets. The streets here are blue cobblestones ( or many of them were until they started making OSJ a walkable town- now many have been replaced with modern blue/grey pavers).

Our first stop will be at the Puerto Rico Tourism Company Information Center. It is on the far west corner of La Marina street (across from Pier 1 and the Casita -the little yellow rose building). Here you will find air conditioning and a bi-lingual staff to help you plan your day. They can give you ideas and information about what is happening, the hours of operation and other important suggestions, like where to eat.

The Visitor’s Center (phone 787-722-1709) is located across from the Plaza de la Darsena and is open everyday from 9:00am until 5:30pm.

After you have your information and maps, head outside and enjoy the Bahia de San Juan (San Juan Bay). From here, you can see the cruise ships in port. The number of ships vary depending on the season, but it there is usually at least one ship in port at least 4 days a week (always on Saturdays and Sundays).

When you are ready to start your tour, start walking west (to your left if your back is to the bay). In this plaza, you will find nice benches with a view of the bay and little rose colored Casita (which is a RUM BAR!). Also here you will find an outdoor crafts market is usually open all day on weekends and on some week days depending on the cruise ship itineraries.

Continue left down the Paseo de la Princesa. This lovely street is tree lined and has lovely gardens, benches, statuary, and a nice shady restaurant. You will usually find some vendors, and there is a clean public bathroom (50¢) on the left side.

Puerto Rico Tourism Company

You can’t help but notice the massive City Wall to the right. The city wall or La Muralla was built around the city. Started in the early 1500’s, it is almost 20 feet thick in places and up to 60 feet tall in places. It was constantly being extended as the city grew and was finally completed in 1782. It was built to protect the city against enemy attacks. There is a nice shady garden, some statuary, and a children park for everyone to enjoy.

As you continue along the Paseo, you will come to La Princesa. This lovely building was once the San Juan jail. (Notice that the criminals were kept outside the city walls!). Now restored, it houses the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (phone 787-721-2400). Take a little time and go inside. The building is air conditioned and always has a changing collection of art. Ask for a quick explanation of the jail portion, then go out to the back courtyard and go to the right, through the tiny walk between the buildings to see the jail cells. It is open weekdays.


As you continue down the Paseo, you will see a beautiful fountain with a bronze sculpture by Luis Sanguino called “Raices“, which symbolizes the island’s cultural roots.

At the end of the promenade, you can see across the bay to Catano. The big golden cream colored building you see (with the distillation “chimneys” and wind turbines) is the Bacardi Rum Factory building. You can take a tour of the Bacardi operation. You can either drive yourself, or take the La Lancha ferry from Pier 2 in Old San Juan to Catano and then a taxi to the rum factory.

Continue on the Paseo to your right. You will see a metal sculpture that looks like “spikes” on the right. Later on the right is a sculpture of Queen Isabella in a nice little cool sitting area.

San Juan Gate

Continue along the Paseo. Here you will find the City Gate. You have a choice to either continue on the walk outside of the city wall, or go through the gate into the city.

If you choose the walk along the wall, the trail is called the Paseo del Morro. It is 3/4 mile long one way. This walk follows along the city wall to below El Morro fort. The trail actually ends at El Morro fort. You can go to the end, follow path up to top and enter El Morro Fort area from there. They have steps that will connect the grounds outside the fort to the Paseo. Along the route, you will be able to get many great photos of El Morro, and the Garitas (guard towers). It will be hot, and there are no trees for shade. You can not walk off the trail, it is monitored by guards. You will see many cats on this path. They are protected by the Parks Department – do not touch or feed them. They are spayed/neutered, vaccinated and fed by a local animal organization called Save a Gato . This paseo is open 6:00am-10:00pm daily, but the Fort area entrance is only open 9am – 6pm daily (before or after that you need to walk back along the Paseo to the gate). Bring a hat, water and sun screen!

But our tour will take you through the City Gate. This is the only remaining city gate. It was one of six original massive wooden doors that, centuries ago, were closed at sundown to protect the residents. This pretty red-painted Puerta de San Juan or San Juan Gate is where you re-enter the city. Above the gate is inscribed “Benedictus qui venit in nomine domini”- Latin for “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. As you walk through, notice how the wall is about 15 feet thick. Go straight through the gate and up the hill. You are following the same path many sailors took after a long voyage – straight up the street, to the cathedral, to thank God for a safe journey.

As you are walking up this street, try to peek into any buildings being renovated. These are 400 year old houses that have beautiful Moorish tile work, and lovely open inner courtyards.

San Juan Cathedral

Just before you get to the Cathedral, you will pass a small shady park. Here you can sit, relax and people-watch in the cool shade.

The San Juan Cathedral is a 450 year old church. Ponce De Leon is interred here. The building is constantly being restored and it is very pretty – go in and take a look. Mass is still held here. Open daily.

Once outside the Cathedral (with your back to the cathedral) turn right and continue going up the hill on Cristo Street. Be sure to make stops along the way. There are many restaurants, bars, art galleries and museums – so take your time and explore!

At the top of the hill you will find San Jose Plaza. Here you will find the San Jose Church, which as of 3/21 has finished being restored! The Church will be open soon. But it is the oldest church in San Juan.

In the corner by the church door, you will find the back entrance to the old Dominican Convent. It now houses the National Gallery – about 150 artwork pieces from Puerto Rican artists from the last few centuries. This museum is currently closed, but when it reopens, Stop in. It’s definitely time well spent.

El Morro Fort

Cristo street ends here, so turn left – you will be at the Plaza del Quinto Centenario. This park has a sculpture of a Totem pole and, down the steps, you will see a fountain that the kids love to play in. From here you will see El Morro across the field.

We’ll pick up the tour at El Morro in part 2 of this “self guided walking tour” series of articles.

You can spend many days taking in all that Old San Juan has to offer. Plan on at least one full day. assumes no responsibility regarding your safety when participating in the activities described in this article. Please use common sense! If your mother or that little voice in your head tells you that you are about to do something stupid … then don't do it! Read more about Safety →

Comments & Discussion Leave a Comment »

There are 35 comments on this article. Add to the Discussion »

We have done walking tours with Debbie and also with the Flavors Food tours (yummy) If you want, there is also these people that offer a free tour (tip well).

Comment by Gwenn on 23 Feb 2020

Thanks for the awesome itinerary. We will be arriving on April 30th and would love a 2-3 hour guided walking tour of the old city for our family. Do you have a guide you can recommend?

Comment by Diane C on 22 Feb 2020

The trail from Raices fountain to the El Morro alongside the bay area is fully open now. It's a nice walk hugging the coast at one end and the walls of El Morro on the other, the trail is around 1 mile long and ends at one of the sides of the Esplanade/Green area near the front entrace of El Morro.

Comment by Pratip Bhattacharya on 18 Feb 2020

This route will work, you just won't be able to go into the forts. The forts close at 6pm, even if you went to Fort the second you can get off the ship, you would only have a few minutes there. Just check them out from the outside. Sun sets at like 7pm, so you can watch it from the fort lawn. Then walk down Cristo Street (see part 2) to Capilla and pigeon park, and check out stores/bars.

Comment by Gwenn on 22 Jun 2019

Hello! I’ll arrive there by MSC Seaside on july 8, 2019. Unfortunately the ship will be at San Juan around 5:00 p.m. Could you give me a suggestion, what route to do as it will be almost late? Thanks a lot!

Comment by Mihamac on 22 Jun 2019

The Lancha in OSJ to Catano is working. Take the ferry over and then a taxi. Maybe an Uber would be available?

Comment by Gwenn on 19 Feb 2019

Print them out form our page! At the bottom of each part, you will see a link to the next part.

Comment by Gwenn on 19 Feb 2019

Is the La Lancha ferry still operational? It looks closed. Is a taxi the only way to the Bacardi Factory at this time? Thank you!

Comment by Megan Farley on 17 Feb 2019

Can you please tell me where I can get a copy of the self guided tours.. 1 thru 4 . Thank you so very much..I want to see as much as I have time for in port from 6am to 3pm.. I am so excited to hear from you...

Comment by Barbara Knapp-Smith on 16 Feb 2019

My family and I were in San Juan last week and used your walking tour guide. We followed the Paseo del Morro trail and LOVED every moment. My kids counted wild cats 32 was our count and we enjoyed the beautiful ocean views. Our cruise ship got to port about 8 and we started out first thing in the morning. We walked to the El Morro fort and flew a kite in the grass. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. The path was wide open and we only saw one other family during our walk.

Comment by AmyM on 25 Jul 2018

Gwenn, I can't thank you enough for such detailed description of OSJ tour. My wife and I followed this to the letter, including knocking on a window to get some fruit icicles at Limbers and we both loved every bit of it. We even bought some souvenirs from the Handcraft store you have mentioned. I was a bit concerned about missing out on places of interest if we were doing the tour on our own but this website made it all so easy. You should start a travel blog. You are a great story teller. Thank you once again for making our OSJ tour so memorable for us.

Comment by Enigma40 on 06 Jul 2017

Parts 1 and 2 are probably the best, unless you are really into the forts, then you can add San Cristobal fort (you pay for it anyway with the El Morro admission).

Comment by Gwenn on 18 Jun 2017

Hi, I really liked your page and the detailed descriptions. Could you please suggest which of the OSJ walking tour/guide we should follow (parts of it even), if we plan to be there from 12 pm to 6/7 pm on a Sunday? We have to get back to San Juan for the evening as we only have a day before our flight the next morning. Thanks a lot.

Comment by Himadri Shekhar Kundu on 17 Jun 2017

Yes, you can go on your own , at your own pace...stopping where you want and skipping around. OSJ is reason to not enjoy it in 8 hours! You will not need to see every museum or explore every spot and maybe you want to stop and shop or eat or drink somewhere. The walking tour is a guide..not a must follow to the letter.

Comment by Gwenn on 23 Mar 2016

Our ship is in port from 7am until 3:30. We were going to do the walking tour but it's 3 and a half hours and people say it's absolutely exhausting because you don't stop. We want to be able to go at our own leisurely place and stop for drinks here and there along the way. How long do you estimate all 4 parts take? Because it literally takes us from our ship and back to our ship since Carnival typically docks at pier 3 or 4. I'm assuming 8 hours is more than enough unless we stop for two hours somewhere, yes?

Comment by Amy on 22 Mar 2016

The Paseo del Morro is the part that has the cats... which starts after the SJ Gate.

Comment by Gwenn on 05 Feb 2016

Hi thanks for the extensive tour guide! Can you tell me which path has the cats: Puerta de San Juan/San Juan Gate or Paseo del Morro? Thank you!

Comment by Angel on 04 Feb 2016

I'm so happy to have found this site! We're heading to Old San Juan then Vieques next week. I've found some great and helpful info here. Thanks!

Comment by RF on 10 Nov 2015

I followed this self tour through Old San Juan today. I did all three parts in one day. It was fantastic! Everything in the article matched what we saw throughout the walk. Thank you very much!!! Before this tour make you sure you are ready to walk and sweat a lot! But it will be worth fit.

Comment by Orlena on 02 Oct 2015

Just returned from a Independance of the Seas cruise. We did your three part self guided tour of Old San Juan. I kept telling my friend Nancy how wonderful you made the tour. I highly rcommend it for anyone who likes to walk to do this tour. We printed it out, walked and read the directions. Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! It took about three and a half hours. We could have streached it out if we hadn't had an early departure.

Comment by Steve Flack on 30 Jan 2015

You might catch the sunset along the waterfront or at El Morro (or the after colors) and then all the buildings get lit up. Also the Ballaja gets lit up in pretty colors on the outside. I would do the walking tour #1 and #2 as you work your way back down to the ship.

Comment by Gwenn on 17 Jul 2014

Ok Great Thx Gwen!! Do you recommended going up to El Morro at that time or just staying closer to the ship? Would it be to dark at El Morro to enjoy the views? Just trying to plan ahead so we don't waste anytime :-)

Comment by Dorothy on 16 Jul 2014

Well, at that time of night, all the forts and museums will be closed, so it will just be an outside tour. It gets dark here between 6:15-7:15 (winter/summer), so it will probably be getting dark when you start out. You can still do the tours, the old city is lit up nicely and there are lots of police around to keep it safe. You will not be alone on these streets or anything, I would go out an explore.

Comment by Gwenn on 16 Jul 2014

My boyfriend and I are going for the first time to San Juan for a cruise. Our flight gets in at 4:05pm and our ship doesn't leave til 10:00pm. We were looking to take a self guided tour since we aren't sure if after the airport transfer and check in process if we would be able to take a 6pm paid walking tour. If we wanted to attempt to do this with a 4 hour window, is it recommended to go on our own and get back on time for the ship departure. Your recommendations will be greatly appreciated.

Comment by Dorothy on 15 Jul 2014

It depends on which cruise terminal you will be in. If it is Carnival or a port stop, you will be right in Old Town. If it is Embarkation and not Carnival, you will be across the bay. So a taxi ride away....but just about 10-15mins.

Comment by Gwenn on 23 Mar 2014

How far to old town from cruise ship terminal?

Comment by Pat on 22 Mar 2014

It could take about 20-30 mins or longer, depending on how long you stop and enjoy.

Comment by Gwenn on 23 Jan 2014

Just wanted to thank you for this detailed, step-by-step guide to Old San Juan. we followed it and were very glad that we did. We would have never found Limbers without you! A big Than You from the Deo family.

Comment by Niranjan Deo on 04 Jan 2014

How long (approximately) does Part I take? We will be landing at SJ at 2:20pm. Assuming we start at 5pm -where could we get?

Comment by Zabby on 03 Dec 2013

We stopped at the Museo Felisa Rincón de Gautier which is right on the corner of Recinto Oeste street after you go through the San Juan Gate heading toward the Cathedral. It is a wonderful museum dedicated to Felisa Rincón de Gautier. This 300 year old building was the original residence of the first woman to be elected mayor of a capital city in the Americas. Affectionately known as Doña Fela, she served as mayor of San Juan for 22 years, from 1946 to 1968. There was a man there who took my husband and I through and told us lots of history of Doña Fela. We had a great time there & it is an absolutely beautiful building. It gives you an idea of what the inside of those old homes look like. You can't miss it. It is a pink building right on the corner.

Comment by Jeri on 02 Jun 2013

Hi Ed- check out this link: All the points of interest for PR should be there. You can also check out for GPS coordinates for some things.

Comment by Gwenn on 24 May 2012

Would be helpful if someone could put locations/points of interests from this guide into Google Maps.

Comment by Ed on 24 May 2012

Lived here in 1964 and loved it! I wonder how much Old San Juan has changed in the last 40+ years! I appreciated reading the tour which helped me reminisce.

Comment by Jane on 29 Jan 2011

where thinking of paying for a tour guide for a couple of hours .maybe not.

Comment by Ken + Kathy on 07 Sep 2009

[...] Morro and San Cristobal), La Princesa, La Forteleza, and the Cathedral, to name a few. In fact, our 3-part walking tour will guide you past all of these [...]

Comment by Visit the Museums of Old San Juan on 25 Oct 2007

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