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One City Five Hours: Old San Juan

A run in the sun

Author Lizbette Ocasio - Russe Illustration Oliver Jeffers

1 First things first: souvenirs. Puerto Rican Art and Crafts (204 Fortaleza St.; www.puertoricanart-crafts.com) has it all, from high-end ceramics to handmade jewelry. But what you want is a mask of a vejigante, the clownlike characters that delight (and sometimes scare) crowds at Puerto Rican festivals. ( 0:20 )

2 Continue along Fortaleza Street until you arrive at Barrachina (104 Fortaleza St.; www.barrachina.com), which claims to be the birthplace of the piña colada. Indulge yourself with an umbrella-adorned glass, and then decide if you’d like to sample the mofongo (plantains fried with meat) or asopao (a traditional meat and vegetable stew). You can’t go wrong. ( 1:30 )

3 Make your way to Cristo Street, where you’ll find the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista (151–153 Calle del Cristo; www.catedralsanjuan.com), the second-oldest cathedral in the western hemisphere. Built in 1521, the cathedral is both captivating and a little creepy (it contains the tomb of Spanish explorer and Puerto Rico’s first governor, Juan Ponce de Léon). ( 2:00 )

4 There’s no time for a swim, but you can take a gander at the shimmering Caribbean. Head to Plazuela de la Rogativa for optimum gazing. If you can pull your eyes from the sea, you’ll notice four statues honoring a procession of cunning Catholic believers that scared off a British invasion in 1797. Divine. ( 2:30 )

5 Now it’s time for tunes. Puerto Rico prides itself on an eclectic array of genres, from the loud and pounding reggaeton to the more traditional bomba, but at the Museo de Pablo Casals (101 San Sebastián St.), it’s all about the cello. The founder of the Puerto Rico Symphonic Orchestra, Casals has a legacy as big as the museum’s library of recordings. Go ahead, have a listen. ( 2:50 )

6 Walk down San Sebastian Street to Casa Blanca (1 San Sebastian St.) and poke around the magnificent Ponce de Léon family home. Though Juan himself never lived here, his descendants did for more than 250 years. Now it’s a museum detailing the remarkable history of Puerto Rico’s first first family. ( 3:25 )

7 No visit to Old San Juan would be complete without a look at Puerto Rico’s best-known fortress. So bite the bullet and make the long walk up to the Castillo de San Felipe del Morro. Millions of people annually explore the garitas (sentry boxes) while soaking in some of that blazing Caribbean sun. Even if military history doesn’t interest you, the view most certainly will. ( 4:40 )

8 As your trip winds down, you should too. Stroll down the quaint Paseo de la Princesa, a picturesque path packed with trees, pedestrians and kiosks selling the best fresh-squeezed orange juice you’ll ever have. Make it a double. (5:00)

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