San Juan, Puerto Rico
Although its earliest settlers left few clues, it’s known that the archipelago of Puerto Rico was populated by the Taino people at the time Columbus arrived here during his second visit to the New World in 1493. It would remain under Spanish control for four centuries.
Keeping it that way meant building a flurry of forts around its shores to ward off interest from other European powers. Among them are Fort San Cristobal, the immense defensive fortification completed in 1783, and San Felipe del Morro, a 16th-century citadel with well-preserved barracks, tunnels and dungeons. You also can’t help but admire the duck egg blue and white fortified palace of La Fortaleza. These, together with San Juan de la Cruz (El Cañuelo), and a large portion of the original San Juan City Wall, have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site collectively known as Old San Juan.
You’ll almost certainly want to stroll amidst another of Puerto Rico’s most postcard-friendly faces too, the atmospheric Old Town. In this 465-year-old residential and commercial neighborhood, the buildings’ façades are painted in a rainbow of bright colors, adorned with ornate wrought iron lampposts and balconies.
Exploring San Juan offers you all sorts of ways to fall under Puerto Rico’s spell. You might admire the fabulous cathedral or contemplate the works this beautiful archipelago has inspired at the vast, modern Museo de Arte with collections from both local and international artists, a 400-seat theater and an adjoining sculpture garden.
For a more literal taste of San Juan, the Plaza de Mercado de Santurce is a traditional food market heaped with tropical fruits and vegetables, and all manner of other treasures. Rum lovers may want a tour of Casa Bacardi, the distillery that has produced one of Cuba’s most famous exports since the 1930s.
If you’re a fan of outdoor pursuits, there are plenty of ways to be active in Puerto Rico, from kayaking to horse riding to zip lining. For a spot of sunbathing there are a choice of inviting beaches, such as Condado and Isla Verde, or the more offbeat Ocean Park.
The El Yunque National Rainforest is also immensely enticing. Its name is the Spanish for “anvil” in reference to the mountain that overlooks it all. Here, within its swathes of five forest regions you can hike to waterfalls among wild orchids and giant ferns.