Sights and sounds of San Juan
It had already been a long Minnesota winter when we landed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in February.
Though overdressed, I savored the sultry heat and warm sunshine and strapped myself into the van that transported us to our hotel in the heart of Old San Juan. Our talkative and expressive driver gestured wildly as she darted in and out of traffic through the sometimes narrow streets; the Canadian next to me admitted her driving made him nervous.
I was still technically in the United States — Puerto Rico is a commonwealth — but couldn't have felt further away. As my husband and I later walked the cobblestone streets, vibrant and colorful architecture surrounded us and musicians sang a Spanish tune outside El Convento, a former convent turned high-end hotel. The smells and food — including monfongo, sweet plantain and paella — were exotic. Families gathered in the plazas to socialize as children splashed in the fountains. Cats roamed freely.
We approached the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a fortress built by the Spaniards between 1539 and 1786. The enormous six-level fortress, built to protect the harbor entrance, rises 140 feet above the Atlantic Ocean and is open to tourists for exploration.
The sun was setting and high-flying kites were fading to silhouette along the stretch of land leading out of the fort and overlooking the sea. There was a light breeze and the sound of laughter from an outdoor wedding.
It was time for a mojito and an ice-cold bottle of Modelo Light. Our perfect vacation had begun.
Elizabeth Nida Obert is a senior staff photographer at the Post-Bulletin.
Getting there: Non-stop flight out of Minneapolis and into San Juan on Delta. Flight runs about 4-1/2 hours.
Where you stayed: Hotel Plaza De Armas, which was affordable and centrally located in Old San Juan. And the Andalucía Guest House, which is in Ocean Park and just blocks from the beach.
Where to eat: You will find authentic and tasty food, including mofongo, at Restaurante Raíces.
Your travel tip: Car rental is unnecessary in Old San Juan, an area small enough to travel by foot. If you plan to see other parts of the island, however, car rental is available at the Old San Juan Sheraton.
Side trips: Tropical rain forest El Yunque, which is within an hours drive of San Juan. I'd also recommend the Camuy Caves and Arecibo Observatory.
More information: www.topuertorico.org/city/sanjuan.shtml