Hello everyone from San Juan, Puerto Rico! As many of you may not know, I live in Houston for college. Yet, I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. As per every year, I came over to celebrate Christmas in Puerto Rico with my family. I have the blessing of having a 94 year old grandmother who is very proud of her heritage and where she grew up. I grew up in the metropolitan area of San Juan. She was born in a less metropolitan city called Ponce. Ponce is Puerto Rico’s second largest metropolitan area today, and in the past has been home to many illustrious families. After she was born in Ponce, she moved to the mountain town of Adjuntas. She grew up there until she reached high school, and then moved back to Ponce.
My grandmother is one of the most interesting people I have met. I feel very lucky to have her in my life and be able to listen to her stories. This post is a small tribute to her. It is also a small window into what it means to spend the holiday season in Puerto Rico. This year we spent time in Ponce, Adjuntas, and San Juan. Here are some pictures of the holiday landscape in these three towns/cities.
Ponce, known as the Pearl of the South, is one of the most festive cities during the holidays. It’s patron saint’s day is December 12th, and they host a carnival during that weekend and the following weekend. We visited during the second weekend carnival.
The main square was very decorated and had a few merchants offering “pinchos” (skewers with meat), piña coladas, and other drinks. The Cathedral was lit up, and there was a lively feel to the square. The “casa alcaldía” (city hall) was decorated with an image of the Holy Family. Also, the fountains around the square were decorated. The fountains were lined with lions, as the lion is the city’s main symbol.
Beyond the mayor’s office, one of the most symbolic structures of all of Ponce was also very decorated and bright. The “Parque de Bombas” (basically a fire station that was built in 1883) stood as a powerful sign of the town’s past. I can proudly say my great-great-grandfather and his brother were both honored there with their portraits. They were some of the officers in the fire corps during the late nineteenth century.
Further down the road, there is the oldest hotel in Puerto Rico, the Hotel Meliá (no relation to the Meliá chain in Spain). It was founded in the 1880s. Next to it are the two oldest bank branches in Ponce. One once was once known as the Crédito y Ahorro Ponceño (Ponce Credit Union). Next to it is the original office of the Bank of Ponce. Both of these banks are now part of much larger banks. Across the square is the instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña Office, which manages cultural affairs and cultural activities throughout the island.
The next day, we went to Adjuntas. Adjuntas is one of the quietest towns in Puerto Rico. It lies deep in the mountains and there is barely any cell phone signal. It boasts some of the most breathtaking views of the Puerto Rico mountains, and is home to some of the best coffee in the world.
My grandmother grew up in a house close to the center of town. In its heyday, it was of a light blue color. Nowadays, it has not been well kept, and the age can be seen in the facade. Down the road the house is, there is a small square where the main building of the town are. There is only one bank in the town (in the same square), the city hall (ayuntamiento) and the parish. The square was remodeled a few years back, and now has a modern feel to it. The fountain and masonry are all new, and it gave the town a much needed revitalization.
Further down the square’s main road are three buildings. Two of those, are the schools where my grandmother studied, the elementary school and the middle school, which 80 years later still had the same purpose. The third building is the “Casa Pueblo”. Casa Pueblo is an environmental rights group, that has fought to keep Puerto Rico’s natural areas pristine, and have fought to keep the island’s natural beauty available to all. It serves as a museum, and sells a few knick knacks in order to pay for the upkeep of the house. The museum is free, and they sell some of the best coffee grounds from Adjuntas.
Many people have visited San Juan. I was lucky enough to be born here and live here all my life. There is no better time to visit the city than during the holidays. The Old Town is decorated everywhere. There are lights everywhere, and festivities every day. I had a chance to see the town at 5am, when everyone was asleep and the lights were still on. The Fortaleza (the governor’s mansion) is always beautifully decorated. The street that leads to it is lined with lights, and most streets around the town have lit decorations above the roads.
Next to the Fortaleza is one of the oldest hospitals in the island. It is kept by nuns, who host mass in the early morning once during the holidays. It is a treat to go there (whether you are religious or not) to see their intricate Nativity scene, have breakfast there afterwards, and see the sunrise from the balcony that overlooks the bay entrance. Next to the hospital is the house where my grandfather was born.
Farther from the Fortaleza is the main square of the Old Town. There you can find a few of the most interesting buildings in the City. The Puerto Rico State Department office is there, as well as the Casa Alcaldia of San Juan, and the Puerto Rico Drug Store, the oldest pharmacy of the old town.
Down the Streets
Down the steep streets you can find some of the older buildings that have been restored in the past decades. There are a few famous restaurants that serve typical Puerto Rican food, such as the Bombonera, the Mallorca, and the Mallorquina (fun fact, my grandparents went on dates there during the 40’s).
If you continue to venture around the old town, you will find the the Cathedral, the Convento Hotel (the best hotel in the Old Town, bookable here) and the famous Calle San Sebastián. Further up the hills, you will find the Totem Monument, and the symbol to the city of San Juan: a lamb standing up with a flag. Beyond that small square, you can see the coast, the El Morro Fort (a National Park) and some of the nicest painted houses of the Old Town.
I hope you all enjoyed the views of Puerto Rico. Feel free to ask me any questions about places to visit, eat, and enjoy if you decide to visit. I am more than happy to help anyone have the best time they can on my beautiful island. I want to formally dedicate this post to my wonderful grandmother. She has been one of the most influential people in my life. Te amo abuela.
What do you think? Have you ever been to Puerto Rico? Are there any places you have really enjoyed and want to share?