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The history of Puerto Rico predates the landing of the Mayflower on Plymouth Rock by over 100 years. When the Spanish settled the island in the early 1500s, they realized that Puerto Rico’s value lay not in gold or silver, but in its strategic location and deep natural harbor.
The conquistadors converted the city of San Juan into a military outpost, building massive fortifications over three centuries to protect Spanish interests in the New World.
The legacy of the conquistadors can be seen and felt in the very walls that encircle Old San Juan; in the mighty forts that have been meticulously preserved to showcase the ingenuity of military architecture; and in the elegant colonial buildings of San Juan and Ponce, Puerto Rico’s most picturesque cities.
When you explore this island, you step back in time to an era when the Old World reshaped the New. We invite you to join us in reliving its history, discovering its legends, and sharing its fascinating story.
Top Places to Explore in Puerto Rico
No single structure captures the historic military might of Puerto Rico like the Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, better known simply as El Morro. Built in 1540, the fortress took 250 years to complete. Walk among its battlements and ramparts, visit its dungeons, and have your picture taken in a garita, or sentry box. After, enjoy a local tradition by buying a chiringa, or kite, and flying it in the strong ocean breeze over the green plain facing the fortress.Explore it
The largest fortress built by the Spanish in the Americas, the formidable San Cristóbal was built to defend the city against land attacks from the east. From its walls, you can see cruise ships sail into Old San Juan’s piers and the ramparts of El Morro to the west.Explore it
One of Puerto Rico’s earliest fortifications, the construction of La Fortaleza began in 1533. It was renovated in 1846 and converted into what is now the oldest governor’s mansion in the western hemisphere. Tours are given daily at this iconic landmark.Explore it
Old San Juan
The seven-square-block area of Old San Juan is among the most magical destinations in the Caribbean. With its narrow streets paved with blue-tinged cobblestone (called adoquines), fortresses, monuments, churches, colonial architecture and tropical colors, it’s the historic and cultural heart of Puerto Rico. Visit the best of Old San Juan with a walking tour.Explore it
Puerto Rico’s Second City is an architectural gem that covers a different chapter of colonial history on the island. The elegant buildings, mansions and plazas of Ponce recall a time when the agricultural boom of the 19th century created a wealthy class of landowners. To see the best of the city’s many sights, take a trolley tour from the central Plaza de las Delicias.Explore it