San Juan

San Juan

San Juan, Puerto Rico

The city of San Juan is located on the north coast of Puerto Rico and has an area of 123.5 square kilometers (47.5 square miles). It is the capital of Puerto Rico and was founded in the 16th century. San Juan is also known as «the walled city,» «the capital city», «the paved city,» and «colonial city». The residents are known as capitalinos and senadores, the latter is an allusion to a baseball team. According to the 2000 census, San Juan has a population of 442,447, which makes it the most populated municipality with the highest population density. However, during these past decades, the population has diminished because of movement to adjacent municipalities. The city is divided into 18 wards: Caimito, El Cinco, Cupey, Gobernador Piñero, Hato Rey Central, Hato Rey Norte, Hato Rey Sur, Monacillo, Monacillo Urbano, Oriente, Pueblo de Río Piedras, Quebrada Arenas, Sabana Llana Norte, Sabana Llana Sur, Old San Juan, Santurce, Tortugo, and Universidad. The city’s oldest ward is Old San Juan, located on the islet of San Juan. The festivities for the city’s patron saint, Saint John the Baptist, are held in the month of June.

The colonial part of the city is known as a historic and cultural center, in which the military architecture built from the 16th to the 18th century is its outstanding feature. The old port is also an important port of call for ships that sail the Caribbean. The port has the capacity for a dozen cruise ships at a time, a total of 900 cruises and one million travelers a year.

There are various points of interest beyond the islet where Old San Juan is located. To the east, there is El Condado, a very important hotel and tourist area. Ocean Park is very popular because of its beaches where various aquatic sports are practiced. The Puerto Rico Convention Center as well as some additional docks for the San Juan harbor are located in Miramar. The Puerto Rico Art Museum and the Santurce marketplace are located further down the road in Santurce. Hato Rey is considered the island’s financial district, specifically an area called «the Golden Mile» (0.47 miles long), where major banks and financial firms are located. The traditional market Rafael Hernández and the University of Puerto Rico, which was founded in 1903, are located in Río Piedras.

A few of the most important historic and architectural landmarks include the San Juan Cathedral; Casa Blanca, the residence of Juan Ponce de León; the San Antonio and Dos Hermanos bridges; the Santa Catalina Palace (La Fortaleza), which is the governor’s mansion; El Morro and San Cristóbal fortresses; the San José church; the San Juan wall system, part of which still stands along with one of the six original entrances to the city; the Ballajá military barracks; City Hall; and its main squares. Old San Juan’s defense system was designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).


San Juan is located on the north coast of the Island and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the north, the Caguas and Aguas Buenas municipalities to the south, Carolina and Trujillo Alto to the east, and Guaynabo to the west. The greater city is located on the west side of a rocky islet at the entrance to the harbor. San Juan is located in the karst topography zone of the northern coastal plains and is largely flat. Its highest elevations are located to the south, mainly in the Caimito and Cupey wards.

The highest peaks include San Patricio at 262 feet, Hatillo at approximately 443 feet, and Magueyes at 591 feet above sea level. The San Juan hydrographic system is comprised of the Puerto Nuevo and Piedras rivers. The Puerto Nuevo river flows into the San Juan harbor and receives waters from the Piedras River, Muertos Stream, and Margarita channel. The Piedras River rises in Caimito ward and travels from south to north, finally emptying into the Puerto Nuevo River. Its tributaries include the Buena Vista, Las Curias, Doña Ana, Los Guanos, and Guaracanal brooks. Other streams include Carraizo, Frailes, Juan, and San Antón. Las Curias Dam is located in Cupey ward.

San Juan’s hydrographic system also comprises the San Juan Bay Estuary, which extends from the San Juan Harbor to the west and Piñones lagoon on the east. The only part of the estuary, however, that actually is a part of San Juan is the Harbor itself, the Condado, San José, and Los Corozos lagoons, as well as the San Antonio Suárez and Martín Peña channels.

The San Juan coast includes, from east to west, Las Marías, Piedrita, Escambrón, del Morro, and la Puntilla promontories. The Piedras islet is located near Las Marías promontory and the San Jorge promontory is located near the Escambrón promontory. Guachinga islet is located on the San José lagoon. The most frequented beaches are Escambrón, Condado, and Ocean Park.

The town of Caparra was settled before the actual founding of San Juan, having been established on the southern area of the San Juan harbor by Juan Ponce de León in 1509. Between 1519 and 1521, the settlers requested that the settlement be moved to the islet located on the bay and the name was changed to Puerto Rico. During the 16th century, the settlement became a military stronghold for the metropolitan power because of its geographical location as a strategic defense site against foreign invasion and occupation. The city, in fact, became a military bastion.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, San Juan was attacked several times by foreign nations, affecting the daily life of the city’s citizens. At the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, a series of political events in the Caribbean basin and in Spain contributed to the population increase of San Juan.

Because of the population increase, the city expanded beyond its walls. In the mid 19th century there were approximately one thousand houses, made out of rubble masonry and brick, with cisterns. The small huts orbohíos began to disappear. In 1863, Santurce –a ward of a former municipality, San Mateo del Cangrejo— became San Juan’s first suburb, expanding the capital’s territory. Bu the end of the century, the capital had 12,000 inhabitants and growth was concentrated in the suburbs.

During the first two decades of the 20th century, the islet developed rapidly. Tetuán street became a banking and financial centre; The School Tropical Medicine was established in 1926, and three years later the Capitol was inaugurated. The most significant changes took place in the city in mid-century, driven by industrialization projects and the exportation of products to the United States mainland. The last major expansion of the municipality occurred in 1951, when the town of Río Piedras, the third most populated municipality in Puerto Rico, was annexed to the capital. Because of its strategic location to the south of San Juan, it became a juncture for the transportation systems of the main island of Puerto Rico as well as the gateway to the islet of San Juan.

Currently, San Juan is in the process of developing a new vision, seeking a new perspective on development, which many have questioned as unthinkable. New challenges include redevelopment and rehabilitation of existing structures, as San Juan faces social an economic issues that are a far cry from the conditions of its founding.


San Juan’s flag  consists of the San Juan the Baptist coat of arms on a white filed.

Coat of arms

The origin of the coat of arms is unknown and it has undergone several transformations over the years. It is very similar to the Puerto Rico coat of arms. In 1799, King Charles IV of Spain granted the capital the honor of including in its coat of arms the motto: «For her constancy, love, and fidelity, this is a most noble and loyal city,» as a result of the valor demonstrated during the British attack of 1797.

The coat of arms  has a blue background with a Paschal Lamb as the main charge, which represents Jesus Christ and St. John the Baptist, patron saint of the city. The lamb appears standing on a rock with the emblem of the cross and a white or silver flag with a red cross that represents Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and His victory over sin and death after His resurrection. The rock has two meanings. First, it represents Mount Zion, symbol of the holy city of Jerusalem and the Church, and secondly, it represents the islet of San Juan, where the capital is located. The waves represent the rivers of Paradise and the Sacraments. The five-turreted castle that crowns the coat of arms is a symbol of city status.


Hon. Jorge Santini Padilla

Places of interest

· Puerto Rico Archives and General Library
· Alms Houses (today the Puerto Rican Culture Institute)
· The former La Puntilla arsenal
· The former Ballajá barracks
· Puerto Rico Atheneum
· Carnegie Library
· Christ Health Chapel
· The Capitol
· La Princesa Jail
· City Hall
· Casa Blanca – former residence of Ponce de León’s family
· Ruth Hernández Cultural Center
· Spanish Cultural Center (Casa de España)
· Casa del Libro
· Casa Serrallés
· Casa Ramón Power y Giralt (main offices of the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust)
· San Felipe del Morro Castle
· San Juan Cathedral
· St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzis Cemetery
· Puerto Rico Convention Center
· Government Reception Center (Old Casino)
· José Miguel Agrelot Coliseum
· Puerto Rico Olympics Committee
· Escambrón Sports Complex and Sixto Escobar ballpark
· Gabriela Mistral Complex
· San José Theater (main offices of the Puerto Rican Endowment for the Humanities)
· San Juan Yatch Club
· School of Visual Arts
· Hiram Bithorn Stadium
· St. Cristóbal Castle
· St. Jerónimo Fort
· National Gallery at the former Dominican Friars» Convent
· Pedrín Zorrilla Coliseum
· Caribe Hilton Hotel
· El Convento Hotel
· Normandie Hotel
· Churches: San José, San Francisco and Santa Ana
· Botanical Garden (Río Piedras)
· Condado Lagoon
· San Juan Art League
· St. John the Baptist and Remembrance monuments
· City Walls
· Pablo Casals, African Roots, San Juan Art and History, Puerto Rico Art, Children’s, 19th century Puerto Rican Family, Pharmacy, Felisa Rincón de Gautier, and The Americas museums:
· Natatorium
· Santa Catalina (La Fortaleza, the Governor’s Mansion)
· San Juan Central Park
· Luis Muñoz Rivera Park
· Pigeon Park
· Third Millenium Park
· José de Diego Pedestrian Mall
· Enrique Martí Coll Linear Park
· La Princesa Promenade and the Raíces Fountain
· Condado Beach
· El Escambrón Beach
· Ocean Park Beach
· Town squares: San José, de Armas, de Hostos, Salvador Brau, Colón, Dársenas, del Inmigrante, del Quinto Centenario, Convalecencia
· Santurce and Río Piedras markets
· La Rogativa square
· Rebekah Colberg Sports Centre
· Dos Hermanos Bridge
· San Juan Gate
· San Juan Golf Academy and Driving Range
· Alejandro Tapia Theatre
· University of Puerto Rico (Río Piedras)
· Condado hotel area

Illustrious Citizens

José Julián Acosta Calbo – Abolitionist leader y edutor.

José Miguel Agrelot – actor and comedian

Manuel Antonio Alonso – physician and writer, known as the father of the Puerto Rican literature. Author ofEl Gibaro.

Juan Alejo Arizmendi – First Puerto Rican bishop.

Francisco Arriví – Playwright, essayist, and poet. Avid promoter of Puerto Rican theater.

Tomás Blanco – writer. Author of Prontuario histórico de Puerto Rico and other important works.

José Campeche Jordán – well known 18th century painter, famous for his works religious works as well as his portraits.

Rafael Cordero – better known as Maestro Rafael, he was an outstanding educator. Maestro Rafael is remembered as one of the most important figures in education in the 18th century.

Lidio Cruz Monclova – historian and author of Historia de Puerto Rico (19th century).

Justino Díaz –world renowned opera singer.

Luis M. Díaz Soler – Historian and author of Historia de la esclavitud negra en Puerto Rico.

José Ferrer – Famous film and theater actor. Oscar winner.

Miguel Guerra Modragón – lawyer and representative (1907 – 1908, 1911 – 1912 y 1917 – 1928).

Luis Muñoz Marín – writer, journalist, and senator from 1933 to 1936, 1941 to 1948, and 1965 to 1970, and the first elected Puerto Rican governor (1949 – 1965).

Francisco Oller – A renowned painter, creator of El Velorio.

Antonio S. Pedreira – writer and critic. Author of Insularismo.

Ramón Power y Giralt – first Puerto Rican member of the Spanish Cortes (1809 – 1813).

Samuel R. Quiñones – lawyer and representative (1941 and 1945).

Sylvia Rexach – Acclaimed songwriter. Among her most famous compositions are Dí corazón, Alma adentro, Anochecer, etc.

Evaristo Rivera Chevremont – Prominent Puerto Rican poet. One of his most important works is the collection of poems Color. 

Eulate de Sanjurjo – writer

Manuel Gregorio Tavares – composer. He is considered the father of the Puerto Rican danza.

Salvador Tío – writer and journalist. Although he was born in Mayagüez, he is considered an adopted son of San Juan.


• International Folklore Festival – January
• Musical Theater Festival – January
• San Sebastián St. Festival – January
• Puerto Rican Theatre Festival – March
• Festival of the Holy Cross – May
• Puerto Rican Music Festival – May
• National contest of traditional folk singers – May
• St. John the Baptist patron saint’s festival – June
• Summer Festival – June
• Casals Festival – June
• Ceramics Festival – September
• Children’s cultural festival – September
• Christmas parade – November
• National Cuatro Competition – December



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