A 3 hour tour (of San Juan)


My last weekend of travel on jetBlue’s All You Can Jet pass was a great one.  Over 11,500 miles and 11 flights scattered across ~58 hours of travel time.  This itinerary was a bit more slack, however, as it included a stop.  An honest-to-goodness real stop in a city (two really) where I’d have social interactions and everything.  That was great and it was nice to catch up with some old friends and make some new ones.  Then it was back to the airport and on with the second half of the itinerary.  Mostly just flying, but there was a pause built in.  Not long enough to really be a stop, but too long for just a connection. 

Spending three and a half hours in San Juan was vexing me.  I had no idea what to do.  I didn’t want to just sit in the airport.  I’d run a decent chance of sleeping through my flight and that is never a good thing. Getting a hotel room wouldn’t be worth it as I’d run the same missed flight risk.  But with needing to be back at the airport to clear security and board the flight I’d really only have about two hours to spend out and about.  Would that be enough time to actually see any of San Juan?  And would there actually be anything to see at 3am?

The answer to both of those questions is a resounding “yes.”

Upon arrival I was first out the door and into the taxi line.  I was actually briefly seated in that first taxi.  Right up until the driver heard I wanted a 2 hour tour.  Apparently that is rather uncommon for the 2:30am arriving flights and the driver was hoping for a quick fare and then to go home and sleep.  Actually, it seems that most of the drivers were searching for a similar fare.  Indeed, it took until the fifth driver until the dispatcher was able to find someone willing to stay up late with me and show me around.  But I did get a driver eventually and we set off on a grand, middle of the night adventure to see Old San Juan under the light of the full moon.

The moon was bright on Monday morning.  It was a beautiful full moon.  And even if it wasn’t, there was no need to worry; the old city is actually quite well lighted.  The forts are rather magnificent to see in the quiet of the night.  They loom large over the coast line of Old San Juan, as intimidating today as they were over 400 years ago when the first one was built.

First stop on the tour was Fort San Cristobal.  It was completed in 1797 and was actually still in use in World War II.  Among other features, it has a huge ramp leading up to some massive entry doors.  Quite impressive.  As it was 3am the doors were locked, but that didn’t stop me from wandering around on the ramparts and snapping a few photos.

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Next up was the Fort San Felipe del Morro.  The El Morro fort sits out on the very tip of Old San Juan Island, jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean.  The site has been a defensive stronghold for almost 500 years, though the current structure mostly dates from the 18th and 19th centuries.  El Morro is even more impressive than the San Cristobal structure.  In addition to the enormous walls (18 feet thick in some places) the fort also features a lighthouse (though not the original one; that was replaced in 1908 by the US military).  The fort covers six levels and rises hundreds of feet from the surf below.  It is rather amazing. 

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And while I’m very much looking forward to getting back to San Juan to see the sights during the day when we can actually go inside, I’m also very happy I got to see them at night.  They are very well lighted and I was completely comfortable wandering around in the field in front of El Morro, even at 3:30 in the morning.  There were a few other folks out and about but not too many.  It was actually quite nice to meander through the quiet, cobblestone streets of the old city with minimal interruption from the few drunk revelers out in the wee hours of the morning.

And then I crawled back up into the taxi and we headed off for the airport.  It wasn’t quite time for the tour to have to end but I was exhausted and the driver was, too.  He dropped me off back at the terminal and, at ~4:30am, headed home himself to get some sleep. 

As for me, I settled into a chair in the corner by the jetBlue gates and simply relaxed.  No sleep, really, but I was able to rest quite nicely.  Finally, shortly before 6am I was happily ensconced in seat 3F for the return flight to JFK.  The sun was coming up outside and I was quite happy to put on my eye-mask and fall right asleep.  I actually slept through the safety demo and takeoff.    A short 3:25 later we were back in NYC and my jetting adventures were over.  But not without a great last stop and tour.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
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