As a resident of Old San Juan with over 50 video and photography productions on location for EyeTour.com under the belt, it’s with much pride and joy that I share with you now my favorite spots to photograph in the historic city. Since I live close to the piers that make up the San Juan Marina on the southern end of the city, for me it’s always a treat to hike up the city streets like San Justo St. and Cruz St. while enjoying the views that open up as one moves towards higher ground, always taking advantage of the casual encounters that the city provides the avid photographer. So if you have the chance to explore the city and its many photo opportunities, keep your head up and your camera securely on hand because in Old San Juan the potential for a great shot lies around every corner.
Fuerte San Cristóbal
Recognized as the largest fortification in the Americas, El Fuerte San Cristóbal is full of unique photo opportunities and is the best spot for panoramic views of the city and for photos of Spanish architecture of centuries back, with its tunnels and barracks that once served as part of the city’s defense system. Explore all the different levels of the fort in search of the perfect panoramic shot, especially, the highest level of San Cristóbal, known as the Caballero, on which one may observe the entire city of Old San Juan and its bay.
Best Time For Photography: In the mornings if you want to take pics of El Morro and the northern end of the city towards the Atlantic. For great wide photographs of El Capitolio, which houses Puerto Rico’s Senate and House of Representatives, to the East – you’ll get a better shot after 1pm or at sunset. Plaza Colón can be seen from the south western side of the fort and makes for great shots too.
Fuerte San Felipe del Morro
The second oldest fortification making up San Juan’s defense system, El Morro is a sight to behold. From the gravel path that leads visitors to the fort there are good photo opportunities for panoramic views of Isla de Cabra and the Bacardi Factory across the San Juan Bay. If you look behind you as you walk the path to El Morro, you’ll also find good shots of the Escuela de Artes Plásticas, and of the Cementerio de San Juan to the East. Once inside the fortress you’ll find yourself bombarded with opportunities for great shots: there’s an ancient (renovated) lighthouse, soldier barracks, a dungeon, cannons, and the iconic Garitas (sentry box) from where soldiers kept watch of the seas. Be sure to make your way to the main platform of the “Santa Barbara Battery” – a good vantage point for views – and get a couple of shots from there. This is a fun place to wander around and simply explore all the different angles to the magnificent architecture.
Best Time For Photography: For a better view of the bay, visit the fortress during the morning. For spectacular high-contrast shots of El Morro, get yourself to its adjacent field as the sun is coming down (get there around 6pm to be on the safe side and have some time to set up).
Cementerio de San Juan
The cementery is a great place to explore and take photographs of the marble mausoleums and tombs, nestled between the fortified walls of the city and the waters of the Atlantic. There are also some good wide shots you can take of the cemetery from above, either standing on the fortified wall you can access by walking on the field adjacent to El Morro or all the way back from the Plaza del Quinto Centenario. Be careful as you walk down the small path that leads to the cemetery since it is a two way road and cars pass through occasionally. Also, be wary of exploring this (and any other) cementery at night, as there is no security around.
Best Time for Photography: Anytime of the day – just don’t go there at night. Your shots will probably focus on the numerous marble sculptures, but in clear and sunny days you can shoot them against the blue hues of the Atlantic and make them really stand out in your compositions. Add a Puerto Rican flag into your frame for a nice touch of red.
La Muralla de la Ciudad
There is a winding path (favorite among joggers) that begins at La Puerta de San Juan, the last of three doors that were closed at night in order to protect the city and its residents. The path follows the outer side of the city walls around the San Juan Bay and the Atlantic, giving photographers an unique perspective on the majesty of these fortifications that shoot up hundreds of feet into the sky. If you walk to the end of the path (it will take you a good 20-30min depending on your pace) you’ll find yourself looking at El Morro from below.
The Garitas make for great shots from this point so aim at them too.
Best Time for Photography: Anytime during the day if the weather is fine. Bring water (and a snack) for the walk. This is also an excellent spot for pictures of a San Juan sunset since you’ll be able to see it clearly across the bay.
Plazuela De La Rogativa
La Plazuela de la Rogativa is a hidden gem of a spot between La Fortaleza and Casa Rosa that offers a spectacular view of the San Juan Bay – a must stop for photographers! This is THE perfect place for a panoramic photo out into the bay, a picture of the historic Puerta de San Juan from above, some shots of Garitas, and plenty of opportunities to capture the beautiful Rogativa Statue at the center of this small plaza.
Best Time For Photography: During the morning if you want the sun to work in your favor as you aim towards the view of the bay. The later during the day, the higher the contrast you will get from the sun. You can also get nice vanilla and purple skies during sunsets.
View from Casa Rosa
To the north of the Plazuela de la Rogativa, Casa Rosa also offers a splendid view of the San Juan Bay – additionally, from this point of view you have an extraordinary shot of La Fortaleza (the Governor’s estate) and the city wall. Get close to the Garita in front of Casa Rosa and you might also shoot some interesting photos from that vantage point.
Instituto de Cultura de Puerto Rico
This is a place that might go undetected by some tourists and locals alike but the historical building that houses the Instituto de Cultura is a great example of the Spanish Colonial Architecture at its finest. Feel free to explore its interior patios, walk its spacious halls and photograph all the colour and splendor that this place has to offer. This is a good place to take pictures of the columns and arcs that characterize much of the architecture in Old San Juan. The Instituto de Cultura is open from 9:30am to 5pm and its is closed on Mondays.
Calle San Sebastián
San Sebastián street is the perfect place to mingle with locals. The colorful colonial houses and the laid-back atmosphere makes it the right spot to get lost walking the cobblestone street and wonder around. At the western end of the street you will find El Parque de la Beneficencia and Casa Blanca, both recommended places for further exploration and photography. During the night this is one of the main streets in Old San Juan for people to hang out in bars and restaurants.
Located near the Plaza de la Dársena at the west end of the San Juan Marina, El Arsenal is a colorful place ideal for taking pictures of the interior patios and architecture. Also you might find on its premises a small chapel, old Spanish canons, and a wide view of the bay. El Arsenal’s interior space is also dedicated to galleries which often feature exhibits of local artists. It opens Wednesdays through Saturdays from 9am to 5pm.
The Capitol Building is an interesting place for photography. Located a short walk away from the San Cristóbal fortress and in front of a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean. You are allowed to take pictures inside the building, so make sure you take advantage of this opportunity, as you will find inside the original document for the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico as well as several mosaics on the ceiling. Visiting hours are Monday to Fridays from 9am to 4pm.
Below are some links you might find useful:
Lose yourself within the city and its historic streets and be ready for casual encounters with Puerto Rican culture, colors, and flavors. Be creative. Explore. Your curiosity will be rewarded with great photo opportunities!
Travel Photography Tips: From National Geographic , From Kodak , From Picture Correct
Composition: 4 Rules of Composition for Landscape Photography , Rule of Thirds