Tag Archive | "El Morro"

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Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Oh, it’s a kite!

Posted on 28 July 2009 by GSV

As spring turns into summer, and the skies begin to clear up, the time-honored tradition of kite flying returns to occupy open spaces all around Puerto Rico.  The most popular spot on the island for this type of activity is the wide, open field of El Morro.  The area around the historical landmark contains all the necessary conditions for successful kite flying in a picturesque setting: the sprawling green lawn, the unobstructed airspace (no power lines or aircraft), and the constant, unrelenting trade winds.  With these characteristics, it’s no wonder why kite flying in El Morro is something every Puerto Rican family tries at least once.  Picnics are commonplace with parents and children participating in the event; the terrain strewed with blankets, chairs and coolers, the sky dotted with simple or fantastical chiringas – as the flying objects are locally known.

Kite flying is such a beloved leisure activity that the National Park Service has an annual Kite Festival celebrating the tradition, as well as raising awareness about the environmental repercussions we can avoid by being mindful of our surroundings.  In fact, kite safety and etiquette are things you should familiarize yourself with before setting out.  With the knowledge at hand, you’ll be able to better enjoy the experience.

And what else do you need to enjoy the experience?  A kite, of course!  Kites are fairly simple to make right at home, so you can certainly turn your weekend into a full-fledged experience by making your own kite and proudly displaying your unique creation up in the sky.  You can also bring your own store-bought flying sensation or buy one from the numerous street vendors (or the local pharmacy or toy store) lining the streets around El Morro and the Plaza del Quinto CentenarioGayla is one of the most trusted brands for cheap yet incredibly sturdy and easy to assemble kites – and their classic designs like the ‘Baby Bat’ look great when displayed up above. Readily available in Old San Juan for less than five dollars, there is a lot of fun to be had on the cheap!

Kite-flying season runs ostensibly from mid-spring to late summer and isn’t just focused on El Morro.  Several other municipalities, like Fajardo and Lajas, celebrate the season with festivals of their own.

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Walking Tour: Old San Juan Part 2/4

Posted on 22 July 2009 by GSV

For Part 1 of the Old San Juan Walking Tour, click here.

We’ve already seen Old San Juan’s southwestern quarter and it’s host of plazas and monuments.  As we travel towards the city’s northern coast we will find all sorts of specialized museums, historical buildings, streets lined with bars and restaurants, and, of course, the island’s most visited site.  So let’s continue with the second part of our Walking Tour, shall we?

As Far as Sequels Go (Leg 2 of 4)

By now you’ve soaked up all the spectacular views from Plazuela de La Rogativa and you’re feeling refreshed and energized to continue with your exploration of the city.  Head north on Calle Las Monjas (past La Rogativa to your left and past a white-columned gate) and you will find Casa Rosa (Walking Tour sight #10).  Literally meaning “pink house”, the distinctive building was used as a garrison during the Spanish colonial period but now serves as a daycare center.

10. Casa Rosa

10. Casa Rosa

Continuing the tree-laden path north leads to the open expanse of El Morro’s field.  But before we reach the fortress, you’ll find another point of interest to our right: la Escuela de Artes Plasticas (#11).  Formerly an insane asylum, this historic building, a prime location for inspiration and beauty, currently houses the premiere school for arts in Puerto Rico.

11. Escuela Artes Plásticas

11. Escuela de Artes Plásticas

After meandering around the school (you never know if you might witness some sort of divine inspiration going on) we’re ready to tackle the big one – Fuerte San Felipe del Morro (#12).  To reach El Morro just  follow the quarter mile path that runs through the open grass field where you might find families enjoying a picnic out in the breezy, sun-drenched space.  Kite flying is immensely popular here; the trade winds blasting from the Atlantic and the vastness of the open sky are a perfect medium for this time-honored tradition.

12. Fuerte San Felipe del Morro

12. Fuerte San Felipe del Morro

The fort of El Morro is without a doubt the most popular destination for visitors to the island, and for good reason.  The imposing structure was begun in 1540 but didn’t achieve it’s completed state until several centuries later.  As San Juan’s principal defense against attacks by sea, El Morro has served on several occasions as repellent to invasion forces – from the English (1595, 1598 & 1797) and the Dutch (1625) to the Americans (1898).   Take your time while exploring the area, history is seeped into the walls of this UNESCO World Heritage Site and the views of the bay and surrounding ocean are a marvel to look at.

Adjacent to El Morro is another much-photographed spot in the city, el Cementerio de San Juan (#13).  To get there, walk the length of El Morro’s grounds heading east towards Plaza del Quinto Centenario.  A road leads down into the surreal atmosphere of the cemetery where ghostly statues and elaborate decorations adorn some of the tombs.  Many important Puerto Ricans are buried here:  nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos, pro-statehood movement founder Jose Celso Barbosa, and poet and politician Jose de Diego.  After you’ve taken in the views from the cemetery go up to the street once again.  We’ve still have some ground to cover and much more to see.

13. Cementerio de San Juan

13. Cementerio de San Juan

Norzagaray Street, due east, lands us on our next stop, Museo de San Juan (#14).  Dedicated to the preservation of the city’s  history, the museum is the ideal place to learn all about your surroundings during your stay in Old San Juan.  Included in the displays are works from Puerto Rican masters Jose Campeche and Francisco Oller.

14. Museo de San Juan

14. Museo de San Juan

After you’ve caught up a bit with the culture, it’s time to discover another aspect of it first-hand.  To the south of Museo de San Juan we enter Calle San Sebastian (#15), a favorite hangout spot for locals and tourists.  The street is famous for the festival held every January, when hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to San Juan to experience the festivities first-hand.  But San Sebastián St. is active year-round with plenty of restaurants and bars inviting patrons to take a load off, if only for a little while.  Have a drink or order up some food if you like, but we still have 3 more spots to go on this leg of the tour.  You’ll have more time to explore the street and have as many drinks as you want afterward – promise!

14. Calle San Sebastián

15. Calle San Sebastián

If we go west on San Sebastian Street, we’ll reach it’s intersection with Del Cristo Street.  At this juncture we find Plaza San Jose (#16).  The plaza is easily recognizable thanks to the statue of Puerto Rico’s first governor, Juan Ponce de Leon, and to the centuries-old church that gives the square it’s name.  The shaded benches offer a welcome respite for those in need of it.  Fortunately for us, the last 2 spots surround Plaza San Jose.

16. Plaza de San José & Iglesia de San José

16. Plaza de San José & Iglesia de San José

To the right of the statue – perpendicular to the church – is Museo de Casals (#17), dedicated to the life and work of world-famous cellist and composer Pablo Casals.  Though born in Spain, Casals has been adopted as an important figure in the development of the fine arts in Puerto Rico.

17. Museo de Casals

17. Museo de Casals

Next to Museo Casals is Museo de Nuestras Raices Africanas (#18).  The museum chronicles the rich cultural heritage of West Africa that has contributed to Puerto Rican society.  Apart from the fascinating exhibits, the building that houses the museum is also an architecturally significant piece of history.

18. Casa de los Contrafuertes/Museo de Nuestras Raíces Africanas

18. Casa de los Contrafuertes/Museo de Nuestras Raíces Africanas

This concludes the second leg of our Walking Tour.  Head back to Calle San Sebastian for more cocktails and a proper meal or join us for Part 3, where we’ll explore more historical buildings before heading down Del Cristo Street.

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Beginner’s Guide to Photography in Old San Juan

Posted on 13 July 2009 by jose

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.

El Arsenal

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.

El Capitolio

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

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