No visit to San Juan would be complete without touring Viejo San Juan, or Old San Juan, a 7-square block area that was originally designed as a military stronghold to ward off pirates and other foreign invaders. Today, you'll find the streets of Old San Juan filled with charming little shops, restaurants, bistros, and residential as well as commercial areas. However, its charm lies in the brightly colored buildings and streets paved with adoquine, a stone with a blueish hue to it. I didn't realize that the area was also a little hilly, so even though we all had comfortable shoes on, it felt like a little hike walking around the neighborhood. Old San Juan is easily accessed from the Condado area with either a short taxi ride ($10 one way) or via the bus ($0.75 fare) system, so it was close and convenient enough to be located near our hotel.
Our cab dropped us off at Plaza de Colón, the plaza named in honor of Christoper Columbus, and our cab driver was nice enough to point out a few things that were worth seeing. Even though we were there around 10am, the humidity was starting to creep up on us, so we had to run into one of the many souvenir shops to arm ourselves with bottled water. My first impression of Old San Juan was that it was very colorful and had a cheerful atmosphere. Vendors were starting to set up their tents to sell various handmade souvenirs, such as purses and masks, and the smell from the street food carts were beginning to pervade my senses. I fought the temptation though. Old San Juan has a number of famous plazas dispersed throughout its area, but some of the notable ones are Plaza San José, Plaza del Quinto Centenario, and Plaza de Armas. Also, in case you have little children in tow, there are free trolleys you can hop on and off on your trek so that you don't have to suffer in the heat. They're marked by trolley stops (with numbers) along various streets in Old San Juan. I do recommend walking as much as you can, since you may miss some of the quaint little shops and unique restaurants along the way. Also, we enjoyed interacting with the local residents as they were incredibly friendly and particularly helpful in directing us to local eateries we may enjoy.
Old San Juan is best explored first thing in the morning, as tourists tend to trickle in after a lazy breakfast or lounging at the beach. Also, we were told that it was best to come during the weekday versus the weekend, when the bulk of the tourists from hotels and the cruise lines converge in the city. The day we went it wasn't crowded at all. I would also recommend at least one full day or two mornings to really take in this area of the city, as there's so much to see and do. Don't forget to arm yourself with a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water as the heat and humidity is fairly brutal in Puerto Rico. When you're done exploring, you can catch the bus back to your hotel or head to the taxi pick up area, which is clearly marked and located towards the southeastern portion of Old San Juan and not too far from Colon plaza.