Old San Juan: A special city for souvenirs and history lovers
My wife and I are both History college professors and we’re delighted with Puerto Rico’s rich Hispanic culture. We’ve been to the island many times before, but never in a cruise ship, so we wanted the full tourist experience of wondering around the streets of Old San Juan.
We have a wide circle of friends who also appreciate culture, and we wanted to find special gifts they would love and were rare to find. The first store we noticed was The Butterfly People. Established since 1970, it was more like a museum. The charisma of the owners combined with the walls filled with butterflies seemed to stop time and take us to the rainforest. We didn’t purchase anything there, but it was certainly worth the stop.
The store that I most enjoyed was the Ole Curiosidades. I’ve always wanted a Panama hat, but couldn’t find one that fit properly. My wife encouraged me to try a few and when I found one that I really liked, the sweet attendant adjusted it so it fits perfectly. Absolutely astonishing handmade hats. I recommend this store especially to older respectable men like myself.
My wife did most of her shopping in Puerto Rican Arts & Crafts and Mi Pequeño San Juan. The arts & crafts store was filled end to end with locally made items by artisans. You could find anything from sculptures, to paintings, to wallets. At Mi Pequeño San Juan, we found marvelous little painted houses and Old San Juan prints by Nico Thomassin, perfect gifts for our art-collector friends.
We were feeling hungry at this point and stopped at El Convento, a hotel we have stayed in before. This historical luxury hotel in Puerto Rico is perfect for history lovers like us. El Convento is a remodeled nunnery that still keeps the colonial era feel, but with modern amenities. We had exquisite ceviche and local beers at Patio del Níspero & Alegría Patio Bar. When the server heard us talking about history and art, he suggested we walk into the Salón Martorell, a stunning meeting room with a Nuns & Letters theme from the award-winning artist, Antonio Martorell. This was a sublime experience for both of us since last time we hadn’t seen it. The room was empty and we could really appreciate the picturesque paintings, murals, glass doors, tablecloths and majestic lamps.
Before heading back to the cruise ship, my wife really wanted a Loíza Vejigante Mask. A local recommended we go to El Galpón at Cristo Street. They had masks of all sizes and colors and the employee was really helpful in explaining the differences between Ponce and Loíza masks. I didn’t think it was possible, but every time we come back on a trip to Puerto Rico, we love it even more.