For a very long time, the piers in Old San Juan didn't have much to offer. There's the Polo factory outlet store, a Puerto Rico tourism office, Señor Frog's nightclub and the Sheraton Old San Juan. (Of course, when you have Old San Juan just a short walk away, you don't need much else.)
But a major urban development project called Bahía Urbana has transformed this waterfront district. The project spans over 87 acres of prime waterfront property, from Old San Juan to neighboring Puerta de Tierra.
And while there's still work to be done, the park, sculptures, and fountains make for a very pleasant stroll, especially during a Puerto Rican sunset, when massive cruise ships frame the view of the bay.
A beautiful metal sculpture of a giant seahorse sets the stage for the park, which currently features a pleasant promenade dotted with fountains and shaded pavilions. One thing you'll notice are railroad tracks along the promenade (which is called Paseo del Puerto), with wooden platforms on rails where you can rest and enjoy the view. These are an homage to the development of the pier during the 19th century when the cargo was carried to and from the island to further trade. When construction of Bahía Urbana began, workers also discovered a "marine cemetery" beneath the surface, with giant clam shells and coral fragments from a bygone era.
The master plan of this space is pretty ambitious and should be spectacular once it's completed.
A mix of residential space, park, hotels, retail, and attractions, it will infuse new life into the area and offer something for locals and tourists alike. Already, you'll often find strollers, joggers, and cyclists enjoying the boardwalk. But eventually, a retail marketplace will dominate the waterfront, with restaurants, shops, and even a trapeze school currently in development.
It's already becoming an important event space, with activities for Easter (including a carousel for the kids) and several open-air concerts already held here in 2014. And one attraction has already established itself here: On Pier 6, San Juan Water Tours offers seaplane tours and narrated boat tours. A restaurant, Café 8, is also up and running, serving local cuisine in a casually chic setting.
Planning for the Future
Bahía Urbana still has ways to go before it becomes the urban mecca it's meant to be. Is it worth going out of your way to explore? Not at the moment, unless you fancy sea plane ride. We would still recommend heading west along the Pier to Paseo de La Princesa, for example, for a lovely stroll down to the Raíces fountain. And of course, we wouldn't skip the fortresses, shops, restaurants, plazas and beautiful tropical colonial architecture of Old San Juan to linger here.
For now, it's a place to go for a stroll and enjoy an up-close view of the cruise ships. And it should continue to be an important venue for outdoor events. But we're excited about its prospects.