Visiting La Fortaleza in Old San Juan

The exterior of La Fortaleza
 gregobagel/Getty Images

La Fortaleza isn't just the oldest governor’s mansion in the western hemisphere; it's also one of the loveliest. Its pale blue and white facade, tiled roof, patios and wrought ironwork recall the grace of Spanish colonial architecture. It is the official governor's residence, and has been for centuries - and the fine galleries and period furniture of the museum is worth the visit.

The History

La Fortaleza means “The Fortress,” and it was certainly intended as such when it was completed in 1540 as part of a massive construction effort to secure the island’s defenses. It didn't do so well, though, falling to the Earl of Cumberland in 1598 and the Dutch Commander Boudewyn Hendrick in 1625.

In 1846, it was remodeled and converted for full-time use as the governor’s house. The building, which is also known as El Palacio de Santa Catalina (Santa Catalina Palace), has housed no less than 170 governors of Puerto Rico.

Don't Miss

My favorite thing in the entire palace is an ancient mahogany clock that stands along one of the corridors. Before he left La Fortaleza, the last Spanish governor of Puerto Rico paused in front of it and struck its face with his sword, stopping time at the very last moment of Spanish rule in the New World.

Don't Forget About Christmas

If you've bought the kids to the island for Christmas, check out what's cooking at La Fortaleza on the 25th; your child might just come away with a free gift.

The Basics

La Fortaleza is located at Recinto Oeste Street in Old San Juan, near the San Juan Gate. It is open from 9 to 4 on weekdays, and guided tours are offered every weekday except holidays. Entrance to the site is free. For more information, call 787-721-7000 ext. 2211.