La Fortaleza, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960, isn't just the oldest governor’s mansion in continued use 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.
The building is the official governor's residence, and has been for centuries—and the fine galleries, period furniture, and lush gardens of the museum is well worth the visit.
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.
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.
Hours can change due to government business or special holidays, so call ahead to confirm the building is open. For more information, call 787-721-7000 ext. 2211. There is also a tour guide office by the west end of Calle Forteleza that you can stop by in person.
La Fortaleza is located directly in the center of Old San Juan and is easily walkable from most parts of the city. There are many local buses that will let off travelers at the Terminal Covadonga San Juan. From the terminal, it will take under 15 minutes to walk to the site.
One of the highlights 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 December 25th—the children might just come away with a free gift.
Consider visiting La Fortaleza as part of a more extensive tour. Operators like Viator.com offer fun outings with expert guides that include a stop at the museum but include more sights. A benefit to booking a package tour is the operator will handle tickets and entry into La Fortaleza, so all you'll have to do is enjoy the scenery.
Package options include historical walking tours through the streets of Old San Juan, zipping along on a Segway, visits to the Barcadi Factory, and breezy sailing excursions through the waters of the Old San Juan Harbor.the waters of the Old San Juan Harbor.