For photographers, Puerto Rico offers the best of two worlds! As a Caribbean island it’s the smallest of the Greater Antilles yet is part of the United States so you don’t need a passport to visit. Just a two-hour flight from Miami, Puerto Rico is about the size of Rhode Island, yet boasts the oldest city in US territory, San Juan, founded in the 1500’s by Ponce de León. In more recent times, the island was home to famed baseball player and humanitarian, Roberto Clemente, who was the first Puerto Rican named to baseball’s Hall of Fame.
When you’re tired of sightseeing head for the beach. There best beaches can be found in the Ocean Park and Isla Verde districts in the suburb of Carolina, which is not far from the airport. This photograph was made with an Olympus E-3 with an exposure of 1/640 sec at f/9 and 1SO 400. ©2007 Joe Farace
The Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport is in Isla Verde, nine miles from the capital city of San Juan. The short cab or shuttle ride to the city is lined with modern hotels nestled in lush tropical settings. San Juan is full of modern beachfront hotels that often include casinos if you like to gamble. The affordably priced four-diamond San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino offers discounts for AAA members and its La Vista restaurant has the best lunch and breakfast buffet in town. If you have to get some work done or need to keep in touch via the Internet, the hotel’s public areas, meeting, and guest rooms have Wi-Fi access for a small fee. Since Puerto Rico uses the same 110-volt currency as the rest of the USA, you can plug your laptop or camera battery charger into any electrical outlet.
During the Spanish colonial times most of the urban population resided in what is now known as Old San Juan. The narrow cobblestone streets are best traveled on foot so be sure to bring comfortable walking shoes. Exposure was 1/640 sec @ f/4 and 1SO 200. ©2007 Joe Farace
Old San Juan
San Juan offers a rich visual experience for color or black-and-white photography. Old San Juan’s narrow cobblestone streets are lined with 16th-century buildings and churches, and colorfully painted, 200-year-old homes rimmed by wrought iron balconies. Old San Juan and is located on a small island connected to the mainland by bridges and a causeway and when driving or taking a bus you almost won’t know you’ve arrived in Viejo San Juan until you see the historic buildings’ explosion of colors. A leisurely foot tour is the best way to experience this bit of the Old World, especially given the narrow, steep streets and sometimes-heavy traffic.
The island of Old San Juan comprises an area of 47 square miles and hosts the working class neighborhood of Puerta de Tierra and most of Puerto Rico's central government buildings, including those of the Commonwealth's Capitol. Exposure was 1/800 sec at f/9 and 1SO 200. ©2007 Joe Farace
Old San Juan attracts tourists who enjoy the casinos, beaches, and tropical climate. It has several plazas including Plaza de San José--is a favorite meeting place. In its center stands a bronze statue of Ponce de León, made from British cannons captured in 1797. The temperature in Puerto Rico is perfect year-round. Expect it to be 83 degrees in winter and 85 degrees in summer! When you go shopping, the official currency of the island is the good ole US dollar so there’s no need to convert your cash into foreign currency.
Cafes and restaurant catering to every taste are available in Old San Juan and Café Berlin’s Puerto Rican and German bakery has the flavor and style of Central Europe. Exposure was 0.8 sec (handheld thanks to the E-3’s built-in image stabilization) at f/11 and ISO 800. ©2007 Joe Farace
If you like old forts, be sure to visit Fuerte San Felipe del Morro, a sixteenth-century citadel on the northwestern-most point of Old San Juan. Named in honor of Spain’s King Philip II, this photogenic fort was designed to guard the entrance to the bay and defend the city from seaborne enemies. Over two million visitors a year explore the fort’s ramparts and passageways making it one of Puerto Rico's main attractions. It’s a great place to shoot panoramic images that can include the rustic fort and the Caribbean—all in one shot. To do justice to all of these wonderful sites in Old San Juan, plan to spend two mornings or even a full day.
The beautifully restored Fuerte San Felipe del Morro was built in 1539 as part of a Spanish defense system that stretched from Puerto Rico on the Atlantic to the coast of South America. The finished panoramic photograph was made from two exposures and combined in Adobe Photoshop using the program’s Photomerge feature. ©2007 Joe Farace
The secret to making panoramic images is to shoot in manual exposure mode so the various sections will blend together. I shot these two images in manual focus mode and at a small aperture (1/125 sec at f/18) to maximize depth-of-field. What I didn’t do was worry about the overlap between the images or keeping the camera perfectly level. Photomerge, as you can see, assembles the pieces and parts keeping adjacent images perfectly aligned. ©2007 Joe Farace
Ponce, the island’s second largest city, was founded in 1692 by Ponce de León's great-grandson Loíza Ponce de León. He may not have found the Fountain of Youth but what you will find is a charming city that is more Caribbean than San Juan. Ponce is sometimes called Ciudad Señorial—the majestic city—because of its many beautiful neoclassical buildings and facades.
Castillo Serrallés overlooks the city of Ponce and was former residence of the island’s oldest rum producing family, has been restored with a mix of original furnishings and antiques to recall the era of the sugar barons. Admission is only two bucks, so don’t miss it. Exposure was 1/125 sec at f/18 and 1SO 200. ©2007 Joe Farace
Downtown’s Plaza de las Delicias is so named because it’s ringed with restaurants serving lots of savory fare. It is a worthwhile stop filled with lovely fountains and a cathedral that’s currently under restoration, although I was able to peek in before being kindly asked to leave by the workers. The photogenic red and black, century-old firehouse, known as Parque de Bombas, was built in 1882 and from 1883 to 1989 served as headquarters for the Ponce Fire Corps before being reopened as a museum in 1990. The firehouse has exhibits on the second floor and the municipal band plays a free concert every Sunday night.
The old firehouse in Ponce is painted bright red and black, the official town colors. The firehouse contains a collection of memorabilia pertaining to the building’s history as well as other tourist information. Exposure was 1/100 sec at f/4 and 1SO 400. ©2007 Joe Farace
The Rain Forest
From San Juan the best route to visit the El Yunque rain forest is along the coast road through Loíza, a small town on the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico. Take your time driving through the small towns along the way watching for animals, chickens, children and speed bumps in the road.
Although El Yunque is one of the smallest forests in the National Forest System, it is the most biologically diverse, with over 240 species of native trees, of which 88 are rare and 23 are only found in this forest. Along with the trees, the rain forest includes 50 species of native orchids and over 150 species of ferns. Exposure was 1/125 sec at f/4.0 and 1SO 400; it’s darker in there than it looks. ©2007 Joe Farace
When visiting El Yunque expect it to rain but the storms are brief and not intense. The higher you are in the rain forest, the more it rains. Maximum amounts at the forest’s highest elevations, such as La Mina falls reach over 250 inches annually, while lower elevations receive only 50-60 inches. I cover my camera with my old stand-by, the shower cap most hotels provide in each room. If you want to keep yourself dry, pack an inexpensive rain poncho.
While in the rain forest, take the time to photograph some of the hundreds of varieties of plants that have managed to grow and adapt to the year-round rainfall. The rivers and waterfalls formed by all that water rushing down to the sea are not only beautiful to photograph but are refreshingly cool and clean enough to jump into!
Puerto Rico combines the best of the Caribbean including food and lifestyle with all of the conveniences of being in the USA along with some of the friendliest and most polite people I’ve ever met. It truly is an Island of Enchantment.
Joe Farace is the author of “Puerto Rico: The Island of Enchantment” which is self-published via Blurb.com. Visit their website and search the Bookstore under “Farace” to order a copy.
© 2008 Adorama Camera, Inc.