Why Is San Juan the Capital of Puerto Rico?

Why Is San Juan the Capital of Puerto Rico?
Why Is San Juan the Capital of Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island and territory of the United States located about 1,000 miles southeast of Florida, in between the Dominican Republic and the Virgin Islands. What is the capital of Puerto Rico and how did it become the capitol?

San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico, originally founded in 1521 by Spanish colonists. It is the third-oldest capitol established in the Americas by Europeans and is the oldest European-established city under the sovereignty of the United States.

There’s a lot of interesting cultural history behind San Juan that dates back over 500 years. The rest of this article will cover the fascinating history, location, and culture of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Where Is the Capital of Puerto Rico Located?

Where Is the Capital of Puerto Rico Located?
Where Is the Capital of Puerto Rico Located?

The capital of Puerto Rico, San Juan, is located along the northern coast of Puerto Rico, nestled between Vega Baja and Loiza near the northeast end of the territory.

Brief History of San Juan

Colorful houses line the hillside over looking the beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Colorful houses line the hillside over looking the beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Before the Europeans arrived in Puerto Rico, the Taino people originally inhabited the area, and the area of San Juan was the boundary of the tribal regions of Guaynabo and Haimanio. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived, Juan Ponce de Leon founded the original settlement named Caparra in 1508.

The settlement would be moved a year later to the new site called Puerto Rico (rich port).

During its time under Spanish ownership, San Juan was used as a stopover in the Americas in the late 1500s and 1600s thanks to its convenient location; however, its ideal position made it a target of attacks from the English and the Dutch, both of whom were rebuffed from the land.

A few centuries later, in 1898, during the Spanish-American War, San Juan became a site of several battles fought between the United States and the then Spanish-occupied San Juan.

After a series of bloody battles and campaigns, the United States withdrew their military advances and signed an armistice in Puerto Rico after only a few months.

Later in 1898, the island of Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States under the Treaty of Paris.

In the 20th century, Puerto Rican soldiers were trained prior to World War I and World War II, although the 65th infantry was later deactivated and became the Puerto Rican National Guard.

Today, San Juan remains a rich cultural landscape, serving as the financial, cultural, and tourism center of Puerto Rico.

It’s also Puerto Rico’s most important seaport, the Port of San Juan, which allows for more than 500,000 square feet of space for loading cargo and providing swift access to the expressways and local routes that allows for fast transit of goods from one part of the island to another.

When Did San Juan Become the Capital of Puerto Rico?

Beautiful typical traditional vibrant street in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Beautiful typical traditional vibrant street in San Juan, Puerto Rico

San Juan became the capital of Puerto Rico in 1521 by Spanish colonists who originally called it Ciudad de Puerto Rico.

Soon moving to the new site that would be called San Juan, the location became highly sought after, largely due to its convenient location with access to Puerto Rico’s expressways and its function as the midway point between the Old and New World.

Why Is San Juan the Capital of Puerto Rico?

Upon landing for the first time in Puerto Rico, Juan Ponce de Leon soon realized that his initial settlement in Caparra wasn’t ideal to settle down in the long term, so he moved camp east to the more idyllic location of San Juan.

The new location likely became the capital due to its ideal location near the New World, strategic military position, and sustainable agricultural production, including sugarcane and ginger crops, and its excellently positioned port.

In part, the popularity of the city is thanks to its religious importance.

San Juan, in addition to its strategic and economic importance, would become the ecclesiastical base of operations in the Americas. In fact, just two decades after it was founded, the city already boasted a university, hospital, and library.

Best Places to Visit in San Juan

There are lots of great places to visit in San Juan and lots of local culture to experience—500 years of history will do that to a city.

El Morro

Castillo San Felipe del Morro, for example, is the most famous landmark on the island of Puerto Rico. With gorgeous views of San Juan Bay, the castle also boasts an extraordinary claim: El Morro was never defeated by a naval attack.

With six staggered levels, dungeons, passageways, barracks, and ramparts with sentry boxes, it’s a stark reminder of San Juan’s history and the efforts the Spanish undertook to defend it from invaders.

Castillo San Cristobal

Castillo San Cristobal is another great place to visit to travel back 5 centuries for an insight into the early history of the New World. Finished in 1783, it’s the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the New World.

Imposing both inside and out, the massive castle is a tremendous place to visit to learn about the history of Puerto Rico, such as how the fort defended San Juan Bay in the Battle of San Juan in 1797.

It’s a remarkable juxtaposition from the modern city landscape around it, but the sight of the castle walls is something to behold and definitely worth the trip if you love historical castles.

Balneario El Escambrón

A lot of people visit Puerto Rico for the beautiful beaches, and this is one of the best. Featuring a natural coral wall with crystal clear pool, it’s a tropical fish paradise. Bring along your snorkel gear to see sea turtles and lots of other colorful fish.

Final Thoughts

Puerto Rico is a rich cultural landscape with a very long history. Founded over 5 centuries ago, San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico and features lots of amazing attractions for tourists and residents alike. If you want to enjoy the warm beaches and the historical wonder of Puerto Rican history, then San Juan is a great place to visit.

See Also

Capital Cities 

Hi and welcome to my travel blog! Based in London, I work in investment banking in a quantitative field and although I am not part of the travel industry, I have a ton of passion for travel. My blog is a reference guide for my fellow travelers with the same passion as me. Hopefully the blog is easy to navigate and my aim is to bring the most relevant and interesting information before you begin your journey!