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Malta

Malta is an island country in the Mediterranean Sea consisting of 3 islands (Gozo, Comino and Malta). It lies 80 km south of Sicily, 284 km east of Tunisia, and 333 km north of Libya.

Malta has been inhabited since around 5900 BC and its prime location in the centre of the Mediterranean and deep harbour has made it a vital area of strategic importance, particularly as a naval base. As such, every man and his dog has had a crack at owning and ruling the islands. The list includes the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Aragonese, Knights of St. John, French, and British. In 1964 it finally got independence from the UK and became a republic in 1974.

Ok lets get this in perspective right up front, the place is tiny. It has an area of around 320 square kilometers and a population of a bit over half a million. The main island is 27 km long and 14.5 km wide. For perspective the entire nation is a quarter the size of Hobart with double the population.

Getting Around

Getting around Malta is pretty easy, cheap and efficient. The taxis are metered and there are fixed-price options available if you are coming from the airport. Uber and Bolt are competing fiercely to get control over the ride share options and the bus system is extensive, regular, cheap and and efficient.

Our option was the HOHO. The Hop On Hop Off bus. We have used these in some locations and they have been magnificent and have inquired in other places and they have been highway robbery. Here in Malta they are magnificent.

The Malta HOHO has a northern and a southern route and there is so much to see that a full day on each is more than warranted. There is also a package that you can do that on day 3 you can include a harbour cruise. We didn’t take the package but did end up doing a harbour cruise because the forts are really best seen from the water.

Yes, you could do it cheaper by local bus, but 20 euros for a full lap of the island, stopping at all the main sights, with an audio guide in about 12 languages is pretty tough to beat. By comparison, the one in Paris is more than double this price and travels a shorter distance and the one in Sydney starts at $50 for a single day.

Day One

After getting in, settling in and finding a (magnificent) feed (our flight had been delayed several hours) after we had missed breakfast and lunch, our first day was pretty much over.

But we did manage to have a lovely walk along the waterfront of Sliema (the Jutty Outy bit above Valetta).

Which has some pretty amazing views over the old city.

So we ate, did our research and crashed for the day ahead.

Almost right outside our hotel we came across the Sea Water Distilling Plant. As Malta is an island, access to potable water has always been a problem. This plant was constructed in Sliema in 1881 to provide drinking water for Tigné Barracks.

Today, the building houses a printing press.

Day two saw us getting up early and hopping on the HOHO for the northern route. It took us past the harbour and marina, delivering views of Manaoel Island (one of the many fortifications) on the way until we got to the gates of Valetta. This was the identical route that we would take the next day but tomorrow we got off in Valletta.

Instead we stayed on and made our way through some very funky suburbs and on to the San Anton Palace and Gardens. From 1802 until 1964, San Anton Palace was the official residence of the British Governor and is now the residence of the Maltese President. From here it was on to see the Mosta Dome which is the third largest unsupported dome in the world. It has an outside diameter of 56.2 metres, an inside diameter of 39.6 metres and an internal height of 54.7metres. It became famous during WWII when a bomb pierced the dome, landed and slid across the church floor without exploding! The church was crowded when the bomb hit and all were spared.

The next was the aviation museum and then a few stops were arts and crafts stops (glass factory, craft village etc.) But then the main attraction of the Northern Route, the town of Mdina. The city was founded as Maleth around the 8th century BC by Phoenician settlers. The history of Mdina traces back more than 4000 years. According to tradition it was here that in 60 A.D. that the Apostle St. Paul is said to have lived after being shipwrecked on the Islands.

The city was the capital of Malta throughout the Middle Ages, until the arrival of the 1530.

Directly outside the gates of Mdina is the town of Rabat, although it was once thought to be within the confines of the city. It is home to some impressive catacombs and archaeological remains not to mention some pretty incredible religious bling.

From here there are a few beach and ruin stops and we hopped off for lunch in Bugibba which is a lively seaside town with bars, restaurants, and hotels. Nothing particularly historic here but a lovely little spot. The next stop was the National Aquarium then another beachside town and it follows up with a scenic drive through a series of very pretty seaside bays on the way back.

Day three saw us hopping on the HOHO for the southern route. The first stop was of course, the nation’s capital (Valetta), which is less than a square kilometre in size. It occupies the peninsula between Marsamxett Harbour (west) and the Grand Harbour (east) in a suburb known as Floriana. .

It is essentially just an old town CBD, perched on an isthmus. But there is so much in there. UNESCO has described Valetta as ‘one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world

When you hop off the bus you find yourself at the Independence monument opposite the Saint Publius Parish Church.  The first stone was laid down in 1733 and construction was complete in 1768, when the relic of Saint Publius was brought to the church.

from here a very scenic walk begins towards and through the area that is Valetta. The first thing to signal your arrival is the Triton Fountain.

Triton Fountain consists of three bronze Tritons holding up a large basin. It was built out of concrete and was clad in travertine slabs.

The City Gate was originally built by the Knights of Malta but was destroyed in WWII. It was replaced in the ’60s with a lavish version but people didn’t like it. So there is now a minimalistic bridge.

On either side of the gate is a pole symbolising swords, saluting everyone entering the city.

Through the gate on the right you will see the Parliament House of Malta. It was built between 2011 and 2015 on the site of the old railway station .

A bit further down and you run into the Opera House. The theatre received a direct hit from aerial bombing in 1942 during WWII.

Down one more block and you are at the National Museum of Archaeology.

One more block and you hit the Saint-John’s Cathedral Museum.

And now you find yourself in St Georges Square which is the central square that is surrounded by a whole heap of stuff. All of this up until this point and all you have had to do was walk in a straight line for 700 meters.

Not least of those to be found in the square is the Grandmaster’s Palace which was Parliament House until the opening of the new one.

St Pauls Cathedral (Anglican) is the huge spire next to the dome that dominate the skyline of Valetta. Built in the 18th century it occupies prime location in Independence Square.

The dome is the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Roman Catholic). It was originally built in the 16th century but was destroyed in WWII.

Keep walking in a straight line and you hit the end of the isthmus and find yourself at St Elmo Fort. This area also includes a war memorial. A bit further along (coming back to the right) you find another war memorial with the Siege Bell. Then you end up hitting the Upper and Lower Barakka Gardens, these are in essence both more war memorials with plaques and statues celebrating those who paid great service to Malta over the centuries.

The Upper Barrakka Gardens are located on the top of the Valletta bastions, they offer stunning views of the Three Cities. They were built in the 16th century by the Knights of St John as a private gardens for the Grand Master and the Knights of St John.

Across the Grand Harbour from Valetta sits the Three Cities. Each of the cities have two names that are used interchangeably, the original Maltese name and the newer name given to them by the Knights of Malta.

Birgu – Vittoriosa

 Isla – Senglea

Bormla – Conspicua

The first two occupy peninsulas jutting into the Grand Harbour while the third sits behind them (but also has a port area). There is another peninsula that doesn’t seem to make the grade in the cities debate (Kalkara) but it has two major defensive forts in place (Fort Ricasoli and Fort Rinella). In total there have been nine separate forts established just to defend the Grand Harbour.

Birgu (Vittoriosa) is the oldest and was built up by the Knights of Malta as their headquarters when they arrived on Malta in 1530. Senglea (Isla) gives more of a local experience with few formal sights, while Bormla (Conspicua) is set back behind these peninsulas. Also jutting into the harbour is the peninsula of Kalkara, which can be seen from across the marina.

Back on the bus and there was a stop at the Marsaxlokk fishing village which would have been an awesome stop for lunch but we had spent too long exploring Valetta and were pushed for time now.

Next (major) stop was to the Blue Grotto which are a series of sea caverns on the south east coast of Malta. Set against a cliffy terrain near a local fishing harbour the blue grotto and neighboring caves offers spectacular views of rugged coastlines, sea caves opposite a small uninhabited islet (Filfla) which is a bird sanctuary.

Malta has often been called the ‘Fortress Island’ due to the great mass of military architecture that can be seen everywhere. This is a legacy of the islands’ history which saw them being fought over, time and again, due to their strategic location and deep, safe harbours.

So the best way to see these forts built to defend from attacks from the sea, is by boat. Which is exactly what we did. The fortifications that can be seen today come from two distinct periods: those of the Knights and those of the British era. Hopping on at Sliema (our home for the week) we took a 2 hour ride around the harbour takin in most of the 9 forts that were built to defend the harbours.

First on the list was Fort Manoel which sits on its own island between Valetta and Sliema and commands Marsamxett Harbour. The fort is built in the shape of a square, with a pentagonal bastion on each corner, giving it the shape of a star fort. It was built in the 18th century by the Order of Saint John and was named after their Grandmaster of that time. It sits between

The next in line is Valetta itself with Fort St Elmo guarding the approaches to both Grand and Marsamxett Harbours. We had seen it from the ground the previous day and now we got to see just how imposing it would have been to try and attack this place from the water. It was the scene of a heroic defence during the Great Siege of 1565.

Fort Ricasoli is over 300 years old, being built by the Knights Hospitaller between 1670 and 1698. It is the largest fort in Europe . It was built to protect the Grand Harbour.

But today most of the fort is leased to the Malta Film Commission. As such it has been used extensively as a location for various films and serials.

In recent years, it has been used for the films Gladiator (2000) and Troy (2004) standing in for Rome and Troy respectively. The fort was also used in the filming of Assassin’s Creed (2016). In addition the TV miniseries Julius Caesar (2002) and Helen of Troy (2003) were partially filmed at the fort and in the first season Game of Thrones it was used as the Red Keep.

Fort St. Angelo is located at the centre of the Grand Harbour. It was originally built in the medieval period as a castle called the Castrum Maris.

It was rebuilt by the Order of Saint John as a fort and named Fort Saint Angelo between the 1530s and the 1560s.

Many believe it to be the jewel in the crown of The Maltese Islands’ military heritage.

The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is an underground complex of halls and burial chambers dating to around 4000 B.C. It was in use between 4000 BC and 1500 BC and covers an area of around 500 square metres. This one we didn’t get to as time just evaporated on us here in Malta with so much to see and do. Next time I guess.

Maltese food

I am sure that there is a bunch of traditional Maltese dishes that are floating around out there just waiting to be absorbed, but suffice to say that you are on an island close to Italy, Greece, Turkey and northern Africa. There is so much good food to be had here that you literally can not go wrong. We had plates and platters and pizza’s, soups and rolls. We had rabbit, pork, seafood and we had sweets and savouries.

And it was all fantastic, and reasonably priced.

When we were coming here we had little knowledge of what to expect and therefore our expectations were low. But this place has absolutely blown us away. An abundance of things to see and do, coupled with our ignorance of what we would find meant that we have seriously undercooked how much time we needed. We were here for 5 days, thinking that we could just kick back and relax (given that it was so small) but found ourselves at a full sprint almost the whole time and still missed out on seeing things.

I guess that is the beauty of travel, we will just have to come again and spend more time next time around.

Portugal

Portugal is the westernmost country of continental Europe and includes the island groups of the Azores and Madeira (both autonomous regions in the north Atlantic Ocean.

It has existed as a country since the 12th century (originally as a monarchy) but has evidence of civilisation dating back beyond 10,000BC. The nation was integral in the discovery and exploration of Africa and South America.

The Portuguese empire differed from the Spanish empire because the Spanish conquered large areas of land while the Portuguese preferred to control only major trading ports. Throughout the 15th century, Portuguese explorers sailed the coast of Africa, establishing trading posts for commodities, ranging from gold to slavery.

The Portuguese empire created colonies in Africa including Angola, Mozambique, Guinea. Added to this was the islands of the Azores, Madeira, Cape Verde Islands (off the coast of Mauritania-Senegal), and Sao Tome and Principe (islands in the Gulf of Guinea). Then there were the major ports of Cochin, Goa (in India), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Macao (China) and Nagasaki (Japan) in East Asia and of course Brazil.

Lisbon

OK, so we have been to Europe about 6+ times now and this was our first foray into Portugal. How stupid are we? This place is fantastic. We got off the plane and grabbed (a really cheap) Uber to our hotel. The driver was the nicest and most helpful person we had ever met, to the point where we both commented on it. Until the next day when we got our next Uber to the Monastery when the same thing happened, and then again on the way back.

These people are just super friendly and want to ensure that everyone who visits enjoys their time. Add to this that the pricing is more than reasonable for everything and the sights have a nice mix of natural beauty and old world charm how can you go wrong here.

We were not really blessed with the weather here, it rained for two and a half of our three days here. We got the odd glimpses of sunshine (particularly on day one) and in between there were some some pretty soggy days. Our day two was on and off sunny with the skies changing every 10 minutes or so until it finally settled in.

Our hotel was perched high on the hilltop in oldtown, which sadly had been built on the side of a damn mountain. As beautiful as the views were, it meant that everywhere we went was either up, or down, a ridiculously steep hill.

Finding your way around the old town could not be simpler, just follow the tram tracks. Be sure not to be run over by cars, trams, tuk tuks, bicycles, vans etc, that are all competing for the narrow road, but just follow along and you will pass pretty much everything that there is to see.

The tram goes past almost all of the tourist spots in the old town and centres around the main square, Praca do Comercio. This will include the churches, palace, castle, bars, cafes and restaurants. As long as you can see the tracks, you will see the bits.

Jammed in the middle of the tracks you will find Sé de Lisbon. This cathedral started being built in 1147 and ended in the first decades of the 13th century.

The tram tracks quite literally split and run either side of the triangular street entrance.

Castelo de S. Jorge Stands on Lisbon’s highest hill and offers panoramic views of the city. The fort dates back to Moorish times (11th century), and has served as military barracks and royal chambers. Currently, it functions as a national monument, museum and archaeological site, with fantastic views and great gardens. And if this is off season, I hate to see the lines in peak times.

Lisbon’s central park is named Edward VII Park taking up 26 hectares in the middle of town. It was named as a tribute to the British Monarch.

Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Jerónimos or Hieronymites Monastery) was originally donated to the Order of the Friars of St. Jerome. Construction began in near the launch point of Vasco da Gama’s first journey. Its construction lasted for a hundred years and was funded by a tax on the profits of the yearly Portuguese India Armadas. The day of our visit the weather kept coming and going, alternating between blue skies and torrential downpours.

To say this place is impressive is a massive understatement. Everywhere you look is a different aspect of the place and the intricately carved windows and openings act to frame the next amazing sight.

Portuguese Custard Tarts (Pasteis de nata)

Lets not be silly we have all eaten these. Whether it is the cheap boxed up ones in Costco, or the ones after a Chinese Yum Cha (bearing in mind that Shanghai was one of the Portuguese territories), or just from some dodgy bakery that does them. And they are always good, even the shitty ones are great, with their signature flaky crust and sweet custard filling they are world-famous, and incredibly delicious.

But now we are at their point of origin, and sadly, all others pale by comparison to the original version. It was created by monks at the Jerónimos Monastery and has certified origin. The original recipe is called Pastel de Belém and we found our way to Pasteis de Belem which is right next to the monastery and is recognised as their true home. And in case you were wondering, they were good.

Literally across the road from the Monastery is a park and the Discoveries Monument which serves as a monument to Portugal’s Age of Discovery on both land and sea.

The monument was reconstructed in 1960 to mark 500 years since the death of the Infante Dom Henrique (Henry the Navigator).

A few hundred meters down the bank of the Tagus River you find yourself at Torre de Belém. This is a 16th-century tower that is a mix between a medieval keep tower and a modern bastion. It was built to guard the river entrance into Lisbon’s harbour.

That evening we found our way down to Praca do Comercio which is one of the biggest squares in Europe, this stylish area in downtown Lisbon often displays beautiful works of art and sculpture and is a great place for a leisurely stroll.

The Aqueduto das Águas was built in the 18th century to supply water to the town. Its construction was funded by special levies on meat, olive oil and wine. It stretches 14 kilometres and can now be visited as a tourist attraction.

The blurb for the Museu Nacional do Azulejo said that it was a must-see for people interested in the history and design of ceramic tiles. Now lets be serious here, that is not a title that I have particularly aspired to. But being in Lisbon, you do get a fair old appreciation of the ceramic tile as almost every building is finished (on the outside) with them. Looking at the photos of the museum, if it is your thing, then this specialty museum does house an impressive collection of decorative tiles dating from the 15th century to now.

The Coaches Museum is one of Lisbon’s most visited attractions, and is a collection of fairytale type carriages that have been used by the royalty and nobility of Europe over the centuries. While most European royal carriages were destroyed over time (especially in Paris after the French Revolution), in Portugal they were preserved. Most of them date to the 17th to 19th centuries, but the oldest example dates back to the late 1500s.

Brazilian BBQ – Portuguese Style

On our third Uber ride, our driver asked us if we liked seafood, which of course we do. He then went on to tell us that in Portugal, they do a similar thing to the Brazilian BBQ but instead of using meat, they do it with seafood. He told us the best place in town and the price came out to about 450 Aussie per head. Well if that is not a done deal then I don’t know what is.

So we headed down to the main square, took our happy snaps of the square and then headed to a little wine bar (as we were early for our reservation. A funky little place called shoes and booze. We had a drink and watched the waitress just dancing around having a great time enjoying her work. When we ordered the second round she asked Jill if she just wanted the bottle as it was 4.50 for a glass or 12 Euros for the whole bottle. The chat continued and we got invited to a private party back at the bar (with live music) the next evening.

Anyway back to the seafood, we made it to the restaurant and ordered the all-you-can-eat thing and it arrived with some interesting fare. The prawns, mussels, crabs and clams were all good and even the crab head mousse was good, but it was the whelks and barnacles that threw us a little. We had to seek guidance on just what part and how to eat the barnacles.

The construction of the Christ the King monument was approved on 20 April 1940, as a plea to God to release Portugal from entering WWII.

The monument consists of a 82 meter pedestal with a 28 meter image of Christ.

Perched on the opposite side of the river the figure of Christ has its arms extended out facing the city of Lisbon, as if to embrace the city.

Long story short, apart from the weather, Lisbon was fantastic and we will need to come back as there is so much more to explore and do. It became very clear that the time that we had allotted was insufficient for the amount to see and do. This was further hampered by the rain that kept us hiding more than exploring.

The prices are more than reasonable and the friendliness of the people was just amazing. And I think that both Jill and I can fit another egg tart or two in, and for the record, even the shitty ones remain good. And there is so much more that missed out on seeing.

Bahamas

The Bahamas are a chain of more than 3000 islands, cays and islets in the Atlantic Ocean. They are part of the West Indies and sit just north of Cuba.  

Nassau

Our first foray into the Bahamas was part of our 50th cruise with Jimmy and Claudia, where we set down in the capital Nassau on the island of New Providence. We were just one of several cruise ships to arrive on that day.

The islands of the Bahamas were mostly deserted between 1513 and 1648 after almost all on the native residents were forcibly removed and enslaved or died from diseases brought from Europe. In 1649, English colonists arrived establishing settlements.

We hit the streets, chased the tourist things, climbed the Queens Staircase up to the fort and then wandered along to the other fort. We even had time to stop and sample some of the local brews.

The Queen’s Staircase, commonly referred to as the 66 steps, is a major landmark that is located in the Fort Fincastle Historic Complex in Nassau.

It was carved out of solid limestone rock by slaves between 1793 and 1794

Fort Fincastle was built in around 1793 and was constructed of cut limestone.

It was placed on Bennet’s Hill to protect the Nassau town and its harbour from pirates.

Fort Charlotte is the largest battlement at 100 acres in size. It is so large that within the grounds are three different forts: Fort Charlotte in the east, Fort D’Arcy in the west, and Fort Stanley in the center. These massive stone structures feature cannons, moats, bridges, and other elements that make them fascinating to explore. 

Fort Charlotte, It sits on a hill overlooking the west end of the harbour a mile west of downtown Nassau. From the fort you get an impressive view of Paradise Island, Nassau, and the harbour.

Fort Charlotte was built in 1788 and was named after the wife of King George III, Queen Saharia Charlotte. The middle bastion, Ft. Stanley and the western portion, Fort D’Arcy were added later. The fort has a moat, dungeons, underground passageways, and 42 cannons, which have never been fired in an act of aggression.  

Coco Cay

This time around we found ourselves being delivered at a place called Coco Cay. It is an entirely manufactured island that is owned and operated by the Royal Caribbean company solely for the use of their ships. It is advertised as Perfect Day at Coco Cay, and surprise surprise, that is the first thing that you see.

Looking back from the pier we saw our ship next to one of the newest and biggest ships of the Royal Caribbean fleet. The difference was incredible, especially when you think that our (little) one is 13 floors high. But the new one is about twice the width too.

From here you enter into the world of waterparks, theme parks, shopping and beach walks where the tourist is king. Everything on the island has been put there to amuse, entertain or fleece the clientele from a cruise ship.

Being a company island, the food and drinks kick in on the company coin. So unless you are after something extra, everything else is free. There are some individual, over the water, cabanas for rent at a price of around $2000 USD per day. But a beach chair ranged from free to $20 depending on where it was. The trinket shops were extra but the food and drink went on your cruise card.

The calm side of the island had a kid’s paddle beach sheltered on all sides. In the centre lives the largest pool in the Caribbean. This has the obligatory swim up bar and places to sit. But the private DJ playing tunes was the bit that did us in. Our beach time is preferred quiet and not with somebody else’s choice of music doing our heads in.

Coco Cay was a nice touch. Not something that you would want every day, but as a change it was quite nice.

Martinique

Martinique is an overseas territorial island of France. It is part of the Lesser Antilles and is 35km from Dominica, 26km to Saint Lucia and about 75km to Guadeloupe.

Martinique is about 80 km long and 35 km at the widest part. This makes it one of the smallest of the French overseas territories, but it has one of the highest population densities. The climate is remarkably constant with the average temperature being about 26° with minimums of 20–22 and maximums up to 34 °.

According to the blurb the original population disappeared after Europeans arrived, as a result of either disease or being wiped out by the invading French. In 1658 there were 5000 French settlers on the island. From here a lot of slaves were brought from Africa which added a new ethnic component. Today people of mixed European and African ancestry account for more than 90% of the population.

Fort-de-France

Fort de France is the main city of the overseas territory and was our landing point on the island. Interestingly as Martinique is only a territory, it does not officially have a capital. While the city lacks the palm trees and beaches of the rest of the island it does have the restaurants, shops, bars, and places showcasing the island’s history. Many of these venues sit in colonial-era buildings.

Fort Saint Louis was built to protect the city against enemy attacks. The fort was soon destroyed, and rebuilt in 1669 under Louis XIV as Fort Royal. It changed to Fort-de-France sometime in the 19th century and is the enduring name of the fort and the surrounding town.

St. Louis Cathedral is the main church in town and is probably the highlight of a town with not that much going for it.

Old town hall is one of the more impressive buildings in a town that is broadly underwhelming.

The covered market was the next on the trek through town. It provided the mix between a normal fruit and veggie market, some trinkets and souvenirs and some traditional food stalls. But in essence, it was a tin shed with some veggies in it. I don’t mean to sound down on Martinique, there really was nothing wrong with it at all. The people were friendly, the prices were good, there just was not too much to see or do.

Jardin de Balata is the local botanic gardens that is a short cab ride from town, if you are of a mind to do the hike be warned it is a fair walk and it is all uphill.

There is a zoo here, we didn’t go to it, but the promo picture shows this little critter. I have no idea what it is, but it looks pretty interesting.

Anyway, that is something else you could have done.

If you had more time in Martinique the recommendations are to stop and visit some of the smaller towns. The top on this list is Les Anses d’Arlet. The area is mostly jungle-covered mountains but there are also 3 coves for the nature lovers.

Other towns suggested were Big Cove (Grande Anse) and Arlet Cove (Anses d’Arlet) in both have restaurants and accommodation right on the sandy beach while Small Cove (Petite Anse) has a rocky shoreline.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico, despite being well and truly its own entity, sadly only counts as a territory of the United States and does not add to my country tally.

Although Puerto Rico is an American territory, it competes as its own individual country in both the Miss Universe contests and in the Olympics. Yet another reason I think that it should count.

But wow. If this little dip of the toe into the water of visiting Puerto Rico is any sort of glimpse, the place is amazing. It is the smallest island of the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean and sits a bit east of the Dominican Republic. The temperature permanently sits in the 20’s and 30’s all year round. There are around 3.2 million people in Puerto Rico, and close to 5 million Puerto Ricans living in the U.S.

The Island has almost 300 miles of coastline and nearly the same number of beaches. And being ostensibly American, it has the largest shopping centre in the Caribbean.

San Juan

Our entrance to Puerto Rico was on a cruise ship (along with 2 others on the same day) which saw us coming into the port of San Juan. A really lovely (not so) little town that saw us cranking up the step count for the day considerably.

A predominately walled city there is a huge level of fortification (especially to the sea) with all of the gates and things that you would expect from such a town.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro is better known locally as El Morro. It is one of the largest fortifications built by the Spaniards in the Caribbean during the 16th century. It is made up by six staggered levels that integrate barracks, dungeons, and storerooms. It was designed to protect the city and still has some of the original cannons facing the ocean. According to the blurb in its history, El Morro was never defeated by the enemy.

The fort is massive and is set far out on the point with large green areas surrounding it. It was originally designed to protect the city from attacks from the sea.

Castillo San Cristóbal is the other fort that stands and was meant to defend from enemies approaching by land. Covering over 27 acres, this fortification is the largest one made by the Spaniards in the New World. This castle holds the famous Garita del Diablo, center to many military tales and stories in the Island.

The Capilla del Cristo is a small sanctuary at the top of the walls of the city. Legend has it that two men were racing their horses down the street and one of them fell over the cliff and survived. This inspired the construction of a sanctuary dedicated to the saints of health. Its altar is made of embossed silver and the room is decorated with two José Campeche paintings.

Between the two forts, you can see the Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery. This was established in the 19th century and was built outside the city walls because of their strong fear of the afterlife. Its oceanfront location derives from a superstitious belief that the deceased started a journey over to “the great beyond” and being close to the sea symbolised the beginning of eternity.

This cemetery is the final resting place of Puerto Rico’s most prominent natives and residents. A nice touch that we found was some mosaics of each town that have been laid into the footpaths along the way.

As usual, the Cathedral de San Juan takes up a prominent place in the heart of town. This one is an example of medieval architecture during the time when the Spanish ruled the New World. The Cathedral de San Juan is the second oldest church in the Americas, after the one built in the Dominican Republic.

La Fortaleza (officially El Palacio de Santa Catalina de Alejandría) is the oldest state residence of the New World still in use.

It was originally built in the mid 1500’s and has served as a fortress, a prison, and an arsenal, and is now the official residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico. This executive palace conserves traditions (such as candlelit-only dining rooms) and has original Spanish objects from the colonial era.

Calle Fortaleza (more commonly known as Umbrella Street) extends from the Governors mansion and is Instagrammers heaven. When we arrived there were hordes of them striking all the poses under the sun (never looking at the camera).

The surrounding streets are full of the funkiest restaurants in town.

When chatting with our local barman on the boat we were told that San Juan was the original birthplace of the Piña Colada. Being the butch and manly type that I am, I am partial to a Piña Colada. To find its origin we had to hunt down the restaurant called Barrachina. Which we did, only to find that 2023 was the 60th anniversary of its invention.

Casa Blanca is the oldest residence in Old San Juan. It was once the home of the first governor and has since been converted into a museum. 

 In Cataño, Puerto Rico, you will find the the largest premium rum distillery (Bacardi) in the world.

Puerto Rico is also home to the only rainforest in the American National park system (El Yunque).

If friendliness counts for anything, then this place is amazing. The smiles and happiness that you are greeted with here is something to behold. I am very happy to come back here again and explore more of the isalnd.

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. It is the second largest (after Cuba) country in the Caribbean) and third largest in population.

The capital (Santo Domingo) was the first permanent European settlement in the Americas and was the home of Spanish rule in the New World. After more than three hundred years the Dominican people declared independence in November 1821.

Puerto Plata

Puerto Plata is the birthplace of tourism in the Dominican Republic and is as fake as all get out. But in a really good way. When you get off the boat you are immediately thrown into a development known as Taino Bay. This is an entirely manufactured waterfront that houses every type of tourist attraction that you would want from a tropical island.

For about a 3 square kilometre area you are in a tourist wonderland of beaches, pools, shops, bars, restaurants and attractions. If you didn’t choose to keep going, it would be entirely possible to miss the actual town and community completely. But if you did, you would have still had a great day lazing by the beach and soaking up those Caribbean vibes.