The Caribbean. It brings to mind pictures of tropical sandy beaches, fruity drinks, and cemeteries? One of history’s most influential Caribbean ports is located in the American Territory of Puerto Rico. Old San Juan, established in the early 1500′s, is the earliest settlement under United States jurisdiction. Yes, it’s even older than St. Augustine by 50 years. Located on a small island at the mouth of the San Juan Bay, Old San Juan is home to two amazing colonial Spanish forts; San Felipe del Moro and San Cristóbal, a number of historical buildings, and the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery.
While not nearly as old as the other historical sights of Old San Juan, the Santa Maria is a strikingly picturesque cemetery. Built in the mid 1800s, Santa Maria boast many Victorian and Colonial Era funerary decorations and motifs as well as a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean.
The cemetery, named after the 16th century Italian Catholic saint Maria Magdalena de Pazzi, is situated just to the north outside of the old city. It is bordered by el Moro to the west and cradled by the old city’s protective walls. These walls are 40 feet high and anywhere from 12 to 15 feet thick.
To the east, Santa Maria is located next to a small barrio section of Old San Juan outside of the city walls called La Perla. This barrio neighborhood has evolved from settlements and villages that housed actual pirates of the Caribbean from what locals have told me. This could be false, but it definitely fit the atmosphere of the area. One of La Perla’s three entrances is through the cemetery and while beautiful, it is not recommended for tourists to wander around due to crime. This area of Old San Juan is also the the southern most tip of the Bermuda Triangle. Definitely one of the must-see spots if you head San Juan way!