After two weeks of wandering San Juan, I thought I had seen a decent amount of the city. I was so wrong! San Juan is much bigger than I thought; it is also much bigger than any of the travel sites I visited showed.
I have only been exploring two districts of the city, but it turns out one of those districts, Santurce, has the highest population and highest density of people in the city. This also means that it's the most densely populated area on the whole island, but this wasn't always the case.
The Forming of Santurce
What would eventually become Santurce was originally settled by the native Arawak people, and later became the living space for African slaves brought by the Spanish while they colonized the island. As the area continued to grow, due to its location between San Juan and the surrounding suburbs, it became known as San Mateo de Cangrejos, or Saint Matthew of Crabs.
In 1876 an engineer named Pablo Ubarri arrived from Spain to assist with the construction of a railway between San Juan and the nearby city of Rio Piedras, which caused the "Congrejos" to go through a period of gentrification. Years later Pablo was granted the title Count of Santurce, after his home of Santurzi, and used his newfound influence to re-named the district after his title.
In the 1900's San Juan was rapidly growing, and came to incorporate its neighboring municipalities, including Santurce. By 1948 Santurce was one of the cities most lively areas, but with the shift of San Juan's economic center to the Hato Ray district, many businesses were forced to close, and Santurce began to decline.
During all of this there was also a large emigration of Puerto Ricans to other areas due to the promise of better job opportunities abroad, involvement by the US government, and various other reasons. This trend has continued over the decades, and today there are in fact more puerto Ricans in the contiguous US than on the island itself.
Since the early 2000's though, there have been many efforts to revitalize Santurce, and the island, once again. I found an interesting article from a few years ago that talks about the importance of urban art projects in the process of strengthening local community, which you can read here.
While I thought that I had been exploring a larger part of San Juan, I was actually exploring sub-districts within Santurce and the islet of San Juan Antiguo (Old San Juan). There are a total of 40 sub-districts, of which I have only visited 5.
During the week it's pretty quiet in Santurce, but the population swells every weekend with tourists. The nights become filled with the sounds of parties, DJs playing music, weddings, and any other event you can think of. A school even held their prom at our hotel.
I am glad that I have had four weeks to explore here. I assume many people may come to relax at the resorts, but if you did want to see the island, it would be difficult to do so in a single weekend. You would have to cram a lot in over a short period, and you still would not see very much.
One of my favorite things about Santurce, and Puerto Rico overall, is the beaches. They are all open to the public and you can pretty much go wherever you want. And that's not just the hotel beaches; pretty much anywhere there is shoreline you can walk around and get in the water.