Spanish charm San Juan offers beaches, history and a distinctive culture
September 01, 2008 2:01 AM

by Joan Tupponce


Butch and Alice Amthor like to be in San Juan, Puerto Rico, during its Fiestas de San Juan. The festival, held in June, celebrates the life of John the Baptist, the island’s patron saint. “The fiesta is held on the beach,” Alice Amthor says. “At midnight you walk backward into the ocean to cleanse yourself. They’ve been doing that for over 300 years.”

Alice is president and her husband, Butch, executive vice president, of Gretna-based Amthor International, the nation’s largest manufacturer of truck-mounted tanks. They travel to San Juan twice a year to meet with one of the company’s largest distributors, Guaraguao Truck Sales. “They sell about 50 to 60 tanks a year,” says the Amthors’ son Brian, the company’s marketing director. “They own three locations in Puerto Rico and the tanks are their niche. They sell like hotcakes there.”

Amthor International is continually increasing its sales in foreign countries. In June, the company was accepted into Virginia’s Accessing International Markets (AIM) program. The yearlong export development program helps companies pursue business opportunities overseas. “International sales offer significant opportunities for our company,” says Brian Amthor. “We have 20 percent international sales, and that figure has grown over the last five years.”

When they visit San Juan, the Amthors take time to explore the city, which was founded in 1521 and is the oldest city under a U.S. flag. San Juan has three very different areas — the beach and resort area, historic Old San Juan and the city’s outlying communities or barrios.

Alice Amthor likes to visit Old San Juan. The narrow, bluestone streets cover only seven square blocks but they house dozens of restored 16th and 17th century Spanish buildings.

The National Park Service maintains El Morro, a fortress that rises 140 feet from the sea and offers grand views of San Juan Bay. Other notable landmarks include the 364-year-old Castillo de San Cristobal, a fortress with a moat and tunnel, and the 176-year-old Teatro Tapia, a theater where you can catch a concert, play or ballet.

The Plaza de Hostos in Old San Juan is filled with artisans and street vendors, some selling tropical fruit-flavored shaved ice. While there is an abundance of tourist shops in Old San Juan, many don’t carry local crafts. To buy those mementos, tourists visit Centro Nacional de Artes Populares y Artesanias, an arts and crafts center.

Because it is a seaport, San Juan is lined with beaches and beachfront hotels. Outdoor activities include scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing and golf. Other attractions include San Juan’s many hotel casinos.

Alice Amthor looks forward to her visits to San Juan each year. “The people are very nice,” she says. “They’re always friendly.”


San Juan is home to processing facilities for several industries, including sugar refining, petroleum and distilling. Plants also produce pharmaceuticals, clothing, plastic products and electronics. Top employment categories include manufacturing, banking, government and trade. The Port of San Juan exports a number of commodities, including electronics, apparel, rum and medical equipment. It is one of the top five busiest ports in the Western Hemisphere and one of the leading cruise ports in the world.


San Juan caters to a variety of palates. Alice and Butch Amthor like to stop in Il Mulino New York in the Ritz Carlton San Juan hotel. “It’s a very different type of Italian restaurant,” Alice says. “They have really good desserts — sherbet served in a frozen orange, for example. And, they have a great wine list.” Another Italian treat is La Piccola Fontana, a northern Italian restaurant in the El San Juan Hotel. If you’d like to taste some local delicacies, try bacalaitos (catfish fritters) or alcapurrias, plantain fritters stuffed with meat.


During their latest visit, the Amthors stayed at the beachfront El San Juan Hotel and Casino. Lavish flower gardens and tropical trails surround the property. Also on the beachfront is the Ritz Carlton, San Juan Hotel, Spa & Casino. If you prefer to stay in Old San Juan, a favorite is the Hotel Milano. The intimate hotel has about 30 rooms. Breakfast on the penthouse terrace offers views of the rooftops of Old San Juan.

Reader Comments

Great review!!! Its find out the Spanish tradition and festival. I enjoy it very much please keep it on.

Learn Spanish
Oct. 10, 2008 at 10:15 AM

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