The blue-and-white Santa Catalina Palace (Palacio de Santa Catalina), otherwise known as La Fortaleza (The Fortress), is the official residence of the governor of Puerto Rico. Situated in Old San Juan, the UNESCO World Heritage Site occupies a spot that was long one of the most contested strategic positions in the Caribbean.
La Fortaleza was built between 1533 and 1540, and it’s an impressive sight to behold from the approach through Calle Fortaleza, a narrow street. The historic structure is the oldest executive mansion in the Western Hemisphere, and one can still see stone fortifications erected by the Spanish.
Although travelers aren't permitted roam the governor’s mansion at will, guided walking tours (held on weekdays) cover the lush gardens and will venture inside the building when the government is not in session. Walking tours or Segway tours of Old San Juan often make stops at the governor's residence, as well as other important Old San Juan sites and government buildings in the San Juan National Historic Site.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Since La Fortaleza is a functioning government building, it’s subject to closures without warning; additionally, interior tours aren’t available while government is in session.
- The gardens surrounding the palace are a great place for kids to burn off some energy.
- Like many buildings constructed centuries ago, La Fortaleza is not fully handicap accessible.
How to Get There
La Fortaleza, located in the heart of Old San Juan, is walkable from most other destinations in downtown. Several local bus lines stop at the Terminal Covadonga San Juan, which is an easy walk to La Fortaleza.
When to Get There
The Palacio de Santa Catalina is open from 9am to 4pm on weekdays for guided tours. Puerto Rico has a mild climate year around; hurricane season runs from June through November. The weather in April through June is considered the best—it’s warm but not too hot or rainy.
The San Juan National Historic Site
La Fortaleza is part of the San Juan National Historic Site, which includes other landmarks such as the San Juan Gate, the Castillo de San Cristobal, the city walls (La Muralla), and the Paseo del Morro. All of these sites are situated within easy walking distance of the governor’s mansion.