San Juan Bay

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San Juan Bay
See caption
Mercator projection of San Juan Bay
San Juan Bay is located in Puerto Rico
San Juan Bay
San Juan Bay
LocationSan Juan, Puerto Rico
CoordinatesCoordinates: 18°27′7.95″N 66°6′51.04″W / 18.4522083°N 66.1141778°W / 18.4522083; -66.1141778
Native nameBahía de San Juan (Spanish)
Ocean/sea sourcesNorth Atlantic Ocean
Managing agencyDepartment of Natural and Environmental Resources, Puerto Rico Ports Authority
Salinity34.5[1][note 1]

San Juan Bay (Spanish: Bahía de San Juan) is the bay and main inlet adjacent to Old San Juan in northeastern Puerto Rico. It is about 3.5 miles (5.6 km) in length,[2][3] the largest body of water in an estuary of about 97 square miles (250 km2)[4] of channels, inlets and eight interconnected lagoons.[5] The San Juan Bay is home to the island's busiest harbor and its history dates back to at least 1508.[6][7]


The bay is a semi-enclosed body of water with an elaborate system of loops, basins and channels at the center of Puerto Rico's most significant historical monuments and largest communities. San Juan Bay provides recreation, sightseeing and tourist attractions, and its curved shape offers a variety of docking facilities for watercraft. Because of commercial expansion and environmental stress on the region,[8][9] the estuary has been the focus of restoration ecology projects.[10][11] In 2015, the San Juan Estuary Program (Programa del estuario de la Bahía de San Juan) began using green flags to mark the condition of the bay's waters.[12][13]

On a map, San Juan Bay appears to connect two adjacent lakes. This impression comes from a neck of land, Puntilla ("small point"), which projects from the Islet of San Juan Bautista into the center of the bay and approaches another protuberance (Punta Cataño) stretching from the other side of a larger island. The illusion demonstrates the bay's irregular shape. Next to Puntilla are docks which are reportedly the busiest in the Caribbean.[14] Part of the Port of San Juan, they are on the Islet of San Juan Bautista at the entrance to San António Channel. Three bridges between the islet and the mainland cross the channel, which connects the bay to Laguna del Condado (Condado Lagoon) and the Atlantic Ocean. One of these bridges is the historic Dos Hermanos Bridge. Before their construction, the Condado Lagoon was the bay's narrowest entrance.

On the other side, across the Isla Grande peninsula, the bay's interior is shaped like a triangle. It contains the busy Bahía de Puerto Nuevo (New Port Bay), which is closer to inland transportation networks than the Port of San Juan. The bay is fed by the Río Piedras, which empties into the bay via the Canal Martín Peña. The 3.75-mile (6.04 km) channel connects the bay to other lagoons and the city of Río Piedras.[15]


European conquest and settlement[edit]

Sketch of the area, including trees and other vegetation
Rodrigo de Figueroa's 1519 sketch of the Villa de Puerto Rico, before Caparra's settlers relocated to the harbor

The Spanish conquistadors of the New World thought in terms of urban landscapes and municipal organization. They did not launch their conquista de las Indias from ocean-going caravels or itinerant campsites. The Spanish needed solid dwellings, preferably surrounded by rock walls, as they had in Europe. Juan Ponce de León spent days searching for the best place to build a villa, the blueprint for a colonial city. Santo Domingo governor Nicolás de Ovando had appointed him to pacify and evangelize the nearby island, which Christopher Columbus had named "San Juan Bautista" during his second voyage to the Americas. A frontier with dreaded, reportedly-cannibalistic Caribs on its coast, it was an opportunity to demonstrate machismo and glorify God and country. Following de Ovando's recommendation, Ferdinand II of Aragon made Ponce de León an adelantado and authorized him to conquer the Taíno island. Boriquén, the indigenous name for Puerto Rico, would be the second Caribbean island to become part of the Spanish Empire.[16]

In 1508 Ponce de León sailed into the Bay of Guanica, on the west of the island, where local cacique Agüeybaná I welcomed his men as allies against the Caribs. However, the Spanish did not find a suitable place to settle there.[17] The adelantado and his small team of hidalgos traversed the island until they saw a spacious, almost-landlocked bay on the northeastern shore. No indigenous peoples seemed to claim the area, since it was subject to Carib raids. Ponce de León named the body of water the Bay of the Wealthy Port (Spanish: Bahía de Puerto Rico).[18][19]

Long, low bridge
1919 drawing of the wooden San Antonio Bridge in 1597, where the Battle of San Juan (1598) took place.[20]

Ponce de León pushed inland and ordered the first Spanish settlement on the island, 3 miles (4.8 km) from the bay. Following de Ovando's suggestion, he named the settlement Caparra. The explorer chose the site because of its proximity to the sea and "to the gold mines and farms of the Toa Valley".[21]

A newer San Antonio Bridge, not made of wood (c. 1922)[20]

Caparra proved to be an inauspicious venture. Mendicant friars appealed to Ponce de León to move the settlement closer to the bay (and its sea breezes), saying that its present location was lethal to children. The governor was adamantly opposed, since he had had a house built in Caparra. In 1511 the crown appointed a new governor, Juan Cerón, who received royal permission to relocate the village. According to Rodrigo de Figueroa's map, the villagers resettled on a three-mile blustery, wooded islet at the bay's entrance.[22] In 1521, the residents completed the resettlement and named the new village "Villa de Puerto Rico".[23] Several years later, after a royal upgrade, the settlement was renamed "Ciudad de Puerto Rico".[24][25][26] Colonial engineers fortified the islet with walls and castles, connecting it to mainland Puerto Rico with the San Antonio Bridge, and it came to be known as "the walled city".[27][28]

Sixteenth-century Spanish historian and indigenous activist Bartolomé de las Casas described the bay and its surrounding area names different from those presently used:[29][30] La isla que llamamos de San Juan, que por vocablo de la lengua de los indios, vecinos naturales della, se nombraba Boriquén ... tiene algunos puertos no buenos, si no es el que llaman Puerto-Rico ("That island we call San Juan, which according to the native Indian language was called Boriquén, has but a few inferior harbors, except the one called Puerto-Rico").[31][32] According to de las Casas, the Indians called their island "Boriquén"; the Spanish called it "San Juan", and its harbor "Puerto Rico". Over time, the island became Puerto Rico and its harbor (and bay) San Juan; the Indian name changed to Borinquen, with no diacritic and an extra n.[33]

Colonial period[edit]

Although the Atlantic winds may have provided a healthier climate on the islet, moving the village from Caparra to the bay did not protect the settlers further from Carib attacks. The Caribs, understanding the impact of European colonization on their survival, stormed the new settlement fiercely.[34]

By the eighteenth century the population of the islet had expanded into the Atlantic City of San Juan, largely due to the proximity of the bay and its port. The city and the bay's entrances were fortified; the bay and its walls isolated the Spanish inhabitants from the rest of the island's population, encouraging a casta.[35]

For the last 500 years the bay's most important function has been to link Puerto Rico and the outside world,[36] and detachments of the Spanish treasure fleet connected the island colony to the Spanish colonial network. With its strategic location, it was a target for pirate attacks and a site for imperial powers to demonstrate military might. On the east side of the bay's mouth, the Castillo San Felipe del Morro still guards its narrow entrance.[37]

Isleta of San Juan from the Bay

Present day[edit]

Pedestrian path along the bay, with chairs and footrests
View of the bay from the pathway at Pier 8

The Port of San Juan, on the islet at the bay's northern side, is among the busiest Caribbean ports.[38][39][40] Thousands of fishermen ply the brackish waters where fresh water meets the sea. San Juan Bay's beauty and ecological diversity attracts tourism and a variety of recreational activities.

A result of exploitation, however, has been the degradation of a significant portion of the bay's natural resources; the area is also susceptible to seismic activity.[41][42] A restoration project has returned the bay's water to "safe at contact" status and has integrated the city's renovated coastal infrastructure into the bay's shoreline.[43]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Surface salinity at surface temperature of 27.5°C, as measured on 14 April 1971.


  1. ^ Oceanographic Baseline Data (1971-72) for the Formulation of Marine Waste Disposal Alternatives for Puerto Rico. (Volume II: Appendices. Final Report - November 1974.)] November 1974. Prepared For: Environmental Quality Board (Junta de Calidad Ambiental), Office of the Governor, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Prepared by: Oceanographic Program, Area of Natural Resources, Department of Public Works, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Table C-5, pages 7.25-7.28. Figures C-1 and C-5, pages 7.32, 7.36.
  2. ^ Corps of Engineers, United States. Army. (1976). San Juan Harbor Survey-review Navigation: Environmental Impact Statement. Jacksonville, FL: US National government publication. p. 7.
  3. ^ Hydrographic Office (1921). West Indies Pilot (Issue 129). D.C.: Issue 129. p. 328.
  4. ^ Torres, Brenda (2018). "After María, Resilience in Puerto Rico: Why María had such a devastating impact—and how to mitigate future climate disaster". NACLA Report on the Americas. 50 (1): 11–14. doi:10.1080/10714839.2018.1448583. S2CID 134039957.
  5. ^ "Water Quality Monitoring Volunteer Program: STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES" (PDF). Retrieved October 11, 2018.
  6. ^ Miller, Paul Gerard (1922). Historia de Puerto Rico. Chicago: Rand, McNally y compañía. pp. 55–57.
  7. ^ Negroni, Héctor Andrés (1992). Historia militar de Puerto Rico. San Juan, PR: Sociedad Estatal Quinto Aniversario. p. 496. ISBN 978-8478441389.
  8. ^ "Coast Guard to deploy vessel of opportunity oil skimming system during training exercise in San Juan Bay". News Report. U.S. Coast Guard. November 8, 2011. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  9. ^ Pérez-Villalona, Hamlet; Jeffrey C. Cornwell; Jorge R. Ortiz-Zayas & Elvira Cuevas (2015). "Sediment Denitrification and Nutrient Fluxes in the San José Lagoon, a Tropical Lagoon in the Highly Urbanized San Juan Bay Estuary, Puerto Rico". Estuaries and Coasts. 38 (6): 2259–2278. doi:10.1007/s12237-015-9953-3. S2CID 84885666.
  10. ^ "EPA Approves Puerto Rico's List of Impaired Waters: New Pollutants Included for Waters of San Juan Bay Estuary, Rio Bayamon, Rio Grande de Arecibo". News Report. Environmental Protection Agency. September 29, 2010. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  11. ^ "What communities are doing: Caño Martín Peña, San Juan, Puerto Rico". News Report. Environmental Protection Agency. 2013-02-25. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  12. ^ "Banderas indican si son seguras las aguas de la Laguna del Condado". News Report. Programa del Estuario de la Bahía de San Juan. May 2015. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  13. ^ Costa, Juan R. (May 5, 2015). "Banderas alertarán condiciones bacteriológicas de la Laguna del Condado (galería)". News Report. San Juan, Puerto Rico. Noticel. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  14. ^ Monie, Gustaaf, Frank Hendrickx, Karel Joos, Lars Couvreur, and Chris Peeters (1998). Strategies for Global and Regional Ports the Case of Caribbean Container and Cruise Ports. Boston, MA: Springer. pp. 116–121. doi:10.1007/978-1-4757-6602-8. ISBN 978-1-4419-5075-8.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Albert Hoyt, Edward (1943). A History of the Harbor Defenses of San Juan, P.R., Under Spain, 1509-1898. San Juan, Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico Coast Artillery Command. p. 144.
  16. ^ García Leduc; José Manuel (2002). Apuntes para una historia breve de Puerto Rico: desde la prehistoria hasta 1898. San Juan, PR. pp. 104–126. ISBN 978-1881715962.
  17. ^ Arleen Pabón-Charneco & Eduardo A. Regis (1997). Guánica: el origen de su memoria. Guánica, PR: Oficina Estatal de Preservación Historica, Oficina del Gobernador de Puerto Rico. pp. 9–75.
  18. ^ Cerezo Martínez, Ricardo (1994). La cartografía náutica española en los siglos XIV, XV y XVI. Madrid: Editorial CSIC. p. 152. ISBN 9788400074005.
  19. ^ Tió, Aurelio (1961). Nuevas fuentes para la historia de Puerto Rico ; documentos inéditos o poco conocidos cuyos originales se encuentran en el Archivo General de Indias en la ciudad de Seville, España. San Germán: Ediciones de la Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico. p. 645.
  20. ^ a b Miller, Paul Gerard (1922). "Historia de Puerto Rico". Internet Archive. p. 122. Retrieved September 25, 2022.
  21. ^ Stark, David M. (2008). ""There Is No City Here, but a Desert," The Contours of City Life in 1673 San Juan". The Journal of Caribbean History. 42 (2): 257.
  22. ^ Domínguez Cristóbal, Carlos (2000). Panorama Histórico Forestal de Puerto Rico. San Juan, PR: University of Puerto Rico. p. 85. ISBN 978-0847702978.
  23. ^ Alegría, Ricardo E. (2009). Documentos históricos de Puerto Rico: 1581-1599. San Juan, PR: Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe. p. 135. ISBN 978-1934461457.
  24. ^ Simón, Pedro (1626). Noticias historiales de las conquistas de Tierra firme en las Indias occidentales, Volume 1. Madrid. pp. 82–84.
  25. ^ Lopez Nieves, Luis (1996). "La verdadera muerte de Juan Ponce De León". Inti: Revista de Literatura Hispánica. 1 (43): 421–435.
  26. ^ Marley, David (2005). Historic Cities of the Americas: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. . Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781576070277.
  27. ^ Abbad y Lasierra, Iñigo & José J. Acosta. (1866). Historia geográfica, civil y natural de la isla de San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico. San Juan, PR: Impr. y librería de Acosta. p. 116.
  28. ^ Zapatero, Juan Manuel (1989). "Las fortificaciones históricas de San Juan de Puerto Rico Edit. Universidad Complutense. Madrid, 1989". MilitariaRevista de Cultura Militar (1): 141–175.
  29. ^ Siegel, Peter E. (2005). Ancient Borinquen: Archaeology and Ethnohistory of Native Puerto Rico. University of Alabama Press. pp. xviii. ISBN 978-0817352387.
  30. ^ Viala, Fabienne (2014). The Post-Columbus Syndrome: Identities, Cultural Nationalism, and Commemorations in the Caribbean. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 122. ISBN 978-1137439895.
  31. ^ las Casas, Bartolomé (1875). Historia de las Indias, Vol. 3. Madrid: Imprenta Miguel Ginesta. p. 234.
  32. ^ de las Casas, Bartolomé (1876). Historia de las Indias escrita, Vol. 4. Madrid: Imprenta de Miguel Ginesta. p. 321.
  33. ^ Arrom, José Juan (2000). Estudios de Lexicología Antillana. San Juan, Puerto Rico: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico. pp. 131–138. ISBN 978-0847703746.
  34. ^ Cruz Soto, Marie (2009). Inhabiting Isla Nena, 1514--2003: Island Narrations, Imperial Dramas and Vieques, Puerto Rico. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. p. 56. ISBN 9780549510154.
  35. ^ Scarano, Francisco (2013). "Imperial decline and adaptation," a chapter in The Caribbean: A History of the Region and Its Peoples. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 180–183. ISBN 978-0226924649.
  36. ^ Flores Román, Milagros, Luis A. Lugo Amador, and José Cruz de Arrigoitia (2009). San Juan, ciudad de castillos y soldados = San Juan city of castles and soldiers. San Juan, P.R: National Park Service. pp. 21–25. ISBN 9781934461655.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  37. ^ Barrientos, Andrea (2008). Por las Calles del Viejo San Juan (PDF). San Juan, PR: Mapfre. pp. 26–35. ISBN 9780615240947.
  38. ^ "NOAA's Newest Chart Supports Puerto Rico Maritime Economy". News Release. NOAA, Office of the Coast Survey. October 13, 2011. Retrieved December 11, 2015.
  39. ^ Organization of American States. (1988). Caribbean Cruise Ship Study. Washington, DC: General Secretariat OAS. p. 21.
  40. ^ Gulliksen, Vance (August 2008). "The Cruise Industry". Society. 45 (4): 342–344. doi:10.1007/s12115-008-9103-7. S2CID 144437636.
  41. ^ Vengesh, James, Jeffrey Bachhuber (2005). "Liquefaction susceptibility" a chapter in, Active Tectonics and Seismic Hazards of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Offshore Areas. Austin, Texas: Geological Society of America. pp. 249–262. ISBN 978-0813723853.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  42. ^ Bauzá-Ortega, Jorge. "The San Juan Bay Estuary and its Initiatives toward a Climate Ready Estuary" (PDF). San Juan Bay Estuary Program.
  43. ^ "Ruta urbana para disfrutar del mar Redescubre la extraordinaria belleza del mar así como de otros cuerpos de agua en la zona metropolitana". News release. San Juan, Puerto Rico. El Nuevo Dia. July 22, 2012. Retrieved December 14, 2015.

External links[edit]