In the US, the White House is considered a top tourist attraction. In Puerto Rico, its counterpart is the Casa Blanca, and its name literally means “White House”. But this is a much older place than the one in Washington. It was built way back in 1521 in a piece of land belonging to the famous explorer Juan Ponce de León who later became the first governor of Puerto Rico. However, Juan passed away in an expedition to Florida before the Casa Blanca was completed.
It was passed on to his son Luis, and for the next 250 years the family lived within the double story home. It is adorned with exquisitely carved stone lions, along with the Ponce de León coat of arms. The Spanish military occupied it in 1779, and then more than a hundred years later the American military moved in. The residence was returned to Puerto Rico in 1967.
The Casa Blanca is the oldest occupied house in the western hemisphere. Today the home includes a kitchen, foyer, dining room, a throne room, and an oratorio. Each room has been decorated to represent a specific century from the 16th to the 20th century. Authentic furniture is used in these rooms, along with recreated pieces. The home feels surprisingly cool, and the Old World atmosphere is emphasized by period photographs and maps.
Outside there is a beautiful garden and a fragrant orchard. The grounds are secluded and there are fountains and an Alhambra-style courtyard.
Tips for Visitors
This museum is not very easy to find, so you may want to ask around in Old San Juan. Coming from Cuartel de Ballajá, you need to cross the Plaza de Beneficiencia. You should see the statue of Eugenio de María de Hostos, who’s a famous educator in Puerto Rican history. Now take a right and follow the street to the end, and that’s where you’ll find La Casa Blanca.
In the mornings you may be able to join organized trips with a guide who can answer questions and give interesting talks about the place. Find a guide who can give out interesting details about its history, knowledgeable lectures about the building practices, and juicy tidbits about the people who once lived there.
At around 3 pm or so, you may be able to enter without guides if you wish. But you may not be able to fully appreciate the place without knowing the history, as there are very few written descriptions. The views from the balconies are amazing, and the surrounding gardens are spectacular. The architecture is amazing. It’s also very cool, and surprisingly quiet despite the bustle of Old San Juan outside. Without a guide, you can take your time and feel the ambience.
It’s a good visit for an hour or two, and it’s a nice way to spend an afternoon in Puerto Rico. It’s not exactly a great place to visit if you have kids, but for a romantic stroll around a historic residence the atmosphere is quite perfect for couples.