An extensive and unique collection of interesting anthropology and Puerto Rican art as well as American collections, the Museo de las Americas faces El Morro on the camp’s other side and occupies two floors of the old colonial Spanish barracks known as Cuartel de Ballajá. This grand structure, built from 1954 to 1864, has three storeys arranged around the wide courtyard’s center.
You will find four exhibitions permanently housed in the museum. “El Indio en América” introduces you to 22 of indigenous tribes who were settlers of the North and South American continents before white colonizers ever set foot on the them, including the Taino. Information on the exhibits is in English and Spanish, some of them including bronze statues by Peru-based Felipe Lettersten.
“La Herencia Africana” takes a look at the region’s West African origins, including slave rebellions until the abolition of slavery in 1873, albeit there is no English version of the Spanish information on this exhibit.
“Conquista y Colonización” is a chronology of the place from Ponce de Leon’s arrival in 1493 until the invasion of U.S. armed troops during the Spanish-American War of 1898.
“Las Artes Populares en Las Américas” has an eclectic selection of the folk art from various cultures of the Americas with English labels. Other rooms in the museum hold temporary exhibitions of other forms of artwork and paintings from local and regional artists. Several handicrafts are on display and available for purchase in the museum’s gift shop.
Formally inaugurated in 1992, the museum is considered a non-profit run and operated from funds granted by Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly as well as private organizations like the Friends of the Museum. The building, used as the residence of soldiers and their families, has historical value for its architecture alone, with several balconies that form the galleries surrounding the inner patio.
“El Indio en América” (“The Indian in America”)
The rooms in the building served originally as dining rooms, kitchens, stables, bedrooms, warehouses, and jails until 1898 when the American military bombed the entire place when the Spanish-American War commenced. In World War II, the museum was a military hospital for wounded American and Allied troops who were in combat in the Pacific theater of that war.
The most popular exhibit in the museum is “El Indio en América,” which is a tribute to the indigenous tribes conserved many aspects of their culture even after the Spanish persecuted them during colonization. You will enjoy the recreated habitats and scenes from the by-gone era of pre-Spanish colonial history in the regions as well as the display of coinage, art, and other artifacts.
Other facilities at the museum include an AVR (audio-visual room), public toilets, warehouses, a children’s interactive factory, administrative offices, private parking, souvenir shop where commemorative articles are available, and wheelchair access. Admission is currently at $2 per visitor. The Museo de las Americas is located in Old San Juan’s Old Quarter of Ballajá.