One of San Juan’s most absorbing museums, the Museo de las Américas (787/724-5052, www.museolasamericas.org) is a thoughtful collection of art and anthropology relating to Puerto Rico and the Americas as a whole. Facing El Morro on the other side of the campo, the museum occupies the second floor of the Cuartel de Ballajá (the old Spanish barracks), a grand, three-storey imperial structure built between 1854 and 1864 and arranged around a wide central courtyard.
The museum has four permanent exhibitions. El indio en América is a poignant introduction to 22 indigenous American tribes, beginning with the Taíno and including others from South and North America. Explanations are in Spanish and English, the well-presented exhibits embellished by bronze statues created by Peru-based artist Felipe Lettersten. La Herencia Africana is an enlightening look at the West African origins of the region’s black population, as well as the horrific slave trade; a particular emphasis is placed on Puerto Rico, naturally, and the numerous slave rebellions up to abolition in 1873. Note, however, that there are no English explanations, making this room a bit dull if you don’t read Spanish. Conquista y Colonización chronicles the history of the island from the arrival of Ponce de León to the US invasion, again in Spanish only. The fourth exhibition, Las Artes Populares en Las Américas, is an eclectic collection of traditional folk art from all over the Americas (English labels). Other rooms are used for temporary exhibitions, usually paintings or artwork.