February 28, 2002
The square has a very European air to it and is home to City Hall and other government offices. You may see old pictures during your sightseeing showing Spanish troops on parade here during the Spanish American War. Today it has a pleasant park-like atmosphere and many locals come here to relax. Many begin and end their day here.
On my visit, I found myself drifting toward this plaza each morning after breakfast. On the northwest corner of the square, you will find a little green roofed coffee kiosk. Actually, it is an espresso kiosk, since that is your only choice of beverages. They serve it strong and they serve it 24 hours a day. The little stand does a lively business, but doesn't have a name. It's just "the coffee stand". Oddly enough, I was never charged the same amount twice, so I can't really tell you what they charge for a cup of brew. It was always cheaper than comparable servings stateside, however.
A couple of potentially useful businesses are located on the Plaza de Armas, as well. There is a Pueblo grocery store. At the Guest House Old San Juan my room had a refrigerator, so I stocked up on both bottled water and beer at Pueblo.
Incidentally, Medalla and India are the two local beers available. Medalla is more prevalent in bars, but I found the India to be a better tasting beer. Presidente is a Dominican beer widely available in Puerto Rico that I found myself drinking as any. Keep in mind that beer, rum, coffee and other such consumables can all be purchased at lower prices at the supermarket than at tourist-oriented shops. So, whether you want them while you're there or to bring back home, there's no need to squander money elsewhere.
There is a Walgreens on the square if you need to pick up medicine or duck in for the countless other items that are stocked for convenience in the modern pharmacy. Actually, I have a personal vendetta against the Walgreens chain, so if you too would prefer an alternative to that soulless corporate monolith, there is a Puerto Rico RX on the opposite corner. They carried the same things you would find at Walgreens for what I assume are comparable prices. Between the Puerto Rico RX and the Pueblo supermarket, you can take care of all your practical needs right there on the same block.
Whether for relaxing, shopping or just to get my bearings, I found myself returning over and again to the Plaza de Armas. If you are going to spend much time in Old San Juan, I'm sure you will find it a useful point of reference, as well.
From journal On the Cheap in Old San Juan