Many of the museums in Old San Juan close for lunch between 11:45am and 2pm, so schedule your activities accordingly if you intend to museum-hop.
The Best Places to See Puerto Rican Art
With its dozen or so museums and even more art galleries, Old San Juan is the greatest repository of Puerto Rican arts and crafts. Galleries sell everything from pre-Columbian artifacts to paintings by well-known artists such as Angel Botello, who died in 1986, and Rafael Tufiño, who died in 2008. There's also contemporary traditional crafts, such as santos, the hand-carved wooden saints the island is known for. Galleries also show a large cast of talented established and up-and-coming contemporary artists.
Art openings at galleries are usually big affairs, with wine and cheese receptions, and occasionally live music or theatrical performances. Bars and restaurants get into the act and hold art shows or performances. CIRCO, an international art fair held at the new Puerto Rico Convention Center annually in April, is growing in stature and quality each year, and many local art venues plan special shows for the occasion.
A cluster of galleries is spread along Calle Cristo and Calle San José, which is 1 block east. The Galería Nacional, or National Gallery, located inside Old San Juan's Antiguo Convento de los Dominicos, a restored former convent, has exhibits from the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture's vast holdings. It displays many of the most important works by Puerto Rican painters, from José Campeche and Francisco Oller to Rafael Tufiño and the generation of painters from the 1950s (tel. 787/977-2700). Another good place to see Puerto Rican art is the Museum of History, Anthropology & Art (tel. 787/763-3939). Because of space limitations, the museum's galleries can exhibit only a fifth of their vast collection at one time, but the work is always top-notch. The collection ranges from pre-Columbian artifacts to works by today's major painters.
Santurce, however, is equally important as the Old City, now that it has some of the island's top museums. The grandest repository of art in San Juan is at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, which is a virtual textbook on all the big names in the art world who rose from Puerto Rico, often to international acclaim. The gorgeously restored building is also part of the appeal, as are the adjoining botanical gardens. The Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (tel. 787/977-4030; avs. Ponce de León and Robert H. Todd) is also an exceptional museum in a restored brick schoolhouse, showing contemporary art from Puerto Rico, but also throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
Outside San Juan, the greatest art on the island can usually be seen at the Museo de Arte de Ponce. In addition to such European masters as Reubens, Van Dyck, and Murillo, the museum features works by Latin American artists, including Diego Rivera. Puerto Rican artists who are represented include José Campeche and Francisco Oller. The museum was slated to reopen in 2010 following a major renovation. During the repairs, the museum lent some of its permanent collection out to traveling shows. However, the MAP continued to be a force in the island's art scene through an exhibition space and store at the San Juan's Plaza Las Américas, the largest mall in the Caribbean, called MAP at Plaza (Av. Franklin Delano Roosevelt 525, 3rd floor, Plaza Las Américas; tel. 787/200-7090 or 787/848-0505; admission $5 for adults, $2.50 for students, children, and seniors; Mon-Fri 11am-7pm, Sat 11am-8pm, and Sun 11am-5pm).