Introducing San Germán
Puerto Rico’s second-oldest city (after San Juan), San Germán is also one of its best preserved. Founded in 1511 near present-day Mayagüez on the orders of Juan Ponce de León, the original coastal settlement was moved twice in its early life to escape the unwelcome attention of plundering French corsairs. The current town, which lies about 10 miles inland from the Cabo Rojo coast, was established in 1573 and once administered a municipality that encompassed the whole western half of the island. Downsizing itself over the ensuing four centuries, contemporary San Germán (named for Germaine de Foix, the second wife of Spain’s King Ferdinand) is far more unassuming than the colonial capital of yore, although the historical buildings – some of which date from the 17th century – retain a quiet dignity. For those interested in colonial creole architecture, this little town can only be bested by Ponce and Old San Juan.
Despite its rich architectural heritage and lofty listing on the National Register of Historic Places, San Germán is largely ignored by its modern inhabitants and by tourists. As a result, the classic four-square-block colonial center – laid out in an unusual irregular pattern – is a veritable ghost town after dark. The city’s one downtown hotel sports cobwebs and few of the numerous historic buildings are open for public viewing, even if the trio of excellent restaurants all might be worth a small detour.
Fortuitously, San Germán’s semi- abandonment lends it an air of authenticity. It is also one of the few settlements in Puerto Rico where the central city core hasn’t been demeaned by thoughtless development.