The community of La Perla, situated just outside the city walls of Old San Juan in Puerto Rico, is named after the Spanish fort that once stood there. The neighbourhood lies between the forts of San Cristobal and El Morro, next to the beautiful cemetery of Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis. As San Juan grew, residents and businesses spread beyond the city walls and La Perla was part of that growth. Today the community is full of history and one of the most unique on the island.
From 1804 to the 1960s a slaughterhouse operated where La Perla now stands. Slaves, non-whites and the homeless were not permitted to live within the city walls and began to set up homes on the waterfront. Later, farmers bringing crops to market in San Juan built shacks in the area. In time, some city workers and troops stationed on the island also moved to the area.
Today La Perla is an active community of three neighbourhoods. Its crowded nature comes from times when rents were low and living in the area meant easy access to jobs, due to its close proximity to a gate in the city walls.
When the community was first established, living right on the water was considered to be for the poor. However, today the land is prime real estate and developers and investors alike are keeping a watchful eye on the area. Many have tried to buy the properties and the government has made attempts to move the community in order to clean the area up but the families, having lived there for many years and even generations, defend their right to keep their homes.
La Perla is one of the districts of San Juan that tourists are advised to avoid, although the colourful houses on the water’s edge can be seen from the city walls. It is known as a slum area, a popular drug trafficking spot and said to be one of the most dangerous places in Puerto Rico. While residents from La Perla are said to respect tourists and the high crime rate of the neighbourhood does not spill out into Old San Juan, visitors are advised to avoid the area.
- Information signs on the city walls, overlooking La Perla