Puerto Rico Travel Guide
Sunrise and sunset are both worth waiting for when you’re in Puerto Rico. The pinks and yellows that hang in the early-morning sky are just as compelling as the sinewy reds and purples that blend into the twilight. It’s easy to compare them, as Puerto Rico is so narrow that you can easily have breakfast in Fajardo, looking eastward over the boats headed to enchanted islands like Vieques and Culebra, then settle down for a lobster dinner in Rincón as the sun is sinking into the inky-blue water.
Puerto Rico Restaurant Reviews
Your palate will be pleasantly amused by the range of dining choices available in Puerto Rico. In San Juan you can find restaurants serving everything from Italian to Thai, as well as superb local eateries serving comida criolla (traditional homestyle Puerto Rican food). No matter your price range or taste, San Juan is a great place to eat.
Puerto Rican cooking uses a lot of local vegetables: plantains are cooked a hundred different ways—as tostones (fried green), amarillos (baked ripe), in mofongo (mashed and fried), and as chips. Rice and beans with tostones or amarillos are accompaniments to almost every dish. Locals cook white rice with habichuelas (red beans), achiote (annatto seeds), or saffron; brown rice with gandules (pigeon peas); and morro (black rice) with frijoles negros (black beans). Yams and other root vegetables, such as yucca and yautía (yams), are served baked, fried, stuffed, boiled, and mashed. Sofrito—a garlic, onion, sweet pepper, coriander, oregano, and tomato puree—is used as a base for practically everything.
Beef, chicken, pork, and seafood are rubbed with adobo, a garlic-oregano marinade, before cooking. Arroz con pollo (chicken with rice), sancocho (beef or chicken and tuber soup), asopao (a soupy rice gumbo with chicken or seafood), and encebollado (steak smothered in onions) are all typical plates. Also look for fritters served along highways and beaches. You may find empanadillas (stuffed fried turnovers), sorullitos (cheese-stuffed corn sticks), alcapurrias (stuffed green-banana croquettes), and bacalaítos (codfish fritters). Caribbean lobster, available mainly at coastal restaurants, is sweeter and easier to eat than Maine lobster, and there’s always plentiful fresh dolphin (the fish, not the porpoise) and red snapper. Conch is prepared in a chilled ceviche salad or stuffed with tomato sauce inside fritters.
Puerto Rican coffee is excellent black or con leche (with milk). Coffee isn’t an on-the-go thing here. In cafés like Kasalta, in the Ocean Park neighborhood of San Juan, people linger over it, chatting with friends as they savor every drop. The origin of the piña colada is attributed to numerous places, from the Caribe Hilton to a Fortaleza Street bar. Puerto Rican rums range from light mixers to dark, aged liqueurs. Look for Bacardí, Don Q, Ron Rico, Palo Viejo, and Barrilito.
Puerto Rico Hotel Reviews
In San Juan, the best beaches are in Isla Verde, though Condado is more centrally located. Old San Juan offers easy access to dining and nightlife. Outside San Juan, particularly on the east coast, you can find self-contained luxury resorts that cover hundreds of acres. Around the island, government-sponsored paradores are rural inns, others offer no-frills apartments, and some are large hotels located close to either an attraction or beach.
Puerto Rico Nightlife
Wherever you go, dress to impress. Puerto Ricans have flair, and both men and women love getting dressed up to go out. Bars are usually casual, but if you have on jeans, sneakers, and a T-shirt, you may be refused entry at swankier nightclubs and discos.
In Old San Juan, Calle San Sebastián is lined with bars and restaurants. Salsa music blaring from jukeboxes in cut-rate pool halls competes with mellow Latin jazz in top-flight nightspots. Evenings begin with dinner and stretch into the late hours (often until 3 or 4 in the morning) at the bars of the more-upscale, so-called SoFo (south of Fortaleza) end of Old San Juan. An eclectic crowd heads to the Plaza del Mercado in Santurce after work to hang out in the plaza or enjoy drinks and food in one of the small establishments skirting the farmers’ market. Condado and Ocean Park have their share of nightlife, too. Most are restaurant-and-bar environments.
Just east of San Juan along Route 187, funky Piñones has a collection of open-air seaside eateries that are popular with locals. On weekend evenings, many places have merengue combos, Brazilian jazz trios, or reggae bands. In the southern city of Ponce, people embrace the Spanish tradition of the paseo, an evening stroll around the Plaza las Delicias. The boardwalk at La Guancha in Ponce is also a lively scene. Live bands often play on weekends. Elsewhere en la isla, nighttime activities center on the hotels and resorts.
Puerto Rico Shopping
San Juan has the island’s best range of stores, but it isn’t a free port, so you won’t find bargains on electronics and perfumes. You can, however, find excellent prices on china, crystal, clothing, and jewelry. Shopping for local crafts can also be gratifying: you’ll run across a lot that’s tacky, but you can also find treasures, and in many cases you can watch the artisans at work. Popular items include santos (small carved figures of saints or religious scenes), hand-rolled cigars, handmade mundillo lace from Aguadilla, vejigantes (colorful masks used during Carnival and local festivals) from Loíza and Ponce, and fancy men’s shirts called guayaberas.
In Old San Juan—especially on Calles Fortaleza and Cristo—you can find everything from T-shirt emporiums to selective crafts stores, bookshops, art galleries, jewelry boutiques, and even shops that specialize in made-to-order Panama hats. Calle Cristo is lined with factory-outlet stores, including Coach and Ralph Lauren.
With many stores selling luxury items and designer fashions, the shopping spirit in the San Juan neighborhood of Condado is reminiscent of that in Miami. Avenida Ashford is considered the heart of San Juan’s fashion district, and you’ll find plenty of high-end clothing stores here.