Puerto Rico: The Island of Enchantment and Much More
Even after more than a century of being part of the U.S., Puerto Rico remains enigmatic, or downright unknown to many people.
Lately, most news reporting on the island have been brutal, either describing it as America’s failed capitalist and democratic experiment in the Caribbean, an economic basket case on a par with Greece, or a good place to pick up the Zika virus.
So, is this a good time to visit Puerto Rico? Sí, my friends, in spite of what you may have read or heard.
In November, Puerto Ricans will hold gubernatorial elections for a four-year term, so campaigning will be in full swing. As has been the case in the past, the process should be once again colorful and boisterous, yet fair and transparent. Much is at stake for this former Spanish colony, in spite of their crippling government debt.
But in times of crisis, many societies experience a flourishing of creativity and innovation. That is exactly what is happening in Puerto Rico. Last year, Travel + Leisure included Puerto Rico in its list of . And this year, Enterprise ran a series of articles praising all the new things that the island has to offer.
So pack your bags. You’ll find plenty to discover and enjoy on “La Isla del Encanto” (The island of Enchantment).
Foodies Will Be Enchanted with our Gastronomic FestivalsImage Source: Foodies Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico’s rich and diverse gastronomy is still under the radar. Its cuisine is a fusion of Spanish, African, and the native Taíno elements with Caribbean, European and even American influences thrown in. My favorite burger joint is El Hamburger, located in the capital city of San Juan’s old section.
Plantains, lechón (pork), rice, beans, fish, seafood, in many variations and incantations, these are all ubiquitous elements. Foodies have taken notice, and they flock to an annual gastronomic festival, a weeklong extravaganza held in April, that has become one of the most sought after in the Caribbean by food lovers and chefs as well. Adding spice to all this are the various culinary tours you can book to let your taste buds explore and explode.
One savory trip by Charlie’s Custom Tours, on the outskirts of the city, in the mountain range town of Cayey, takes you on a to experience the power of the lechonera (the place where they roast pork). Cayey is famous for its roasted pig. So give in. It will be useless to resist.
Puerto Rico’s Unmatched Spirit Excursions: We’ll Drink to ThatImage Source: Holland America
Some of the most popular rums in the world such as Bacardí and Don Q are produced in Puerto Rico. As a rum-manufacturing hotspot, our marvelous island has a total of four rum distilleries. For decades now, the in the town of Cataño has offered a fascinating tour of how rum is made (the smell of molasses is one of the sweetest aromas you’ll ever encounter).
And since 2008, a tour called “The Spirit of Puerto Rico“, encompassing rum tasting and cooking and its cultural and social significance, has also been very popular.
Coconut Cream, Pineapple Juice, Rum, and a Drop of ControversyImage Source: Travel Lushes
The birth of Piña Colada is disputed by two legendary establishments on the island.
The restaurant and bar claims that the cocktail was first made there in 1963. The place is still going strong after more than 50 years in business serving Spanish and Puerto Rican food. Their Piña Colada has been a proud and significant ingredient in its success.
Not too far from there, however, the venerable hotel alleges that they made Piña Colada first. An in USA Today last year recalls that the Caribe Hilton “boasts of inventing the piña colada almost a decade earlier in 1954 at its Beachcomber Bar, which was frequented by stars including Joan Crawford – who reportedly proclaimed it ‘better than slapping Bette Davis in the face.’ ”
Whatever the case, you can still visit both venues, order the cocktail, and decide for yourself which one is the best.
Visit ‘El Yunque National Forest’ for Outdoor ActivitiesImage Source: Verdanza Hotel
After a lot of drinking and eating, you’ll probably want to shed some of the extra weight you have put on during your trip. But rather than going to any typical gym, why not try something out of the ordinary?
If you like zip lining, hiking, rappelling, caving or exploring the only tropical rain forest in the United States National Forest System, is the place for you. Granted, none of these are CrossFit, but hey, you might learn something new as you get the body in motion).
Exploring our Land Riding ‘Paso Fino’ HorsesImage Source: El Nuevo Dia
Puerto Ricans have a centuries-old tradition of riding on (fine gait) horses, some of the most prized horses in the equestrian world. Have an incomparable smooth ride on a Paso Fino, or on other horse types, by heading out into the interior of the island and hopping on any of these companies: , , , and .
Go Local With Agricultural TourismImage Source: Vaca Negra
Puerto Rico was famous the world over for its coffee, sugarcane, and pineapples. These crops are still cultivated, albeit on a much smaller scale. Still, our agricultural fields provide visitors with a totally different experience from what they see on tourism websites or publicity brochures.
If you get tired of the beach, head out to the mountains in the middle of the island, where select types of coffee are grown and the weather is cool. Also, consider visiting the town of Adjuntas, where the 100-acre coffee ranch processes Arabica beans and offers coffee tours.
In the mood for aged cheeses and artisanal yogurt? You can pick these up in the town of Hatillo at , and attend a craft seminar. Or spend the day at the coffee ranch, where you can have a coffee tour, eat a hearty lunch, and enjoy being out in the countryside.
Go on a Spree at the ‘Aibonito Flower Festival’Image Source: Latin List USA
With 78 municipios or municipalities, and each with a patron saint or virgin, there is always some carnival, festival or parade taking place in Puerto Rico. Many of the towns’ celebrations are held in the plazas, and are commonly known as “Fiestas Patronales.”
From June 24 through July 9, one of the most beloved and popular festivals takes place in the town of Aibonito. Every year, the Festival de Flores de Aibonito (or ), hosts the island’s largest plant and flower show and sale. This year marks the 48th anniversary of the event, and as always, it promises to be jam-packed. It is best to go during the middle of the week. Figure it will take you about one and a half hour driving from San Juan.
Discover More than 300 Puerto Rican Bird SpeciesImage Source: Field Guides
Admit it. You like to watch. Birdwatch, that is. If so, Puerto Rico is home or serves as a migratory post to some 300 species of birds, 17 of these endemic to the island. Some of our native birds include the Puerto Rican Woodpecker, the Puerto Rican Emerald Hummingbird, and the Puerto Rican Nightjar, among others. These species can be found in the , considered one of the finest examples of a dry tropical forest.
On other environments, El Yunque Rainforest hosts its own types of birds, like the Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo, the Puerto Rican Tanager, and the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot.
Other great places for bird watching include the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge, the Maricao Forest in the town of Maricao, and the offshore islands of Vieques and Culebra (established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909), and managed by the U.S. National Wildlife Service.
Sunbathe in Luxury and Style at the ‘St Regis Bahía Beach’ and ‘El Blok’ HotelImage Source: Luxury Life Design
About an hour away east from San Juan, you’ll find the beach town of Río Grande, now on the map again thanks to a new luxury hotel, the . Continue going east, reach Fajardo, take the ferry at the Puerto Real port, and visit the Puerto Rican island municipality of Vieques. In Vieques, you will discover why publications such as Condé Nast Traveler, Food & Wine, and the Financial Times have raved about hotel. From that same port you can also reach the smaller island of Culebra, with its picturesque and unspoiled town of Dewey.
Back on the mainland, a former artists’ collective building from the 1970s found new life as the hip in Old San Juan. It attracts bohemian souls who love the fact that it’s right above a poets and musicians’ café, The Nuyorican Café, so expect lots of music and socializing.
Mingle with Congenial Crowds at ‘La Placita’Image Source: Andrew Zimmern
If you’re into socializing, another popular hotspot is a rather unusual one: a produce marketplace known as . Also known as “La Plaza de Mercado de Santurce”, this farmers’ market is located in the working-class and rising artistic Santurce section (full of colorful and eye-popping murals) of San Juan.
Over a century old, the elegant neoclassical building serves as the home of the market. Amidst all kinds of fresh vegetables, fruits, tubers and local foods, people gather in the outdoor plaza to chat, eat, dance, have a drink, flirt, listen to salsa, jazz or other rhythms. There are restaurants around the action hub and also, not too far from there, several museums. The main rhythm here is that of enjoying life.
Shopaholics Find their Element at ‘Mall of San Juan’ and ‘Paseo Caribe’Image Source: Taubman
For decades, , in the area of Hato Rey, right out of San Juan, was the island’s most popular shopping center. The largest of its kind in the Caribbean, plenty of its stores sell more than their counterparts in the States (remarkable, considering that there are less than 4 million people living in Puerto Rico). The now-extinct Borders bookstore there, for example, was the nation’s best-selling of all the Borders. But now there is competition in the form of the recently inaugurated and mega exclusive .
Perhaps it has to do with all the millionaires moving to the island to take advantage of tax breaks (while a reverse migration of locals to the mainland in search of better opportunities takes place), but the Mall of San Juan has been a success, and it is expanding. No doubt, this upscale shopping destination rivals, and surpasses, others in the States.
And then there’s the also the new, very Miami-influenced, high-end luxury living and shopping/entertainment experience of , at the crossroads of the modern Condado area and Old San Juan. Guess things aren’t so bad after all.Image Source: The Atlantic
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XpatNation is a Social News and Lifestyle magazine, focusing on the insights and experiences of ex-patriots living in The United States. XpatNation brings together the voices, thoughts, perceptions and experiences of the people of the world who have made the USA their home. Using their insight and unique understanding of the global world we live in to discuss culture, lifestyle, Geopolitics and the day to day ongoings of this proud and powerful nation.
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