This city in the Argentinean Patagonia is the gateway to the world of the Southern Right Whale....
The Rhythm of Puerto Rico
It’s no coincidence that Ricky Martin, Chayanne, Luis Fonsi and many other renowned musicians come from Puerto Rico, so does salsa. All things Puerto Rican pulse with rhythm, and I’ve composed a piece of my own, based on some of Puerto Rico’s most musical words. Some of them are pretty tasty, too. Come move to the rhythm of salsa and to the island’s traditional dances, the bomba and the plena.
I love the sound of this word for the local chili pepper and tomato salsa. It goes perfectly with the deep-fried tidbits that are so popular in Puerto Rico, like bolitas de queso(cheese fritters), arañitas or “little spiders” (fried mounds of shredded green plantain) and tostones (flattened slices of green plantain, fried twice).
The most delicious recipes for all kinds of Puerto Rican appetizers, main dishes and desserts are included in the book Puerto Rico True Flavors, by famous Puerto Rican chef Wilo Benet. I was lucky enough to have been given a copy by Benet himself, but you can get your own from Amazon.
I was also lucky enough to try the incredible tasting menu at his restaurant Picayo, which is not to be missed. Located in the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico in San Juan, Benet’s restaurant been praised by prestigious specialty magazines like Gourmet, Condé Nast Traveler and The New York Times.
Dough made of ground plantain or yucca is seasoned with annatto oil, stuffed with meat or jueyes (crab) and fried to make alcapurrias. You can find them at one of San Juan’s many Creole restaurants, like Bebos, which is famous for its delicious and inexpensive food.
The Taino, the indigenous peoples of Puerto Rico, called the island Borinquen, meaning “the Land of the Mighty Lord,” and to this day Puerto Ricans refer to themselves as boricua. “Yo sé lo que son los encantos de mi Borinquen hermosa por eso la quiero yo tanto, por siempre la llamaré preciosa” (I know the charms of my lovely Borinquen, which is why I love it so, I will forever call it beautiful), goes the song by Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández also in a version by Marc Anthony.
Bits of cod covered in a batter of flour, water, salt, pepper and garlic and then deep-fried. Bacalaitos are sold in street stalls on the way to the Bosque Nacional El Yunque (El Yunque National Forest), a tropical rainforest oasis forty-five minutes east of San Juan that’s well worth visiting, especially to escape a hot day in the city.
This small island east of Puerto Rico is rustic, with little tourist infrastructure, but it has a white sand beach, with warm turquoise waters and a lovely name: Flamenco. I was also fortunate enough to fly over the Caribbean water dotted with small islands and passing between the mountains as we landed. On the way back I looked down at the San Felipe del Morro Fortress, the San Cristóbal Castle and the entire city of San Juan. Magnificent.
This tiny and semi-transparent frog is the official mascot of Puerto Rico, and it sings just like its name: “Coquí! Coquí!” I never saw one, but I could hear them croaking among the foliage along the path at night.
Also known as soursop, this fruit resembles the chirimoya; it has a sour-sweet flavor and is perfect for making juice, like the zapote (another local fruit).
Old San Juan with its Spanish forts, narrow and winding cobblestone streets, small squares and pastel-colored facades seriously rivals Cartagena (Colombians, please forgive me). These silent vestiges of history are truly magnificent. They look even better if you explore the area around the fortress on a Segway, an easy-to-ride, personal, electric vehicle that follows your body’s cues. I still remember the pleasure of that afternoon and the ocean breeze. For a more adrenaline-filled experience, tour the bay on a Jet-ski. Like a modern pirate, from this watery vantage you can contemplate the imposing San Felipe de Morro Fortress and its thick, 60-feet-tall walls built along the sheer cliffs. Not even Francis Drake could take this stronghold!
This restaurant in the fabulous El San Juan Hotel & Casino serves modern, sophisticated, well-presented Caribbean cuisine. The tropical chic décor is interesting, with bamboo walls, soft drapery and warm lighting. The hotel pool on the seashore deserves its own entry.
Mango, the aromatic tropical fruit, said with a ring to it.
Fried ground yucca or plantains, seasoned and mashed with pork cracklings or bacon and traditionally served with meat
An energizing and refreshing cocktail made with rum, mint, sugar and ice. The world’s largest Bacardi rum distillery is located in San Juan. You can visit to learn how this liquor is made and buy some bottles to take home
The sound of the waves on the calm, wide beaches throughout Puerto Rico. San Juan’s most famous beaches are Ocean Park and the ones on Isla Verde, which has dozens of hotels. East of the city is Dorado, also famous for its hotels and golf courses. Luquillo and Fajardo are in the extreme east of the island. The luxury hotels of these beaches are favorite spots for newlyweds on picture perfect honeymoons. There are many beaches, some ideal for scuba diving and others for surfing or sailing.
A musical group that usually includes a trumpet, a saxophone and a plenera (a kind of hand drum) and sometimes a güiro (a notched gourd played with a scraper). These musicians accompany the plena, a dance with African origins. In January, the second weekend after Día de Reyes (Epiphany), you can enjoy plenty of plena in Old San Juan at the Festival de la Calle de San Sebastián, a beautiful popular celebration that lasts about five days.
Residents of Ponce, a picturesque city on the south side of the island (75 miles from San Juan). Ponce boasts majestic, neoclassical houses and a stunning cathedral. The famous Museo de Arte de Ponce (MAP), part of the Fundación Luis A. Ferre, houses a collection of valuable European, Russian, North American and Puerto Rican art. Since it was undergoing renovations while I was there, they had set up a temporary exhibit at the Plaza de las Americas shopping center in San Juan, where I saw splendid works by Warhol, Lichtenstein and other pop artists.
San Juan is just the town to paint red. In the neighborhoods of Condado and Isla Verde, you can hop from hotel to hotel (and mojito to mojito) and take in the best of the happening nightlife, full of good music and great salsa. Right on Ashford Avenue, in the heart of Condado (just the spot for shopping, hotels and restaurants) is Ventana al Mar plaza, the site of open-air performances and concerts. The day I went, jazz was playing. And in my hotel, the Condado Plaza, live orchestras played music in the lobby while tourists let loose dancing salsa. You’ll never guess what time it was: two in the afternoon! And speaking of jazz, The Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest has been held in San Juan for decades. Don’t miss it. Next year, the festival will kick off in May.
Ron / Rum
Puerto Rican classics Ron del Barrilito and Don Q come highly recommended.
A dance with a spicy name and a World Congress in its honor. Every year, dancers from different countries, including Canada, France, Holland and Belgium, come to compete at Puerto Rico’s El San Juan Hotel & Casino. Salsa really does heat things up!
A traditional dish with cod and root vegetables like yautia, ñame, batata and yucca, plus avocado and hardboiled eggs combined to create a true symphony of flavors. Order it at Mojito’s restaurant.
Fried corn meal rolls stuffed
A tree native to Puerto Rico (Cecropia peltata). According to legend, it predicts the weather:
before it rains, the large leaves turn to reveal their white undersides.
Those are the sounds of this amazing island, a blend of sophistication and natural charm with an intriguing mix of gringo civilization – it’s a self-governing commonwealth in association with the U.S. – and pure Latino: smiles, flavors, music and Caribbean-style optimism. in
LAN Flights: Daily to Miami from Buenos Aires, Lima, and Santiago, six times a week from Quito, three times a week from Bogotá, twice a week from Punta Cana and once a week from Caracas and Cancún. Connections to Puerto Rico.
What to see
San Felipe de Morro Fortress & San Cristobal Castle
A UNESCO World Heritage Site run by the U.S. National Park Service.
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. from June to November; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. from December to May. Closed for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Old San Juan
The enchanting original part of the city is extremely well preserved and boasts good restaurants serving traditional and modern fare, art galleries and stores selling fine folk-art. There are free tourist trams but walking is your best bet.
Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico
Excellent display of Puerto Rican art.
229 De Diego Ave., Santurce
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Closed Monday.
Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest
With an emphasis on Latin and Puerto Rican jazz, this festival brings together jazz lovers from around the world.
El Yungue National Forest
Hours: 7:30 am – 6 pm
Museo de Arte de Ponce (MAP)
Av. Las Américas 2325, Ponce
Take a peek around the inside of this majestic Spanish-style mansion built in the 1930s atop a hill overlooking the ocean.
Centro Ceremonial Indígena
The museum of the Indigenous Ceremonial Center showcases exhibits on the Igneri and pre-Taino cultures.
Carretera 503, km 2,2, Ponce
To get to this island, you can rent a boat, take a ferry (US$4.50 round trip) from the town of Fajardo (an hour and a half by car from San Juan) or catch a flight with a local airline (for about US$200), departing from the airport at San Juan Isla Grande.
Another island east of Puerto Rico that was an old hideout for pirates. Bahía Puerto Mosquito has bioluminiscent water and excellent beaches, hotels and restaurants. You can get there the same way as you get to Isla Culebra.
Spa & Golf
Puerto Rico has excellent spas, generally at the better hotels, and 23 golf courses designed by pros like Robert Trent Jones, Rees Jones, Greg Norman, George and Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Arthur Hills and Chi Chi Rodríguez.
Where to eat
Not only are the dishes of the famous chef Wilo Benet delicious, they look like paintings and sculptures. It “may be the best museum restaurant in the world,” according to The New York Times.
Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico
Av. José de Diego 299
El San Juan Hotel & Casino
6063 Isla Verde, Isla Verde
The famed Manhattan restaurant has a Puerto Rico location at the Condado Plaza Hotel & Casino. First-rate international food, décor in tones of red and beautifully mounted photographs.
999 Ashford, entrepiso / Mezzanine
Asian-inspired dishes with a Latin and Caribbean touch by chef Roberto Treviño.
1056 Ashford Ave., Condado
Calle Recinto Sur 323
1600 Calle Loíza
1006 Ashford Ave., Condado
Where to sleep
El San Juan Hotel & Casino
6063 Isla Verde
6961 Los Gobernadores Ave., Isla Verde
Los Rosales Street, San Geronimo Grounds
Condado Plaza Hotel & Casino
999 Ashford Ave., Condado
San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
1309 Ashford Ave., Condado
Tel. 1- 787-722-7000
Las Casitas Village & Golden Door Spa
These charming villas available in one to three rooms are part of El Conquistador Resort & Golden Door Spa, 31 miles from San Juan airport.
Guided Tours on Jet-ski
San Juan Bay Marina
Guided Tours on Segway
Segways Tours Puerto Rico
45-minute tours: US$35;
two-hour tours: US$70
Where to shop
Plaza de las Américas
Gigantic shopping center with all the name brands you would find in a U.S. mall
525 F.D. Roosevelt Ave
Prime Outlets Puerto Rico
Liz Claiborne, Polo, Calvin Klein, Brooks Brothers, the Gap, Reebok and Tommy Hilfiger, among others.
1 Prime Outlets Blvd, Barceloneta