By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon
CJ Travel Editor
Visitors rightly rave about Puerto Rico’s unique mash-up of African, Spanish and other European influences, reflected in its history, food, art and culture. And nowhere is this cultural complexity more apparent than in the cosmopolitan capital of San Juan. Here are six reasons to say Vamos! right now.
No Hassle Required
The city’s Luis Munoz Marin airport (SJU) is the gateway to the Caribbean, with frequent direct flights from all over the United States. It’s also a convenient jumping-off point for trips deeper into the Caribbean, with destinations such as St. Maarten and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands less than an hour’s flying time away. US citizens don’t need a passport to enter the Commonwealth; there’s no money exchange since the official currency is the US dollar; and best of all for U.S. residents: no roaming charges! And while it’s a hip urban enclave, beaches abound, including this one in Piñones just outside the city.
Who wouldn’t be captivated by Old San Juan? The city’s historic square mile is famous for its narrow cobblestoned streets lined with colorful colonial buildings; the historic forts of El Morro and San Cristobal; diverse dining (everything from the new Casa Cortes chocolate bar to Barrachina, the bar where the pina colada was invented); and stylish boutique hotels (El Convento is one of our favorites). The district is walkable, lively and charming – what more could you want?
Condado? Can Do!
A stroll along Ashford Avenue, the main artery of San Juan’s Condado neighborhood, is essential to get a feel for the “once-gritty now-pretty” waterfront district where Louis Vuitton and Gucci rub shoulders with hotels such as the new Condado Vanderbilt and hip O:live as well as trendy independent boutiques or beachfront resorts like the San Juan Marriott. Two of our favorite restaurants are also on the Avenida: Robert Trevino’s Asian fusion standard Budatai and Xiomara Marquez’ Yantar.
Every Puerto Rican chef will tell you that you have to try mofongo, the classic (and yummy) Puerto Rican dish made with fried and mashed plantains. Our go-to spots: Casa Lola in Condado and Café El Punto, a humble hole-in-the-wall in Old San Juan where it was love at first bite.
It’s Where The Rum Comes From
Across the bay in Catano, Casa Bacardi’s tour tells the story of the famous (originally Cuban) rum company that’s become a worldwide cocktail classic. The 45-minute tour is free, and includes complimentary cocktails. Salud!
They don’t take reservations at star chef Jose Enrique’s eponymous – and amazing! – restaurant in San Juan’s Santurce neighborhood, so you’re pretty much guaranteed a wait. But the Naturola, the signature cocktail made with rum, coconut water, passionfruit and pineapple juices, is guaranteed to transform any delay from painful to pleasant.