Even though Puerto Rico is an extended territory of the United States, this small Caribbean island counts with a rich culture and history of its own. It’s culture is a strong mix of Spanish, African, and native Caribbean influences. So, how can you experience this blend to the fullest? Here are 5 ways in which you can absorb some of these influences and get the “real” feel of what is Puerto Rico.
1. Try some “criolla” food
The traditional cuisine of Puerto Rico –comida criolla– is a blend of Spanish and native Caribbean cuisine. Most traditional dishes include some type of rice and beans –arroz con habichuelas. Add to this some Plantains and you have a typical daily meal. For dessert try the Flan, a type of custard made with cheese, coconut, or vanilla; or the Tembleque, a local bread pudding with a coconut flavor.
If you truly want to go full puertorrican, go to a Lechonera. These casual roadside eateries are mostly located outside the metropolitan area, so a little bit of travel is required, but it’s totally worth it. They specialize in roasted pork –lechon– which is a must have in any Puertorrican holiday dinner. The best Lechoneras are found in Guavate, just 30 minutes away from San Juan.
2. Take salsa dancing lessons
Salsa dancing, without any doubt, is a big part of the Puertorrican culture. So why not learn the basics? In San Juan you will find many places that offer free salsa lessons. Some of these are: The Courtyard by Marriot (Thu @ 8pm), The Latin Roots (everyday @ 7pm), Oyster Bar (Sun @ 8pm), and other.
Now, where to dance? The best places to dance Salsa are Rumba in Old San Juan and Nuyorican Café, where the band plays till 4am on weekends. If you want to experiment outside the tourist area, go to the bars along Roosevelt Ave. and Avenida Universidad –they are about 20 minutes away from Old San Juan. Most students love hanging and dancing at El Ocho de Blanco in Avenida Universidad; which is right next to the biggest college campus in the island.
If you think Salsa is to complex for you, try dancing the local Reggaeton (made hugely popular by Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, among others). Don’t worry, there’s no science to it. Just take a partner, get close to eachother, and start rubbing your bodies together with some rhythm. Sorry, I have no better description without going to crass details. But you get the point, right? Be very sexual, that’s the point of Reggaeton dance.
3. Explore the different regions
Get out of the metropolitan area. Each region of the island has many different things to offer; from ecological adventures, beach retreats, 19th century cultural displays, and more. The island is small enough to drive from east to west in less than 3 hours.
Explore the mountainous regions and climb Toro Negro (the tallest point – 4930 ft. tall). Go to El Yunque Rainforest and swim on its rivers –locals love them. Visit the sister islands of Vieques and Culebra. They have some of the best beaches in Puerto Rico. And what’s best is that they are mostly secluded.
4. Look back at some of its history
Old San Juan has some of the oldest buildings in the Island. Walk through its narrow cobblestone streets and feel the strong Spanish Colonial influence that is highly characteristic of this World Heritage Site. Four centuries of history are mostly surrounded by the massive fortress walls that once protected this city from foreign invasion. Visit El Morro and San Cristobal Fort, two dramatic fortresses classifies as National Historic Sites.
5. Feel the beat of the night
Without any doubt the metropolitan area is your place to go if you want to experience the nightlife. There are many ways locals love spending the night; from dancing, playing pool, betting at casinos, or simple chilling at a bar or lounge.
If you’re looking for a “chic” night at a lounge, go to Condado. For a great dance club, go to Old San Juan and Santurce. And for some good time in a bar, go to Isla Verde. If you don’t know which one to choose, don’t worry; all four counties are next to each other. You can easily hop from one place to the other and enjoy your night in your own way.