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You don’t need a passport to get here, but Puerto Rico’s slow pace and historic charm may leave you feeling like you’ve entered another world. Ready to discover what makes the Island of Enchantment so enticing?
By Amanda Gleason
The Gallery Inn Marvel at the oil paintings, ceramic masks, and other works of art that fill this Old San Juan abode, owned by artist and American expat Jan D’Esopo.
San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino Offering instant access to Condado Beach, this relaxing hotel features an oceanfront pool and waterslide for serious sun seekers.
Hotel El Convento This historic getaway in Old San Juan invites hungry guests to chow down in the shade of a century-old loquat tree at its renowned restaurant, Patio del Nispero.
Continue your cultural quest as you…
Admire Local Art
Living on a scenic island in the Caribbean has a way of inspiring creative genius. Need proof? Make your way to the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, located in the bustling district of Santurce. This neoclassical structure houses a permanent collection composed largely of Puerto Rican works ranging from the 17th century to the present. Prepare to be amazed at more than 1,100 pieces, including Immaculate Conception, a 1794 oil painting by the great José Campeche; Trapiche Meladero, an 1893 depiction of a sugar mill by famed landscape painter Francisco Oller; and linoleum carvings by Rafael Tufiño, who was well-regarded in the 1950s for his depictions of everyday life in Puerto Rico. As if that weren’t enough, a 400-seat theater showcases musical, dance, and dramatic performers who wow crowds as they pour their art and soul onto the stage.
Pay a Visit To:
Ruedo If vintage dresses, earrings, and handbags suit your style, march your credit card to this boutique in Old San Juan.
15 Knots Located at the Beach House Hotel in Isla Verde, this kiteboarding school offers private beginner lessons in the high-flying sport.
Get schooled in local military history when you…
Step Back in Time
Pay a visit to the 16th century with a trip to the towering forts of Old San Juan, which were used to protect the island from enemy attacks from the 1500s through World War II. The six-level Castillo San Felipe del Morro, better known as El Morro, was built in 1539; today you can take a self-guided tour of the onetime military stronghold’s former chapel, barracks, and ramparts. Once you’ve finished your thorough inspection, make the 15-minute walk to El Morro’s sister fort, Castillo San Cristóbal, constructed in 1634. Snap panoramics from atop the 150-foot-tall fortress, and if you’re feeling gutsy, drop by the Devil’s Sentry Box. According to legend, soldiers mysteriously disappeared during duty at this former guard station by the shore. Luckily, it’s only open during daylight hours.
Treat Yourself to a Stop At:
El Jibarito Dig into Puerto Rican dishes like shrimp mofongo (mashed fried green plantains) at this casual eatery, whose walls are decked with island paintings.
1919 Perched on the edge of the Atlantic, this elegant seafood haven inside the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel leaves guests raving over dishes like the scallop a la plancha, served in a citrus-dashi broth.
José Enrique Sip on crafty concoctions like the Naturola, made with rum, passion fruit, coconut water, and pineapple juice, at this low-key restaurant near La Placita, San Juan’s bustling market square.
Let your boots go walkin’ as you…
Scale the Trails
We agree: The grass really is greener in El Yunque National Forest. The only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest system spans nearly 30,000 verdant acres, and it’s only 25 miles southeast of San Juan. Its secluded location among the Luquillo Mountains makes it a sight to behold. La Coca Falls, which cascades nearly 85 feet, is one of the first features you’ll spot. Once you’ve caught your breath, take a hike on any of the park’s 20 trails: Each is lined with native plants like pegwood trees and hammock ferns. You may even spot a Puerto Rican parrot, a species found nowhere else on the planet. For an extra boost, trek to the Cloud Forest, an ecosystem found on the park’s tallest peaks, characterized by low-lying clouds, fog, and cool temps—and known to leave you feeling sky-high.
La Taberna Lúpulo More than 50 taps and 150 bottles from around the world can be found at this lively beer bar. Try the Dacay India Pale Ale, a crisp, locally made beer.
Caficultura Treat your taste buds to a cortadito, a Cuban-style espresso topped with steamed milk, at this popular coffeehouse.
Aventuras Tierra Adentro To see El Yunque from a different perspective, take a thrilling tour with this adventure company, whose guides lead guests trekking through caves, swimming in rivers, and swooping along zip lines.
Still thirsty? Then why not…
Fill Your Glass
Betcha didn’t know that more than 70 percent of all rum sold in the U.S. is produced on this island. Uncover the history of PR’s most famous distiller during a tour of the Casa Bacardi Visitor Center in Cataño, a short ferry ride from San Juan. Here you’ll get the inside scoop on the iconic brand—including the story behind that bat logo—and learn how to make a perfect mojito. (You’ll also score two free cocktails.) Keep the drinks flowing during a Spirits of Puerto Rico Rum and Food Tasting, conducted by local resident Debbie Molina Ramos. The hour-long outing takes place at a restaurant in Old San Juan, where guests get to sample eight local rums, including Palo Viejo, a smooth variety used in chichaitos, a popular shot that’s blended with anise liqueur. Are you ready to rum-ble?
Getting There Fly into Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport (SJU).
Getting Around A free trolley scoots visitors around Old San Juan. For further exploring, cabs are a safe bet. Visit seepuertorico.com for a complete list of transportation options.
Getting Out Grab a partner and hustle to the Puerto Rico Tango Festival (October 24–28) for dance lessons and elaborate performances.
Watch This To see some of our adventures come to life, visit our YouTube channel, SWASpiritMagazine.
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