Puerto Rico might technically be part of the United States but it’s easy to forget that little fact. Upon arriving at San Juan Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, I knew I was someplace special. At the time, I was flying from San Francisco, where the temperature rarely rivals the hot summers of the east coast…and definitely not of the Caribbean. The hot sun on my face and a cocktail at hand, I geared up for four days in paradise. Whether you’re a serious foodie or an adventure seeker, here are 5 ways to get cultured in San Juan.
1) Find the Perfect “Home” Away from Home
Truth be told, there are a LOT of hotels in San Juan. On one hand, that’s a good thing, because you have plenty of options…but on the other, too many options can seem daunting. Our group stayed at the Four-Diamond San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. While it’s not uber luxurious like a few other offerings, it has everything you need and at a fair rate. My room overlooked the beach, which gets and A+ in my book. That, on top of a pool, swim up bar, restaurant, lounge, spa and fitness center, make it a safe bet. There’s even a cute gelato shop to boot! In terms of getting around, Old San Juan is a short cab ride away, as are additional dining spots.
2) Hit the Streets
If you read my post on the magic of Old San Juan, you probably need no further convincing. First off, San Juan is the oldest city in the entire U.S. and its territories, having been settled in 1521. Before that, in 1493, Christopher Columbus discovered the island and called it San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist.) It wash’t until 1520 that it was renamed Puerto Rico, which literally translates to “rich port.” While summer in San Juan can get pretty hot, don’t let that deter you from getting lost in the Old Town. Pale blue cobblestone streets paired with every-color-of-the-rainbow homes and buildings makes for a wonderful wander.
3) Get your Hands Dirty
This is true of any destination and Puerto Rico is no exception. After stuffing my face with traditional fare (more on that later), our group decided to take things to the next level. We headed to local hotspot Cocina Abierta, located right by the Marriott hotel, for an interactive cooking class. The restaurant’s chefs, Chef Krystoff Czartozy and Chef Martin Louzao, regularly host interactive activities like this so make sure to arrange pre-trip. Alternatively, you can venture a little ways away to El Rancho Original, otherwise known as, the “Pork Highway.” Between greasy yet delicious pork and Mofongo, you will definitely get your hands dirty.
4) Indulge your Sweet (or Savory) Tooth
When in San Juan, a little indulgence goes a long way. Food is one of my favorite ways to get cultured and luckily, you’ll have plenty of opportunities here. For starters, the Marriott serves up flavorful cocktails (try their signature Dragonberry Mojito) and a wide range of local fare. Their La Vista Latin Grill specializes in traditional Puerto Rican dishes, many of which include freshly caught seafood. Post dinner, head to their Red Coral Lounge for a crash course in salsa. Beware, there are some pros on the dance floor that might just put you to shame! I’m only half serious though; the environment there is super friendly and welcoming.
5) Try Something New
Puerto Rico’s beaches are known for their waves and are home to some of the best surf in the Caribbean. As such, a surfing lesson is a must, regardless of your skill level. Our group signed up for a class with WoW Surf School located on Playa Isla Verde. This was my third class so naturally, I was the first one to catch a wave. For the beginners out there, don’t be discouraged. Our instructor made the class extra fun. Regardless if you stand up or not, the baby waves here are perfect for testing the waters and giving this island sport a try. Not interested in surfing? Try another water sport instead or hop on a jet ski.
What’s your favorite old / new city? Tell me in the comments below!
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