It’s finally summer, and that means everyone is looking for that perfect, relaxing summer getaway—the problem is just deciding where to spend your precious vacation days. Those of us in the US are lucky enough to have a handful of gorgeous beach destinations at our fingertips, yet Puerto Rico is one destination that seems to often get overlooked. I thought it was time to find out what makes Puerto Rico the hidden gem that it is, so I traveled down to the Isle of Enchantment for a girls’ getaway (all for the sake of research, of course).
There are three major, important components to a vacation for my friends and me: food, relaxation, and nightlife. Listing food first was no accident, and I found that Puerto Rican cuisine does not disappoint. I quickly fell in love with the Puerto Rican dish mofongo relleno, which is a crispy bowl of mashed and fried plantains filled with any variety of meat or vegetables. Mofongo is a hearty, delicious dinner, and one that didn’t leave me feeling too terribly guilty (plantains are basically a vegetable, after all). I highly recommend the version that Café Puerto Rico serves up in the busy Plaza de Colón in Old San Juan; they open at 5:30 PM for dinner, but it’s so popular with locals and tourists alike that you should plan to be in line by 5:15 PM to get a table. Travelers who are looking for more of a guilty pleasure should look no further than sweet, indulgent quesitos: flaky puff pastry wrapped around sweetened cream cheese and brushed with an apricot or honey glaze. One woman emphatically told my friend as she picked out our quesitos that they are simply “the best,” and frankly, I can’t think of any other way to describe them.
More than anything else, I think my friend and I fell in love with the rich, indulgent coffee we found in Puerto Rico. Our first morning, we visited the hip Caficultura, located just steps away from Café Puerto Rico, and we made at least one stop a day while in San Juan. You can’t go wrong here: the service, the food (vegetarian friendly), and the iced coconut “CafiCoco” were all highlights of our time in the city.
If evening socializing is part of your typical vacation schedule, Old San Juan is a perfect base for late dinners, drinks, and even some salsa dancing. Sol y Cruz can provide the food, the cocktails, and the views with their three-part concept: St. Germain serves European-inspired cuisine in an old colonial building, while The Mezzanine and Al Fresco serve cocktails and wine on their balconies and rooftop. Just a short walk away is La Factoria; the unmarked cocktail spot was recently named one of the World’s 50 Best Bars and offers unique cocktails, a wine bar, and a dance floor with lively salsa music in the back room.
Puerto Rico certainly has the relaxation aspect of your island getaway under control; the natural landscape of the island has everything from pristine white sand beaches to a vibrant rainforest. There are several beaches in close proximity to Old San Juan, such as Playa Escambrón (a pleasant 20-minute walk eastward along the coast), and of course there are several gorgeous resorts sprinkled across the island if you’re not staying in the city. El Morro and Castillo de San Cristobal, both conveniently located in San Juan, offer gorgeous views of the ocean and even a dolphin sighting or two if you’re lucky. Last but not least, El Yunque is a stunning rainforest replete with hiking, ziplining, or in our case, wedding-attending! Even if you don’t consider yourself “outdoorsy,” the dazzling natural scenery will give you no other option except to relax, reset, and enjoy.
Have you visited Puerto Rico? What did I miss (I would love an excuse to go back and visit again)? Let me know in the comments!
Café Puerto Rico, 208 Calle O’Donnell, San Juan, PR 00901, 1.787.724.2281, http://www.cafepuertorico.com
Caficultura, 401 Calle San Francisco, San Juan, PR 00901, 1.787.723.7731
Sol y Cruz, 156 Calle Sol, San Juan, PR 00901, 1.787.723.3427, http://www.solycruz.com
La Factoria, 148 Calle San Sebastián, San Juan, PR 00901, 1.787.412.4251