The Soul of the Caribbean
It’s been two years since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, and while this tiny island in the northeastern Caribbean continues to recover, it is now ready to resume tourism and welcome guests. This unincorporated territory of the United States measures just 100 miles long by 35 miles wide, but the joie de vivre of its people is limitless. Bursting with stories of triumph and resilience, Puerto Ricans are loyal to their culture and devoted to their traditional way of life, and because they are generally hospitable by nature, they warmly welcome guests to their country.
As delightful as its people, Puerto Rico is a destination overflowing with sights, gastronomy and antiquity. There is much for a traveler to explore, beginning with San Juan, the nation’s capital and the hub of the country’s active day and nightlife. Old San Juan, the oldest settlement within the United States, is the historic section of Puerto Rico and features landmarks that are that are as scenic as they are significant. Plazas de Armas was originally built as the city’s main square, and the ornamental fountain that sits at its center bears four marble statues that represent the four seasons. Castillo San Felipe del Morro, also known as El Morro, was built between the 16th and 18th centuries and designed to guard the entrance to the San Juan Bay. The hundreds of pigeons that hover over Parque de las Palomas resemble those of Italy’s St. Marcos Square, offering a unique experience for kids and an Instagram-able photo op for tourists.
You may know that Jennifer Lopez, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ricky Martin have their ethnic roots in Puerto Rico, but the most famous Puerto Rican personality is Ramon “Monchito” Marrero who created the celebrated piña colada in 1954 at the former Beachcomber Bar at the Caribe Hilton. Today, the slushy cocktail is still fêted at the newly-designed Caribe Bar and a tribute to Marrero adorns its walls.
Caribe Hilton was the first hotel to open outside the continental U.S. and now boasts a more than $150 million restoration in celebration of the resort’s 70th anniversary. Its oceanside location lends to the repose that the property provides its guests, yet it’s close enough to the city to provide easy access to San Juan’s activities and bustling social life. This AAA Four Diamond award-winning hotel is located on an exclusive peninsula comprised of 17 acres of lush tropical gardens.
Caribe Hilton features a fitness center, tennis courts (in partnership with Puerto Rican Olympic Gold Medalist, Monica Puig), 65,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space, three oceanfront pools, a daily activities program and an 8,500-square-foot spa. The Zen Spa Oceano has a hydrotherapy room, relaxation room, couple’s massage suites and sauna and steam rooms. There is an array of luxurious facial, massage and body treatments available to help guests shake off environmental impurities. Try the “Honey Glow,” an exfoliating treatment with honey, milk and almonds, or “Mango Bliss,” a smoothing enzyme body wrap.
There are six restaurants on the property. Rustica Restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. It offers Italian fare with more than 12 types of pasta. Morton’s Steakhouse imports its grain-fed beef from Chicago and features an award-winning wine list, while Lola’s Puerto Rican Cuisine showcases traditional foods and regional favorites. Mojito’s Caribbean Fusion’s menu is a mix of Spanish and Creole dishes laced with local herbs and spices. Bagua is a poolside bar where guests can stroll in or swim up to order a drink or casual munchies. Caribe Bar in the lobby features a tapas menu and hand-crafted cocktails for guests to enjoy as they take in a spectacular panoramic ocean view, complete with swaying palms and stunning sunsets. There’s also a Starbucks on site for tea and coffee buffs!
Recognized as a Coffee Mecca, Puerto Ricans identify themselves as a coffee culture, and some claim to encourage its consumption from infancy, adding a touch to milk bottles for flavor. A civilization that believes that love and happiness come from the kitchen puts a considerable emphasis on flavor and fresh ingredients. The locals are natural foodies and it’s reflected in the flavorful recipes that have been passed down through the generations and are still as popular today as they’ve been for decades.
The best way to try some of Puerto Rico’s dishes is to take a walking food tour through the city led by hosts familiar with the native cuisine, such as Flavors of San Juan (www.sanjuanfoodtours.com). The tour travels through Old San Juan and stops at various eateries through town so participants can try dishes while they listen to stories about the region and local restauranteurs. Tastings may include croissants stuffed with ham, cheese and guava spread at Café Cuatro Sombras; a handmade passion fruit popsicle at Señor Paleta; ceviche alcapurria with hot sauce at Café El Punto; and Puerto Rican hot chocolate at Casa Cortez Choco Bar. A demo at the Old San Juan Parrot teaches guests how to make plantain mofongo topped with stewed creole chicken, white rice and red beans. After eating Puerto Rican food all afternoon, Murphy’s Law Irish Pub, located in the town’s center, is available for those who want to switch ancestral gears.
For gastronomes, beach bums and history enthusiasts alike, Puerto Rico offers the best well-rounded getaway experience, and because travel to the area is encouraged at this time, there are plenty of discounts to be found. Relax for a few days, and you’re sure to have unas vacaciones estupendas.
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