Puerto Rico … it’s called the Island of Enchantment for a reason.
Make that many reasons.
The number of enchanting places and things to see and experience on this mountainous 3500 square mile island is practically endless, but here are a few of the best.
If you’re staying in Condado (and if you are, the Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is a good place to stay, right on the beach with excellent restaurants and shops within walking distance), a little jewel of a bar/restaurant called Jam Rum Bar & Bistro Moderne is a fun place to stop for a drink.
It’s a few blocks of a walk down from the Marriott – the cross street is Manuel Rodriguez Serra.
Your senses will be charmed by the comfortable yet elegant old-world exterior, and brightened by the funky yet tasteful decor of its interior.
Order the Acerola Rum Iced Tea to start and your tastebuds will turn somersaults in delight. It’s the perfect combination of sweet, sour and … rum!
The staff is laid back and friendly.
Their menu looks tempting, but I only tried the Tiramisu, which was small but rich, and satisfied my sweet tooth nicely.
Historical Old San Juan…
About a ten minute drive from the Marriott, you’ll find historical Old San Juan. The streets of Viejo San Juan are lined with brightly colored establishments bursting with character and individuality: restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries, clothing stores, jewelry stores, touristic, artisanal shops and more.
It’s a pleasant experience just to walk the streets, admiring the Spanish Colonial architecture and ornate balconies overflowing with flowers, especially on a sunny day when it’s not too hot and ocean breezes waft through the streets.
In Old San Juan you’ll also find a national historic site comprised of 4 fortifications constructed over a 250-year period, beginning in the 16th century. La Fortaleza is the oldest and most well-known of the four. Open for guided tours, it is also the official residence of the governor of Puerto Rico.
My favorite daytime stopping point in Old San Juan is the coffee shop Caficultura (Calle San Francisco, 401, San Juan.)
Housed in the corner of a lovely pastel-blue building where Fortaleza and San Francisco streets intersect, its tall, wood-framed glass windows, high ceilings and the feel of old world charm blended with a modern vibe that emanates from the cyber-savvy patrons surfing the internet while sipping iced café con leche give the impression that it’s a classic Old San Juan staple.
That’s not the case actually: Caficultura has only been open since April 2009, but I predict it will be around for many years to come.
The iced café con leche served here is perfect – strong, refreshing, great earthy coffee flavor. The menu also offers a wide variety of coffee choices, including a few liquor-enhanced options, along with fresh juices, beer and wine.
Their light food menu includes sandwiches, salads and dessert pastries. Try the Chicken Breast Tower with avocado, pico de gallo and sour cream. It’s served with tostones and it’s wonderful.
By night, don’t miss Nono’s Bar & Restaurant in Old San Juan, where the best mojitos on the island can be found.
Sip one at the bar under the serene gaze of a bull’s head, mounted above the bar, then move upstairs to shoot a game of pool, look out the balcony at passersby meandering down the cobblestone street below and if you’re lucky, after exchanging a few pleasantries with the man behind the upstairs bar, he may offer you a complimentary shot one of his mysterious but delicious concoctions.
If you have your dancing shoes on, when you leave Nono’s, you won’t have to walk far to find a bar to dance salsa, merengue, or reggaeton.
Once you’re ready to return to the beach, you may want to make your way to Café La Plage (at the Beach House Hotel) in Isla Verde, a beach bar worth visiting just for the view of the white-fabric-draped four-poster beds situated under tall palm trees 50 yards away from the sparkling turquoise Atlantic waters.
The place is about rustic, South Beachy charm so don’t come expecting luxury and you’ll have a great time.
During the day, the music is chill yet upeat and not too loud, the cocktails are cold, the food is good and the staff are pleasant. During the night, the outdoor bar is equally charming: a very romantic place to go if you have your sweetheart with you.
By the way, as all hidden treasures are, Café La Plage is hard to find – I drove past it about 3 times before I spotted the tiny little sign on the white wall bordering its parking lot. It’s right across from the Howard Johnson hotel. (4851 Ave Isla Verde, Carolina 00979)
More of the Outdoors
Looking for ways to experience the Puerto Rico’s natural beauty?
You can’t be bored here … you can go horseback riding on the beach, hiking through El Yunque, snorkeling, paddle surfing, body surfing, regular surfing … but in my opinion, hands down the most spectacular thing you can do is to discover one of the island’s three bioluminescent bays.
In these seemingly magical bays, after nightfall, the water glows when disturbed by movement.
It may look like magic, but the glowing water is really due to tiny bioluminescent microorganisms (called dinoflagellates) in the water.
There are very few places in the world where this phenomenon exists, and Puerto Rico is home to the three brightest.
At Las Croabas in Fajardo, the brightest of all the bays, many tour operators offer kayak expeditions.
Swimming in the bay at Las Croabas is not allowed, to protect the dinoflagellates from potential extinction, since some of them die upon human contact, but at the Vieques bay, you are allowed to swim – an unforgettable experience!
The best time to go is when there is not much light – the smaller the moon, the better. No moon? Perfect. Many websites, including Biobay, publish a moon calendar to help you strategically plan your visit.
Another plus (for some travelers) although Puerto Rico feels like another country, you don’t need a passport to get there. But be forewarned before you go … visiting Puerto Rico may be addictive!
(Photos by: Sonya Stoa. Vieques Bay photo via Concierge.com.)