Rum with a vıew By Peter Greenberg
IT’S THE OLDEST city on U.S. territory; it’s
rich in history, culture, adventure—and food.
And yet San Juan, Puerto Rico, is often viewed
only as a quick stopover on the way to other
parts of the Caribbean or as a cruise-ship
turnaround port. But this historic city is rapidly gaining well-deserved attention as a go-to
destination for outdoor adventures, culinary
finds and cultural experiences.
I try to start my Puerto Rico journeys in
Old San Juan, a compact area in the heart of
the city, and for good reason: It remains true
to its colonial roots. Narrow cobblestone
streets line the 3-square-mile zone, dotted
with brightly colored Spanish colonial homes,
shops, restaurants and cafés. And it’s accessible. The area is extremely walkable, and a free
trolley runs every day.
Puerto Rico indeed has a strategic geo-
graphical location in the Caribbean, which
may explain why the Spanish colonized it and
made it an important military outpost. Many
of the fortresses the Spanish built survive
today. Spanish engineers built two massive
buildings a mile apart: Castillo San Felipe del
Morro (Morro Castle) and Castillo de San
Cristóbal. Now managed by the U.S. National
Park Service as part of the San Juan National
Historic Site, San Cristóbal is spectacular:
60-foot-high walls overlooking the ocean,
authentic cannons and, of course, the sprawl-
ing fortress. Perhaps the most impressive fig-
ure: It took more than 250 years to complete
it from the ground up.
But Puerto Rico is far more than fortresses and castles. A must stop—and a great
day trip from San Juan—is El Yunque
National Forest. It’s the only tropical forest
managed by the U.S. Forest Service, which
gets you the best of both worlds: a remote,
jungle landscape with well-maintained, accessible trails. The forest is relatively compact,
only 28,000 acres, and what’s really cool is that
it contains several ecological zones and enormous biodiversity.
San Juan is gaining a lot of attention for
its culinary prowess. Celebrity chef Wilo
Benet—considered the father of nouveau
island cuisine—opened the acclaimed Pikayo
Restaurant back in 1990. It’s still one of Puerto
Rico’s most innovative restaurants.
Chef José Enrique is a rising star who
cooked around the world before returning to
his home neighborhood, Santurce, to open
his eponymous restaurant. Enrique relies on
the bounty that grows right on the island to
create modern, cutting-edge dishes that
change on a whim.
The island is teeming with music, especially in the streets of San Juan. One of my
first stops is the Nuyorican Café, right in the
heart of Old San Juan, on Calle San Francisco.
It’s a great little pub with a lot of soul, featuring local bands playing salsa, reggae and
Of course, you can’t go to Puerto Rico
without drinking rum. The Bacardi factory is
a well-known oasis, but my choice is to head
to Casa Don Q in Old San Juan, a favorite rum
stop for locals. It’s also a small museum and
tasting room, where you can try different
types of rum and learn tips from a mixologist.
Several art galleries are located in the
Santurce neighborhood (adjacent to Condado),
so take a stroll there to see emerging and
established Puerto Rican artists. The Puerto
Rican Museum of Art is in this area.
But I’ve saved the best for last. San Juan
may be where your plane first lands in Puerto
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Old San Juan
Puerto Rico beckons with
beauty, history and novelty