Puerto Rico is special. Part of the Greater Antilles, a Spanish history, a free state and unincorporated territory by the United States. A local with her roots on the island but Rotterdammer by soul, shares her tips.
Puerto Rico, five tips by…
1. Puerta de San Juan
Old San Juan was constructed almost half a century ago and its majesty never fails to impress me. Every time I could I escaped to old San Juan to walk through the cobbled stoned streets and enjoy the bohemian vibe. The old entrance to the city, la Puerta de San Juan in Spanish, is a majestic wooden door that welcomes visitors today as it did during the Spanish colonial times.
Now you can reach the city through many roads, but the old entrance takes you back in time and transports you to the times when Puerto Rico was an important strategic bastion of the Spanish empire.
It is now reachable through the Paseo de la Princesa (the Princess Promenade) which is located right at the edge of the walled city and offers view to the bay of San Juan and the Atlantic ocean. La Puerta de San Juan will serve as the beginning of a journey through a magical city, Old San Juan.
2. Pirilo Pizza Rústica
Part pizzeria, part bar, this is one of my top places to go whenever I am back home. It offers a perfect mix between Italian fare with Puerto Rican flair. Their dishes combine traditional Puerto Rican ingredients such as plantains and chorizo in exotic and exquisite creations that vary from pizza dishes to delectable appetizers.
They also have plenty of tasty vegetarian choices, the yucca cracklings offered as an appetizer are amazing. I have to confess that I always visit this place for the sangria, the best in town according to me.
The sangria is a closely guarded recipe but it is topped with pieces of sesame brittle which makes the drinking experience a truly authentic one. The ambiance is relaxed, put your elbows on the table kind of place where you can enjoy your meal and drinks with friends and extremely affordable.
Aside from the sangria, the cocktails are amazing and they have an extensive offering of artisanal beer which you can pair with the pizzas and appetizers. This one should not be missed!
3. Playa Flamenca
Flamenca Beach located in the island of Culebra, one of the municipalities of Puerto Rico, is considered as one of the most beautiful beaches in the island by many travelling magazines, but most importantly by the locals.
The turquoise blue of the water is mesmerizing and every time I visit this beach I get reminded of my islander roots. White sand, palm trees and crystal clear waters are not only the staples in this beach.
Because the island of Culebra was once utilized by the U.S. Navy as a training facility, at Flamenca beach you can still see two rusty tanks, remnants of its military past.
They serve now as photo ops for the visitors.Getting to Culebra is an adventure in on itself! The island can be reached by ferry and by small plane. Culebra is an easy going island, where the beach takes center stage, and Flamenco is the beach to visit when there.
Flamenco beach can be reached by shuttle taxis which charge around $4 per person and offer to pick you up at the end of the day. The best time to visit is throughout the weekday, it is during this time that the beach is calm and quiet. Flamenco beach will reconnect you with nature and will take your stress at first sight. The worst part? Leaving!
4. El Yunque
Standing majestically on the eastern side of the island, el Yunque is one of the island’s highest mountains which forms part of the central mountain range. The only tropical rain forest in the American National Parks system, el Yunque offers its visitors the greenest and most varied tropical foliage in the island.
One of the highest peaks in Puerto Rico and the highest in the east coast, el Yunque is a paradise for nature lovers and adventure seekers.
Puerto Rican perrot
The forest with its many waterfalls provides a much needed cooling off after a long trek and it has plenty of resting areas in which you can picnic and take on the scenery. This is one of my top spots because whenever I visit el Yunque, I am connected with my Puerto Rican roots, with the natural source of energy.
There are plenty of trekking roads ranging from beginners to advance that will let you discover the many wonders that this rain forest has to offer. The flora and the fauna is also quite spectacular and the forest is home to the green Puerto Rican parrot, which is one of the island’s most revered cultural symbols.
A day in el Yunque will enchant your senses, just as it does with me every time I pay it a visit.
One of the top restaurants in the island, Pikayo’s nouveau Puerto Rican cuisine is a true feast to the senses. The owner and Chef Wilo Benet is one of the island’s most revered and respected chefs, responsible for creating modern Puerto Rican dishes with a flair for the past.
The restaurant is located at the Condado Plaza Hilton in San Juan, nearby Old San Juan and its ambiance and decor is modern with magnificent views to the Atlantic Ocean.
Puerto Rican cuisine
The menu is mainly composed of Puerto Rican fusion plates which combine traditional French and Asian oriented methods with local ingredients. One of the top dishes and a signature of the chef, are the tostones de pegao with tuna tartar, a dish composed by a crispy rice cracker with a Japanese inspired tartar of tuna.
The restaurant offers a tasting menu of traditional Puerto Rican cuisine and one more European inspired with Puerto Rican touches, as well as delectable offerings from the regular menu. Pikayo is a feast for the senses and my top visit when in San Juan.