Discover Puerto Rico
HEART OF THE CARIBBEAN

Exclusive: Why you should Discover Puerto Rico and its amazing history of bomba, salsa and reggaeton

See the island that influenced some of your favorite musicians

Puerto Rico is a beautiful island full of history, color, and of above all, music. If you’re ready to travel- this is your sign to visit PR, but go outside the cobblestones of San Juan and immerse yourself into its rich musical history in places like Ponce, Caguas, and Loiza. The “heart of the Caribbean” is only 100 miles long and 35 miles wide but every inch is filled with stories of the past, and present. In collaboration with Discover Puerto Rico HOLA! USA had the opportunity to spend a few days traveling around the island to learn about the fascinating history of bomba, plena, salsa, and reggaeton, visiting the musical hubs and colorful barrios. The streets that raised the legendary salsero Hector Lavoe, and reggaetonero Daddy Yankee- artists that came before Marc Anthony and Bad Bunny. The experience was magical, and we want to share it with our readers, including recommendations to plan your perfect vacation.

DAY 1: LA RUTA DE LA SALSA

Discover Puerto Rico©Hola
San Anton, Ponce


Wednesday was our first full day on the Island and we were escorted from the Sheraton Hotel and Casino in San Juan to Ponce on “La Ruta de La Salsa,” or “The Salsa Route.” Our tour guide Clement De Feires is wearing a custom “La Ruta de La Salsa,” shirt and he starts sharing his vast knowledge of music history with a perfectly tailored playlist showing the evolution of genres like plena, bomba, rumba, guaracha, cha-cha-chá, jazz, and mambo that influenced salsa music. Salsa translates to “sauce” and was popularized in New York City during the 1960s by Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians. The base is Cuban son montuno, which was formed by a mixture of African rhythms mixed with the metric style of Spanish music. As we make the 73-mile drive to Ponce jamming out to artists like Hector Lavoe, Louis Armstrong, Arsenio Rodriguez, Machito, and Celia Cruz, each song sparks memories for those in the car. The vegetation around us begins to change, but remains beautiful.

Discover Puerto Rico©Hola
San Aton, Ponce, Puerto Rico

Our first stop is San Anton, Ponce, home of bomba and la plena. Plena originated in the barrio around 1900 and was influenced by the bomba style of music. We learn that it was often called the periodico cantado or “sung newspaper” because it spread news, and gossip to the townspeople. It became an expressive and at times satirical style of music for the working class and the music‘s beat and rhythm are usually played with hand drums called panderetas, or panderos, which made it easy to travel with for those who were on feet, or on a bike. We get the opportunity to play the stretched animal skin drums and create our own plena song before heading into el barrio Belgica, where there are beautiful murals of Hector Lavoe throughout and phrases like “Ponce saba a Salsa,” and “Ponce es Salsa.”

Discover Puerto Rico©Hola
el Barrio Bélgica

We end up in downtown Ponce where commemorations for “Salsero’s Ponceros,“ like Lavoe, Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez, Ismael Quintana, and Yolanda Rivera, are seen throughout. Check out the Parque de Bombas fire station and Centro Cultural de Ponce while you’re there.

DAY 2: LA RUTA DE LA REGGAETON AND BOMBA

With our ears and hearts full of Salsa music, the next day is all about reggaeton and the reggaetoneros that changed the music industry. Our guide has another perfectly tailored playlist, except this time he’s wearing a “Le Ruta de La Reggaeton shirt,” (impressive). We listen to the musicians like Vico C, El General, Ivy Queen, and of course, Daddy Yankee as we head towards Old San Juan. When you get to the town you will see the streets paved with blue cobblestones called adoquines. The blocks began to be used as road pavers in Puerto Rico in 1784 and while they are gradually replaced by modern ones, Calle Cristo still has the originals. From Old San Juan we walk to La Perla, an old neighborhood in San Juan that is the backdrop of some of your favorite music videos like Justin Bieber and Luis Fonzi’s “Despacito.”

Discover Puerto Rico©Hola
La Perla, Puerto Rico
Discover Puerto Rico©Hola
La Perla, Puerto Rico
Discover Puerto Rico©Hola
La Perla, Puerto Rico

The colorful buildings are covered with beautiful murals commemorating not only Puerto Rican artists like Yankee, and Fonsi, but the African men and women that created bomba hundreds of years ago. Despite only, stretching about 650 yards, the town is full of color, stories, life, and reggaeton. Inspired by hip-hop, Panamanian reggae, and Latin American music, the style originated in the clubs of San Juan in the 1990s and was a new genre that was called “underground” and later “perreo.” The music went global but the singers often faced censorship, and Puerto Rican police even launched a campaign against it because the lyrics were often explicit, about drugs, violence, poverty, friendship, love, and sex. Despite the push back, the catchy music was impossible to silence, and the first reggaeton music club was opened by Felix Rodriguez a.k.a “DJ Negro.” While we get in the car we head to a special blue set of stairs in front of the apartment complex Daddy Yankee lived in growing up.

Apartment complex Daddy Yankee lived in growing up in Puerto Rico©Hola
Apartment complex Daddy Yankee lived in growing up in Puerto Rico

Later in the day, we head to a bomba class in Loiza hosted by Sheila Osorio of Taller Nzambi. Before there was salsa and reggaeton, there was bomba, and the music is also the name of the instruments and the dance that accompanies it and is an essential expression of Puerto Rican culture. It dates back to the beginning of the Spanish colonial period (1493–1898) and was developed by West African enslaved people and their descendants, who worked in sugar plantations along the coast. We meet on the beach where Sheila holds her bomba classes and see a group of her students in red skirts, and beautiful head-wraps standing on the beach barefoot. We remove our sandals as she brings us our skirts and she later explains that dancing bomba barefoot is a way to respect its origins and the color of the skin of those who created it. As we learn the dance and perform in a circle, we begin to get emotional watching the talented dancers freely move to the beat of the drummers, to lyrics about slavery, and loss. The whole experience can be described in no other way but powerful, and beautiful, and I am incredibly thankful for it. I reached out to Sheila for more:


What does bomba represent to you and why is it important that we keep the tradition alive?

For me, bomba provides a space for resilience and is the identity of the country and the towns. It is a way of liberating the emotions in your heart and your mind through dancing, it‘s an art, it’s a culture, and it’s important to preserve because in Puerto Rico each region has its different bomba rhythm: how it is danced, how it is played. And it is important to preserve the rhythms so that the children, youth, and adults can pass on the dances of each town and each region- that is important. Loiza’s is the one I teach most, it is the fastest rhythm of the bomba and it’s called ’Seis Corrido.’ Its rhythm is the most flirtatious, the most expressive, and the fastest when dancing. And they are the themes of the freed slaves because when the bomba arrived in Luisa it had already evolved. It had already left the sugar cane fields where the slaveowners were, who oppressed them tried to force the Spanish traditions on all the slaves. But in their free time, they went to the back of the haciendas to dance and to hit the drums because they didn’t know the language and they could express everything they felt through dance. That is why the place of origin of the bomba dance was behind the haciendas, on the beaches, in improvised spaces that they were able to express everything they felt through dance.



Day 3: DISTRITO T-MOBILE

We went into day 3 sad that the trip was almost over but thankful for the experience. Today we watched part of the 25th annual Congreso Mundial de la Salsa, a salsa competition dedicated to only young girls and women. If you have the chance to watch a salsa competition while on the island, do it. After the show we visited one of the most amazing additions to San Juan, the Distrito T-Mobile. Walking into the five-acre experience it feels like a futuristic hub full of monitors, a huge stage, a zip line overhead, original destination dining, art, retail, and an Arena Medalla. It’s a playground full of everything for all ages. For lunch we head to Barulla Taberna Epanola, a gastronomic multi-space to discover diverse Spanish cuisine with delicious wine, and plenty of options. The immersive and delicious experience is one of a kind and we choose a sparking wine- 2015 Gelida Brut Gran Reserva- for the table, with no regrets. After lunch we visited the Arena Medalla, which is a popular beer brewed on the island, and its walls are covered with influential Puerto Ricans in music, sports, and history, and beautiful art. There’s a DJ booth, a stage, beer pong tables, video games, and tons of Medalla on tap ready to drink.

For our last night we enjoy an upscale dinner at Sazon Cocina Criolla, where we finally remember to take a picture of our food before eating it, (thankfully this wasn’t a food blog).

WHERE WE ATE:

Breakfast:
Caficultura: A coffee shop located in Old San Juan with a farm-to-table breakfast menu. @caficutura on Instagram

Lunch:
Drift: Offers a variety of traditional Puerto Rican dishes in front of one of the most beautiful and pristine beachfront locations: Pinones, Loiza.

Barulla Taberno Espanola: Located in the brand new DISTRITO T-Mobile, Barullo is a gastronomic multi-space to discover diverse Spanish cuisine with an immersive and delicious experience.

Dinner:
Casita Miramar: Housed in a pretty Spanish ViIlla and decorated with hanging plants, lights, and vintage furniture. One of the best spots for traditional Puerto Rican cuisine that pulls from the islands Spanish, Africa, and Taino (indigenous).

Luisa: Modern restaurant located on Condado with a creative menu focused on international dishes with a local twist.

Sazon Cocina Criolla: the restaurant highlight the island‘s authentic cuisine with a variety of flavors, local herbs, and fresh seafood.

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