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Exclusive: How to Discover Puerto Rico’s cultural roots in four days

Proceed with caution —you will fall in love!

Disclaimer: The following travel information will urge you to extend your visit. Proceed with caution —you will fall in love!

There is no wrong way to discover Puerto Rico. But if you are looking for ways to soak in the island’s cultural roots in a short time, then you have arrived at the right article.

Puerto Rico is a paradise that you can also enjoy away from its paradisiacal beaches. Although you can see the turquoise waters pretty much from every angle, something else captivates visitors —the sense of ethnic pride.

Boricuas (a word with Taino origins to describe a person from Puerto Rico by birth or descent) comes in every size and skin color. Despite their looks and background, everyone embraces the unique infusions emerging from Taino Indian, Spanish and African influences, whether in the Island’s gastronomy, music, tourism, and culture.

vintage home in Old San Juan©Hola

The following itinerary is based on the experience HOLA! USA lived first-hand thanks to Discover Puerto Rico. The below guide will help you and yours immerse in an unforgettable trip that covers cuisine, art, and history while emphasizing the conservation and promotion of the island’s cultural heritage.

Day 1

As soon as you land at the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, get on your preferred transportation method (Uber, private chauffeur, or rent a car) and enjoy lunch at celebrity hotspot Barullo Taberna Espanola, a gastronomic multi-space to discover the diverse Spanish cuisine.

Barullo Taberna Espanola©Discover Puerto Rico / Barullo Taberna Espanola
Barullo Taberna Espanola: 250 Convention Boulevard, San Juan, 00907, Puerto Rico

Once you had a Mojito, Gin Tonic, or a glass of Albariño and the restaurant’s mouthwatering tapas straight out from the live-cooking station, explore DISTRITO T-Mobile. This unique five-acre experiential complex combines global retail, destination dining, art, entertainment, music, technology, and hospitality.

Barullo Taberna Espanola©Barullo Taberna Espanola
Barullo Taberna Espanola

At this point, you might be tired and would like to refresh and unpack. Although lodging in a hotel is the conventional thing to do, we highly recommend you stay at an Airbnb, most specifically at a vintage home in Old San Juan.

Yes, we know the name might say “old,” but here is where history meets modern-day, and you get the opportunity to celebrate five centuries of vibrant culture. While staying in this residential district, you will be in awe of the fortifications, towering walls, open plazas, hidden patios, and cobblestone streets. It is essential to highlight that this historical gem is the oldest city in the United States and its territories.

Vintage home in Old San Juan©Hola
Vintage homes in Old San Juan are available on Airbnb

Day one’s adventure isn’t over, and now it is time to grab your best outfit and visit Don Manolo and his birds Manola and Tina at La Casona. This legendary restaurant is a landmark in the ever-changing world of Puerto Rico’s eateries. The iconic hotspot has been catering to customers for over 40 years.

Enjoy a refreshing cava while eating breaded goat cheese over sweet plantain or a pumpkin soup so delicious that it will make you wonder if it should be your main dish instead of the appetizer. But honestly, why should we limit ourselves when there is good food? Continue indulging with a risotto with gambas and then asked a piña colada and call the night with an artisan dessert.

La Casona©HOLA! USA
La Casona: 609 C. San Jorge, San Juan, 00909, Puerto Rico

Day 2

Wake up early, enjoy the birds singing from your balcony, grab comfortable shoes, and prepare to learn why Puerto Rico is called “La Isla del Encanto.” Have breakfast at Café Don Ruiz, located inside the Cuartel de Ballajá, a building that served as barracks for Spanish soldiers centuries ago.

Café Don Ruiz has a long family tradition of coffee roasting; therefore, you will be able to enjoy a single harvest, hand-picked medium-dark roast specialty gourmet coffee from the mountains of Yauco. The roast is similar to espresso, bringing out all the complex flavors of the Arabica beans without burning off its fragrances.

If regular coffee isn’t your thing order a Vanilla Rose and complete it with a warm spinach croissant and chips.

Café Don Ruiz: Viejo San Juan©Café Don Ruiz/ HOLA! USA
Café Don Ruiz: Viejo San Juan

Steps away from the coffee shop is the Museo de las Américas, located on the second floor of the historic Cuartel de Ballajá. Here you will find three permanent collections and temporary exhibitions— all emphasizing the conservation and promotion of the cultural heritage of Puerto Rico and the Americas.

Museo de las Américas©Hola
Museo de las Américas

The museum’s permanent exhibitions are Folk Arts in the Americas, Our African Heritage, and Conquest and Colonization.

Museo de las Américas©Hola
Museo de las Américas

During Hurricane Maria, the museum was severely damaged, but the community’s resilience brought it back, and now the storm has also become a paradox inside the institution.  

Museo de las Américas©Hola
Museo de las Américas

You will be hungry when you are done exploring the museum, but grabbing something nearby isn’t the way to go. Hop on an SUV with the team of Bespoke Lifestyle Management, and have lunch at El Burén de Lula, a spot located in Loíza that specializes in artisanal cuisine of Burén with fresh ingredients such as yuca, coconut, and jueyes.

Continue the adventure by exploring the town of Loíza (around 45 minutes outside of San Juan and just past touristy Isla Verde), best known for its traditional vejigante masks and the beachside community of Piñones, where you can get some of the best frituras in the region.

Puerto Rico©Hola
The beachside community of Piñones

In addition to the beautiful scenery and great food, what makes Loíza distinct from any other part of Puerto Rico is the rich African heritage that permeates the town’s identity. According to Bespoke’s tour guide, the city was settled in the 16th century by members of the Yoruba tribe brought to the island as enslaved people.

The vibrant municipality is known for its music, dance, culinary traditions, art, and housing the largest Afro-Puerto Rican population on the Island.

Loíza is the capital of everything traditional; therefore, learning how to dance Bomba (dance and musical style of Puerto Rico, rooted in the island’s history of African slavery) with folklorist Sheila Osorio is a must. Her on-the-beach dance school, Taller Nzambi, is the spot to connect with your soul, open your mind, and let the rhythm invade your body.

Puerto Rico©Hola
Sheila Osorio at her on-the-beach dance school, Taller Nzambi

Throughout her 30 to 45 minutes class, Sheila will teach you how to have a creative, interactive relationship with the percussionists. Bomba is the first native music of Puerto Rico, and Osorio’s elegance when performing with her maxi skirt is an unforgettable and unmissable experience when visiting Loíza.

Puerto Rico©Hola
Taller Nzambi: Puente Herrera, Loíza 00745, Puerto Rico

Hydrate with coconut water, and before heading back to your Airbnb or hotel, pay a visit to the art studio of the well-known Puerto Rican artist Samuel Lind. Also located in Loíza (a few minutes away from Taller Nzambi), Lind will walk you through his impressive exposition of culture and art.

Puerto Rico©Hola
Estudio de Arte Samuel Lind: PR-187, 23.0 km, 00772, Puerto Rico

From colorful printings to paintings and bronze sculptures, Samuel’s vision and creativity will make your jaw drop —more than once.

Puerto Rico©Hola
Estudio de Arte Samuel Lind: PR-187, 23.0 km, 00772, Puerto Rico

Kiss Loíza goodbye and head back to your lodging to freshen up for your dinner at Areyto. This contemporary cuisine restaurant offers local and international dishes with a creative twist. Order a Medalla and enjoy a delicious empanada and a Mac & Cheese with Ropa Vieja.

Areyto By Chef Jason González: 1950 C. Loíza, San Juan, 00911, Puerto Rico

Day 3

On the third day, you might feel like you were born and raised in Puerto Rico. With people smiling and greeting you all the time, you are now an honorary local. Dedicate day three to exploring Caguas; after stopping to grab the best Chai Latte you probably have ever had, continue the route to the Museo de Historia de Caguas and learn about the Taíno people and how they populated most of the Caribbean and some adjacent territories during the pre-Columbian era.

Then visit Puerto Rico’s only tobacco museum, the Caguas Museum of Tobacco, officially the Herminio Torres Grillo Museum of Tobacco. While here, you will learn the history of the growth and industry of tobacco in Puerto Rico and the broader region of the Caribbean.

Museo de Historia de Caguas and Puerto Rico’s only tobacco museum, the Caguas Museum of Tobacco, officially the Herminio Torres Grillo Museum of Tobacco©Hola
Museo de Historia de Caguas and Puerto Rico’s only tobacco museum, the Caguas Museum of Tobacco, officially the Herminio Torres Grillo Museum of Tobacco

Learning about all the methods indigenous people used to fish, grow and eat their food probably made you hungry. So while in Caguas, make reservations to enjoy the diamonds of restaurants.

PYP Restaurant offers a cozy atmosphere with elevated and exquisite food that will blow your mind with every bite by serving mouthwatering dishes from varied menus with fresh local and seasonal products. Ask the chef about the Cream of Malanga and Stingray Alcapurria and dive into delicious servings that are fit for the gods. 

PYP Restaurant©Hola
PYP Restaurant: 52 C. Betances, Caguas, 00725, Puerto Rico

It is time to return to Old San Juan and rest until dinner. There are two options, take a nap or walk around the historic district. If making the most of your time is your thing, then stroll down the cobblestone streets until you find a piragua vendor.

Old San Juan©Hola

Keep it going and snap some pictures at the Paseo de la Princesa, visit Castillo San Felipe del Morro and then walk down Calle Fortaleza. Find Itzel Violin playing music biggest hits and snap pictures in front of the flag mural located on the facade of an abandoned building on San José Street.

Old San Juan©Hola
Old San Juan

Keep it super local and grab dinner from a street vendor or sit down in one of the many restaurants and rooftops servings great cocktails and finger foods.

Day 4

The saddest day has come, and it is time flight back home. Although leaving Puerto Rico might feel like a bitter moment, the Spoon Experience will help you host a private breakfast at the property with Chef Antonio Pérez of Santísimo.

The Spoon Experience private breakfast with Chef Antonio Pérez of Santísimo©Hola
The Spoon Experience private breakfast with Chef Antonio Pérez of Santísimo

The Puerto Rican-born chef will introduce you to new flavors but always prioritize the traditions. During HOLA! USA’s visit, Chef Antonio delighted us with fresh local fruit, mashed malanga, and omelet.

The Spoon Experience private breakfast with Chef Antonio Pérez of Santísimo©Hola
The Spoon Experience private breakfast with Chef Antonio Pérez of Santísimo

Now that you are ready to discover Puerto Rico’s tourism, you can become part of the “Live Boricua” movement and enjoy experiences the Boricua way. The call to action was founded on research, and consumer insights as Discover Puerto Rico explored several creative concepts and tested them via focus groups in eight markets in the U.S., including San Juan.

Local focus group participants rated their favorite “Live Boricua” moments and shared their own. Additionally, 300 Puerto Ricans were tapped to share their input, and Puerto Rican tastemakers and representatives from the local tourism industry.

As the campaign is deeply rooted in the Puerto Rican way of life, Discover Puerto Rico enlisted three local companies to produce the campaign, and utilized local artisans for every costume detail, local musicians for the soundtrack, local tastemakers as Brandfluencers, and more.

The brand campaign anthem and photography were also shot across multiple municipalities to spotlight the vast offerings of the Island from coast to coast, including Cabo Rojo, Guanica, Lares, Maricao, Piñones, Rio Grande, San German, San Juan/Old San Juan, San Lorenzo, Santurce, Utuado, and Vieques.

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