It is one year since Hurricane Maria, but because of this, the headlines for the past week were about the painfully-slow recovery and arguments over fatality statistics. Are things still so bad? The answer is no. At least in Puerto Rico’s capital of San Juan and tourist areas, things are largely back to normal. The island’s attractions are open for business. Bars are packed and flowing. People in suits filled the breakfast seats at my hotel.
With the caveat that I don’t have a frame of reference for how things were pre-Maria, I saw an island that was ready to put the past behind them and look towards the future. From the cheerful colors of La Perla, which looked brighter than ever and ready to shoot another video for Despacito, to the pulsing beats of the bars in the popular La Placita, I saw warmth, liveliness, and resilience.
Where to Stay
Relatively budget-friendly and a convenient location in the Condado district, try the Doubletree San Juan at Gallery Plaza. There’s a supermarket across the street to pick up snacks, beverages, and pre-made meals. Right next door is a Starbucks and a small mall. 105 Avenida José de Diego, San Juan, 00914, Puerto Rico, (877) 926-3030Mural and foodie crosswalk at Calle Loíza x Calle del Parque
Within a 5-minute walk is Bebo’s Cafe, a no-frills place that serves budget-friendly local comfort food in large portions. On the way to Bebo’s is an outdoor free library, an insta-worthy and timely mural that speaks hope and cheer, and a whimsical crosswalk that guides your stomach. 1600 Calle Loíza, San Juan, 00911, Puerto Rico, +1 787-726-5700
What to See
The San Juan National Historic Site consisting of San Cristobal Visitor Center & Castillo San Felipe Del Morro (pictured in feature photo) is the pride and joy of San Juan, and with good reason. Fondly known as “El Morro,” the fort is a United Nations-designed World Heritage Site and has over 500 years of history. For photography and Insta fanatics alike, it is worth a trip for the views of the sea, the nearby La Perla neighborhood, and Old San Juan.
What to Do
Take a tour, go to the beach, find rum…San Juan has a lot to offer, and at the risk of sounding like a tour agency, the truth is, you’ll likely find something for everyone. A good place to start is looking at the many tours listed on the Discover Puerto Rico website, the island’s official tourism marketing organization.
What to Eat and Drink
Here’s the section you’ve been waiting for! Admittedly, this trip focused more on the drinking than the eating, but luckily for you, there are some spots where both food and drink are worth mentioning.
When in Puerto Rico, you’ve got to have some local food. As expected, its food is heavily-influenced by Latin culture, so you may already recognize many of their main dishes. Because it’s an island, Puerto Rico’s menus often feature fish and seafood. My favorite Puerto Rican dish is mofongo, which are green plantains that are fried, mashed, and mixed with salt and garlic. Typical sides are rice, beans, and plantains. Again, if you’re in the Condado District, give Bebo’s Cafe a try. Local supermarkets, such as SuperMax, are also great places to try authentic Puerto Rican dishes.
Old San Juan is great for bar-hopping, especially along Calle San Sebastián. Our favorite was La Factoría, a speakeasy-esque cocktail bar serving modern and delicious tapas-sized snacks. Try any of the cocktails on its chalkboard menu, and do not leave without trying one of their bar snacks! I enjoyed both the sausage in port sauce and the empanadas. Fun fact: La Factoría was named one of the World’s 50 Best Bars in 2015, and the only Puerto Rican one for the past three years! 148 Calle San Sebastián, San Juan, 00901, Puerto Rico, +1 787-412-4251
The Condado District is up-and-coming for its restaurants and bars. Walk east along Calle Loíza starting at El Bar Bero, a chic barbershop-themed cocktail bar that leans heavy on the liquor, and you’ll find plenty of modern and trendy delights to keep you occupied for several evenings. 1507 Calle Loíza, San Juan, 00911, Puerto Rico, +1 787-473-8161
Things are a bit spread out, so be sure to take a break at Calaveras Restaurant for authentic Mexican fare, margaritas, and an Insta selfie with the Frida Kahlo mural. Calle Loíza, San Juan, 00911, Puerto Rico, +1 787-728-5009
Finally, one can’t mention bar-hopping in Puerto Rico without mentioning La Placita, a casual hang-out of a pedestrian plaza featuring restaurants, bars, and the occasional street performer.
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Loud and lively, it’s a great spot to people-watch to your heart’s content. 179 Calle dos Hermanos, San Juan, 00907, Puerto Rico.
Photos: Rose Zu
A foodie in perpetual wanderlust, Rose makes it a mission to sample the best ugly delicious delights around the world, but also enjoys the occasional dress-code-required fare and is always ready for a spot of afternoon tea. Currently based in the Boston area, she has been writing for GMF since 2013 and called DC, NYC, and Mexico City home. Rose is a graduate of the University of Virginia and New York University, and is on the board of the University of Virginia’s Asian and Asian Pacific American Alumni Network as well as the Thomas Jefferson Partnership Fund, which supports the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia. She pays her bills by helping companies communicate with Wall Street as an investor relations professional.