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Puerto Rico!

Puerto Rico!

By
Trip Plan Tags: 
beach + island,
diving + snorkeling,
outdoors + nature,
romantic
Destinations: 
Camuy,
Caribbean,
Puerto Rico,
Rio Grande,
San Juan

I'm headed to San Juan for the weekend to celebrate my birthday with my beau. We're going to lie by the beach, soak up some Vitamin D, and turn off our cellphones.

ITEMS

Nightlife

N Lounge, Puerto Rico

Normandie Hotel, 499 Avenida Muñoz Rivera, Puerta de Tierra
San Juan 00901, Puerto Rico
Tel: 787 729 2929
Website: www.normandiepr.com

The Art Deco Normandie Hotel was built in 1942 to evoke its namesake ocean liner. We don't recommend staying there (at least not yet—rumors abound it will be taken over by the Thompson Group of 60 Thompson fame), but it is a great place for a drink. The N Lounge, a terrace bar on the second floor of the hotel, makes you feel as if you're seated on the prow of a ship. The see-and-be-seen crowd gets here early in the evening, chilling out in the aqua-and-cream-colored bar before heading out to the dance clubs.

Nightlife

Rumba, Puerto Rico

152 Calle San Sebastián, Old San Juan
San Juan 00901, Puerto Rico
Tel: 787 725 4407

This bar is the place for younger locals to salsa, samba, and merengue. It's low-frills, welcoming to tourists, and really fun; many of the scenes from Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights were filmed here.

Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 pm to 4 am.

Nightlife

Nuyorican Café, Puerto Rico

312 Calle San Francisco, Old San Juan
San Juan 00901, Puerto Rico
Tel: 787 977 1276, Tel: 787 366 5074
Website: www.nuyoricancafepr.com

Weekends can get rowdy at this snug performance space, tucked down an alley in Old San Juan. Salsa is the language spoken here, although other types of island music—from merengue to bomba and even rock—often make an appearance. The crowd is always hip but is otherwise diverse—young and old, straight and gay, locals and tourists. They all mix and mingle while waiting in line to pay the cover, which seldom goes over $5. The inside isn't much to look at, but the dancers that pack the black-and-white tiled floor in front of the stage certainly are. Things tend to get started around 10 or 11 and don't stop until 2 or 3 in the morning.

Open Mondays through Saturdays. Hours vary depending on the performers.

Handicrafts

See + Do

El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico

Río Grande, Puerto Rico
Tel: 787 888 1880
Website: www.fs.fed.us/r8/caribbean/

The 28,000-acre El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System, lies about 25 miles east of San Juan. It has dozens of well-marked trails (graded for difficulty) that lead to waterfalls, observation towers, and swimming holes. Most hotels arrange guided tours, but the park is easy to explore on your own, as there's only one major road. For a decent map or to talk with rangers about which trails you might try, stop at El Portal, the information center at the park's entrance. You can also catch a documentary here on the cotorras, the endangered indigenous green parrots that are slowly making a comeback.

Open daily from 7:30 am to 6 pm.

See + Do

Parque de Las Cavernas del Río Camuy, Puerto Rico

South of Arecibo
Camuy, Puerto Rico
Tel: 787 898 3100

This stunning series of underground caverns, about 70 miles southwest of San Juan, encloses one of the largest subterranean rivers in the world. A tram takes you down a corkscrew trail to Cueva Clara, where stalactites and stalagmites resemble the fangs of some fearsome creature. Besides underground rivers and weird rock formations (including one a guide swears resembles Julia Roberts), there are otherworldly creatures like blue-eyed river crabs and furry-legged tarantulas. There are also more than 100,000 bats, but it's rare to see them during the day.

Open Wednesdays through Sundays 8 am to 4 pm.

See + Do

Museo de Casa Blanca, Puerto Rico

1 Calle San Sebastián, Old San Juan
San Juan 00901, Puerto Rico
Tel: 787 725 1454

Juan Ponce de León—who took a break from his search for the fountain of youth to found San Juan—had a house built for himself in what's now Old San Juan in 1521. He died before he could move in, but his descendants lived in what was the city's first residence for the next 250 years. Now a museum, the Casa Blanca may be the city's best-preserved colonial-era dwelling, with a string of small rooms with eye-popping views of the harbor (a necessity, as the house also served as the city's first fortification). A cleverly concealed stairway below one of the bedrooms leads to an underground room whose original purpose is a mystery. The gregarious guides here are full of gossip and will tell you their theories about subterranean tunnels and hidden dungeons. The shady gardens, open to the public, are a great place to escape the tropical heat.

Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 8:30 am to 4:20 pm.

See + Do

Catedral de San Juan Bautista, Puerto Rico

151 Calle Cristo, Old San Juan
San Juan 00901, Puerto Rico
Tel: 787 722 0861
Website: www.catedralsanjuan.com

The trompe l'oeil painting lining the inside of the dome makes the Catedral de San Juan Bautista worth a peek: Clever use of perspective makes the roof look twice as big as it really is. The cathedral is also home to the tomb of the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León. There's been a church on this site since 1520, but one of the region's savage storms blew away the original thatch-roofed building. It was replaced in 1540 by this sturdier structure, one of the prettiest houses of worship on the island—and one of the oldest churches in the Western Hemisphere.

See + Do

Beaches in and Around San Juan

If you're staying in one of San Juan's most popular oceanfront areas—Condado, Ocean Park, or Isla Verde—the beach outside your hotel will probably be all you need. The strips of sugary sand here are all wide and lined with swaying palms. The undertow can be strong in a few places, especially along the western edge of Condado, so be cautious when taking a dip; many beaches have no lifeguards.

There are also two gorgeous balnearios, or public beaches, just outside the famous resort areas. West of Condado is Balneario de Escambrón, with honey-colored sand and facilities including changing rooms and eateries. East of Isla Verde is Balneario de Carolina, a beach shaded by almond trees where you'll find restrooms, picnic tables, and barbecue grills. Just don't expect to have the beach all to yourself, especially if you're visiting between December and April.

About a 30-minute drive east of San Juan on Route 3, Balneario de Luquillo is perhaps the prettiest beach in all of Puerto Rico, with amenities that include restaurants and even bars. Just before you reach Luquillo you'll see a strip of kiosks selling freshly caught fish and all sorts of snacks. Stop and order an alcapurria (plantain fritter) stuffed with just about any kind of seafood you can imagine.

Eating

Kasalta, Puerto Rico

1966 Calle McLeary, Ocean Park
San Juan 00911, Puerto Rico
Tel: 787 727 7340
Website: www.kasalta.com

It's little more than a coffee shop, but Kasalta serves what may be the best café con leche in the Caribbean. The espresso has inspired a sort of communal local obsession—some early-morning habitués don't even bother to sit down when they knock back a cup. If you're feeling peckish, there are plenty of savory baked goods, like pastelillo de broccoli (broccoli tart), served any time of day.

Open daily 6 am to 10 pm.

Eating

Tasca El Pescador, Puerto Rico

178 Calle Dos Hermanos, Santurce
San Juan 00907, Puerto Rico
Tel: 787 721 0995

The restaurants of Condado are always crowded—with tourists. If you want to live it up with the locals, head a few blocks south to the Santurce neighborhood. Surrounding the Plaza del Mercado, a century-old fruit and vegetable market, are dozens of simple eateries packed with Puerto Rican families. Our favorite is Tasca El Pescador, where the catch of the day is iced down in a glass display case. If there's red snapper, try the whole fish deep-fried in a dish called chillo entero frito. The tostones—mashed green plantains that are also deep-fried—make a good side. Otherwise, stick to the arroz con calamari, a dramatically dark dish of rice mixed with pieces of squid in its own ink. The staff in the pea-green dining room here runs the air-conditioning nonstop, so to avoid the chill grab one of the tables out on the sidewalk. As with most seafood places, it's closed Monday.

Open Tuesdays through Sundays 11 am to 6 pm.

Budatai

Ajili-Mójili

ALT HERE

Eating

Aguaviva, Puerto Rico

364 Calle Fortaleza, Old San Juan
San Juan 00901, Puerto Rico
Tel: 787 722 0665
Website: www.oofrestaurants.com

At the end of Calle Fortaleza in a spacious, brightly lit blue space, Aguaviva anchors SoFo and gives visitors a taste of the district's energy. The restaurant focuses on what islands do best (but often don't, given the amount of pork and sausage you'll see): freshly caught and innovatively prepared seafood. Starters include a ceviche tasting, with novel concoctions like fresh tuna and salmon ceviche, and mahimahi-mango ceviche—all served with crispy, savory tostones (fried plantains). Entrées are often tinged with Latin spices: barbecued camarones gigantes (jumbo shrimp) over basmati rice; grilled tuna with herbed tamales; and seared jumbo scallops with paella and chorizo. You should prepare to shell out a bit for your feast; dinner for two can cost close to $100.

Open daily 6 to 10 pm.

$200-$299
Editor's Pick
ALT HERE

Hotel

San Juan Water + Beach Club Hotel, Puerto Rico

2 Calle Tartak, Isla Verde
San Juan 00979, Puerto Rico
Tel: 888 265 6699 (toll-free), Tel: 787 728 3666
Email: info@waterbeachclubhotel.com
Website: www.waterbeachclubhotel.com

Set on the beach in posh Isla Verde, this boutique hotel gets feverish press for its imaginative design elements—glass-enclosed waterfalls in the elevators, doors made of Murano glass, and photographs of pebbles instead of carpeting in the corridors. Wet, the rooftop lounge, has a DJ who spins all night. But if most reviews seem to focus on public spaces and nightlife rather than rooms and service, that's because the hotel does, too. The 78 rooms, all white and beige, have floor-to-ceiling windows that face the Atlantic. They are on the small side, and form certainly trumps function. (Good luck hanging a weekend's worth of clothes in the tiny wardrobe recess.) Service is leisurely to the point of nonexistent; the hotel solicits your "desires" (beverage preferences and such) on its Web site before your stay, but often forgets them once you arrive. It's all fun and chic, of course, and if all you care about is the beach and a place to party till the wee hours, it's probably the place for you.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.