Around Town: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Explore and enjoy the territory’s historic capital city.
Few cities balance old and new quite as elegantly as Puerto Rico’s capital. In Old San Juan, cobblestone streets and colonial buildings preserve its Spanish heritage, and art galleries, museums and charming restaurants encourage travelers to slow their pace and enjoy. The luxurious boutiques of Condado lure shoppers; beach-goers or adventure travelers can head to the island’s southern, eastern and western coasts or the jungle rainforest of El Yunque; and then, of course, there’s the sizzling nightlife of New San Juan.
San Juan Festivals
The capital city hosts an incredible number of festivals—most in Old San Juan—that are so fun, popular and often over-the-top that they are known to literally stop traffic for hours. So take public transport (or better yet, walk) to some of these popular parties:
- The Lelolai Festival is a series of weekly cultural performances comprising salsa lessons, tropical music and rumba performances. Check online listings for performance times and locations (seepuertorico.com/events).
- On the first Tuesday of every month, galleries across Old San Juan keep their doors open into the night for Martes Noche de Galeria; meanwhile, Calle San Sebastián becomes an enormous street party lasting until the early hours of the morning.
- Each January, Calle San Sebastian also hosts the boisterous, celebratory San Sebastian Street Festival (think Mardi Gras or the Nottinghill Carnival in London, but with a Puerto Rican twist). A hugely popular event filled with thousands of revelers, its often chaotic exuberance is not for everyone.
- Puerto Rico’s largest jazz festival, the Heineken Jazz Festival, focuses on Latin jazz but draws musicians from all over the world. It’s a good idea to plan for next year’s festival now.
- Created by Spanish composer Pablo Casals, the Casals Festival lasts two weeks and consists of a series of classical music performances by the Puerto Rican Symphony Orchestra and prestigious visiting musicians.
- The last weekend in July hosts the Puerto Rico Salsa Congress, an annual salsa exhibition and convention that features dancers from around the world.
El Castillo de San Felipe del Morro
One of Puerto Rico’s most iconic images (commonly known as El Morro) is a stone garrison built between 1539 and 1797 by Spanish settlers on a high promontory at the entrance of the San Juan Bay. Explore its turrets, towers and dungeons, and look out over its expansive view of the bay; it’s clear why its builders chose this location (501 Calle de San Felipe del Morro; nps.gov/saju/index.htm).
San Juan is filled with outlet stores and boutiques, but if you’re looking to take an authentic piece of the city’s culture home with you, visit Spicy Caribbee, where you can stock up on Puerto Rico’s famous coffee, plus Caribbean spices, sauces, soaps and perfumes (154 Calle Cristo; spicycaribbee.com).
Behind its gracefully ageing façade, you’ll find a riot of color, which includes décor, server costumes and food. Former Le Cirque chef Peter Schintler serves an equally bold menu (think dishes like grilled Hawaiian tuna with toasted macadamia nuts, pineapple jasmine rice and coconut-curry emulsion) (317 Fortaleza St.; marmaladepr.com).
You’ll find fun, Latin-Asian fusion at Iron Chef Roberto Treviño’s Condado restaurant. Catch live Flamenco performances on Thursday nights (1056 Avenida Ashford, Condado; budatai.com).
The Gallery Inn
A funky ode to local artist Jan D’Esopo’s own watercolors, and decorated with a profusion of antiques. And while it might not have the urbane appeal of some of San Juan’s slicker properties, the six connected historic townhouses with nearly 20 jasmine and orchid-filled gardens give an incredible glimpse of historic San Juan architecture. Take a glass of wine to the rooftop for a panoramic sunset view (204-206 Calle Norzagaray; thegalleryinn.com).
Hotel El Convento
A preserved 17th century convent holds Old San Juan’s most lavish boutique hotel, filled with Andalusian tiles and 58 antique-filled guest rooms (all with four-poster beds). Unlike its original inhabitants, you’ll have all the mod-cons, such as plasma-screen TVs and Bose stereos. Make time for the complimentary cocktail hour in the garden each night (100 Calle de Cristo; elconvento.com).
Image © Media Bakery
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