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It is one of the most beautiful, well-preserved and vibrant capitals of Latin America, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, inventor of the piña colada (yes, in its Caribe Hilton hotel) and unofficial birthplace of Spanglish. Yes, that mixture of Latin soul and passport with U.S. citizenship make that in San Juan de Puerto Rico (the country is a U.S. commonwealth since 1952) Spanish is combined with English in the same sentence, hamburgers with rice with beans, salsa with rock. Two in one, like the parts into which the Caribbean city is divided: Old San Juan and the modern area, both joined by an arm of land.
Panoramic view of the fort of San Felipe del Morro.
The first stands out for its colonial palaces in pastel tones, its cobbled streets and its defense system. The construction of incredible fortresses such as San Cristóbal and San Felipe del Morro looks normal considering that the most fearsome pirates landed in the bay. From Francis Drake to François Le Clerc (or Wooden Leg) and the Earl of Cumberland.
A different way to get to know the old town is through a culinary route that covers the history of the country through its cuisine with the company Flavors Food Tours. The starting point is coffee, since Puerto Rico produces one of the best in the world for "its balanced notes, softness and craftsmanship," says guide Ricardo Ojeda during a tasting at the Cuatro Sombras bar, where they offer endless specialties.
Mofongo class on the gastronomic tour.
The next stop talks about the figure of Juan Ponce de León, the first ruler of the island, and the times of the conquest in a place where Spanish and Puerto Rican cuisine go hand in hand, the Triana restaurant, a reliable replica of a tablao. In fact, flamenco shows are one of its strong bridges, in addition to fried foods, reminiscent of Andalusian, but with its obligatory Latin touch. They can also be tasted in dozens of stalls on the street.
There is also room to savor a tamarind shoulder (a further African legacy) in the bastion of Las Palmas de San José, from where you get one of the most beautiful views of the bay.
Party in San Sebastian Street.
A few steps away, on Tetuán Street, stands the narrowest house in the city: 1.2 meters wide and 11 meters deep. "This is how spaces were economized by the high density of the population centuries ago, when you could only live within the walls," recalls Ojeda.
Local cooking course
Then, it would be time to roll up your sleeves to crush with your hands the fried green bananas of the mofongo, one of the national dishes, to which garlic and bacon (chicharrón) are added and stuffed with seafood, meat or fish. Note: it is essential to crush the banana in a good mahogany wood mortar. The tour ends with a taste of cacao, another of the national delicatessen, in the chocobar (yes, chocobar) Cortés on San Francisco Street.
Courtyard of the hotel Palacio Provincial.
To stay in Old San Juan there are two mythical hotels of impeccable colonial style: Provincial Palace and El Convento, both very close to the cathedral or museums such as the Americas. The first was the seat of the deputation during the Spanish mandate. The second, of course, a convent with more than 350 years behind it.
The next stop in the center takes us shopping through the art galleries and design shops that are distributed along the streets of Santo Cristo, San José, Luna or Sol such as Éxodo, Collective Request and Muns, among many others.
Art-focused shops in the old town.
Next door is San Sebastián Street, famous for its nightlife with places like the mythical La Factoría (considered one of the best bars in the Caribbean), El Cafetín or Sansebar, where his thing is janguear (hang out with friends, from the English hang out) until the many in the morning to the rhythm of salsa, reggaeton (here are Bad Bunny, Daddy Yankee, Raw Alejandro, Wisin or Yandel) or whatever it takes.
The party continues in the new part of San Juan, commercial, financial, residential and hotel epicenter. Condado, with its reasonable resemblance to Miami, and Santurce are the most touristy neighborhoods. It is enough to look out any night by the Market Square of the second (La Placita) to live the atmosphere enjoyment. Dozens of bars, restaurants and discos surround it to squeeze the night to the fullest.
The Placita de Santurce.
The offer does not end: from the traditional menu of La alcapurria quemá to the live music of Aguardiente or La terraza de Bonanza and the fun clubs to have a Medalla (Puerto Rican beer) and have a dance in Nie and Wuatusi. Those who prefer a gastro workshop can sign up for Open Kitchen (County), an eco-minded atelier with an avant-garde aesthetic and ecological mentality. The chef in charge is Stephanie Haddock, one of the youngest and most promising ace in the country.
The wines are in charge of Michelle Negrón, winemaker trained in Spain and promoter of a network of women winegrowers. "90% of what is consumed in Puerto Rico is imported, but 95% of the food we use here is local," he says as diners begin to prepare the sofrito del arroz con gandules (a kind of peas), sausage and plantain.
Local gastronomy workshop in Open kitchen.
We can not finish the route without a rum tasting, since the island is also considered the world capital of rum. Just 15 minutes by car from San Juan, in the municipality of Bayamón, is located one of the oldest and most select distilleries in Puerto Rico, Ron del Barrilito, with an annual production of 180 million liters. Here they work in the same artisanal way since 1880. The person responsible for the success was Pedro Fernández, a businessman of Spanish origin who "improved the taste of cane sugar by aging the drink in small oak barrels. Hence the name", summarizes Pedro Jusino, responsible for the visit (and tasting) of the facilities. Gourmet colophon not to forget.
Barrels from the Ron del Barrilito distillery.
HOW TO GET THERE.
Iberia flies to San Juan non-stop from Madrid from 500 euros.
WHERE TO SLEEP.
Provincial Palace. Classic colonial building with a lot of charm and former headquarters of the deputation at the time of Spanish rule. Its different patios invite you to relax while tasting specialties of Puerto Rican cuisine.
The Convent. The oldest member of America's historic hotels and an architectural gem of San Juan. Its restaurants Patio del Níspero or Santísimo, as well as the Alegría Patio Bar, are worth a visit on their own.
Caribe Hilton. First hotel of the chain outside the United States and cradle of the piña colada. A tropical paradise on the beach with infinity pools overlooking the sea and 10 restaurants of all nationalities.
WHERE TO EAT
Open kitchen. Organic haute cuisine in an avant-garde space in the Condado neighborhood integrated within the Mesa redonda foodie platform, which connects all kinds of gastronomic agents on the island.
The alcapurria burns. Local delicacies in the purest traditional style in the neighborhood of Santurce.
La Carreta. The best brunch in the capital in a casual and cosmopolitan atmosphere in the heart of the old town.
On the website of Discover Puerto Rico, a private and non-profit organization that promotes tourism in collaboration with public entities or not: www.discoverpuertorico.com
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