1. Caribbean – For the most populated American territory, Puerto Rico has done a masterful job of retaining its unique, Caribbean culture. Yes, there are McDonalds and large retail stores, but there are also beaches, restaurants and bars that are quintessentially Caribbean. If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to enjoy that unique, indefinable quality of the islands, San Juan is one of the best places to start. The photo above was taken at the amazing San Juan Marriott, who sponsored my stay on the island. Read my review of the property to learn why it’s the perfect resort from which to base your exploration of the city.
2. Adventure – A lot of destinations like to label themselves as being an adventure travel destination, but Puerto Rico really lives up to this moniker. I’m not sure if it’s a proper adventure travel activity, but kayaking at night through the biobay was one of the most unique activities I’ve ever enjoyed. The lagoon is teeming with bioluminescent organisms that respond to any movement, instantly illuminating darting fish or the oar of the kayak. Floating along the mangroves with lights appearing below like thousands of wet stars is something only Puerto Rico can give you.
3. Food – The continental United States enjoys a large and vibrant Puerto Rican community, so I thought I had a fairly good idea of what to expect. The reality of delicious Puerto Rican food and drink though was so much better than anything else I’d ever expected. The most unique dish I enjoyed was a mofongo. While it sounds like a slang expletive, mofongo is generally made from fried green plantains, mashed together with a variety of spices and filled with your choice of meat or vegetables. If mofongo isn’t your thing, than a classic meal of pork, rice and plantains is an easy and delicious option. These are just a couple of the quintessential Puerto Rican dishes that are both homey but delicious and instantly let the diner know they’re in the Caribbean.
4. Dance – San Juan has an exciting and always changing nightlife, but at the heart of it all is salsa. Through a strange process of influence from Cuba by way of New York, salsa gradually infiltrated the island and today it is the backbone of Puerto Rican nightlife. You can find bars and clubs featuring the Caribbean dance style, but the best bet is in San Juan’s Old Town. Dripping with Spanish colonial influence, the Old Town encapsulates everything that is great about the city, and features quite a few great salsa bars as well. Wander around until you hear the thumping beat and join in the fun. Even if you can’t dance, it’s something everyone should see in person at least once.
5. Easy way to get away – Intellectually I knew Puerto Rico wasn’t very far away from the Continental United States, yet it never, ever occurred to me to travel there. I’m not sure why, it’s a short flight, there aren’t any entry requirements for Americans and it’s a Caribbean paradise. San Juan is a major hub for the islands, which means there are plenty of flights from all over the United States and the world. San Juan is also a large city and all of the expected conveniences are there found in abundance.