A Puerto Rican Christmas is a grand and wonderful thing, and it lasts until January 6, Three Kings Day (although a few diehards string it out a bit longer than that). Three Kings is a special time to be on the island, and if you want to take advantage, check out what the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino has on offer.
The resort's Three Kings' Day package is based on the number three. As in, you get the third night free; daily breakfast for three at La Vista Latin Grill; and three traditional Puerto Rican gifts: a bottle of coquito, a musical instrument used in local festivities and local candy. The package costs $333/night when you stay between January 2-12. In addition, the Three Kings themselves will make an appearance, handing out cookies and gifts on January 6.
A three-night stay is required (with the third night free). You can book online with the promo code XMA.
I covered SoFo already; now it's time to cover the rest of the December calendar of events in Puerto Rico. And there's a whole lot to cover!
Let's start with the food festivals; in addition to SoFo, there are two more culinary events around the island this month. Saborea!, my favorite food fest of all, is hosting its first winter edition at the Courtyard By Marriott in Isla Verde. And a Sangria festival uncorks in Ponce later this month.
If you're interested in culture, let's start with Tchaikovsky's Christmas classic, The Nutcracker, which comes to the Luis A. Ferré Center for Performing Arts. Then there's the Hatillo Masks Festival, which gives you more local flavor and folklore.
Shopaholics will prefer two other events: the Shopaholics bazaar at the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan, where fashion is on sale for less than $50 per item, and the Hecho en Puerto Rico fair, which features local arts and crafts.
Baseball lovers will want to check out a soccer game, because it will be played by some of MLB's current and former greats, like Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano and Roberto Alomar.
Oh, and there's Christmas, of course. This holiday lasts weeks, literally lights up the island, and features its own menu, traditions imported from the Old World, and plenty of local revelry. And finally, Puerto Rico knows how to celebrate, so you can imagine what New Year's on the island will be like. Stay tuned to my blog as we get closer to the date. I'll have the rundown of where to go and who's throwing the best parties.
It's the day after Thanksgiving, so you're probably not all that interested in hearing about food. But I've learned to give my readers as much lead time as I can when it comes to the biannual SoFo Culinary Festival.
This Old San Juan tradition takes place on South Fortaleza Street (or SoFo, for short), a section of the old city that is known for its excellent dining options. From Asian fusion to old-world Spanish to nouveau Caribbean, you can find a variety of gourmet eateries clustered along the end of this road, right before Plaza Colón.
Some of my favorite restaurants are here, and for SoFo, the street closes to vehicular traffic and becomes an open-air block party; restaurants set up outdoor stalls and tents where visitors can sample their dishes and drinks. There's no entrance fee, and the party goes on all day and well into the evening.
Among the eateries that participate at SoFo are:
- Dragonfly - Asian-Caribbean restaurant with ridiculously good duck nachos and other tasty fusion foods.
- The Parrot Club - Caribbean flavors served up with inventive twists and an extensive, creative drink menu (they're known for their mojitos, in particular)
- Toro Salao - Spanish tapas and main courses with a little Puerto Rican thrown in for good measure.
- Aguaviva - Seafood reinvented, with an outstanding ceviche menu, oysters that I have to try every time I visit, and a friendly, casual vibe.
Plan now to be part of Sofo Winter 2013!
Whether you're in Puerto Rico, dreaming about Puerto Rico, planning to go to Puerto Rico, or fondly remembering Puerto Rico, I want to wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving. (I'm assuming it's one of the above or you wouldn't be reading this.)
And if you do happen to be in Puerto Rico and want to take advantage of Black Friday deals, I recommend checking out the flash sales at Premium Outlets just outside of San Juan. Their after-Thanksgiving flash sale includes some pretty good deals, like 60% off everything at Aeropostale, 50% off everything at Banana Republic factory store, and 30% off everything at the Polo factory store.
You might also want to take a stroll through Old San Juan, where you'll find factory stores by the piers and along Cristo and Fortaleza Street. Guess, Ralph Lauren, Dooney & Burke, and Custo Barcelona are among the retailers here.
As we say in Puerto Rico, Feliz Día de Acción de Gracias a todos!
As we come upon Thanksgiving, we think of family, friends, food and (let's face it) Black Friday deals. But as someone who has adopted this holiday as my own, never having grown up with the concept of Thanksgiving, I think the history behind it is just as important, just as special. And although I recently read an interesting article on some of the myths we commonly hold as facts about this day, we can't argue that the first Thanksgiving as we know it was the result of a great kindness. And for that, we have the native Wampanoag tribe to thank.
In my studies and research for my books, I've found a similar pattern of generosity among many native tribes of Mexico, the Caribbean and South America. Which brings me to the Taíno, the people who greeted Columbus in 1493. And in honor of the native peoples of the New World who welcomed the foreigners when they first arrived on their shores, I thought I'd share something about who the Taíno were. To this day, Puerto Ricans are proud of their Taíno heritage, which can be found in the local language, food and cultural fabric of the island.
Were they at the first Thanksgiving table? No, of course not. But they, like so many native peoples across the Americas, were here when a new race of men came upon them. And they were kind to them (Columbus even commented on their generosity). And for that, I am thankful.
As reported by the Associated Press a few days ago, there's an unusual development at one of Puerto Rico's top attractions: the bioluminescent bay, or biobay, at Fajardo has "gone dark." One of three biobays in Puerto Rico, this was second in bioluminescence only to Mosquito Bay on Vieques Island.
Construction of a nearby water and sewage plant may be to blame, although officials are still investigating what caused the mysterious absence of glowing green waters, which is caused by the disturbance of microscopic organisms in the water. I've witnessed this natural phenomena many times, and I've always been impressed by the vivd neon glow cast by these creatures when they come into contact with foreign objects... like the oars of a kayak or a human hand rippling through the water.
And I hope that this is a temporary issue. Not only is this one of the top tourist draws in Fajardo, it's also a rare natural occurrence. Bioluminescence occurs all over the world, but few places offer the kind of concentration that you'll find in Puerto Rico.
Those of you who are planning to visit the biobay will want to think of another way to spend their night on the island... or at least, call your tour operator to find out if the tours are going ahead on schedule.
If you're in Puerto Rico this Thanksgiving, first, let me congratulate you on an excellent decision! What better way to spend the holiday than in the balmy Caribbean, with the history of Old San Juan, more than 270 miles of beaches around the island, and all kinds of ways to have fun.
But on Thanksgiving Day, all that comes second to one thing: the Thanksgiving meal. And if you're looking for a place to enjoy a traditional roast turkey, or perhaps a turkey dinner with a few 'Rican twists, I've got a list of restaurants around the island that you might want to check out.
From the classic turkey with cornbread stuffing to inventive sides like pumpkin and chicharrón (fried pork skin) risotto to desserts like ginger pumpkin pie served with nougat ice cream, there's a thanksgiving menu for everyone here.
I covered waterfalls last week; now I'll move onto pools. Now, with all the lakes, rocky beds along the shore, and hotels in Puerto Rico, there's no shortage of pools, manmade and natural, in Puerto rico. But like my last post, I'm going to focus on two of the most famous (well, two of my favorites, at least).
I'll start with what is arguably the most well-known natural pool in Puerto Rico; Charco Azul is a small, intimate place (at least during the week; long weekends are another matter) with deep azure waters, a tiny waterfall, and a serene natural setting. Located in the central municipality of Cayey, it's a day trip south from San Juan, a short drive from the famous lechoneras in Guavate, a slightly longer drive north from the quaint town of Guayama and the lovely Casa Cautiño Museum.
This is often a quiet place where you can spend a happy hour or two enjoying a leisurely swim (the pool gets deep, so you can dive or jump, but I would caution against it) and making use of the picnic facilities.
Coquí Water Park
The Coquí Water Park is practically the complete opposite of Charco Azul. Where the latter is natural, the former is manmade; while Charco Azul is free, the water park is only available to guests of the El Conquistador Resort. But this is easily the most entertaining hotel pool in Puerto Rico, and while El Charco Azul might fail to entertain you for the day, the water park's lazy river, water slides and assortment of pools will have your kids (and quite possibly you as well) for hours.
The El Conquistador is perched on a bluff in Fajardo, on the northeast corner of the island. It's about 90 minutes east of San Juan. Along with Palomino Island, it's one of the biggest reasons why you might want to call this hotel home while you're in Puerto Rico.
I love exploring Puerto Rico. For one, it's perfectly safe to strike out of the main cities and see what the interior of the island has to offer. For another, Puerto Rico is small enough that virtually any destination is a day trip away. And as an added bonus, you get treated to some spectacular panoramic vistas and landscapes along the way. And your destination can be anything from salt-baked flats to tropical forests to idyllic beaches to colonial relics.
Or waterfalls. Puerto Rico has numerous waterfalls, thanks to its high peaks and a mountain range that carves its way through the center of the island. But I'm going to focus on two of the most ones: Doña Juana and La Mina.
Now, these aren't epic, wonder-of-the-earth cascades like Niagara or Iguazu. Compared to them, they're mere trickles of water down a mountainside. But both offer you a dive in a delicious natural pool beneath the pleasant rush of a foamy, gushing torrent of water.
La Mina is by far the most visited of the two: the main attraction at El Yunque National Forest (which lies about 30 minutes from the capital along the east coast of the island), La Mina is an easy hike from the main road but tucked away enough to offer some privacy; at least, to you and the 50 or so other revelers you might run into here. La Mina is popular, and if you don't mind sharing, the natural pool is large enough to accommodate a crowd. And the falls feel amazing after a walk in the heat.
Doña Juana is not as visited, but it's also a bit further from the capital. At roughly two hours from San Juan, Doña Juana is located in the central region of Orocovis. While it's not as popular or quite as strong as La Mina, it's still a pretty falls, and the natural pool is no less inviting. For me, the biggest drawback to this place is that it's right off the main road, which means you'll be visible to passing cars, people who park and stop to take pictures, and other passersby. It's also trickier to negotiate. However, there's a good chance that you may be the only person actually swimming in the falls if you go during the week.
I'd say that the more adventurous traveler would prefer Doña Juana. La Mina is ideal for anyone who wants to take a dip beneath a cool cascade of water on a warm tropical day.
This month is one of the best times all year to be in Puerto Rico. The Christmas season gets underway; Thanksgiving is a special time on the island, and if you've never had a lechón or a pavochón, this is the time to indulge! There's even a Thanksgiving tour to the sacred land of lechón (also known as Guavate).
Beyond the two main holidays, there's a ton of fun on the November calendar of events. Pro surfers and diva marathons, the Moscow Ballet and the NCAA, and even Yanni all pay a visit to the island to compete, have fun, and entertain. And if you needed any more incentive to be here, there are zombies too!!
Enjoy a busy, festive month as Puerto Rico gears up for Christmas and officially kicks off the high season.