Get Out of Town Rio Camuy cave park: One of the world’s largest networks of caves and subterranean rivers lies just a one-and-a-half-hour drive west of San Juan. Here visitors can descend via tram into the enormous chamber of Clara Cave; 787-898-3100 for information. el yunque: Less than an hour from San Juan, the famous 28,000-acre rain forest is an eden of waterfalls, 100-foot trees, and lush hiking trails. To arrange for a guided tour, contact El Portal Tropical Forest Center at 787-888-1880.
Which Beach? singles: Head to Ocean Park Beach; Puerto Rico’s version of Rio is located between Condado and Isla Verde beaches in San Juan. families: Thirty miles east of San Juan, Luquillo Beach is home to soft sand and clear water. Food stalls line the palm-fringed, reef-shielded bay. swimming: A long, clean stretch of surf and sand awaits at Playa de Isabelle, next to Ponce, on the calmer south coast. surf & sail: Go west to the points around Rincón, a windsurfing haven and the site of previous world surfing championships.
Road Rules Puerto Rico honors U.S. driver’s licenses, and Auto Club affiliate Federación de Automovilismo de Puerto Rico recognizes AAA membership. Signs are in Spanish and distances are in kilometers. Plan to pay about $250 per week to rent a small Toyota from Hertz. For shorter distances in and around the congested streets of San Juan, moderately priced taxis, and cheap buses and minibuses (called ¿carros p¿blicos¿) are the way to go. Cab fares are set at $16 from the main airport to most places, including Old San Juan.
Today’s Specials Puerto Rican cuisine is a blend of Spanish, Mexican, African, American, and native Arawak and Taino influences. Shellfish, spicy stews, bacalaitos (cod fritters), and empanadillas (seafood- or meat-stuffed turnovers) are popular. So are collard greens and Galician broth. At Hotel El Convento, try El Picoteo, which specializes in tapas and ranks among Old San Juan’s top restaurants…. Open ’til midnight on weekends, The Parrot Club features blackened tuna in dark-rum sauce, Latino-style flank steak, and other creole creations…. In Condado, Ajili Mojili Restaurant is the place for mofongo con camarones (mashed plantain casserole with shrimp) and other traditional fare in a plantation-style setting…. Note: Blue Agave, mentioned in the story, has since closed.
Late-Night Salsa Besides the Nuyorican Café, where the island’s hottest Latin bands play, locals head to the hip Rumba bar in Old San Juan for live salsa and bomba…. Packed with well-heeled partyers, the Wyndham Hotel’s attractive nightclub, Babylon, is one of the city’s hoppin’ spots…. Catch great salsa and merengue bands on Friday and Saturday nights at the San Juan Chateau.
Room Key Options: A wide range of hotels, guest houses, B and Bs, and apartment villas. Spanish colonial-style boutique hotels dot Old San Juan; luxury resorts line the north-coast beach districts of Isla Verde and Condado, and more than 20 government-sponsored paradors pepper the island. What we liked: The Wyndham El San Juan Hotel & Casino, set on 15 acres fronting Isla Verde Beach, with rooms facing the ocean or the rain forest, two pools, eight restaurants, tennis courts, water sports, and easy access to Old San Juan ($350; 787-791-1000)…. In Condado, At Wind Chimes Inn is an attractive boutique hotel in a restored Spanish villa ($100; 787-727-4153, www.atwindchimesinn.com)…. The height of luxury in Old San Juan is the Hotel El Convento, featuring Spanish-deco rooms, a lovely open-air courtyard, and several excellent dining options in a recently converted 350-year-old former Carmelite convent ($250; 787-723-9020, www.elconvento. com)…. Hotel Milano is a moderately priced option in the historic district. Check out its rooftop beer garden ($125; 787-729-9050, www.hotelmilanopr.com).
Read All About It Insight Guide Puerto Rico (4th Edition, Apa Publications, 2003). Thorough and recently updated. Listening to Salsa: Gender, Latin Popular Music, and Puerto Rican Cultures, by Frances R. Aparicio (Wesleyan University Press, 1997). Everything about Puerto Rico’s main musical style. When I Was Puerto Rican, by Esmeralda Santiago (Vintage, 1994). A poignant account of a young woman’s early years in rural Puerto Rico and her adolescence in Brooklyn. A Taste of Puerto Rico: Traditional and New Dishes from the Puerto Rican Community, by Yvonne Ortiz (Plume, 1997). More than 200 recipes for traditional and contemporary local cuisine.
Sizzling CDs Ismael Miranda: Live from San Juan, Puerto Rico (Universal Latino, 2001) Willie Col¿n: El Malo (Fania, 2000) Fania All Stars: Greatest Hits (Fania, 2000) Assorted Artists: Putumayo Presents: Puerto Rico (Putumayo World Music, 2000) Eddie Palmieri: The Best of Eddie Palmieri (Snapper, 2001) William Cepeda: My Roots & Beyond (Lightyear, 1999)