La Isla del Encanto....Borinken...Puerto Rico. Cafe Con Leche's homeland. Boricuas love our little island in the Greater Antilles.
Puerto Rican culture and identity are a mix of 1) The Taino Indians, who lived for thousands of years on the island they called Borinken and called themselves Boricuas 2) African people who were stolen and brought to Puerto Rico to be slaves and provided the bedrock for so much of Puerto Rico's people, food, music and language 3) A mix of European and Middle Eastern people who came in various waves over the centuries.
Recently much of the news coming of our Puerto Rico has not been so positive. With a long legacy of colonialism, first by Spain and then by the United States, the island has a heavy lift ahead to get out of debt and rebuild itself economically. Due to the 1917 Jones Act, Puerto Rico is not able to negotiate its own trade agreements. All goods coming to and from the island must be on American ships, which increasing the cost of everything. Some economic silver linings have been the tax breaks to big manufacturing companies - first clothing (think the pre-curser to NAFTA) and then Pharmaceuticals (among others). But with an unemployment rate that has been well above 10% for over 10 years, people have been moving from the island, seeking work in the mainland United States. Needless to say, this breaks our heart.
Tourism remains one of the strongest, consistent, supports to small businesses and jobs on the island. Puerto Rico is an easy trip from the mainland United States, it requires no passport for US citizens and uses the American dollar as currency. The island is only 35 by 100 miles, yet has an incredible geographic diversity - from a rain forest to a sprawling metropolis, colonial towns with original Spanish architecture, beautiful lush mountain towns, beaches for miles and a dry forest reserve. Beach lovers, city lovers and those who want to hike for miles will all find infinite amount of things to do. Hop in a car and start exploring. You can support local businesses by following #BrandsOfPuertoRico, #TheGoodLifePR and #LaMafiaPR on Instagram for information on places to go.
In an ode to our homeland, here are Cafe Con Leche's 10 Favorite things in Puerto Rico.
- San Juan - Old San Juan is classic. You have to walk the cobble stone streets during the day and night. Feed the pigeons at Parque de Las Palomas and learn the legends of the Capilla de Cristo. Santurce, a barrio of San Juan, is one of the most densely populated places on the island. It is known for large street murals and public art. Spend an afternoon in La Placita de Santurce sipping on a Medalla Light and buying fresh fruit all while listening to live music. Piñones is located a little bit outside San Juan is a strip of restaurants selling Puerto Rican cuchifritos across from the ocean. It's probably best to take a car there. After eating a snack, you can drive all the way down to the town of Loiza, where Salsero Ismeal Rivera and Rappero Tego Calderon are from. As you enter the town of Loiza, to the right of the bridge (if you are coming from Piñones) is a lady who sells fresh dulce de coco (coconut candy). It's the best dulce de coco on the island.
Lago dos Bocas - Located in the center of the island in a mountain town called Utuado, is a lake called Lago dos Bocas (Lake of Two Mouths). Follow signs down to a parking lot, where you can park and get on a boat. The boat takes you to a restaurant located on a cliff above the lake. This makes for an excellent day trip. Note: Restaurants are open on the weekends, call before you go.
Cabo Rojo - Located in the Southwest of the island, Cabo Rojo has some of the most amazing beaches, national parks and beautiful views for days. El Faro de Cabo Rojo is located on a limestone cliffs overlooking the Caribbean sea. The cliffs will make you think you are at the end of the world. The iguanas will remind you that you are on a tropical island. We love staying in Boqueron, a small town with a beautiful beach and a festive feel.
The Mountain Towns -The mountains of Puerto Rico are lush and romantic, with tall bamboo and deep valleys. Interspersed between these mountains are little towns and coffee fincas (farms), each town is built around a central plaza with a church. The central plaza is unique to each town's own history and personality. Our favorite mountain towns are Barranquitas and Jayuya.
Guanica - Drier than the rest of the island, the geography includes a dry forest reserve, bioluminescent bay and the most beautiful beaches. La Bodega Andreu Sole is a tucked away vineyard tucked away along the coast. Visiting this place will make you forget all your worries. Delicious Spanish tapas made from local ingredients, wine and liquors made from tropical fruit. A great place for all ages, opened Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons, we recommend calling ahead for a reservation. Come here to sit by the bay and enjoy some good libations.
La Casa de Pastelillo - Otherwise known as empanadas, pastellilos are a type of Puerto Rican cuchifritos. La Casa de Pastellilo is in the southeast town called Guayama; they make gigantic ones stuff with just about anything you can think of. It's located right on the most amazing beach with hammocks. The perfect place to eat dinner and watch the sun set. Along the road to Guayama you can also find fresh cocos frios (cold coconuts) to drink.
La Planta Waterfalls - While driving along the highway to Arecibo you can stop off for a quick dip in these beautiful waterfalls that used to be apart of a former hydroelectric plant. Bring some sandwiches and make a picnic out of it. You can also hike around the falls to get to a second set of falls, but it's not a hike for the faint of heart.
Las Ruinas - An old Spanish lighthouse built in 1889, officially named Borinquen Point Lighthouse. It was partially destroyed in an earthquake in 1918 and abandoned. Visiting it is like taking a step back in time. From Aguadilla, take Route 107 north. You need to drive across a golf course to get there. While you are visiting Aguadilla, you can have lunch at Crashboat, a beautiful beach with blue waters and local food vendors.
Las Parrandas - Puerto Rico has the longest Christmas season in all of Latin America. It starts on Christmas Eve, Noche Buena, and goes until Three Kings Day, Dia De Los Reyes, on January 6th. During the holidays keep your eye out for Parrandas. Parrandas are sort of like Christmas carolers, going from place to place with live music singing Puerto Rican Christmas music called Aguinaldos.
- The Tibes Indian Ceremonial Center - The original citizens of Puerto Rico were the Tainos. The Tibes Indian Ceremonial Center (Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes, in Spanish), located just outside Ponce in the south-west of Puerto Rico, is the most important archaeological site in the Caribbean. The center offers some really nice information and examples of the Igneri, pre-Taíno and Taíno cultures of ancient Puerto Rico. For more information on visiting Tibes click here.