I went to Puerto Rico in May: the shoulder season, between the cruise ships and the hurricanes. The best time to go, even though I got drenched a couple of times and it was perishingly hot in the sun. Walk in the shade in the old town of San Juan, ducking into cafes or bars if it gets too hot, or treat yourself to a Piragua – a flavored snow cone. Stay out late, until the sun dips below the horizon and the music starts. And I’m not just talking of the human kind. I’m talking of frogs. Wander into the Plaza de Colón, near the dense shrubbery, and you will hear the seriously loud Coquí frog. Never failed to delight me!
If I start talking about everything I loved about Puerto Rico, I’ll never stop. So I’m just going to put a few pictures of the stuff that stood out for me.
Food is important! It’s an integral part of my worldbuilding when I write. And Puerto Rican food is fantastic. Lots of tasty root vegetables like plantain, yucca and cassava go into making the ubiquitous mofongo. Try the stuffed mofongos! The empanadas. The rice and beans. The fish. My favorite place to eat in old San Juan was El Hibarito, but there are lots of other great places to eat, not least the roadside stalls you’ll see if you drive through the countryside.
Built by the Spanish to guard against attacks by land and sea, Castillo San Cristóbal and El Morro provide fantastic views of the city and the ocean, as well as exhibits on San Juan’s past. The forts are well-preserved and beautiful; when you walk there, it is important to remember the bloody history of San Juan and the fate of the indigenous Taíno.
Home to the world’s largest single-aperture (and most sensitive radio) telescope, Arecibo is well worth a visit. It is an imposing sight – the main collecting dish is huge, constructed inside a natural sinkhole. The best part for me? Arecibo is the source of data for SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). The worst part? Funding has dried up and Arecibo might close. That would be terrible!
About an hour-and-a-half from San Juan is the famous Camuy River Cave Park. The limestone caves are carved out by the third-largest underground river in the world, the Río Camuy. You must see it! I couldn’t. And why? Because when I arrived, there was no electricity. We hung about for an hour, walking some trails, but no luck. So our wonderful guide took us instead to Cueva del Indio – Indian Cave. The way is treacherous, but the view is worthwhile.
But you know my favorite part? Driving through the countryside with green, smokestack-shaped hills on both sides. Stopping at roadside stalls for empanadas. Or cruising by the rugged coast on a Saturday, watching families picnic in little inlets. This, our guide told us, is the ‘real’ Puerto Rico. I believe him.