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72 Hours in San Juan

72 Hours in San Juan

Many Americans overlook Puerto Rico because they fall under the [incorrect] impression that it’s like other U.S. states. You may not need a passport to get there, and you may be able to use your standard U.S. currency, but that’s about where the familiarity ends. Puerto Rico is exotic as they come, with incredible food, picturesque beaches, beautiful Spanish colonial architecture, and more culture than you can shake a stick at.

We traveled there courtesy of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company so we could check out the MLB Puerto Rico Series games between the Minnesota Twins and the Cleveland Indians. It was a short trip but a memorable one.

Here’s how we spent our 72 hours:

Day 1

Check into Serafina Beach Hotel

Puerto Rico seems like a pretty tiny island, but it’s about three hours by car from the West Coast to the East Coast. Our base camp for the three quick days we were there was the Serafina Beach Hotel, located in Condado, a quick hop, skip, and jump away from the fun of San Juan.

Condado is one of the more popular places visitors stay when visiting the San Juan area. Serafina Beach Hotel is noteworthy because it’s a brand new property in the neighborhood. In fact, at the time of our visit, it had been open less than a month. It’s a beautiful beachfront resort with an excellent restaurant, an outdoor seating area and bar, and even a heated infinity pool—which we definitely took advantage of during our stay.

Grab Rum and Cigars (And Other Essentials, We Guess…)

While a booze run wouldn’t ordinarily be something we’d prioritize too heavily on a trip anywhere, the rules are a little different in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is a rum island. There are over 100 individual brands of Puerto Rican rum on the island, and while some are better than others, when we asked locals what they drank, nine times out of ten, they said one brand, and one brand only: Ron del Barrilito. So, we grabbed a bottle.

Second on the list were cigars. We love cigars. You know we love cigars. What you may not know—because the conversation is usually reserved for countries like Nicaragua, Cuba, and Honduras—is that Puerto Rico is home to some excellent hand-rolled cigars. There are some exceptional cigar lounges out there, too, including Don Collins in San Juan and the Avo Lounge in Condado, but we got ours from a little shop recommended to us by the locals. The cigar culture in Puerto Rico is very rich, and everyone was considerably helpful in helping us get sorted out.

Dinner at Cocina Abierta

One thing you absolutely must embrace about Puerto Rico is their rich food culture. We nearly fall into a food coma just thinking about our favorite Puerto Rican foods, like bacalaíto, pernil, lechon, pasteles, mofongo, and all the other delicious, mouth-watering delicacies. Cocina Abierta, a local favorite in Condado, offers an interesting mix of local cuisine that borrows culinary ideas and styles from other cultures and places around the world. Think menu items like sweet plantain carpaccio, pineapple and purple corn glazed duck, and suckling pig confit, mixed with other items like salmon wellington, root vegetable soup, and tuna and watermelon ceviche. It was awesome, and less than a ten-minute walk from our hotel. If you’re going to be calling Candido home during your stay, you’d be remiss not to include Cocina Abierta.

Day 2

Casa Bacardi Distillery Tour

We mentioned before that Puerto Rico is a huge rum destination, and no trip is complete without a visit of the Bacardi rum distillery, located in Old San Juan. The largest premium rum distillery in the entire world, the guided tour takes guests through several areas of the massive property, including the main building, famous outdoor Bat Bar Pavilion, and one of the distillery’s cask maturation warehouses. We think the Mixology Tour is the coolest option because it includes all of the above, as well as an amateur mixology class, where we learned how to mix up (and consume) three classic cocktails: The margarita, mojito, and Cuba libré. The place is bafflingly large.

A Big Lunch At a Local Favorite

We followed up our cocktails with some lunch at one of the local hole-in-the-wall spots called Don Tello for some classic cuisine: Mofungo, carne frita, arroz con habichuelas guisadas, bacalaitos, etc., and washed them down with a couple cold beers. Don Tello was delicious, but it’s also important to note that there are so many good restaurants in Puerto Rico. Trying to get some pernil with rice and beans is easier than trying to get a bucket of water from the ocean. Everyone out there does the traditional favorites well, so you can go into any little spot and probably walk out with a belly full of inexpensive, delicious local food. Oh, and speaking of beer, the cheap local beer is Medalla Light, which can be found everywhere—literally everywhere.

Puerto Rico Series Baseball Game at Estadio Hiram Bithorn

Minnesota Twins Vs. Cleveland Indians

The finale for day two was our whole reason for coming out to Puerto Rico, and Major League Baseball definitely didn’t disappoint. Both games of the Puerto Rico Series, featuring the Minnesota Twins vs. the Cleveland Indians, sold out a couple months in advance. Aside from baseball being the largest sport on the island and a cultural rite of passage for all Puerto Ricans to partake in, these two games were particularly important because it was one of the first times since Hurricane Maria hit the island last September that people were all coming together to celebrate a single event.

Not to get too emotional, but the energy in that stadium was nothing short of electric. Everybody was smiling and having a great time, and in the last inning, the crowd, excited simply to be out celebrating together, rounded out the night with clapping, cheering, and stadium-wide chants of “Mas Cervezas!” (“More Beers!”). We’re told the games brought in over $17 million for Puerto Rico, which we’re very proud to have been a part of. If ever you find yourself in Puerto Rico, check the roster at Hiram Bithorn stadium and see if anyone’s playing. It’s worth every penny for the experience (And the cervezas are comparably cheap to anything we’re used to at baseball games back home).

Day 3

Morning Beach Walk

It’s weird, if a little selfish-sounding to say, but in between all this fun, we wanted to have just a little time to ourselves to relax and take in some of the beautiful terrain of Puerto Rico. So, that’s what we did. We woke up at 6 in the morning, sent some emails, did a little work, and then took off for the beach. Our hotel linked up directly with the shore right next to La Ventana al Mar Park, right next to Atlantic Beach. While it wasn’t ideal for swimming, it was perfect for an early morning stroll. Of course, there are a ton of good beaches in Puerto Rico. They’re all beautiful, and you’ll find different beaches cater to different types of activities. Some are perfect for lounging around because the surf is too rough, while others are ideal for fishing, and still others are perfect for surfers and swimmers. 

Jet Skiing

We spent the afternoon on the water, jet skiing around San Juan and Condado. Now, we’re not big on the typical kitschy, touristy types of activists, but jet skiing in Puerto Rico is a whole different type of experience. We went on a guided jet ski tour with a local rental company up and down the coast of San Juan. We rolled through one of the corners of the Bermuda Triangle (Spoiler alert: We didn’t disappear), cruised up to the famous 16th Century citadel that guards Puerto Rico’s northern tip, El Moro Fortress, and got to check out the Bacardi Distillery from the water. It was an adventure activity for history nerds, which is basically what we live for.

Dinner and Drinks in La Placita

La Placita de Santurce literally translates to “The small plaza of Santurce,” and that’s exactly what it is. During the day, it’s a quaint little Puerto Rican market, complete with stray cats, the smell of burning tobacco in the air, and every kind of produce you can imagine. But at night, the streets come alive with people dancing and playing music. The bars open up into the streets and you’ll hear the local drunks singing karaoke or sitting down and laughing and talking with each other. We only had the chance to check it out at night, but we loved it. We had dinner at a local lechon spot (lechon is roasted suckling pig, and not only is it unbelievably good, it’s also one of the island’s most beloved cultural cuisines), and ate outside while a one-man-band plucked away on a guitar and sang Puerto Rican classics across the street.

Bar Hopping Around Old San Juan

After finishing up dinner, we straightened ourselves up, caught an 8-dollar taxi to Old San Juan, and took a local tour of the area’s renowned bar scene. Even though the whole neighborhood is seven square blocks (something like 2.5 square miles), there are awesome bars everywhere. Some of our favorites included La Factoria, which was ranked one of the 50 best bars in the entire world, along with El Batey, and La Taberna Lúpulo, all of which are a short walk from one another. The other thing we love about Puerto Rico is that it’s not uncommon for bars to stay open until some ungodly hour. Even though a bar says they close at 4 a.m., you could very well be there until sunrise—and we were.