uan Ponce de Leon, the red-haired Spanish noble who sailed with Chris Columbus on his second American voyage, famously sought after the Fountain of Youth. According to legend, Leon sailed west in search of the mythical artifact and arrived at a land he named Florida. Searching for eternal youth in West Palm Beach certainly has its ironies, but the explorer likely learned of the magical waters from indigenous Taino tribes on a gold-rich Caribbean island he previously colonized. Several nations fought to control Puerto Rico over the centuries, and the U.S. eventually succeeded in 1898. As a U.S. territory, the sun-soaked island offers travelers the chance to enjoy an international Latin-Caribbean experience without ever having to show a passport.
Most visitors hit a northern stretch of coastline that includes San Juan, Condado, Ocean Park and Isla Verde. Puerto Rico’s best beach, Flamenco, is on an island municipality named Culebra, but Condado and Isla Verde offer urban beaches against a high-rise backdrop, while Ocean Park is a bit quieter. Old San Juan has fewer beach options, but the capital city is the place that truly transports people to the past. The old city also hosts an annual street party called the San Sebastian Festival with costumes that recall the Carnivals of Recife and Olinda in Brazil. The decades-old festival, one of the largest in the Caribbean, takes place this month from January 15 to 18.
FUN FILLED FACTS:
The bays in Fajardo or Vieques Island are full of bioluminescent waters that emit a bluish-green glow when touched.
Highway PR-184 ascends into the rural mountains outside of San Juan where famous lechoneras like Los Pinos serve delicious pork dishes made from flame-roasted whole pigs.
The Arecibo Observatory, home to the world’s largest single-aperture radio telescope, made cameos in The X-Files, Contact, Species and in GoldenEye where James Bond’s adversary meets his end.
IF YOU GO:
The biotech company GB Sciences hosted the inaugural Medical Cannabis Conference in San Juan last November and may soon begin MMJ clinical trials with the University of Puerto Rico. Furthermore, both houses of local government appear in favor of legalizing MMJ, decriminalizing possession and exporting industrial hemp. Puerto Rican law is currently unkind to cannabis, but many expect MMJ legislation to pass soon, and law enforcement generally tolerates discreet use. Just do not be obvious or act belligerent if stopped.
Time to Go: December thru February