This guide to Old San Juan, Loiza, and Caguas is the perfect mix of history, culture, and relaxation.
Puerto Rico is an island full of history and culture, known for its beautiful beaches, natural wonders, and cities. The Island comprises seven different regions with 78 municipalities, each with a distinct identity that offers something for everyone. Since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, there's no passport needed to travel to the Island. Accessibility to the Island is easy with direct flights from U.S. cities like New York, Charlotte, Dallas, and Atlanta.
Foodies can enjoy the island's distinctive cuisine, which combines Spanish, African, and Caribbean influences. Adventurous spirits will love exploring nature, from the treasured El Yunque National Forest (the only rainforest in the U.S. National Forest Service) to spending time taking a dance class on one of the island's incredible beaches. Lovers of architecture can enjoy landmarks that are part of the over 500-year history of Puerto Rico including fortresses, cathedrals, lighthouses, and more.
To satisfy your thirst for knowledge, culture, and connection, we've created a roundup of some of the best places to explore in Old San Juan, Loiza, and Caguas.
Old San Juan
For the history buff, you can spend time exploring El Morro Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site representative of Puerto Rico's legacy and a 500-year history. The oldest house in Puerto Rico, Casa Blanca, built in 1533, is also located in this area. This area is full of history, but if you're looking for something more modern, you can find plenty there as well: Old San Juan hosts several great museums and art galleries that showcase local artists' work. The Museo de las Américas, located inside the Cuartel de Ballajá, once served as the military's barracks during Spanish colonial times. This museum offers three permanent collections as well as temporary exhibitions; all reflect the conservation and awareness of the cultural heritage of Puerto Rico and the Americas. The museum's permanent exhibitions are Folk Arts in the Americas, Our African Heritage, and Conquest and Colonization.
For the foodies, Puerto Rico is sure to delight your taste buds with flavor. Don't miss out on the opportunity to try some Island staples such as mofongo, tostones, pasteles, arroz con gandules, tembleque and coquito. To truly eat like a local, why not try the art of chinchorrear, aka restaurant-hopping, to enjoy different dishes and beverages. Looking for a more curated experience? Book a food tour in Old San Juan to find some of the best of small, independently owned establishments that use local, sustainably-sourced ingredients. Check out SPOON, a culinary and cultural tourism company that provides experiences that delight the senses; offering guests delicious delights of local flavor that reflect the destination.
If you're a rum enthusiast, the Casa Bacardi is a must-see attraction. It's the oldest rum distillery in the world and offers tours that take visitors through its history, tasting room, and processing facilities. Located in Old San Juan, it is easy to spend an afternoon touring this historic landmark.
A short drive from Old San Juan is the town of Loíza. What is special about Loíza is its rich African heritage. The town was settled in the 1500s by members of the Yoruba tribe that were brought to the Island as enslaved people. Loíza has the largest Black population in Puerto Rico and the music, dance, culinary traditions, and art are reflective of the African influence.
If you're an art fan, you can schedule a tour to visit the Samuel Lind Studio in Loíza. Lind, a lifelong Loíza resident, is a master in the arts of painting and sculpture and his work reflects the Island's African influences, along with cultural and environmental preservation. The tour is led by Lind himself as he opens his home and studio to share his art and the stories behind his work.
For dance lovers, step up and feel the beat of the Afro-Caribbean rhythms that are an integral part of the Island. One of the most palpable demonstrations of heritage and traditions is the bomba. This traditional Puerto Rican dance displays the pride of Puerto Rico's African heritage in the form of a vibrant folkloric performance. The dance originally served as a form of expression for the oppressed, both the lyrics and movements come from a deep feeling of anger and sadness the performer felt. Many locations offer a night of dancing where you can enjoy the sounds of Puerto Rican bomba and plena. You can get a bomba lesson on the beach with Sheila Osorio of Taller Nzambi or take a class at the Don Rafael Cepeda School of Bomba and Plena.
Geographically located in the heart of Puerto Rico, Caguas represents all that's authentically 'Criollo,' or the blend of three ethnic roots: Taíno, Spanish and African.
The city has developed the Ruta del Corazón Criollo, to allow visitors to experience the historic and cultural exhibitions over a series of twelve stops. There is a helpful and clever system of street signs or markers embedded in the sidewalk to guide you to the City's eight museums, public art expositions, arts and crafts galleries, monuments, and historical sites. Be sure to cool off and enjoy a treat like Puerto Rican coffee, piña coladas, or fruit frappes from the nearby Santiago R. Palmer Recreational Plaza.
Worthy of a closer look is the African Heritage Monument. At the entrance of the city of Caguas is a monument named "Ritmo" consisting of three bronze sculptures: two bomba dancers and a gigantic musician who plays the drum. The monument created by David Aponte honors African culture in Puerto Rico. It is complemented by a mural that honors 25 Puerto Rican personalities of African descent. The mural named "Negros con Alas" by the artists Celso González and Roberto Biaggi is a tribute to those who have made an impact on Puerto Rican history.
A must visit is the Caguas Botanical and Cultural Center William Miranda Marín. The 22-acre botanical garden contains over 2,000 species of tropical plants. The Garden offers guided tours, paddle boat rental, an Orchid Garden and more. One of the highlights is a large-scale, 16-foot bronze statue designed by Samuel Lind. The sculpture depicts the Yoruba deity Osain, the god of wild plants, herbs and healing.
These are just some of the many options for your next trip to Puerto Rico! Whether you want to explore historic sites, get away from it all on an island off-the-beaten-path, or just spend some time in nature, there's something for everyone on the Island.