Now Is the Time to Return to Puerto Rico

Rediscover the island post-Maria.

By Terry Ward

More than six months after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is back open for business and pleasure, with cruise ships calling in regularly and some 100 daily flights operating from the island. If you go, stick to the capital, San Juan, and Isla Verde, an island just outside it; and within the capital, especially the adjacent neighborhoods of Old San Juan and Condado—these areas are in good shape and ready to welcome tourists.

True, travelers aren’t yet descending on Puerto Rico’s shores in pre-hurricane numbers, but that means there’s all the more space to roll out your beach towel. Plus, a visit can be both a vacation and a chance to help boost the local economy. Here’s where to head on the Isla del Encanto to be enchanted, once again.

Back to the Beach

Nature has a way of bouncing back. And most of the island’s beaches have reclaimed their beauty, especially those in and around San Juan. In the town of Loíza, east of the capital, La Posita de Piñones lures with a natural pool—a surrounding rock wall protects its calm, clear waters.

A beach favored by families awaits on the western end of Condado, close to the bridge to Old San Juan, where a fringing rock formation breaks approaching waves. On the shore at Condado Lagoon, within the Jaime Benitez National Park, San Juan Paddleboarding (San Juan, 787-503-5819; two-hour paddleboard rentals, $20) rents out kayaks and paddleboards for self-guided excursions, during which you may spot manatees and rays. Once you’re done with beach time, head to the casual and classy Cocina Abierta (58 Caribe St., San Juan; 787-946-1333), where chef Martin Louzao’s made-for-sharing menu might feature suckling pig confit or merguez-stuffed calamari.

On Isla Verde, laid-back Playa Alambique is popular with locals, who chill under beach umbrellas then hit Mist Rooftop Bar + Kitchen (2 Tartak St., Isla Verde, San Juan; 888-265-6699; brunch for two, $20*) for lounge beats and sea breezes. When it’s time for dinner, try Zest (2 Tartak St., Isla Verde, San Juan; 888-265-6699; dinner for two, $38*). The grilled red snapper with mofongo—a native dish made with plantains—is a taste of the Puerto Rican good life, distilled.

Return to Old San Juan

The cobbled streets of Old San Juan are as atmospheric as ever. Castillo San Felipe del Morro (Calle Norzagaray; 787-729-6960; adults, $5; children 15 and under, free)—a fort built by the Spanish in the 16th century—reopened in November, so visitors can once again take in sweeping views of San Juan Bay from the historic citadel.

If you want to explore Old San Juan’s restaurants, consider booking an excursion with Spoon Food Tours (787-598-6008; pricing varies by tour). “San Juan has a very creative food scene,” says Brooklyn-raised Paulina Salach Antonetti, who started the company in 2011 with her Puerto Rican husband, Gustavo. “There’s a big movement toward farm-to-table, and even more so after Maria. We want to support the farmers and fishermen on the island.”

You’re likely to end up in a few places you wouldn’t have found on your own. Three-hour walking tours include about six stops and are offered in both the mornings and the evenings. The company works with small independent restaurants, many of which are family businesses. Don’t be surprised if the owners are there to meet you. Guides often offer commentary on historical sites during the tour, so you’ll learn about more than just food.

You can easily explore the city’s food scene on your own, too, and there are more than 100 restaurants back open in Old San Juan alone. Start with T. Tuan Old San Juan (101 Top of Tetuan St.; 787-940-9185; dinner for two, $28), a post-Maria newbie that debuted this past January on a pedestrian-only street. There you can lounge on outdoor couches, sip a mojito, share plates of piña-colada shrimp or mahi-mahi sliders and watch the cruise ships roll in and out of the Bay of San Juan below.

Another fun spot is Casa Cortés ChocoBar (210 Calle San Francisco; 787-722-0499; cocktails for two, $12), the outpost of a family-run chocolate company begun during the Great Depression. You can try a chocolate martini or the house favorite: churros washed down with spicy Mexican-style hot chocolate. What could be better?

  • *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars. Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: April 2018