By Max Milano
Nightlife in San Juan (Puerto Rico) is legendary, and we are happy to report that it is currently going through an upswing. Both colonial Old San Juan and the Miamiesque Condado district are currently full of great new bars and lounges where you can sip Mojitos and Daiquiris until the sun comes out. In fact this is one of the few seasons when both Old San Juan and Condado are happening at the same time. Check out El Barril, Condado’s trendy new lounge and the recently remodeled lobby lounge at La Concha hotel. Condado is Puerto Rico’s answer to Miami Beach, complete with Art Deco beach front condos, casinos and a strip of bars and restaurants offering everything from Nuevo Latino cuisine to Asian finger food.
Puerto Rico’s Wild Coasts
My favorite Puerto Rico strategy is to spend Friday through Sunday in San Juan, soaking up the nightlife and getting kicked out of bars at closing time (around 7am), but come Monday, I like to leave San Juan’s skyscrapers behind and head either east or west to Puerto Rico’s wild coasts. A short 45 minute drive from San Juan is the town of Fajardo; this is where the ferry for Vieques departs. Vieques is Puerto Rico’s island paradise (a small island off the coast of the main island). A quirk of history kept Vieques off the tourist map for decades, so as San Juan developed beach front condos and hotels, Vieques stayed as pristine as when Columbus first sailed these Caribbean waters. Vieque’s present state of semi preservation comes courtesy of the US Navy, who used the island for target practice for over 60 years. The navy left in 2003, opening the formerly closed eastern and western sides of the island for tourism. Fortunately the island remains largely undeveloped, with miles of empty beaches. A typical day in Vieques starts with a ride down a dirt road to your favorite hidden cove. The waters are electric blue and you will be forgiven if you feel you’ve just landed in the south Pacific. At dusk, ask a local fisherman for a ride into Vieque’s world famous Mosquito Bay, where tiny microorganisms light the dark waters with bright bioluminescence. You can stay at the brand new W Vieques resort or try one of the cozy posadas that dot the island.
The beach town of Rincon on Puerto Rico’s west coast is the hottest surfing spot on the island. Miles of beaches and bars face world class waves and glorious sunsets. Hollywood celebrities frequently drop in (local boys Benicio del Toro and Ricky Martin are said to be regulars). Hardcore hipsters avoid San Juan altogether and head straight for Rincon from the airport. Have a drink or two at Tamboo Tavern, voted one the best beach bar in the world by Esquire magazine.
On the way back to San Juan from Rincon make a pit stop at the Camuy Caves, these amazing cathedral like caves were carved by underground rivers over millennia and now offer spectacular rock formations dripping with exotic vegetation. The sheer size of the caves makes you wonder about the amazing power of nature to carve rock into artistic shapes.
* Max Milano is the Author of “The Mechanicals of Recoleta”Available at Amazon.