Sophisticated San Juan

By Hannah Wallace November 30, 2008

Nearby and yet a world away, Puerto Rico is a verdant, prosperous and sophisticated island where five centuries of history and tradition are alive and well. Add to that a thriving contemporary art, fashion and dining scene, lively music and nightlife, and it’s the perfect getaway for adventures old…and new. (

SEE: Beaches and casinos abound, but for spirit of place lively Old San Juan can’t be beat. Its cobbled pastel streets and colonial architecture are a master class in post-Columbian (that’s Christopher) history. The El Morro fortress is a must-visit, as are two key museums: the Museo des las Americas and Museo de Nuestra Raiz Africana.

STAY: A destination in itself, the El San Juan Hotel & Casino has been the hot spot since its 1958 opening. A new $52 million renovation has brought the hotel, with its glorious beach, sizzling nightlife and famed casino, into the 21st century with modern dash and Old World glamour.

DINE: Grab a coveted table at Dragonfly for top-notch Asian-Latin fusion cuisine, make the lunch scene at the atmospheric Patio del Nispero, set in a 350-year-old convent, and revel in a traditional breakfast at La Bombonera. Upscale dining at its contemporary best can be found at Pikayo, in the San Juan Museum of Art.

SHOP: Head to Old San Juan, where competitive jewelry stores sell upscale baubles for 25 percent less than in the U.S. Indulge in local crafts at La Calle, where handmade hammocks are a true bargain, and the Saturday craft market at Plaza de Hostos. Fashionistas head straight to Lisa Cappalli for the latest in young Puerto Rican and New York designers.


NSIDER’S TIP: Music is the Puerto Rican lifeblood. Salsa, merengue, reggaeton and hip-hop are everywhere. If your hips don’t start to swivel after a few seconds at the Nuyorican Café, The Parrot Club or Rumba, then you don’t have a pulse.
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