The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort Chef Concierge Jossell Velazquez offers his suggestions for the best places to enjoy balmy summer days in Puerto Rico.
By Bria Balliet
Puerto Rico is a land of eternal warmth, but there are still some pursuits that can yield the most joy during the island’s true summer months. Chef Concierge Jossell Velazquez recommends activities that invite adventure and entice the senses, creating the ultimate summer experience in the beautiful Caribbean.
Many visitors arrive in Puerto Rico with a desire to take advantage of the remarkable natural surroundings. These one-of-a-kind destinations will astound even the most avid adventurer.
“One of my favorites is CUEVA VENTANA,” Velazquez says. “… [It’s] a perfect cave in the height of a limestone mountain, which offers a clear and picturesque view of the valley below.” Natural rock formations like stalactites and stalagmites along the 45-minute hike make this outdoor adventure a must; guided tours are offered daily. (787-322-3554; cuevaventanapr.com)
To enjoy the island’s lush greenery, Velazquez suggests visiting EL YUNQUE NATIONAL FOREST. A multitude of hikes throughout this rainforest will please both beginning and advanced hikers. “I exhort you to finish your excursion by [hiking] to La Mina Falls,” Velazquez says. “… [Then take] a quick swim in the refreshing waters.” (787-888-1880; fs.usda.gov)
In addition to scenic landscape, the Caribbean islands—and Puerto Rico, specifically—have a rich and storied history that will intrigue newcomers and frequent visitors alike.
Established to promote Puerto Rico’s cultural heritage, the INSTITUTE OF PUERTO RICAN CULTURE has preserved many historical buildings on the island and converted them into museums, with areas of interest that range from architecture to politicians and centuries-old fortresses. (787-724-0700; www.icp.gobierno.pr)
Art, history and fine dining come together at the MUSEUM OF ART OF PUERTO RICO. “It is one of the largest museums in the Caribbean and contains the largest art collections from the 17th century,” Velazquez says. After enjoying the lush gardens and artwork, indulge at chef Mario Pagan’s “nuevo Caribe” (new Caribbean) restaurant, Laurel. (787-977-6277; mapr.org)
It is no secret that one of the best ways to spend time in Puerto Rico is by enjoying authentic dishes that feature local produce at the area’s most impressive restaurants.
With a full assortment of starters, soups, salads and specialty dishes, Molasses at The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort is a premier destination for fresh, local cuisine. The restaurant, helmed by Executive Chef Rocio Varela, is known for its traditional fare with a creative twist. Velazquez encourages visitors to sample the tuna tartare with sweet plantain pieces. (787-809-8000; stregisbahiabeach.com)
Velazquez also recommends JOSE ENRIQUE, the eponymous restaurant run by one of the top 10 new chefs in the world, as named by Food & Wine magazine. Enrique returned to his hometown of Santurce, Puerto Rico, to open his restaurant after learning from culinary masters all over the globe. His familiarity with the region is reflected in the authentic Puerto Rican flavors of his dishes. (787-725-3518; joseenriquepr.com)
After dinner and dancing, some seek a cigar and drink to cap the night. “[There is] nothing like enjoying a nice ‘puro’ (cigar) with your favorite whiskey,” Velazquez says.
Puerto Rico has no shortage of premium cigar shops and Velazquez recommends the CIGAR HOUSE as a must-visit location for any cigar aficionado. “It features the largest selection of cigars in the Caribbean,” Velazquez says. “Make sure to stop and enjoy the incredible lounge, relax and enjoy an ample variety of world classics in an environment that is inviting and full of history.” (787-685-6512; thecigarhousepr.com)
Those seeking one of Puerto Rico’s original cigars may choose to make their way over to DON COLLINS CIGARS. “It is a true hidden gem, as it is the oldest cigar factory in the Caribbean,” Velazquez says. “Don Collins’ origins can be traced back to the Porto Rico Leaf Co. [as far back as] 1506.” (787-977-2983; don-collins.com)
Dare to Dance
For some of the best places to dance the night away in the famous salsa style, look no further than bustling San Juan.
After exploring this capital city, Velazquez recommends heading to the locals’ favorite dance club. “Finish your city experience at NUYORICAN CAFÉ where food, theater and music blend harmoniously,” he says. Live music and world-class dancers make for an unforgettable experience, whether visitors choose to observe or join in. (787-366-5074; nuyoricancafepr.com)
Another popular nightspot is LA PLACITA DE SANTURCE, which transforms from a friendly farmers market during the day into a lively dance venue on weekend nights. Wonderful restaurants surround the open-air center square, offering a dynamic ambience for enjoying an authentic Puerto Rican salsa experience. (placitasanturce.com)