Local Insights

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Discover new delights this fall with island activities favored by The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort Chef Concierge Jossell Velazquez.

By Ashley Schaefer

1. Jossell Velazquez
Jossell Velazquez, chef concierge at The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort

Autumn in Puerto Rico brings a renewed sense of adventure, holiday festivities and island-inspired art and decor worth cherishing. For an experience unlike any other, The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort concierge team recommends the best ways to indulge the senses this season.

Day Trip Delights

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Toro Negro Rainforest is in the mountainous Cordillera Central area.

The wonders of Puerto Rico are as limitless as they are varied, and each city offers an adventure all its own. Visitors are encouraged to begin their exploration in style, whether traveling by land, air or sea. Escape across the Atlantic to two of Puerto Rico’s acclaimed pieces of paradise: the islands of Vieques and Culebra, east of Puerto Rico.

Velazquez recommends that travelers head to these lesser-known islands, accessible through myriad modes of transportation, from a water taxi jaunt to the government-run ferry and even a speedy airplane ride. “Culebra Island’s Flamenco Beach has been credited and recognized by National Geographic as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world,” Velazquez says. “Vieques does offer some pristine, crystal clear beaches, but the main attraction is Mosquito Bay, a natural preserve that is a gift to the world due to the microscopic plankton that glow in the night, providing a live light water show.”

While in Vieques, Velazquez suggests contacting VIEQUES ISLAND TOURS AND TRANSPORTATION for a customized, private experience brimming with local hidden treasures and memories to last a lifetime. (787-397-2048)
If you prefer to see the sights by air, a picturesque helicopter excursion with VERTICAL SOLUTIONS offers an ideal experience. Velazquez encourages visitors to tailor their tour to jet across the greater San Juan area, the mountainous Cordillera Central or even the famous Arecibo Observatory, which hosts the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope. Each trip is personalized to venture to whatever island vista the visitor desires. (verticalsolutionspr.com)

A Caribbean Thanksgiving

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“Arroz con dulce,” or sweet rice pudding, is a traditional treat served at Christmas meals in Puerto Rico.

The holidays in Puerto Rico are always exceptional and those lucky enough to be visiting the island during Thanksgiving will be more than thankful for the experience.

“Thanksgiving marks the beginning of our holiday season, one period that unifies the entire island as one single entity and soul, with local dishes that have graced our tables for centuries,” Velazquez says.

The bold mix of flavors from Spanish, African and Taíno Indian influences have marinated with traditional Thanksgiving dishes to produce a variety of distinctive tastes. Dine on delicacies such as “pavochón” (a traditional turkey cooked with special spices), “arroz con dulce” (coconut rice pudding) and “pasteles” (a Puerto Rican-style tamale wrapped in banana leaves). Locals say that no holiday meal is complete without some form of pork gracing the table, so “pernil” (tender, seasoned pork loin) is also a favorite menu item during the holiday season.

To try a traditional feast of the islands this Thanksgiving season, visit one of the local bakeries, serving up only the most authentic of Puerto Rican holiday dishes. Velazquez suggests visiting PANADERÍA ESPAÑA in Isla Verde. “Please make sure to try the fabada soup,” he adds. (787-727-0528; panaderiaespanapr.com)

“[Also], KASALTA BAKERY in Condado offers an incredible variety of sandwiches, including ‘tripletas’ (three-meat sandwiches loaded with a local sauce), and LA CEIBA in Puerto Nuevo offers a variety of local desserts such as ‘flan,’ local Puerto Rican custard.” (Kasalta Bakery: 787-727-7340; kasalta.com) (La Ceiba: 787-782-0419; laceibapr.com)

Artfully Done

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Plaza Las Americas offers many shops, including Habitat for home decor.

The culture, scenery and vistas of Puerto Rico have inspired many local artists and artisans. Take an exceptional piece of paradise home with you to conjure up memories of your stay for years to come. Simply stroll the shops of Old San Juan for an abundance of one-of-a-kind finds.

Meander along the streets or head directly down Calle De La Cruz to one of Velazquez’s favorites, THE BUTTERFLY PEOPLE, where art isn’t made from paint or charcoal, but from the natural beauty of real butterflies clustered together to create an awe-inspiring synergy of color. The family-owned business makes it easy for guests to ship home an installation of their choosing for a magnificent statement piece as precious as its components. (787-723-2432; butterflypeople.com)

For art-inspired home decor, design and accessories, shop like a local and visit a Habitat store at one of two locations inside the expansive Plaza Las Americas shopping mall. Clean, modern lines and an earthy, natural vibe fill the space with colors in every shade of the rainbow. Take your pick of everything from scent infusers to handmade rugs and throw pillows. (787-767-0444; plazalasamericas.com)

Velazquez also encourages guests to enjoy the breathtaking artwork found in and around THE ST. REGIS BAHIA BEACH RESORT. In the main Plantation House, view the works of local artists on hand and select a spectacular sculpture or painting to remind you of the island after your stay. (787-809-8000; stregisbahiabeach.com) B