CARIBBEAN

VIVA LA VIDA!

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STORY AND PHOTOS  //  BY AIMEE COLON

As a world traveler with a personal connection to the island, I've had the pleasure of visiting Puerto Rico many times. But I have to admit that my most recent trip was a unique experience and perhaps the best time I've ever had there. The warmth and lively spirit of the people of this magical Caribbean paradise never cease to amaze me. The locals are eager to make you feel at home, and most of all they want you to have a good time. During this particular visit I was able to enjoy the company of two local friends, Juan Ortíz and his lovely wife Julia Flaquer Sanchez.


Puerto Rico is about 1,560 miles from New York City. It is easily accessible, with most airlines offering daily flights to the capital of San Juan, as well as to other larger cities in the island. With the American dollar as currency and with more than 90 percent of its population fluent in both English and Spanish, the island is a very attractive destination for North Americans. From the charming streets of its old quarter to the exclusive shopping of El Condado, San Juan has plenty to entice even the most demanding travel connoisseur.


The city also offers world class dining, and with so many restaurants catering to sophisticated palettes, there are plenty to choose from. You will find international restaurants, such as Chef Wilo Benet Pikayo, Budatai from Chef Roberto Treviño, well known in the culinary world for its rich Asian-Caribbean fusion, and Augusto's European fine dining to name just a few. But if you are looking for true, old fashioned, home-cooked Puerto Rican food, you must visit La Casita Blanca and especially El Rodaballo, which happens to be the favorite restaurant of my good friend Juan Ortiz.


I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of dishes and fresh seafood options available. But most of all this experience reminded me of what dining is really supposed to be about: enjoying a good meal among good friends and making new ones. This atmosphere comes directly from head chef and owner José Danielo Gonell. His staff members are always ready to answer your questions, and if you can't find what you want on their menu, he will be happy to prepare whatever it is you have in mind, from traditional seafood paellas to complex meat cuts cooked to perfection and prepared with fresh local ingredients. My favorites are the seafood salad and the restaurant's signature dish,  Rodaballo Con Salmorejo De Jueyes (turbot with crabmeat stew).

The next day my two friends and I headed to the East side of San Juan. After a short drive along the coastal highway we came to the beautiful Luquillo beach with its fine shimmering sand and tranquil water. After a few hours enjoying this pristine beach we found ourselves craving some of the delicious local seafood. At Luquillo beach you will find a strip of restaurants that vary from small kiosks to refined waterfront restaurants. We chose La Parrilla, an oceanfront restaurant that is a favorite of the locals due to its beautiful sunset views and extensive menu. The grilled stuffed lobster in glazed cheese sauce is one of the most popular dishes, but the grouper and other local fish are also in high demand.

As we continued our exploration of the northwestern part of the island my friends strongly recommended we visit the small village of El Rincón which in English means (the Corner), a small and charming fishing village well known for its world class scuba diving, surfing, snorkeling and clear sandy beaches. Domes Beach is probably the best spot to watch the many surfers that come from all over the world in search of the perfect wave. Its popularity has boomed since the 2007 ISA World Masters, which local surfer Juan Ashton won in the Masters division. The town has grown to be a popular touristic destination but it still remains a favorite of locals who travel from all over the island to enjoy everything that El Rincón has to offer.

There are many overnight accommodations available in the area, everything from luxury hotels such as The Horned Dorset Primavera, to smaller inns, beach resorts and small guest houses. For our stay, my good friend Juan and his wife had arranged for me to stay at the beautiful Rincón Beach Resort one of the locals' favorites because of its natural surroundings, beautiful sunsets, comfortable large suites and friendly staff that works very hard to make your stay as comfortable as possible.

INSIDER TIPS: 
When traveling to Puerto Rico, I suggest renting a car so that you can explore the island beyond San Juan. The city is fantastic and it has a lot to offer, but if you really want to experience the natural beauty of the island, head out of town and enjoy the adventure. From rainforest parks such as El Yunque to the white sandy beaches of El Rincón, and everything in between, Puerto Rico is the perfect destination for those seeking a Caribbean adventure not far from home.

EL RODABALLO
Avenida De Diego 400, 

Puerto Nuevo, San Juan 

P. 787.793.8118
www.marisqueriaelrodaballo.com


LA PARRILLA
Route 3, 
Luquillo, Puerto Rico
P. 787.889.0590
www.laparrillapr.com

RINCON BEACH RESORT
Road 115 KM 5.8,
Añasco, Puerto Rico 00610

P. 787.589.9000

www.rinconbeach.com

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