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Visiting Puerto Rico? Here's What To Do, Where To Stay & What To Eat

Here is where I stayed, ate, shopped, danced, and learned in San Juan.

Travel

Puerto Rico has been at the top of my list of places to visit over the last couple of years — mainly because I wanted to support the US Territory, post-hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico has been in the news because of their protest of Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who was caught sending hundreds of pages of sexist, homophobic, inhumane messages including texts joking about the many citizens who lost their lives during Hurricane Maria. As of today, the Governor has finally resigned effective August 2nd.

When I visited Puerto Rico, I could feel the pride and resilience of the people, and their successful twelve-day protest proves it. Though more than 76% of Puerto Rican's identified as white, Puerto Rico is mixed and has African roots. In fact, one of its most popular dishes, Mofongo, is a green plantain mash that is served topped with a protein like chicken or seafood, which is derived from the West and Central African, fufu. To learn more about this history, you'll want to stop in Piñones in Loiza and take a tour with Derek. Loíza was where African slaves (of Yoruba descent) were forced to live and work by the Spanish colonizers during the slave trade.

Since Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has made major strides and is ready and opening their arms to tourists to experience their sunshine-filled, cultural mecca.

Here is where I stayed, ate, shopped, danced, and learned in San Juan:

Where To Stay:

Casa Los Cummins

I can thank Hotel Tonight for introducing me to this eight-bedroom B&B run by fashion designer turned home designer, Lucy Cummins. The bright decor and home-like energy of the space were two of my favorite things about staying there — not to mention the location is close to most everything you'll want to see in San Juan. Casa Los Cummins also offers a complimentary breakfast with cereal, eggs, toast, and coffee (or tea).

The Dreamcatcher

Settled in Ocean Park, the nine-room, three-suite hotel is an ideal getaway for true rest and relaxation. I stayed at the The Dreamcatcher for three days in their Sanctuary room which included private outdoor facilities decked out with an outdoor shower. The property offered daily beachside yoga and meditation classes along with breakfast and brunch serving up vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options to its guests. What I loved even more about the property is that the beach is in our backyard within a two-minute walk from the hotel.

Caribe Hilton

The Caribe Hilton has been a San Juan staple for seventy years and has just reopened its doors after a multi-million dollar restoration initiative. With six oceanfront view pools, a private beach, and a swim-up bar — you won't have to leave the property for beach days.

Where To Eat:

Bebo's Cafe

Bebo's was recommended to me by a Puerto Rican native. If you get a chance to stop by, tell Eduardo I sent you and don't forget to have the crab Mofongo with a side of sangria.

Birria & Empanadas

Located in Old San Juan, the small bar serves cocktails with empanadas you won't want to pass up. I suggest the chorizo or chicken.

Casita Miramar

Casita Miramar was one of my best dining experiences in San Juan. The service was excellent. My whole snapper and seasonal rose apple mojito were my perfect last meal before departing the island.

Double Cake

Double Cake was another option recommended to me by a local. Double Cake is one of many woman-owned businesses in the walkable Calle Loiza in Santurce. Coffee- and sweets- lovers alike will get their fix. The bakery is known for its assortment of cupcakes, but I went for the pecan layered cake. I think it was the southern gal in me that made me go for that choice.

El Nie Bar

Okay, this isn't quite a restaurant as it is more like a dive bar, but the spicy salmon empanadas were so tasty I would take a special trip back to the island to have a bite of one.

Hecho En Casa

Steak mofongo with a side of cabbage and a mojito

Sheriden Chanel/xoNecole

Located in Old San Juan, this restaurant with its open windows and inviting staff touts offering a traditional approach to Puerto Rican cuisine. The island's staple mofongo is served here but in an open-faced take that is reminiscent of a pot pie and oh-so-delicious. They also have my favorite mojito of all time. And you can't leave without a shot of Gran Anejo rum, which if you didn't know is THE Puerto Rican rum (fun fact: Bacardi rum is actually Cuban despite having a distillery there). It hits different when you're actually in San Juan, trust.

What To Do: 

El Yunque National Forest

You can't go to Puerto Rico without visiting one of its most regarded natural treasures, the El Yunque National Forest. While Puerto Rico is known for its beautiful beaches and water activities, El Yunque deserves just as much love. The tropical rainforest expands to about 29,000 acres and its vast beauty can be uncovered either alone or one of many excursions the island has to offer.

La Placita

This famed nightlife spot has been around for over 100 years and is the Thursday night hangout for people to let their inhibitions go and dance the night away. Imagine a block party times one thousand. La Placita made my trip to Puerto Rico one I'll never forget. I danced to music I knew from my hometown (The Migos and Lil Nas X were on blast) and shook my hips to Reggaeton classics and new additions from Puerto Rico's own Bad Bunny. Even though there were thousands of people bouncing from club to club (I don't like crowds), I never felt unsafe.

Esquina El Watusi

El Watusi

This is a local hangout where people spill out into the street with their Medalla Light, talk with their friends, and salsa dance the night away with live music as their soundtrack.

La Factoria

La Factoria is the Saturday night hotspot, and since my flight was out at 6 pm that day, I missed experiencing it firsthand. The nightlife spot has nearly a five-star rating on Yelp and lives up to what co-founder Roberto Berdecia hoped for, "We intended to create a space that will help elevate the Puerto Rican cocktail industry and take it to another level so that the country would gain worldwide recognition." If you're a whiskey drinker, the spiced old fashion seems to be a universal crowd-pleaser.

Get Photos With A Tour On The Side

Raul Lopez Mestres


When I reached out to Raul about his Street Art Photo + Walk, it was a long shot because his Airbnb Experience is usually sold out, but I was lucky, and he made room for me. We walked the streets of Santurce, took photos, and talked about what it means to be creative with loads of student loan debt (relatable, right?).

Johnny & June

To be honest, I hadn't given much thought to shopping while I was in Puerto Rico, but I'm glad I did. I started Googling and stumbled across a sister-run vintage shop in the Santurce district. They had vintage Moschino pieces and more reasonable options like the $38 pair of leather, snakeskin print pants I couldn't leave behind.

A Late Night Tour

When I travel solo to a new city, I usually skip the nightlife because I like to play it safe and do what my mom taught me, "You better be in this house when those street lights come on." But, thanks to Griselle and her tour, I was able to get an authentic experience of the nightlife in San Juan. Be sure to pack comfy shoes because there is a lot of walking, but the bars you go to and street art you see are well worth it.

Moni & Coli

As I was walking down Calle Loiza, I saw a cute little boutique and stopped in. This shop was also a sister-run business owned by Mónica and Nichole Oyola. What made this modern, well-decorated boutique special were the local vendors they carry in their shop like jewelry designer, Michelle Llavona.

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Featured image by Sheriden Chanel/Instagram

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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