By Jacob Aldridge

Wednesday morning we wake, rested, after a sleep in – but there’s still time for one final walk along the Dominican Republic’s Punta Cana beach before we head to the airport. We’ve only got an hour in the air today, before touching down in Puerto Rico,  America’s unofficial 51st State, and the birthplace of the Pina Colada!

The House Where in 1963 The Pina Colada was created by Don Ramon Portas Mingot. Happy 50th Birthday La Pina Colada! You've been embracing 21st Birthdays all that time.

Happy 50th Birthday La Pina Colada! You’ve been embracing 21st Birthdays all that time. Photo by Mogdan Bigulski, CC License.

Today’s Experience

World politics is an irrelevant side-note for many travellers; for us, history is the context that imbues every aspect of a modern holiday destination’s culture.

For instance, the island was originally named San Juan Bautista and the main city was Puerto Rico – at some point in the centuries after Christopher Columbus arrived here (on his second voyage of discovery, in 1493) and the names were given, they became swapped, and so the city of San Juan is now the capital city of this island named Puerto Rico.

Looking out over San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Looking out over San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photo by Jeff Gunn, CC License.

An early 19th Century independence movement was put down by the Spanish crown without much resistance, unlike nearby Haiti which became independent from France – an outcome that still haunts them. Spanish rule would finally be overthrown at the end of the 19th Century, when the United States invaded during the Spanish-American war and was ultimately granted control (along with control of the Philippines and Guam, in case you’ve ever wondered why those far-flung archipelagos fall under American control). The relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States has continued to develop, to the point where just last year a majority of the citizens here voted for US Statehood.

The final steps to make Puerto Rico America’s official 51st State are now in the hands of the US Congress … not a government body known for moving with speed, although delicious debate about whether the Puerto Rican State would vote for Democrat or Republican Senators may encourage both sides to demonstrate some interest.

The walls have been here for centuries - the furry friend is a more recent introduction. There are no native Pandas in the USA.

The walls have been here for centuries – the furry friend is a more recent introduction. Photo by Ken and Nyetta, CC License.

Enough Politics – Let’s Dance!

Old San Juan is the focus of our ‘cultural’ evening. As a crucial trading port during the great age of sea warfare, San Juan was heavily fortified – the result today is Old San Juan, where walls and fortresses form part of the landscape, but never fully enclose you. To help us navigate these streets – and also choose from the stunning array of food available – we’re taking Flavours of San Juan’s ‘Signature Dinner Tour‘. Over 2.5 hours, we have a chance to learn more about the history of this city, starting with the Plaza des Armes where our tour begins along cobble-stone streets.

Plaza des Armes, part of Old San Juan Puerto Rico. This is the meeting point for our Flavours of San Juan's 'Signature Dinner Tour'.

Plaza des Armes, part of Old San Juan and the meeting point for our food walking tour. Photo by Roger 4336, CC License.

The food choices are spectacular. All in all, we plan to stop at 4 separate restaurants for a small course, an opportunity to sample the local cuisine … and also the local rum. Do not ask me to choose between the piña coloda and the mojito! (Although, on the food front, my vote goes to the bread pudding and local coffee at the last stop. Maybe you preferred the chicharones de pollo?)

An enticing matrix of Puerto Rican cuisine.

An enticing matrix of Puerto Rican cuisine – get into it. Photo by Gylo, CC License.

Dinner having satiated our hunger, and whet our appetite for more drinks, there’s only one more place to head – and that’s the nearby Nuyorican Cafe, where the live salsa music doesn’t even kick off until 11pm! Now the first step to dancing salsa … is to forget all of the steps you learned watching the Tango in Buenos Aires last week. Wonderfully, the salsa is a much faster-paced, social dance – different to the soulful, paired-up longing of the Tango.

Feel the energy of the Old San Juan night. Salsa dancing has a tradition here. There's a key difference between Salsa and Tango dancing - Salsa is faster and easier for beginners.

Feel the energy of the Salsa Dance. Photo by Ron Sombilon, CC License.

So as the night gets later, the band gets louder, the rum gets easier to drink, and the dance just gets faster and faster. And faster and faster and rum and band and louder and rum. And stamp those feet and laugh out loud – the first 50 states are going to have a lot of fun learning from their new partner!

Well, given the Pina Colada was created here in the home of rum, it would be rude not to have another.

Well, given the Pina Colada was created here in the home of rum, it would be rude not to have another. Photo by Valters Krontals, CC License.

Want to go? Need to know!

  • If you want to find your own restaurant – and eat a whole meal in one place like a normal traveller! – a good starting point is Forteleza St in Old San Juan. As always, look for the restaurant full of locals – if the chatter sounds Spanish, that sounds good; if it’s thick American accents ordering shots of Puerto Rican rum, avoid.
  • The Signature Dinner Tour runs daily, and costs $79 per person (that includes the two cocktails)
  • Puerto Rico considers itself the rum capital of the world. You’ve probably heard of some of their local drinks – Bacardi and Captain Morgan ring any bells? – but the true connoisseur looks well beyond those and orders a Trigo Reserva Añeja Rum, straight up.
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