When in San Juan

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If granted the opportunity to travel to San Juan, Puerto Rico, whether for vacation, study, exchange, or service, you may never want to leave. The food, art, music, and people have been shaped by the island's long colonial history, a mixture of Iberian, African, indigenous, and North American cultures meeting and mixing to produce the vibrant and unique cultura puertorriqueña. It would require years to take it all in, but below I've listed some ways to start...

1. Skip the pizza...

Puerto Rico is an American territory, and there are Burger Kings galore, but skip the fries for the authentic Puerto Rican dishes you can find on every corner. You'll be able to try mofongo, cachapas, arepas, ceviche and more if you stop into local bars, restaurants, and food stands. Like its Carribean neighbors, Puerto Rico incorporates flavorful produce like plantains, coconut, and avocado into many of its dishes. Well-seasoned meats and tropical drinks will take your taste buds over the top.

2. Step into the past

San Juan is far more than a beach town. From the beautiful Spanish architecture of Old San Juan, the magnificent views at the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, and the vibrant displays the Museo de Arte, there are dozens of fun and exciting ways to engage with Puerto Rico's long, complex, and fascinating history. In addition to these more structured stops, park rangers, taxi drivers, and museum guides can tell you more about their city and their lives than you could ever get from a travel guide.

3. Beach it up!

Before and after a long day of taking in the food and culture, the beach is a busy traveler's best friend. Year-round warmth, clear blue waters, and soft, white sand makes Puerto Rican beaches some of the best in the Caribbean. Bring plenty of sunscreen before you tan or tread the waves, but have no fear – San Juan's beaches are safe, welcoming, and well-populated.

At the end of the day, there's no wrong way to do San Juan. If you're open-minded, adventurous, and willing to immerse yourself in the beauty of the places and people you encounter, you'll come away having had an experience you won't want to forget.

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About The Author

Kat is a senior at Harvard concentrating in Social Anthropology. She's an a cappella nerd, a hip hop dancer, and a lover of any and all Mexican food.