Puerto Rico is the perfect place to travel because it’s got something for every kind of person—you’ve got the beach, mountains, rainforest, a rich history—and if you’re a citizen of the United States, you don’t even need a passport. Over 50% of the land on the island is devoted to growing diverse crops, including everything from plantains to papaya, which makes it a tropical escape with an amazing food culture … and drink culture—especially considering the island is the prime spot for sugarcane production. Translation: delicious rum and a huge Bacardi Factory (that you can tour).
At almost every restaurant, you’ll find classic fruity drinks, including piña coladas and painkillers which can be perfect for a day on the water. The drinks are endless and so are the restaurants and bars, which can make it hard to choose. If you’re planning on visiting soon, you won’t want to miss these five options that you can’t get anywhere else.
Image: Adrian Scottow, CC-BY
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist with a small budget and a big appetite for the world—follow her travels here.
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1. Medicinal Cocktails
For many, vacation is about ditching the diet and indulging in rich, foreign foods. But what if you could have both? The Parrot Club in Old San Juan has recently renovated their extensive cocktail menu to include drinks with almost completely local ingredients ... and with multiple medicinal uses, like the Passion Caipirinha, a cocktail made with cachaça (a sugarcane liquor) and fresh passion fruit pulp, which is said to help lower blood pressure by increasing blood flow. Another favorite is the GuavaRita, which combines guava, tequila, and hawthorn berry elixir, which has been used since ancient times to relieve anxiety and aid in digestion. If you aren't convinced, they also serve the traditional creamy, blended tropical mango colada, and root vegetable nachos (oozing with fresh salsa and house made pique) that are enough reason to visit by themselves.
Photo Courtesy of The Parrot Club
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2. Mojitos and Mules
If you walk down Calle San Sebastián in Old San Juan, you'll find a busy bar lit up by the kind of light strings you'd hang on your outside patio. It was recently named one of the World's Best Bars and once you visit, you'll know why. The cozy building was once Hijos de Borinquen, a local dive that first opened in 1958. After the bar closed its doors in 2006, three local owners bought the spot and opened it as La Factoría in 2013. Due to high volumes of customers, decided to open two extra rooms, including a music room lined with old vinyls, a stage, and a moderately-sized dance floor. Locals couple up and salsa to traditional five-piece bands and an assortment of tropical DJs on the weekends.
The bar boasts two separate menus of amazing cocktails with a variety of ingredients like Don Q rum, Mezcal, clove honey, and ancho chile shrub. Some favorites are the classic House Mojito, the Lavender Mule, and the Iggy Popsicle--a Don Q base, with Cocchi Americano, Cointreau, absinthe, and citrus--garnished with an American-flag paper airplane.
Photo by Sarah Bennett
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3. The Original Piña Colada
If you are here long enough, you'll get dragged into Puerto Rico's biggest debate:--who invented the piña colada. It's well known that the country's official drink was crafted sometime in the 1950s or 1960s and traditionally includes Puerto Rican rum, Don Q, and cream of coconut, Coco Lopez. The first place that lays claim to the recipe is Caribe Hilton, the first Hilton hotel to open outside of the continental United States, in 1954. Today, the hotel sits right on the beach and is the definition of relaxation, with a swim-up pool bar and incredible ocean views. The other claim comes from Barrachina Restaurant, which says that the classic tropical cocktail was first concocted at their bar in 1963. The restaurant still stands today in Old San Juan and features a lengthy menu of authentic Puerto Rican cuisine--and of course, the "first" piña colada.
Photo by e.c.johnson/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND
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Many people, including Puerto Ricans, refer to coquito as a tropical version of eggnog. Even though some may argue that eggnog should be reserved for winter weather, this beautifully-crafted coconut drink puts the American version to shame. While both are traditionally served around Christmas, coquito is made by combining rum, coconut milk, sweet condensed milk, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and eggs in a blender and served as a drink or a shot. The cocktail is extremely smooth and addictive--even Martha Stewart has a recipe for it. The W on nearby Vieques Island serves an amazing coquito shot that pairs perfectly with a strawberry pastry as a light dessert. If you're on the mainland, it might be a little tricky finding the drink if you aren't visiting around the holidays, but check local supermarkets like Supermax or even try out your own version at home.
Photo by Sarah Bennett
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If coquito is the Puerto Rican version of eggnog, then bilí is definitely the Puerto Rican version of moonshine. Bilí is a quenepa- (Spanish lime) infused rum that is indigenous to Vieques, a small island about eight miles off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. The rum is made out of sugar cane, also called pitorro, which is extremely alcoholic--reaching into the realm of 120 proof or even higher. And while it is the official alcoholic beverage of Vieques, it's illegal to sell. However, every year during the third week of July, the island gathers for Carnival Patronales, a festival for dancing and exclusively drinking bilí. While the drink might be harder to find other times, you can find it seasonally at communal markets or from a friendly local, you just have to ask.
Photo Courtesy of Pinterest