What better way to see the 500-year-old city of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, than by experiencing its food and local beverages on a walking tour?
SPOON® Experience’s Old San Juan Walk & Taste Tour
SPOON®, a culinary and cultural tourism company, offers several walking tours and cooking classes. On a recent trip to Puerto Rico, I joined a group of fellow travel writers for the Old San Juan Walk & Taste Tour. Our guide, Lorna, gave us a mini-history lesson about San Juan as we made our way down Old San Juan’s blue cobblestone streets.
The story behind the blue cobblestones is fascinating… The short version is they were cast from furnace slag and brought over on Spanish ships as ballasts. The blue color comes from age and moisture.
Views of El Morro Fort on the harbor were from a distance, but we were able to briefly go into the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, second oldest in all the Americas. It contains the tomb of Spanish explorer Ponce de León, who was also the first governor of Puerto Rico.
Tip: Be sure to tour El Morro fort while in Old San Juan. Also known as Castillo San Felipe del Morro, the fort was an important military outpost for Spain and later the U.S. El Morro and the entire walled city of Old San Juan were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1983.
The tour makes three food and beverage stops…
Our tour’s first stop was Deaverdura, where we learned to make mofongo, a popular local dish made with fried green plantains. We smashed the plantains using a mortar and pestle, adding garlic and butter to make it smoother. The mofongo was then ready to eat, along with juicy, fork tender roasted pork, topped with a cilantro-based relish. Rice and beans completed our local comfort food lunch. Options for our beverage tasting included several tropical juices (mango, soursop, tamarind, etc.). Our chosen juice was then combined with a local Puerto Rican rum for a tasty cocktail. I took a few sips but knew I’d better pace myself, as we were just getting started!
La Taberna Lupolo
Our second stop was at La Taberna Lupolo, which describes itself as “Puerto Rico’s Premier Craft Beer Bar.” Since it is also known for its great pub food, we were in the right place to try a traditional Cuban sandwich. We sipped passionfruit rum cocktails here (in lieu of beer) while learning about the island’s history of craft breweries.
Palacio Provincial Hotel
The third stop on our walking tour was the Palacio Provincial Hotel. The historic building, which formerly housed Puerto Rico’s Department of State and other government offices, is now a beautifully-restored boutique hotel. The open courtyard area was an ideal setting to enjoy our last taste: mango ceviche with taro chips. As a seafood lover, this was my favorite. A mango mojito, made with a special aged rum, was the perfect beverage pairing.
More Tour Options
If you prefer to get a later start, sign up for the Sunset Walk & Taste tour. The San Juan Drive Around Food Tour is another option. Travel by van to three San Juan neighborhoods. They include Calle Loíza, a revived gastronomic hub; Santurce, a culinary, arts, and music district; and Piñones, a neighborhood deeply rooted in African tradition.
Disclosure: I was among a group of hosted journalists for this excursion. It was a part of the NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) conference held in San Juan, Puerto Rico.