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Puerto Rico travel: San Juan back in action a year after Hurricane Maria

If you’re looking to support the recovery efforts with your vacation dollars, here’s how.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro -- aka El

Castillo San Felipe del Morro -- aka El Morro -- in Old San Juan is a popular attraction. Photo Credit: Discover Puerto Rico

This Thursday marks the one-year anniversary since Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. The past year has been one of recovery and rebuilding for the island’s 3 million U.S. citizens.

The island’s hospitality industry has been eager to get back online, too, with daily flights resuming, cruise ship ports quickly reopening and a large majority of hotels and attractions back up and running.

San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital and largest city, has recovered especially well in the year since the hurricane. If you’re looking to support the continued recovery efforts with your vacation dollars, here’s a guide to celebrating the city’s food, attractions and more.

Main attractions

Within Old San Juan, the sprawling San Juan National Historic Site (admission $7; nps.gov/saju) tells the story of two striking forts — Castillo San Cristóbal and, about a 20-minute walk, Castillo San Felipe del Morro — built to protect the island against sea and land-based attacks, respectively.

Also in Old San Juan, don’t miss seeing the grand 16th-century Catedral de San Juan Bautista (151-153 Calle del Cristo, catedralsjb.org), the second-oldest church in the Americas, and strolling the iconic Calle San Sebastián, lined with colorful Spanish Colonial-style buildings.

Beach scene

For some sun and sand, options include Pine Grove Beach, a residential coastline of white soft sand and coconut palm trees in the district of Isla Verde; Punta Las Marias, a popular destination for locals that’s near Isla Verde; and Carolina, a region 15 minutes from San Juan that’s noted for its beach, local eateries selling fried finger foods like alcapurrias, and Piñones, a mangrove forest.

Traditional & trendy eats

In Old San Juan, get a mallorca (a grilled breakfast sandwich usually stuffed with ham and cheese and topped with powdered sugar) at La Bombonera (259 Calle San Francisco, facebook.com) and a piña colada at Barrachina (104 Calle Fortaleza, barrachina.com), which claims to have invented the national drink of Puerto Rico.

Lote 23 (1552 Avenida Ponce de León, lote23.com) is a trendy outdoor food lot in Santurce where vendors sell brick-oven pizza, tacos, pommes frites, croquettes, Popsicles and fried chicken sandwiches and more from kiosks and airstream trailers.

At Santaella in Santurce’s La Placita Marketplace (219 Calle Canals, josesantaella.com), Puerto Rican chef José Santaella offers refined versions of Puerto Rican fare; start with the blood sausage curlers and end with the Nutella sandwich.

Other notable names with namesake restaurants in Condado include Mexican pastry chef Paulina Escanes (1451 Ave. Ashford, paulinaescanes.com) and fine-dining chef Mario Pagán (1110 Magdalena Ave., mariopaganrest.com).

Nightlife faves

The La Placita de Santurce (154 Calle dos Hermanos), a historic market plaza, becomes a happening street party on Thursday nights and weekends.

The craft cocktail bar La Factoria (148 Calle San Sebastian, facebook.com) is the place to be for dancing in Old San Juan.

For some souvenirs

In Old San Juan, pick up a hand-fitted Panama hat at Olé (105 Calle de la Fortaleza, olepuertorico.com), handbags and other goods by local designers at Concalma (207 Calle San Francisco, shopconcalma.com), and craft food ítems like coffee at Mundo Taino (256 Calle San Justo and 200 Calle Fortaleza, facebook.com).

GOOD TO KNOW

Getting there: Nonstop flights to Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport in San Juan are available on Delta, JetBlue and United, getting there in about 4 hours. No passports are needed for U.S. citizens; just a driver’s license or another valid form of ID.

Getting around: Uber is available, and taxis can be found within San Juan’s tourist zones. A car rental can help with exploring beyond San Juan proper.

Currency: U.S. dollar

Where to stay: In San Juan’s Condado district, the Serafina Beach Hotel (1045 Ashford Ave., serafinabeachhotel.com) — the first new hotel to open since Hurricane Maria — has waterfront rooms, an ocean-overlooking infinity fresh-water pool and seafood eatery aMare. For Old San Juan, consider the mid-budget boutique hotel Villa Herencia Hotel (23 Calle Caleta Las Monjas, villaherencia.com) or the B&B, Casa Sol (316 Calle del Sol, casasolbnb.com), in a restored 200-year-old historic property.

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