As vaccination rates across the globe continue their slow upward crawl, La Isla del Encanto is gearing up to become one of the Caribbean’s hottest tourism destinations once again. While there’s no shortage of spectacular bars scattered all across Puerto Rico, exploring its capital city can be a little overwhelming for first-time visitors. If you’ve always dreamed of sipping piña coladas on the San Juan shore but aren’t quite sure where to begin, the following spots will surely give you some much-needed inspiration for your first trip to this idyllic island.
When it comes to accommodations, few hotels offer such stunning ambiance as the Caribe Hilton. Located on the eastern edge of San Juan’s Puerta de Tierra district, this opulent resort has been a top spot for vacationers since its debut back in 1949. While the Caribe Hilton’s massive outdoor pool complex and 8,500 square-foot beachfront spa are tough to beat, there’s one particular quality that makes it the perfect base for cocktail enthusiasts. The beloved piña colada, a staple in the realm of rum, is believed to have been invented at this very property back in 1954.
As with many beloved cocktails across the globe, the exact origins of the piña colada are a little hazy, but the Caribe Hilton credits bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero as the mastermind behind the drink. No matter how this tantalizing blend of rum, coconut cream, and pineapple juice came into this world, one thing is certain—after a lengthy SNUBA excursion in search of marine life, there’s nothing quite as refreshing as a handcrafted piña colada enjoyed on the Hilton’s Caribar Terrace.
Of course, no trip to Puerto Rico’s capital is complete without venturing into Old San Juan. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983, this historic district has earned worldwide acclaim for its centuries-old architecture and towering city walls. It can be a little overwhelming for first-time visitors to navigate the neighborhood, but there’s no need to worry—Flavors Food Tours is here to give you a taste of Old San Juan’s finest culinary highlights.
While the company offers three tailored walking tours throughout the district, the two-hour Rum Runners Craft Cocktail Tour is a particularly enticing option for visiting spirits enthusiasts. While the tour includes two stops at local bars for bespoke cocktails, it also offers guests an opportunity to taste Puerto Rican rum straight from the source at Scryer Rum & Barrelhouse, a small-scale operation that crafts a truly delicious distillate finished in port and sherry barrels.
Once you’ve had your firsthand introduction to the area, it’s time to venture out on your own in search of the perfect watering hole. While Old San Juan is rife with awesome bars to spend your night at, no visit is complete without spending some time at La Factoría. Equipped with six distinct bars packed into one single location, this charmingly-gritty venue has achieved true mastery within the realm of cocktails—a fact reinforced by their regular appearances on the annual World’s 50 Best Bars list. After a couple of rum punches at La Factoría, neighboring La Taberna Lúpulo is equipped with 50 draft beers sourced from all across the globe.
Speaking of beer, be sure to save some space in your itinerary for a trip to Ocean Lab Brewing. Located just next door to the airport, this open-air brewery is the perfect spot to enjoy one last pint before you head back home—or start your vacation off right before heading west to the hotel. With eleven core beers on their roster ranging from the hazy passion fruit-laden Mambo to the ultra-refreshing Ocean Blue blueberry ale, this iconic brewery is an absolute must-visit—even if it’s technically located outside of San Juan city limits.
Though you’ve barely scratched the surface of what the city has to offer, this brief introduction to San Juan’s cocktail scene will surely leave you with newfound inspiration for your next trip to Puerto Rico. From small-batch rum to fresh IPAs to the perfect piña colada, there are few places on earth as perfectly suited for a drinks tour than La Isla del Encanto.