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Charlotte Observer (NC)

It's Big Fun On A Big Island; Mountains, Water Sports, Dining, History, Nightlife -- Welcome To Puerto Rico

By JOHN BORDSEN, Travel Editor

September 28, 2003
Copyright ©2003 The Charlotte Observer (NC). All rights reserved.

Charlotte Hudson, a 50-year-old from Louisiana, has lived in Puerto Rico for 14 months in the small town of Bayamon, on the edge of the San Juan metro area. She works in computer support.

Q. In retrospect, what was your biggest surprise about moving to Puerto Rico?

How large the island is. It's very long, something like 126 miles from tip to tip. Because of the traffic situation -- which is absolutely the worst thing about this island -- it is really rather involved to get around the island. We were used to places like Oahu and St. Croix, where it's real easy to bop around.

Q. What are some must-sees around the island?

If you have only a short time here, and you want to be mostly on the water -- scuba or go boating or whatever-- you might want to be on the west side, in Rincon or Mayaguez. The towns are fairly close together and offer great diving. If you do any surfing, know that this is where the surf tends to run. It's picturesque and has good seafood restaurants.

The mountains sweep much closer to shore on this side of the island, and at the Sandy Beach Inn, you go up the mountain to this great ocean vista. And the food is really good. Mayaguez also has a couple historic things to see.

In the south is the city of Ponce, which is beautiful, historic and also has easy access to water sports. It's really a nice place. If you don't want to do San Juan and have just a short time, Ponce is a great alternative. It's a neat place to stroll.

If you head west from San Juan toward Rincon and Mayaguez, there's Rio Camuy Cave Park, which is really interesting. The caves were created by the underground flow of the Camuy River, and you'll be going along in the dark cave system and then come to a spot where a huge chunk of cave fell away and the sun is pouring in: You'll look out and see vegetation. It's a "Jurassic Park" kind of thing.

Q. What's the best thing to see in San Juan that tourists may not be aware of?

You have to go to the museum of art.

Q. Is San Juan a safe city?

Yes. They've put a great effort into making sure there's a strong police presence in areas where tourists go. For the most part, walking around the old city is not a problem.

Q. Where's the best place to go in San Juan for Puerto Rican food?

There's a street called Calle Fortaleza. It's a restaurant street with all kinds of cool places. I like the Parrot Club. They have a fabulous Puerto Rican version of the Cuban sandwich that's excellent. They always have red snapper -- it's called chillo -- and is one of the dishes you'll find throughout the island. It's frequently done whole and served with the head and all.

Throughout Puerto Rico, you'll find mofongo, a local dish that's kind of a bread bowl concept. It's made of mashed plantains that are formed into a shell and fried; all sorts of different stews are served inside it. Stewed chicken and seafood are popular. Depending on where you are, you'll pay $8 to $12.

Dining in San Juan is expensive. Normally, chillo will be about $22 or $23.

Q. Where do Puerto Ricans go on vacation?

On the island, they'll frequently go down to Ponce, over to Rincon, or over to the little islands of Vieques or Culebra, off the east coast of Puerto Rico. When they leave the island for vacation, they'll frequently go to Orlando, Fla. If not there, it's either the Dominican Republic or Mexico.

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