By Elsa Fernández-Miralles

The Three Kings: protagonists of Puerto Rico’s celebration

What Santa Claus is to the U.S. mainland, the Three Kings are to Puerto Rico. Every year on Jan. 5, children in Puerto Rico collect grass and put it under their beds so that when the Three Kings visit the home and leave gifts they can also feed their weary camels.

Although the real reason for the popularity of the Fiesta de Reyes (Three Kings’ Day) in our local tradition is unknown, its influence is so strong that we have even coined the term reyar (to engage in Three King’s Day celebrations) as synonymous with folk songs in honor of the Magi accompanied by local instruments.

The Magi, also referred as the Wise Men or the Three Kings where, in the Christian tradition, a group of distinguished foreigners who visited Jesus of Nazareth, after his birth bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and mirrh. They are important figures in traditional Christmas celebrations and to Christianity itself.

The Promesa de Reyes (Three Kings’ Day Pledge) is still observed to this day. On the eve of Jan. 6, a devout Catholic makes a wish and vows to pay a promise. During the promise, a group of believers usually gathers and sings aguinaldos (local carols) whose main themes are Christmas and the birth of Jesus. Although aguinaldos are interspersed with prayers, the tone of the celebration is undeniably festive.

The event includes children and adults as the feast, in honor of Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar—the Magi who found Jesus after following a guiding star—is open to all.

January 6 is an official holiday in Puerto Rico. Here are examples of how different municipalities celebrate Three Kings’ Day.

Juana Díaz – With nearly 130 years’ worth of tradition, Juana Díaz has become the capital of the Three Kings in Puerto Rico. In the 19th century, the town held a parade featuring the Three Kings and shepherds, followed by a Mass. After Mass, the Kings brought gifts to Baby Jesus. In 1983, when Spanish priest Valentín Echevarría arrived in town, the celebration regained its religious tone with an ecclesiastic theater presentation followed by the Feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6. Juana Díaz’s current Three Kings continue traveling to several locations throughout the world, including the Vatican.

Isabela – The Feast of Isabela’s Kings (also known as Isabela’s Singing Kings) is coordinated by the Casa de la Cultura Isabelina (Isabela’s House of Culture) and is known for the Kings’ beautiful costumes and their message of faith, hope, and charity. The two-day event is held Jan. 5 and on the Epiphany (Jan. 6) and consists of four different celebrations. First, the Kings arrive in town and a Kings’ Promise is held.

Then, they parade to the town square so they can meet with Baby Jesus. Later they worship Jesus and bring Him gifts as representatives of the people. Lastly, a town festival is held.

Las Marías – Every Three Kings’ Day, local children and even visitors await the distribution of gifts at a prearranged location. At the event, there are bounce houses, snacks and candies, clown shows, and live music.

Guaynabo – The Trulla de Reyes (Three Kings Caroling) is an event that takes trullas (caroling parties) through different town sectors. Shows featuring troubadours and other performers are held at a designated location.

San Juan – For years, the distribution of Three Kings’ Day gifts for children was conducted at La Fortaleza, the Puerto Rico governor’s residence, and now takes place in several municipalities. Ask your hotel concierge about the designated locations for 2016.

By Elsa Fernández-Miralles

Photos: Supplied

Enjoy the unique San Sebastián Street festival

If you are planning to come to the island in January, you shouldn’t miss one of Puerto Rico’s most emblematic celebrations: the San Sebastián Street Festival. On Jan. 14-17, 2016, youngsters and adults will attend this festival that attracts thousands of people to Old San Juan—particularly to San Sebastián Street and surrounding areas—for a weekend full of customs, traditions, and numerous events.

It’s been said that this festival began in the 19th century. However, it wasn’t until the mid-20th century— specifically in 1954—that Father Juan Manuel Madrazo, the parish priest of San José Church in Old San Juan, organized it to raise funds intended to restore the church and the street itself.

When Father Madrazo was transferred to another parish outside San Juan, the festivities were suspended until Rafaela Balladares, who along with painter Antonio“Tony” Maldonado created the San Sebastián Street Residents Steering Committee, whose aim was to generate funds to help improve area residents’ quality of life.p-25-cred-pr-tourism-co

Balladares met with Ricardo Alegría, director of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, who told her to revive Father Madrazo’s former celebration. Balladares heeded the advice and in 1970 street residents held the first contemporary festival—which included a reveille, a Mass, the procession of the saint, a paintings exhibit, and a period ball. Local dishes and beverages were sold, and neighbors built the stage where musical acts were performed and the kiosks for the arts and crafts fair.

The cabezudos (festive big papier maché heads) seen during Father Madrazo’s time were replaced by others with closer links to Puerto Rican culture. Over the years, these festive heads—which represent different characters in popular culture—have become the symbol of the San Sebastián Street Festival.

Forty-five years later, the once-modest neighborhood celebration has become a grand annual event that attracts more than 500 artists and artisans and nearly half a million visitors. This year’s proceeds will go toward the cathedral’s restoration fund.

The festival begins on Thursday with a Mass in honor of San Sebastián. On Friday there is a cabezudos parade where historical tableaus come to life and we see representations of public figures as well as characters from our traditional stories. The parade ends at the San Juan Cathedral. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday there are shows featuring popular singers and bands. During the weekend you can also enjoy all kinds of family-oriented entertainment—including arts and crafts exhibits, dancing, shows, and food and drink kiosks, among other options.

Since the festival’s attendance is just massive, local authorities provide transportation from specific spots near parking structures and lots, so people can hop on a trolley or other type of public transportation that will take them straight to the festival site. Your hotel can tell you what to do to avoid the dreaded traffic jams and provide tips on the best way to get to the festival.

We invite you to experience a unique celebration in Old San Juan. Wear cool clothing and comfortable shoes, and enjoy the eagerly awaited San Sebastián Street Festival with us!

By Elsa Fernández-Miralles

Photos: Supplied

Say “I Do” at a romantic beach setting

Puerto Rico is a wonderful place in which to get married. There are countless wedding venues and many options for all tastes and budgets. How about a beachfront ceremony, surrounded by family members and your closest friends? Your dream wedding can be held anywhere on the island and at any time of the year. Need guidance about where, how, and how much? Stop worrying! Any of our endorsed wedding coordinators can help arrange your event.say-i-do-at-a-romantic-beach-setting-den-el-si-en-un-romantico-ambiente-playero-foto-suministrada

If you prefer a more conventional and/or traditional wedding in Puerto Rico, there are alternatives ranging from a small chapel to a spectacular church or temple of the couple’s chosen denomination.

Puerto Rico is also the perfect setting for theme weddings. You can say “I do” in Old San Juan’s historic atmosphere, amid the greenery of our unique rainforests or at charming countryside venues, among countless other alternatives. More adventurous couples can choose to marry in caves carved out by underground rivers or on a zip-line platform for an undeniably unique and adrenaline-filled ceremony.

In terms of reception venues, existing options are almost limitless: historic mansions, centuries-old forts, intimate antique churches, majestic mountains, hotel ballrooms, outdoor terraces, gazebos and pristine beaches in 5-star resorts with celebrity chefs. Puerto Rico is also perfect for the couple’s honeymoon as hotels throughout the island offer special-package deals for newlyweds. Talk to our wedding coordinators; they can also help you here.

Getting married in Puerto Rico is very easy—and certainly less complicated than in other destinations. Go to www.seepuertorico.com/en/experiences/lifestyle/weddings to learn more about local requirements. As of June 2015, couples of any gender or sex can get married in Puerto Rico.

Celebrate the happiest day of your life with us! For additional information about weddings in Puerto Rico, call 1-800-866-7827 toll free from the continental U.S. or Puerto Rico. From Latin America, the number is 1-800-981-7575. Representatives are available weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight and weekends and holidays from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight.

Photos: Supplied

If you decide to spend the Holidays in Puerto Rico or if your visit coincides with our long festive season, prepare to taste Puerto Rican cuisine’s most delicious dishes—a great fusion of flavors and colors from all the cultures that have had an influence on our island.

Our local cuisine is a blend of customs and traditions that has earned Puerto Rico a top echelon among renowned dining destinations. Our island is a destination where you’ll find excellent food—and if it happens to be Holiday fare then you are in for a real treat!


Although traditional dishes are available year-round, they are the rage during the Holiday season so local families as well as restaurants devote special attention to their preparation. Island residents expect these delicacies at all their Holiday events and tourists just can’t get enough of them!p90-cred-bonderenko

Rice with pigeon peas is a must in our Holiday menu, preferably served with our tasty pasteles. Puerto Rican pasteles bear some resemblance to Mexican or Cuban tamales and other foods wrapped in leaves. This gastronomic treat— made with plantain or yucca “dough” wrapped over pieces of pork or chicken and lots of criollo (local) seasonings and then wrapped in a banana leaf—is boiled and served piping hot.

Rice with pigeon peas and pasteles are served with local cuisine’s crown jewel: the incomparable spit-roasted pig. The traditional Puerto Rican cooking method uses two Y-shaped hooks on which a rod holding a whole pig is placed and then cooked for hours over a bed of burning wood, turning the rod at intervals for even roasting.

The pig is seasoned with garlic, salt, oregano, a hint of pepper, and a couple of additional ingredients depending on the family cook’s or restaurant chef’s particular preference. Other seasonal treats include the savory morcillas (fried blood sausage), some of which have a delightful hint of hotness; guineítos en escabeche (pickled green bananas); yucca with local mojo sauce; asopao de gandules (hearty pigeon pea soup); and fritters like meat-filled alcapurrias, codfish-based bacalaítos, and rice flour almojábanas.

Holiday desserts include marzipan and arroz con dulce, which is made with rice, coconut milk, and raisins. Coconut is the main ingredient in other delightful desserts like tembleque and majarete, as well as in our beloved coquito, an eggnog like beverage that is made with coconut milk or cream, condensed and evaporated milks, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and white rum to taste.

p-90-cred-bonderenkoWhat dishes do tourists prefer? “The mofongo [fried green plantain, mashed, and often filled with meat, poultry or seafood], closely followed by all our local fritters,” said Luis Castillo, executive chef at Hotel El Convento, who prepared the mouth-watering dishes showcased in this story. “When it comes to drinks, there’s no denying it… coquito is hugely popular during the Holidays,” he admits, also pointing out that Puerto Rican cuisine is unrivaled because it is well-seasoned but not spicy or hot, which makes it suitable for everyone’s palate.

“Even though many local specialties are associated with the Holiday season our guests always ask for them. Therefore, I combine them with unexpected products at my chef tasting tables. I can prepare a skirt steak with pasteles and an oxtail stew, some cod raviolis with avocado or perhaps pork tenderloin medallions instead of pit-roasted pig,” Castillo adds.

A new generation of chefs is reinterpreting our local dishes, which is precisely what is featured during a weekend-long food festival called Saborea Puerto Rico—to be held on April 7-10 at El Escambrón Beach in San Juan. For more information, go to www.saboreapuertorico.com. If you can’t wait then don’t miss Old San Juan’s “SOFO” Culinary Fest (787-723-7080) on December 3-6, when eateries on Fortaleza St. offer special prices on their dishes.

By Laura Nazario

Photos: Supplied

Puerto Rico is a shopping paradise—a claim confirmed by visiting tourists and residents of nearby Caribbean islands who travel solely to purchase many products here. Our reputation as an excellent shopping destination derives from the fact that in Puerto Rico you will find commercial venues for all tastes and budgets: department stores, exclusive and elegant boutiques, discount stores, specialty shops, and handicrafts stores, among many others.p-114-foto-suministrada

Old San Juan is one of our main shopping areas. Along its streets are many jewelry stores that sell beautiful watches and dazzling jewels that constitute an excellent investment. You will also find charming local handicrafts in many stores, as well as near and along Paseo La Princesa on weekednd and certain holidays. The old city is also home to numerous art galleries, shops selling Puerto Rico souvenirs, and businesses specializing in Caribbean-style clothing, accessories, and colorful decorative items.

Tourists who come to Old San Juan combine shopping with visits to historical monuments and museums as well as with leisurely strolls along the cobblestone streets and colonial squares—while also discovering the delicacies served at the many restaurants and cafes in the area and cooling down with a refreshing piragua (shaved ice covered with tropical fruit syrup). Puerto Rico has a considerable amount of shopping centers. The new and exclusive The Mall of San Juan (787-759-6310, www.themallofsanjuan.com/shopping) — conveniently located just minutes from the airport, across the Teodoro Moscoso Bridge—is ideal for visitors. This luxurious shopping center is characterized by its selection of top-name retailers and designer boutiques. The mall also has great eateries. Go to the Customer Services counter (located on the first floor) and request a Shopping Passport, a booklet with discount coupons available to people who live more than 50 miles away from the mall.

p-114-pr-tourism-coMany people who come to Puerto Rico don’t miss the chance to go to Plaza Las Américas (787-767-5202, www.plazalasamericas.com, the largest mall in the Caribbean. Located in Hato Rey and featuring more than 300 shops, this mall offers virtually unlimited shopping and entertainment opportunities as it has department stores, boutiques, specialty shops, a beauty salon, a pharmacy, a supermarket, banks, movie theaters, restaurants, and even a branch of the U.S. post office!

If you want to visit an outlet mall featuring brand discount stores there are two great alternatives: The Outlet at Route 66 (787-256-7040, www.theoutletmall66.com) in the town of Canóvanas on the northeastern part of the island, and Puerto Rico Premium Outlets (787-846-5344, www.premiumoutlets.com) in Barceloneta, located in the northern region. The latter will give you a free VIP Coupon Book when you sign up in their website’s VIP Club section.

For additional information on the many shopping opportunities through our island, go to: www.seepuertorico.com/en/experiences/lifestyle/shopping/. You can also check out the list in the Shopping section.

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