Anyone who has ever visited San Juan knows the city has a certain magic that is eternal – the cobblestone streets evoke its almost five-hundred-year-old history, the ocean air perfumes every neighborhood and welcoming locals imbue the city with hope and joy.
This enduring magic conquers any setback, no matter how significant. As visitors arrive in 2018, they will feel this energy and understand why San Juan is a city like no other in the world.
The writer in Old San Juan © Melissa Alvarado Sierra / Lonely Planet
San Juan is my home and the city of my dreams. Since Hurricane Maria hit the island, I’ve struggled deeply with the whys and wherefores of the aftermath. Destruction of this level is disheartening, but instead of closing my eyes because it was dark, I decided not to give up. What if I rolled my sleeves and delivered water to families in need or donated clothes to those left without? When you persevere, hopes materialize. I was one of many to do this, and now San Juan is on its way back.
The residents are working harder than ever to rebuild and prosper – the entrepreneurial formula that has given San Juan its reputation as a world-class destination remains untouched, although it’s now powered by a good dose of fearlessness and a ton of much needed love. Business owners are opening their doors with new, inventive offerings, and visitors will find a city that is welcoming the future with open arms.
Take local Leslie Cofresí, the owner of the well-known bar La Factoria, who kept the spirit of Old San Juan alive by quickly opening his bar after the hurricane (and bringing in all of his employees) to serve his famous cocktails. It feels good to walk in and order their exquisite ‘Lavender Mule’ and forget about everything that has happened for a while. Other favorites around the city – La Coctelera, Sabrina, La Placita, St. Germain Bistro – are following suit.
Many of the city’s attractions are ready and waiting to host travelers. Old San Juan is just as charming as ever; touring El Castillo San Felipe del Morro, walking the historic avenues, shopping for souvenirs, and sipping a piña colada will all still be part of a visitor’s experience. Calle Loiza will be serving up the same decadent dishes and drinks that have made this street famous. Condado’s beaches will be open, and tour companies like Flavors of San Juan will be fully operational.
Locals are masters at making marvelous things with limited resources, a characteristic that put sectors like Calle Loiza on the culinary map. This time will be no different. The fire has always been there, and San Juan’s beauty and flavor will now be even more evident. Rough times have a way of helping people try new things, take more risks and make the impossible happen – by next year, San Juan will be an even bigger creative hub.
And while businesses work to reopen, the people of San Juan – and the entire island – have found a new connection to each other. Neighbors that never spoke before are gathering for cookouts. Many share their generators to keep their food fresh, and others buy necessities in bulk to give out to those nearby. The experience of a devastating hurricane has united the people and strengthened the community; the humble, caring and lively spirit of the Boricua has never been more obvious. That’s the real Puerto Rico, the true beating heart of this island. Visitors will discover a unified population whose story is one of resilience, of following one’s heart and of communal strength and support.
My paradise has been transformed, forever marked with the visible and invisible scars left by ferocious winds and all-encompassing waters. But now there’s a new and subtle vibration felt in the city – a new San Juan is emerging in all its raw and vulnerable beauty for the world to see. I walk down the streets here and I can’t help but feel immense appreciation for having an opportunity to rethink, to rebuild and to rebound.
– Melissa, San Juan