It’s rare for a traveler to come to Puerto Rico and not stumble upon a festival. These high-spirited celebrations of local music, food and drink are deeply sewn into the island’s cultural fabric, celebrating everything from coffee-making and exotic flowers to salsa dancing and indigenous culture. There’s a lively fiesta happening almost everywhere you look in Puerto Rico, and that’s just how locals like it.
San Sebastian Street Festival, Old San Juan
This legendary festival takes place along the main artery of Old San Juan, historic San Sebastian street, an avenue home to several museums including the centuries-old Casa Blanca (Juan Ponce de León’s former abode), the 16th-century San José Church and Plaza San José. The festival is held every year during the third week of January, starting on Thursday and ending on Sunday, and functions as a boisterous, four-day wrap up of the very long Christmas season. During the day, the street is filled with folkloric and mask-wearing characters, bomba and plena performances, and dozens of artisans displaying their crafts. But once the bright azure skies turn dark, family crowds are replaced by a younger army of party-goers who swarm the street to euphorically dance and sing well into the early morning hours.
Saborea Puerto Rico Festival, San Juan
A true foodie’s paradise, Saborea Puerto Rico (saboreapuertorico.com) unites some of the best local and international chefs in what the festival touts as a 'culinary extravaganza' right in front of the ocean. The festival takes place on Escambrón Beach during the month of May for four straight days and gives visitors all-inclusive access to dishes from over thirty different chefs. Rums of Puerto Rico, which represents some of the island's biggest rum producers (including Bacardi and Don Q), supplies the venerated distilled spirits while local chefs and Food Network celebrities entertain with high-octane food demonstrations. And, of course, there’s a lot of music and dancing – this is Puerto Rico after all. All-access tickets are available through the festival’s website.
Casals Festival, San Juan
The acclaimed cellist Pablo Casals founded this classical music festival in 1956 to create an inspiring hub for local and international musicians to gather and share their work. The festival is now a world-renowned two-week event that attracts numerous high caliber musicians to the island; it takes place at the Centro de Bellas Artes in San Juan during the month of February and March, and visitors can purchase tickets through the venue.
Flower Festival, Aibonito
Need a getaway from the hustle and bustle of San Juan? Locals flock to the breezy town of Aibonito in the months of June and July to visit the colorful and aromatic flower festival, held deep in the Central Mountains of Puerto Rico. Popular local musicians play their folkloric tunes for the public while food vendors offer everything from local fried delicacies (alcapurrias, bacalaitos, rellenos) and artisanal beer, to fresh salads and natural juices. Because of the event's huge popularity, you'll probably have to park away from the festival area and walk. The festival lasts ten full days and tickets are available at the entrance.
Coffee Harvest Festival, Maricao
Maricao, one of the least populated towns on the island, receives over 175,000 visitors during three days of coffee harvest celebrations. Known in Spanish as the Fiesta del Acabe del Café and recognized as the most important cultural festival on the island, the event allows dozens of coffee producers and over 200 artisans to come together and share their products with visitors. The origins of the festival date back to the beginning of the twentieth century, when the owners of coffee plantations would throw an end-of-harvest jamboree. The event takes pride in celebrating traditional fashions and decorations, and it also features numerous different coffee-infused foods, like sauces and flan. The festival is held every year during the month of February for three days and can be reached after a lovely rural drive into the heart of western Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico Salsa Congress, San Juan
Salsa showcases all that Puerto Rico is proud to be: passionate, energetic, and utterly Latin. The Puerto Rico Salsa Congress celebrates the salsa tradition and more with an annual event that brings together the most talented salsa dancers and musicians in the world (facebook.com/Puerto-Rico-Salsa-Congress). Held at the end of July, the congress takes hundreds of international visitors on a tour through San Juan, stopping at the Caribe Hilton, the Latin Roots club and restaurant (facebook.com/TheLatinRoots), and Plaza del Mercado-Santurce. The event aims at recreating the traditional salsa 'bailables' of decades past with the help of big stars like El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico and Roberto Roena. Dancers can register on the Salsa Open website (salsaopen.org/puerto-rico) and regular tickets are available through PR Tickets (venta.prticket.com).
Hatillo Masks Festival, Hatillo
Every December, locals of the northern beach town Hatillo don fabric masks and colorful costumes, taking to the streets in a kaleidoscopic parade (facebook.com/festivaldemascarasenhatillopr). The procession visits villages and nearby towns, where decorated vehicles and fellow revelers join in the fun, before heading back to the Hatillo town center. Dating back to 1823, this festival is based on the biblical story of the Massacre of the Innocents ordered by King Herod; the masks were originally brought to Hatillo by immigrants from the Canary Islands in the nineteenth century and represent the soldiers of the king.
Jayuya Indigenous Festival, Jayuya
This festival celebrates the legacy of the Taíno people, the principal indigenous population on the island prior to Christopher Columbus' arrival (icp.gobierno.pr). The event takes place in November in the rural town of Jayuya, and the festivities last three days; Jayuya has a storied history of Taíno culture, and it is home to a long tradition of woodcarving. The festival paints a picture of the pre-Columbian era – kiosks feature traditional Taíno artifacts like cemís (deities made of stone) and coconut bowls, while performers dressed in Taíno shells and jute skirts recreate areytos (religious dance and song).