9th Annual Artisans’ Fair at El Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico This Weekend

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo
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[Para leer este artículo en español, véase el sitio LatinListUSA.]
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The grounds of El Morro, site of this weekend's Artisans' Fair.
The grounds of El Morro, site of this weekend’s Artisans’ Fair.

This weekend, the National Parks Service hosts the 9th annual Artisans’ Fair (Feria de Artesania) at the El Morro fort in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Traditional Puerto Rican masks, many of which are made out of coconuts.
Traditional Puerto Rican masks, many of which are made out of coconuts.

The fair is one of the few opportunities islanders and visitors have to see and purchase the islands’ traditional arts and handcrafts directly from the people who made them. This year, more than 200 artisans have been invited to participate.

The fair is an opportunity to buy directly from artists.
The fair is an opportunity to buy directly from artists.

Among the goods you’re likely to find on display are jewelry made from native seeds and trees, masks, handmade instruments including the Puerto Rican cuatro, leather and lacework, and santos, hand-carved saint statuettes.

Santos, hand-carved saints, are among Puerto Rico's traditional handcrafts.
Santos, hand-carved saints, are among Puerto Rico’s traditional handcrafts.

The fair will be open from 9 AM – 7 PM on Saturday and Sunday. In addition to the artisans’ displays, park rangers will hold special tours and talks at the fort. For more information, please see the National Parks Service’s website.

View from El Morro.
View from El Morro.

To plan your Puerto Rico vacation, check out our free app, “San Juan Insider,” and our contributions to Fodor’s Puerto Rico.

#FriFotos: Steps

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photo: Francisco Collazo
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This week’s #FriFotos theme is “Steps,” and at first, I thought of buildings and structures reached by impressive or treacherous steps.

And then, I started thinking of a whole other kind of step.

A couple practices their salsa steps at the International Salsa Congress in Puerto Rico in 2009.
A couple practices their salsa steps at the International Salsa Congress in Puerto Rico in 2009.

Francisco took this photo in 2009 while we were working on Fodor’s Puerto Rico. One of my features for the guidebook was about salsa, and we had to explain and illustrate the actual steps, or pasos, of this dance. In order to do so, we spent a good bit of time at the International Salsa Congress in San Juan, shooting photos of dancers.

I don’t dance at all, but I do love watching couples whose steps are in sync with each other. How about you- do you dance? What are your favorite steps?

For Sale: One Island Dream House

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo
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Lots of people dream about living on a tropical island.

Our friends Wally and Marina decided dreaming wasn’t good enough, though. They quit their jobs, packed up everything, and moved from California to Puerto Rico.

Rainbow- viewed from Wally and Marina's house in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.
Rainbow- viewed from Wally and Marina’s house in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.

They lucked into finding an incredible home, one just outside the rainforest (AND 15 minutes from the beach!) that had been designed by a French artist. The house has lots of open space, is flooded with natural light (the electric lights rarely need to be turned on), and incredibly beautiful design details, especially the talavera tiled floors, tiled kitchen and bathroom walls, and handmade, hand-carved cabinets in the kitchen.

 Grapefruit fresh from a tree on Wally and Marina's property.
Grapefruit fresh from a tree on Wally and Marina’s property.
The house has the kinds of spots you dream about when you envision yourself having the perfect kitchen or the perfect napping spot or the perfect writing place. It’s surrounded by beautiful flowers and fruit-bearing trees; a producing papaya tree sits just outside the kitchen door.

After living in (and taking fantastic care of) the house for more than five years, Wally and Marina are moving on to new dreams and are selling this special house. Since lots of dreamers and doers read this blog, I thought I’d share the news of the sale. You can read full details of the property, including sale price, in this announcement. And knowing the house as well as we do (we’ve been there multiple times and lived there for a week as caretakers), I can tell you there’s no marketing hyperbole in the announcement.

Dream big!

San Juan Insider: App Update

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo
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Dos Hermanos Bridge, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Dos Hermanos Bridge, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Last week, we were in Puerto Rico to update our travel app, San Juan Insider; though we keep it actualizada from our home base in New York, there’s nothing like being in Puerto Rico in person. We were overdue to check out what was new, what has closed, and which businesses have changed their concepts completely.

The economic problems that have rippled around the world in the past few years haven’t left Puerto Rico untouched, unfortunately. As an island that depends on tourism and imports most of what it consumes, the impact of a financial crisis is felt especially hard. Lots of businesses have closed. Most friends look older and worn down. The businesses that are making it are struggling, in many cases. And the buck has gotten passed, as it always does, to the tourist: a new $2 gas tax on every taxi ride cuts a little deeper into the pocket of the visitor, who is already nickled and dimed by hotel taxes and amenity and service fees that will ultimately undermine business.

Despite the not-so-good news, I was very excited to see several new businesses giving it a go and enjoying early success. Caba Wine Bistro, The Plan B (which was wall-to-wall packed), and El Bar Bero, are giving some serious uplift to Calle Loiza, a street that was a bit down on its heels for as long as we’ve been familiar with it. At Caba we heard about Quesos Vaca Negra, a new cheesemonger on the island, whose cheeses we got to try (and which we liked), and in our old home, Viejo San Juan, we were thrilled to see a true cafe culture taking hold, giving Starbucks a run for its money (our favorite spot? Cuatro Sombras, a micro-roastery and cafe).

The updated version of the app is being submitted to the Apple store anon, so if you already have it, you’ll see the next iteration soon and it has lots of new entries. And if you don’t have it, what are you waiting for? It’s free to download and looks pretty on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch!

Postcard from Puerto Rico: Hitching a Ride

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photo: Francisco Collazo
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Car-crazy Puerto Rico (on an island that’s 100 x 39 miles and has a population of about four million people, there are more than two million cars) is slowly becoming more bicycle-friendly; we’ve noticed more bike lanes and more cyclists during this visit (though, sadly, it’s not necessarily safer: between 2005 and 2011, 88 people have been killed while cycling in PR, and eight deaths have occurred this year). And while public transportation is expanding in metro San Juan, it still lags behind other capital cities in this area.

But some folks don’t need a car, a bike, or the light rail: they get around just fine using other means of transportation:

Some people get around by skateboard just fine... especially when they can hitch a ride to speed up the trip.
Some people get around by skateboard just fine… especially when they can hitch a ride to speed up the trip.