| Last year, I had the opportunity to go shopping in Puerto Rico, whoo hoo! Article and images below with a link to Zing Magazine where the story appeared this month.
The Caribbean is often a mish-mash of culture, of peoples and of experiences, and our neighbour in the north, Puerto Rico, is no different; She shares her history with Spanish conquistadors, with Amerindian peoples and with African slaves almost equally, and yet her inextricable link to the United States is often her defining characteristic.
Today this island is filled with modern sky-rises set against a backdrop of verdant tropical expression. From majestic mountain ranges and tropical forests in the centre of the island, to coral stone caves and wide expanses of sandy beaches along the coasts, Puerto Rico has a little of everything.
The rich history of the island can be seen in Old San Juan in the blue cobblestoned streets and Spanish forts, and in the Taino petroglyphs that can be found in the mountains of El Yunque National Rainfrorest. Many people visit Puerto Rico for its rich and diverse history – but they are also tempted by its varied shopping options.
Closer than Miami, and with excellent and affordable accommodation choices, it is an easy decision to take a quick flight to San Juan in order to shop until you drop at one of the many large malls.
Plaza Las Americas is one of the largest malls in the region, and with shopping options ranging from Abercrombie and Fitch to Macy’s and Charlotte Russe, bumping into a Caribbean neighbour, arms loaded with shopping bags, isn’t such an usual thing.
Carolina Mall has a much smaller variety of stores but remains at the top of the heap for many bargain-hunting fashionistas. Savvy shoppers will be happy with the choices: high-fashion Mango with its designer line and sleek store; Best Buy and Radio Shack for the techies; Aldo for shoppers with a shoe fetish; American Eagle Outfitters for the rugged but stylish, and G by Guess. And if all that shopping works up an appetite, the variety of food is astounding, from Pizza Hut pizza to Japanese teriyaki chicken, my favourite stop was Strawberry farms, with its homemade cookies and chocolate-dipped everything. Bags, shoes, make-up, food and accessories can easily create a credit card crisis during a casual stroll through this mall!
Once your shopping is complete, LIAT has partnered with Cargo Solutions International located in Barbados to help you get your purchases home without the hassle of overweight fees. They even help you make an informed choice between barrels or durable containers, depending on your budget, and offer a pick-up service from your hotel.
If you want a hint of culture to spice up your shopping trip make your way to Old San Juan, where the architecture will take you back a hundred years, and the juxtaposition of Ralph Lauren and jalousied windows somehow makes perfect sense and where the best food is often found by abandoning your tour guide and following the locals. The best breakfast I had during my time in the city was in a tiny café where no one spoke English. Here I was served mouth-watering fresh orange juice, home made bread and coffee potent enough to impress any aficionado.
The city is more than five hundred years old and its history as a military fortification is evident in every stone. The streets are paved with a unique blue brick that lends an air of artistry to the city. Its brilliant blue colour is a residue left by the iron baked into the clay. Many stories tell of the bricks being brought to Puerto Rico as ballast on the ships of the Spanish, but most Puerto Ricans disavow that tale, telling instead a more likely story of English foundries, iron kilns and a desire to maintain the historic value of a city as well as a little old-fashioned mystery. The city’s architectural integrity is maintained by strict town and country planning laws that restrict the type of new buildings that can be erected. This ensures that the city remains beautifully enshrined in its historically accurate mask even as the people evolve and flow through it like a tide. Old San Juan was founded in the early 15th Century as a military site used to defend the island from many who came after Columbus and tried to claim her.
Even today most of the protective walls remain, and the main fort, Fort San Cristobal, rises like a sentinel in the East, silent and insurmountable. Monuments to Christopher Columbus are numerous on the island, despite the fact that many Puerto Ricans seem ambivalent or mildly irritated by the mention of the Genoese sailor. James Larkins, a resident of Old San Juan, described the dichotomy this way: ‘Puerto Rico is a country of contrast and controversy. Many people are not very happy about Christopher Columbus,’ he shrugs, ‘but the statue is still there.’ In the shadow of that statue in Plaza De Cólon you will find local craftspeople selling jewellery made of sea shells, clay beads and bone, wooden mortar and pestles. It is one of the few places I visited where I was able to see indigenous art—in the shadow of Columbus.
Puerto Rico is historically rich, culturally vibrant and visually stunning, and it is certainly a shopping stop not to be missed.