The best way to experience another culture is through food and since this is a food blog after all, my descriptions will be largely characterized by the country’s cuisine. No trip is complete without trying the local dishes and specialties.
Puerto Rico (May)
San Juan/ Fajardo
I went to Puerto Rico over Memorial Day weekend with my best friend from university. It was our last hoorah before she started law school (Harvard!) While we had blast and the island is very beautiful, I would prioritize visiting other Caribbean islands before Puerto Rico. It was not cheap as meals were ~ $10-15 and each day excursion was over $100. Although it was convenient to use our American dollars and cell phones, since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, it made the experience feel less exotic and adventurous. Also the suffering economy was evident—the huge resorts and hotels were deserted. I’m sure the Zika scare did not help tourism either. Despite this, we had a great time eating mofongo and drinking pina coladas!
Old San Juan: Historic sites, cobblestone streets, cute shops and cafes
La Placita: Most lively neighborhood with restaurants and bars. This is where locals go out. During the weekends it turns into a huge street party.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro: A historic fort designed to guard the entrance to the San Juan Bay. Beautiful views of the city.
El Yunque Rainforest tour ($130): Our tour included transportation from a nearby hotel, lunch at an authentic Puerto Rican restaurant, tour of the rain forest (a short 1 mile hike to Mima Falls), and a kayak tour of a bioluminescent bay (micro-organisms that light up when you touch the water). I recommend renting a car as it will save you time and money.
Culebra Island tour (~$100): We took a large shuttle to Fajardo, about an hour away, where we boarded a cruise boat that took us out to nearby islands. We had plenty of time to snorkel, eat, and drink. They provided unlimited food and piña coladas—although the food was only cold cut meat and bread. Once people had a couple piña coladas in their system they started to dance and dare each other to jump off the boat into the water. We had a good time. Watch our GoPro video here.
- Mofongo: Fried plantain in a form of a bowl topped with meat, veggies, and sauce.
- La Estacion: Authentic Puerto Rican restaurant where we had lunch on our El Yunque Rainforest tour. Best Mofongo of the trip. Highlight of the tour!
- El Jibarito: Casual local spot in old San Juan
- Bombonera: Popular café in San Juan known for their baked goods
- Barrachina: Best pina coladas
- Boronia: on La Placita, live music, a little fancier and touristy than we hoped but the food was good
- Choco Cortes: delicious chocolate and hot chocolate
- Bogos: local spot with decent Mofongo
South America (August)
- Parque Lleras: Most hotels/hostels are located around here. It is a touristy area with shops, restaurants, and bars.
- Plaza Botero/ Parque Berrio: The Plaza is filled with Botero’s sculptures by the Parque Berrio metro station. Parque Berrio is across from the plaza and is filled with juice vendors and street performers.
- Jardín Botánico: Botanical gardens. Pleasant to walk through if you have time but not a highlight of the trip.
- Pueblito Paisa: Beautiful views of the city. Highly recommend!
- Coffee tour: Best are in Sorrento. You can book coffee tours through the hostel. We went to San Cayetano in Fredonia.
- Paragliding: We booked our ticket and cab through the hostel. You take a taxi 30 min outside of the city—find other people to split the cab with you. I recommend going early and on a nice day.
- Guatapé/El Peñol: If you do one thing, go to Guatape! Breathtaking views. You can either go on your own (what we did) or book a tour. There are also combined tours that take you to Pablo Escobar’s house, where you go paint-balling. If you go on your own it’s a two-hour bus ride (give or take 30 minutes). El Peñol or the rock is the first stop then you take a tuk-tuk to the town Guatapé or you can walk (about 40 min). The town is filled with adorable colorful buildings and shops. I recommend staying there for 2 or 3 hours and getting lunch. We had homemade vegetable crepes made by a French woman who was traveling for a year and working at the café for the week. One of my favorite meals—see the photo above. If you want to go to Guatapé on your own I can send you specific and detailed instructions, as it can be confusing.
- Parque Arvi: Cable cars to the a beautiful nature preserve. The cable cars give you great views of the city. Get lunch and go on a hike. We spent a whole day at Parque Arvi.
- El Castillo Museo y Jardines: Gothic-style castle with beautiful gardens. You can take your lunch and picnic
- Bandeja paisa: a signature dish from the region that includes spicy ground meat, pork cracklings, a fried egg, fried plantains, refried beans, avocado, rice, and a small side salad
- Las chachas: corn pastry/bread with cheese on top, find it at street vendors
- Spiralized green mango: served with salt and lime, ate this almost every day from street vendors
- Pandebono: cheesy bread
- Plantains with cheese
- Arepas: served with almost every meal, their version of bread, made from corn
- Ajiaco: traditional soup
- Patacónes: fried plantain chips with guacamole
- Aguardiente: typical Colombian alcohol made from anise. We were told to drink it with a slice of orange or lemon.
- Hato Viejo: nicer traditional Colombian food, order the bandeja paisa
- Hacinda: Typical Colombian food in downtown, the tour guide recommended it
- Verdeo: Health/organic café by our hostel in Poblado with cute eclectic decorations. Each table had a different toy animal figurine on it. Looks like a café you’d find in Oakland. They serve a special everyday for 15 pesos (around $5) that includes salad, soup, a fresh juice, entrée, and dessert.
- Centeno: By our hostel in Poblado, across from exito. This place is a hidden gem—we walked up stairs to a balcony where the chef and his wife were enjoying a glass of wine. When we arrived they jumped up and started our dinner. We were the only ones there and felt like we had a personal chef waiting on us. It was 16 pesos for juice, soup, salad, entrée, and tea. The restaurant had picnic-esque tables with flowers in mason jars. Very cute.
- Fairytale restaurant by park in Poblado. I can’t remember the name but you sit on the ground or on wood stools. There are lights streamed through the trees and you feel like you’re in a fairy’s forest.
Cusco/ Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu town)
- Machu Picchu: If you’re going to Machu Picchu I can send you detailed directions on getting there from Cusco.
- San Blas: Charming area of Cusco with cobblestone streets and cute cafes.
- Saksaywaman (pronounced like sexy woman): Incan ruins outside on the outskirts of Cusco.
- Real City Walking Tour: There are a few tours everyday. My friend was not feeling well so I went on the tour on my own and was the only one who showed up. It happened to be the guide’s last day in Cusco— he was from Portland and traveling South America for a year. He gave me his own personal tour which included eating chocolate cake at his favorite bakery, playing drums at the neighborhood music store, and meeting locals at the market who greeted him with a hug and free juice.
- Plaza de Armas: Main square in Cusco with lots of restaurants and bars.
- Mercado de San Pedro: Local food market with juice vendors and cheap food.
- Maras salt mines: We did not have time to go but you can take a day tour there on an ATV or take the bus.
- Rainbow mountain: Beautiful day hike. We didn’t go but everyone highly recommends it.
- Lomo Saltado: A dish that consists with thin strips of beef, sautéed onions, rice, fries, and vegetables.
- Pisco Sour: A typical drink from the region made from Pisco, lemon juice, and topped with egg white.
- Green Point: Vegan restaurant in San Blas. They have a daily 3-course special that is ~$5. Everything is delicious. We were only in Cusco for three days and went there twice.
- Chica: Traditional Peruvian food that is a pricier than other restaurants in the area, but it is worth splurging for the night. Absolutely delicious! They are known for their chocolate balloon dessert.
Lima (only need a day/night)
- Miraflores: touristy area with good restaurants and bars
- Barranco: next to Miraflores. We walked from our hostel in Miraflores and it took around 40 minutes. If you’re in the area then go to the Puente de los Suspiros or Bridge of Sighs – not very exciting but there is a nice view of the city.
- Parque de la Reserve: impressive water show every night
- Parque Central: Park in Miraflores with lots of cats wondering around, pretty funny to see
- Papas a la huanciana: Peruvian potatoes covered with spicy cheese
- Pollo a la Brasa: grilled chicken
- Causa: Layered potato dish with a variety of meat and vegetable fillings. Very popular!
- St. Roos: hole in the wall in Barranco
- La Estancia: café/pastry shop in Miraflores
- Madam Tusán: Chinese/Peruvian food (a popular combination in Lima)
- La Lucha: causal sandwiches in Miraflores
- Neuvo Mondo: artisanal beers in Miraflores
- Raw Café Club: vegan restaurant in Miraflores
- Punto Azul: seafood restaurant in Miraflores
- Guinness Factory tour
- Walking tour (daily)
- Trinity College
- Temple Bar and Street: The bar itself is expensive and touristy but it is worth stepping in to enjoy the decorations and atmosphere.
- Cliffs of Moher and Galway tour: I booked with Wild Rover. The tour departs at 7am and returns at 7pm. If you’re only in Ireland for the weekend it is a great way to see the extremely green and beautiful countryside. There are endless cows and châteaux. Beware they are strict about departure times. Don’t make the mistake I made and arrive a couple minutes late. Yes I was left at the Cliffs of Moher alone. The bus came back for me but they were not happy. Needless to say I did not make any friends on that tour—but seriously did the girl next to me not notice I was missing?!
- Pichet: Traditional Irish lunch
- Vintage Kitchen: Irish lunch and dinner spot
- Bobos Burgers: Ireland has delicious beef and butter because their (very happy) cows graze in the hundreds of acres of grass.
- Kehoes Burgers
- International food market: off of Temple Bar street
- Yamamori: Great sushi and good lunch specials
- Krust: Cronuts
- Grogens: Best Guinness
I went to Strasbourg, a small French city on the German border, with two friends for a night for the Marché de Noël. It is a university town so there are lots of students around. Although we went during Christmas time so it was very touristy. I’ve heard it’s beautiful to visit during spring and summer. It is a quant little town—you can walk the perimeter in about an hour. Highlights were the cathedral and the canals.
- Tarte flambée
- Vin Chaud
- Grimbergen beer- I enjoyed the grimbergen ambrée
- Pfifferbriader: Traditional food from the region, in the main square and a bit touristy
- Meiselocker: Traditional food, off from the main square and cheaper
- Chez Yvonne: We didn’t actually go here because it was already at capacity for the night. I have heard it is excellent.
- Au Pont Saint-Martin: Delicious Choucroute. We ordered the Choucroute Royale, which was €20 each. We made the mistake thinking it was €20 total so we received enough food to feed five 6’3″ men.