12 Fascinating Puerto Rico Facts You’ll Learn on an MSC Cruises Martha Stewart Excursion

Taking a cruise to Puerto Rico? A culinary tour is one of the best (and tastiest!) ways to immerse yourself in the local culture.

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Puerto Rico facts - San Juan turns 500 in 2021
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What you’ll learn on MSC Cruises’ Martha Stewart Tour of San Juan, Puerto Rico

There’s a great deal of truth in the old cliché that the best way to learn about a culture is through its cuisine. When you’ve only got a limited time to explore a destination—a port of call on a cruise, for instance—a culinary tour is one of the most efficient ways to get a true taste (if you’ll pardon the pun) of life in that corner of the world.

One of the newest culinary tours on offer in San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been designed by none other than Martha Stewart. The legendary domestic doyenne has collaborated with MSC Cruises to create a series of excursions to highlight the “hidden gems” of the Caribbean, including “Savour San Juan’s Culinary Delights”—a walking tour through the charming cobblestoned streets of the Puerto Rican capital. Along the way, you’ll sample popular local drinks and dishes, while your guide shares these fascinating Puerto Rico facts which offer a great deal of insight into the island’s unique culture.

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San Juan sidewalk mosaic - 500th anniversary
Photo: Brett Walther

San Juan will soon be celebrating five centuries

2021 will mark the 500th anniversary of the founding of San Juan as a Spanish colony. The bustling capital remains the U.S. territory’s economic and cultural hub, and a popular port of call for Caribbean cruises, including the MSC Seaside.

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Puerto Rico facts - El Convento San Juan
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An introduction to Puerto Rican cuisine

The Cayman Islands might claim to be the culinary capital of the Caribbean, but Puerto Rico has plenty to offer the discerning palate. At San Juan’s historic El Convento Hotel—a 16th-century Carmelite nunnery turned boutique hotel—you’ll have the opportunity to sample a traditional Puerto Rican fritter. It’s a mouthwatering introduction to the estimated 4,000 eateries across the island.

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Puerto Rico facts - skinniest home in the world
Photo: Brett Walther

Is this the world’s skinniest home?

San Juan is home to what’s widely regarded as the skinniest house in the Caribbean—and possibly even the world. The bright yellow La Casa Estrecha (Spanish for “the narrow house”) measures just five feet wide—and that’s from the inside!

Care to marvel at more seemingly impossible structures? Check out the world’s tallest skyscrapers.

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Puerto Rico facts - Calle del Cristo chapel
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The chapel that marks a miracle

The historic Calle del Cristo was the first street to be paved with cobbles in San Juan, and it’s now the main drag for tourists. The route kicks off at the tiny Capilla del Santo Cristo de la Salud—an 18th century chapel built to honour the site of a supposed miracle. Click here to read the fascinating full story.

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Puerto Rico facts - Bacardi rum
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Made in Puerto Rico

Although the Bacardi brand originated in Cuba, Puerto Rico now produces 80 per cent of Bacardi rum sold worldwide.

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Puerto Rico facts - Ponce Don Q rum
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Have what the locals are having

Bacardi might be a more recognizable rum brand worldwide, but the local favourite is Don Q, produced in the city of Ponce (above), on the south coast of the island.

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Puerto Rico facts - rum and coke
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Puerto Rico is the birthplace of the rum and Coke

You can trace the origins of not one, but two classic cocktails to Puerto Rico. Perhaps unsurprisingly, locals claim the “rum and Coke” as their own; and there’s also evidence to suggest the pina colada was invented in San Juan’s Caribe Hilton in 1954.

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Puerto Rico facts - Pina Colada
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Learn how to make an authentic pina colada

A real Puerto Rican pina colada doesn’t come in a thick “slush” form as you’re likely to find on a cruise ship or a resort—rather, it’s served as gold rum, coconut water and pineapple juice (with perhaps a splash of sugar cane syrup), chilled over ice. For a taste of the genuine article, check out La Casita de Rones in the heart of Old San Juan.

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Puerto Rico facts - Chocobar Cortes Old San Juan
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The secret ingredient you never thought to add to your hot chocolate

Not a drinker? You can still indulge in a decadent mug of hot chocolate in Old San Juan’s Chocobar Cortes (above). Don’t be alarmed when it’s served with a slice of cheddar cheese: you’re meant to plunk the cheese into the steaming mug, and allow it to melt. Although it sounds a strange combination, it makes for a surprisingly tasty twist on a classic.

Let your taste buds guide your travel! These are the world’s best destinations for chocolate lovers.

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Puerto Rico fact - Making mofongo
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Learn how to make mofongo

Mofongo—a mashed mound of either yucca or plantain, paired with stewed chicken, seafood or any other kind of protein—is classic Puerto Rican comfort food. On the MSC Cruises Martha Stewart Culinary Tour of San Juan, you’ll learn how to prepare this delicious dish at a cooking class at Old San Juan’s Lounge Cultura.

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Puerto Rico facts - mashed yucca
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Is it yucca, or is it potato?

Although it’s not as common in Canadian grocery stores as it is in Puerto Rican markets, yucca isn’t all that different from the potato. They’re both starchy root vegetables with similar nutritional profiles, and once mashed, you’d be hard pressed to spot the difference.

Travelling elsewhere in the Caribbean? Don’t miss these amazing things to do in the Dominican Republic.

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Puerto Rico facts - cobblestone streets
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It’s challenging to get around San Juan

Don’t be in a rush to get around San Juan. Between the narrow streets and the fact that there’s not a single traffic light in the capital, congestion is a major issue. If you choose to explore on foot, ensure you’ve got proper footwear and watch your step—the wildly uneven cobblestone streets (which date back to the 18th-century) can be incredibly slippery when wet. Find out more about Martha Stewart’s MSC Cruises excursions here.

Next, check out 10 essential experiences onboard MSC Seaside.

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