Report on Puerto Rico
by Katrina Howard
I just returned from a 3 week trip to
San Juan, Puerto Rico. I was excited to be returning to the island after a
fifteen year absence. I had lived in PR and it was one of the highlights of my
life. I love the island and the people. I have family there (by marriage),
and friends that I couldn't wait to see. I got off the plane and drank in the
smell...the heat...a tangible caress from the air and atmosphere. I went
to the apartment (see:www.thecaleta.com)in Viejo San Juan (the old city) and was
surprised to find that I knew the place (a friend used to live there). I adore
Old San Juan, the architecture is wonderful, its small but packs all you need
into a 7 by 7 block area. The best restaurant is French: Trois Cent Onze
(311) Calle Fortaleza. Very reasonable prices and exquisite food! The weather
was great. Seeing my friends and family was wonderful. I was
shocked, however, to find all the public beaches closed in the San Juan
Metropolitan area, and to find walls and gates blocking beach access along the
hotel strip from Condado to Isla Verde. You can still find access routes
but you need to search for the openings. Although this was
technically a business and family reunion trip, I had hoped to enjoy a salsa
nightlife. That didn't happen. I had the time but there were almost
no venues that had straight salsa. I spent every night out looking,
sometimes hitting 3 clubs in an evening, only to discover that; a)without a
partner you are out of luck if you want to dance, and b) with a partner, in most
clubs you wade through everything style imaginable(meringue/chacha/samba/disco/world)
to dance 2 salsas!
I had taken a list with me that I found on www.salsaweb.com
and www.noti-salsa.com. Both lists
were out of date (nights & times
fluctuate), and definitely inaccurate about what I call a "salsa"
club. There is a difference between, salsa, meringue, and mambo!Note: I consider
a salsa club one which plays 75% or more salsa per evening. Please check listed web sites for
addresses and phone numbers of the following clubs.
Condado Plaza & Wyndam
Hotel-Free-when I checked these out, the music was great, no dancers in sight.
Daiquiri- a phone call told me they
no longer do salsa.
Calientisimo- was closed.
San Juan Grand is now called
International Continental - Club
Martini-Free: fabulous bands, mixed
music, all couples.
San Juan Chateau-cover $10-$20.
All meringue!!! Great bands &
entertainment, huge dance floor, on
Sat. they usually have 3 bands.
Havana-Free-DJ-Tiny after hours club
El Coabey & El Tropico- I wasn't
able to make either club- they are late night after hour places that are
difficult to find unless you are familiar with Rio Piedras.
Note: lots of new highways,
with and without clear signs can make driving
frustrating for anyone not familiar with the area.
Rumba-free-live salsa band the first
Tues of every month. DJ nightly, mixed music.
Studio 65- was not able to make this
Marriot Hotel-Free- great bands,
mixed music, all couples.
El San Juan Hotel- Free- live music,
small dance floor, all couples.
Clubs not on above web sites:
The Normandie Hotel, San Juan -(fabulous art deco, built like a large cruise
ship)Friday's only on the 6TH floor, in the Ballroom. cover $15-excellent
band. This is where I found all the salseros! Excellent salsa &
mambo dancers. Couples & singles. All locals. Slow to warm up to
strangers but once the ice was broken they were helpful and nice. I got
more dances in here than anywhere else. The majority of the crowd is over 30.
Mango's. 2421 Laurel St. Puntas Las Marias, Isla Verde. Tues-Sat
live music, occasional salsa, all singles 25-45. The most friendly club
that I found! Local crowd, great fun.
Anos Quarentos- I was told this club did salsa Sat.'s but I wasn't able to
find an address.
The lack of a salsa scene was a huge disappointment for me. The
"hot" clubs are split between meringue & house/disco/world music.
Puerto Rico has gone through some major changes since I lived there. Salsa
used to be everywhere! In the parks, on the streets, in the clubs.
Now...it appears to have gone underground.
In the old days, the people were warm, generous, welcoming, outgoing, and
fun. I hate saying this but my smiles and questions were brushed off in
almost every club (the exception being the Normandie, Mangos, &
I found lots of clicks, cool attitude, and cold shoulders. I was put
down and sworn at by a a man I asked to dance! I was told "that
is not done here". Well, it didn't used to be that way. There are
helpful and nice people here but I was amazed at the amount of
negative attitude I ran into. Many people are suspicious and wary about talking
to strangers. The reason might be any/all of the following: The crime rate has
risen, the economic situation has gotten worse, and the islands population has
increased dramatically. The streets get so overwhelmed by tourists from
the cruise ships, that on Tues. & weekends cars are diverted from Old San
Juan (unless you have a permit)to the main parking garage. Everybody
walks. There is police presence on every corner to avoid potential
problems. I talked to many people about the changes and the majority felt
that PR had simply grown too quickly, getting overwhelmed in the process and has
not had the resources or space to adapt. I still love this place,
especially Old San Juan. I love the absolute silence between 5 & 8Pm,
the plazas , the beautiful buildings, cobblestone streets, and the vistas.
I will return again.
My recommendation is this: if and when they hold another Salsa Congress,
that would be a good time to go (read Evan's report on the Puerto Rico Salsa
Congress). Any other time, bring your dance partner! Be
tolerant, gentle, well mannered, and friendly. Actually that's the only way
to travel anywhere .
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