Let’s cut to the chase: Puerto Ricans know how to party. No matter the time of year, it’s difficult to turn a corner on the island territory without happening upon a celebration of some sort. But not all festivals are equal. If you’re headed to Puerto Rico, use this handy guide to discover which one is right for you!
For the Adventurous Foodie: Saborea Puerto Rico Festival
When: Early April
Where: Balneario de Carolina
What to Expect: There are many reasons why Puerto Rico is often referred to as the culinary capital of the Caribbean, but if you need convincing, a trip to Saborea will do just that. Saborea is Puerto Rico’s premier food festival, bringing together the island’s top chefs, restaurants, and food-lovers, as well as a host of international culinary icons, for a weekend-long smorgasbord of good eats and fine drinks. You can pick and choose which events you’d like to attend — such as the Old San Juan Food Tour or the Sunday morning Oceanside Brunch — or, if you just can’t bear to miss out on any of the flavor, you can purchase a weekend pass for $165. Whatever you decide, make sure you show up with a hearty appetite — you’re gonna need it!
For the Fan of Bizarre Holiday Traditions: Hatillo Masks Festival
When: December 28th
What to Expect: Celebrated annually since the town’s founding in 1823, the Hatillo Mask Festival remembers the Christian martyrs of the book of Matthew — the boys under the age of three who were ordered to be killed by King Herrod in his quest to murder baby Jesus. To remember this day, the citizens of Hatillo dress up in masks and colorful costumes and parade through the streets in search of the town’s children. It’s not as macabre as it sounds, though — the daylong event includes lots of dancing, tasty food, and all-around good fun.
For the Movie Buff: Rincón International Film Festival
What to Expect: Held every year in the sleepy surf town from which it takes its name, the Rincón International Film Festival was named one of MovieMaker Magazine’s 25 film festivals worth the entry fee. Combining the thrill of cinematic competition with the comfort and relaxation of one of the island’s most beautiful coasts, the week-long event holds outdoor screenings of entertaining films at beautiful beachfront resorts with food catered by some of the best chefs on the island. You can either attend as an audience member or, if you’re so inclined, you can submit your own film. All genres are accepted, but special consideration is given to comedies, romances, horrors, documentaries, and surf films.
For the Aspiring “So You Think You Can Dance” Contestant: Puerto Rico Salsa Congress
When: Late July
Where: San Juan
What to Expect: It doesn’t matter if it’s referring to the dish or the dance — when you hear “salsa congress,” you go. In this case, it’s the latter. The Puerto Rico Salsa Congress was the first festival of its kind, but has since inspired similar events in cities all over the world. A “salsa congress” is basically a multi-day celebration of the dance form, which includes workshops, competitions, performances, and “social” dances. If you’ve ever wanted to learn to salsa (and really, who hasn’t?), or if you just want to watch some world-class dancing, this is the event for you!
For the Caffeine Junkie: Festival del Acabe del Café
What to expect: There are two types of people in this world — those who drink coffee and those I don’t understand. If you fall into the former camp, you can’t miss this java-fueled festival held in the tiny municipality of Maricao every February. For most of the year, Maricao is the second-least-populous town in Puerto Rico, but during this three-day celebration, it receives over 175,000 caffeine-crazed visitors. Also known as the End of Harvest festival, the Festival del Acabe del Café emulates the traditional party that the hacienda owners would throw for their workers at the conclusion of the harvest season. Today, you can enjoy samples from over 200 artisan brewers, and you can even try some tasty, coffee-inspired dishes. Did someone say flan?
For the Relaxed Festival Attendee: Aibonito Flower Festival
When: Late June/Early July
What to Expect: Not into the whole loud music and raucous street parade thing? Well, not every festival is that high energy. If you’re looking for something a little more laid back, head up to the quaint mountain town of Aibonito for its annual flower festival. More of a massive farmers market than a traditional festival, the Aibonito Flower Festival is the largest plant and flower sale in Puerto Rico, with hundreds of merchants and displays, as well as live music, craft fairs, local artisans, and plenty to eat. For a fairly family-friendly festival, feel free to flock to this forum of flowers.
For the Bacchanalian Reveler: San Sebastián Street Festival
When: Third Week in January
Where: Old San Juan
What to Expect: If your idea of a great festival includes the opportunity to lose yourself in the high-energy pulse of a crowd, the San Sebastián Street Festival has everything you could ever want. Street vendors with enough food and drink to nourish a small country? Check. Attendees dressed in traditional colorful garb? Check. An all-night dance party? Check. Music, arts, crafts, and all sorts of general merrymaking? Check, check, check, and check.
For the Musically Inclined: Heineken Jazz Festival
When: Late March
Where: Bahia Urbana, Old San Juan
What to Expect: Having been celebrated for over 20 years now, the Heineken Jazz Festival is one of the premier jazz events in the Caribbean. This four-day festival is a must-experience celebration for anyone who’s ever tapped their foot to a beat, as it offers a lineup of workshops and performances from some of the contemporary masters of the genre. So dust off those dancing shoes, put on your best jacket, and make your way down to Old San Juan for a long weekend of cool fun and groovy tunes.