You’ve seen the headlines. Devastation descended on the island of Puerto Rico with the back-to-back hurricanes of Irma and Maria. Before that, news of mind-boggling government debt and an injured economy.
Here in these pages, we have something else entirely. Some of my most treasured memories took place on this island. As a child, I ran like the wind through the lush, green mountain town where nearly every resident is a member of my family. What struck me as I followed the news in Puerto Rico from the comfort of the States was the absence of the island’s vitality, vibrance, and humanity in the media’s coverage.
Nearly two years since Maria, many people stateside have expressed confusion on whether the island is ready for travelers. So as we brainstormed locations for this catalog, the jaw-dropping natural splendor and the generosity and strength of Puerto Rico’s residents echoed in my mind. We chose Puerto Rico as the proving ground for our summer gear—not just to show the world, yes, you can visit—but to highlight a few of the faces and places that make this island so resilient. There’s a different flavor of paradise here for every traveler’s interest—serene screensaver-like beaches, a food and beverage identity all its own, adrenaline-pumping outdoor recreation. Through our adventure around Puerto Rico and conversations with a local climber and disaster relief responder, the founder of a homegrown cocktail empire, and a surf-obsessed chef, we hope this catalog offers a look beyond the dreary headlines and into what makes this island one of the richest places on earth, no matter what comes its way.
—Luis Angel Cancel, Huckberry Managing Editor
Puerto Rico’s Cocktail King Leslie Cofresí
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These days, no thirsty wanderer has any excuse to sip a sub-par cocktail, thanks to Leslie Cofresí. He, too, was frustrated by the limits of the islands beverage scene and decided to do something about it.
In 2013, Leslie and his team secured a huge, historic building in Old San Juan and transformed it into La Factoría—a sprawling, multi-room, bar-scene-within-a-bar that’s become the beating heart of Puerto Rico’s cocktail renaissance. The venue’s landed itself on the prestigious World’s 50 Best Bars list for three consecutive years and has allowed Leslie to further his mission of making Puerto Rico the Caribbean’s premier craft cocktail destination.
Get Leslies's Adios Pantalones cocktail recipe here.
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Private Chef-Slash-Surfer Dario Tani
Some celebrities were name-dropped, others kept private. There were mentions of Connecticut. The South of France. Waves in Kauai. Mega yachts. Conversations with private chef-slash-surfer Dario Tani feel like speed-reading the Robb Report. Through his profession as a cook-for-hire, he’s constantly traveling and whipping up meals for clients in ridiculously opulent settings. At home, however, he lives a much simpler life.
Dario’s obsessed with surfing—he had enough boards in his quiver to provide for each member of our crew that visited Puerto Rico. He’s more interested in local agriculture than the restaurant scene. And above all, he’s committed to his community in Puerto Rico, assisting Sylvia in the reconstruction of La Finca Victoria and hosting pop-up meals on the island.
Get Chef Dario's rosemary arepas recipe here.
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The Climber Behind the Caribbean's Only Climbing Gym
Nearly a decade ago, the only rock climbing gym in San Juan was a disaster. It was staffed by young students that had no interest in the sport. The community of serious climbers was nearly non-existent. Accidents and injuries were common and, in no time, the gym closed.
It was within this problem-plagued gym that Bryant Huffman first dreamt of opening a bouldering gym of his own. Along with a small crew of like-minded friends, Bryant sought out climbing spots all around the island, cleared trails, and tapped his unbridled enthusiasm to become Puerto Rico’s most visible rock climbing evangelist. He founded Climbing PR, a touring company that guides visitors and locals alike to outdoor crags. Over the years, the scene began to steadily grow.
We met up with Bryant as he was putting some of the finishing touches on the his new climbing gym, El Bloque. While there was still plenty left to do when we arrived, it wasn't hard to imagine the place filled with a new generation of climbers, solving problems and getting hooked on the thrill of overcoming their own personal limits. Shortly before our arrival, El Bloque had just held their soft-opening event with a promising turn-out. If the crowd at the event is any indication, the island is ready.
Learn more about Bryant's climbing gym, El Bloque, here.
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How a Teacher Started San Juan's Coolest Coffee Shop
Once Ábner Roldán left his teaching job, his passion for coffee kicked into high-gear. He was crowned champion of Puerto Rico’s National Latte Art competition in 2014 and 2015 which brought on a wave of international opportunities, landing him and wife Karla in Sweden, Australia, and Italy before deciding to hone their trade in the coffee-obsessed city of Portland, Oregon. The plan was to soak up all the operational knowledge they could and open a shop of their own back in Puerto Rico, but shortly after their return to the island, Hurricane Maria made landfall and damaged the storefront they’d secured.
Rather than wait for repairs, they took to the streets, offering drip coffee curbside to offer a sense of normalcy to their neighbors. Today the shop reflects every facet of Abner and Karla’s journey—a community-centered meeting place offering an education in craft coffee culture, a peaceful respite from whatever challenges lie outside its doors.
Learn more about Abner and Karla's coffee shop, Café Comunión, here.
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This Caribbean Oasis Enters Its Second Act After Hurricane Maria
Travel’s not always glamorous. The business of getting to your destination is often full of delays, hunger, and restless impatience. With any luck, you’ll end up at Finca Victoria, an eco-lodge on the island of Vieques. Hurricane Maria destroyed most of its original structures and the future of this oasis remained in question. Sylvia DeMarco, Finca’s current proprietor, emerged as its savior.
Fifteen years ago, in the midst of a career in film, Sylvia began what would become routine visits to the property and struck up a close friendship with its previous owner, Corky. "When asked about my favorite place to visit from all my travels, I’d say without hesitation, ‘La Finca in Vieques,’" Sylvia tells us. The land and lodge had inspired Sylvia, a Puerto Rican native, to move back to the island from New York and start a hotel of her own, the enormously popular Dreamcatcher in San Juan.
Following the hurricanes, Sylvia offered help re-build the place that inspired her new path and Corky was so struck with Sylvia’s commitment to the project, she passed the property on to Sylvia. In the short span of time Sylvia’s been at the reins, she’s managed to revitalize La Finca to such a degree that it appears to have never even witnessed a storm. Inspired by this victory over trying circumstances, she christened the lodge with the name Victoria.
Learn more about La Finca Victoria here.
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This post was originally published on Huckberry. We deliver the coolest gear at the best prices, inspirational stories, and a hell of a lot more to your inbox every week. Membership is free and takes seconds.