15 Puerto Rican Goods to Bring Home from San Juan

15 Puerto Rican Goods to Bring Home from San Juan

The uniqueness of Puerto Rico is partially associated with its political status as a part of the United States, but with a great deal of Latin twist. Other than the worldwide-acknowledged music talents, such as Carlos Santana & Ricky Martin, Puerto Rico is also rich in many other things. When in San Juan you will certainly appreciate the local food & drink scene, but also the colorful pieces of craftsmanship abounding in the city and waiting to be picked up so as to keep the vivid memory of this hospitable island in the years to come!
Image Courtesy of: Mstyslav Chernov

1. Butterfly Art

Butterfly Art
When you first walk into The Butterfly People shop in San Juan’s old city, you feel as if you just walked into an exotic butterfly garden. You are surrounded by Lucite encasements of butterflies of a variety of different species and in every color you can imagine. The shop has a beautiful garden in the back and the light makes everything in the store sparkle. The butterflies glow and shine through their Plexiglas boxes which are small enough to fit into your bag or large enough to cover a wall. The butterflies look as though they might fly right out at you. Of course, they won’t, they’re not alive, but they are carefully preserved in artful settings by Resat Revan and his wife Cirene, who buy butterflies from native sellers in tropical locations around the world. On top of their shop is their studio where Resat designs and produces these beautiful and vivid displays. A piece of butterfly art features anywhere between two and one hundred butterflies.
Price: $30-$3,000
Where to find it:
The Butterfly People
www.butterflypeople.com
257 Calle De La Cruz
Old San Juan, PR
787 723-2432
Daily 11am-6pm
Closed Fridays

2. Cigars

Cigars
The Spanish brought them back to Spain from Puerto Rico and called them “cigarillos.” Cigar making is still considered an art form in Puerto Rico. Until the late 1950s, Puerto Rico was among the world’s largest tobacco exporters, but the industry has since declined. There is a variety of Puerto Rican-made cigars, but one of the oldest and best-known brands from the island is Don Collins. Don Collins cigars are handmade in the oldest surviving cigar factory in the Caribbean. The factory itself dates back to 1506 and is available for tours. But you don’t have to go to the factory to take in the aroma of the famed tobacco; just walk into any one of the tobacco shops in San Juan or head straight to the Don Collins shop. Don Collins cigars use 13 different kinds of Puerto Rican-grown tobacco produced by independent farmers on the island. A Lonsdale bundle will run you about $140.00, while a bundle of Puros Indios costs $225.00. But if you want to try a few different ones, sample packs are available, ranging in price from about $40 to $70, depending on how many cigars are in the pack.
Price: $2-$17 per cigar
Where to find it:
Don Collins Cigars
www.don-collins.com
59 Calle Cristo
Old San Juan, PR
787 977-2983
Daily 10am-8pm

3. Mundillo

Mundillo
The art of bobbin lace making developed in Puerto Rico about two centuries ago, originally to adorn highly styled garments, such as the ones worn by the clergy. Today, this specialized lace continues to be used to decorate infant and toddler clothing. Almost every Puerto Rican baby, at some point, is dressed in a Mundillo lace ensemble. Mundillo is a special kind of knitting with multiple threads that produce intricate and artistic knits. The beautifully crafted Mundillo lace is made predominantly in the town of Moca, in the western part of the island, where most of the lace makers live and continue to teach the art. There is even a Museum of Mundillo in Moca and the town regularly hosts a Mundillo festival. Most of the clothing comes in pastel colors, like light yellow, lavender, turquoise, pink, as well as beige and white. This traditional Puerto Rican lace is also used to make table cloths, bedspreads and handkerchiefs. The lace makers bring their carefully crafted infant jumpsuits, dresses, headbands, booties, blankets and bonnets to sell in San Juan, usually at artisan festivals. But if you happen to have missed all the festivals, you can still buy Mundillo at San Juan’s famed Plaza Las Americas, the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean. In fact, many of Puerto Rico’s artisans have found a home at Plaza Las Americas either in a freestanding kiosk or at the shopping center’s 3rd floor artisan gallery.
Prices: range from $50 for a simple infant outfit to $500 for a highly styled blanket.
Where to find it:
Mi Pequeno Angelito
Plaza Las Americas
1st Floor – next to Sears in front of the Fountain
San Juan, PR
787 376-5156
Daily 9am-9pm

4. Ceramics

Ceramics
Art is everywhere in San Juan and art and crafts shops can be found throughout the narrow, winding cobblestone streets of the old city. Many of the artists have been schooled at one of the local art institutes, while some are simply self-taught. Ceramics are one specialty that you will see in many different shops and galleries, but at Puerto Rico Art & Crafts artisans have a unique opportunity to show off their creations. The store allows artists to have their own shelf or wall to display their work. The ceramics really stand out here with larger items, like colorful plates and bowls, to smaller objects, such as cups and vases. The shop is located in a restored Spanish colonial building in the heart of Old San Juan, and artists from all over the island are featured here at different times during the year.
Prices: $6-$900
Where to find it:
Puerto Rican Art & Crafts
www.puertoricanart-crafts.com
204 Fortaleza Street
Old San Juan, PR

18.464950 -66.115808
787 725-5596
Monday – Saturday 10am-6pm
Sunday – Noon-5pm

5. Jewelry

Jewelry
When a cruise ship docks in Old San Juan, many passengers head straight for the one of the many jewelry stores that line the streets of Old San Juan, selling primarily silver and gold. But if you look a little further, you can find the uniquely designed earrings, bracelets and necklaces, which make use of the island’s local materials, such as seeds, sea glass and coconuts. These artful pieces are both earthy and chic, and some give the impression that similar styles might have been worn by the indigenous Taino Indians that once inhabited the island. Boveda, located on the long and shop-lined Calle Cristo, offers jewelry from a host of international designers, but the locally designed pieces have distinct colors and style. Just up the street from Boveda is one of San Juan’s most beautiful home goods shops. The store certainly offers local and some internationally designed home-wares, but there you can also find a very special kind of jewelry not often seen anymore. Your grandmother might remember the lost art of jewelry making called tadding; if not, Sema, the store’s owner, will tell you all about it. She designs and makes all of her own jewelry and taddings, which is a lacing technique that was practiced years ago. On display you will find Sema’s delicate necklaces and earrings and she will be happy to tell you exactly how she made each one of them and which design looks best on you.
Price: $8-$600
Where to find it:
Boveda
www.boveda.info
209 Cristo Street
Old San Juan, PR
787 725-0263
Daily 10am-6pm

Price for Taddings: $85-$125
Where to go: Natural Home
www.naturalhomepr@gmail.com
101 Fortaleza Street
Old San Juan, PR
787 721-5731
Daily 10am-8pm

6. Pilon

Pilon
Mashed plantains is one of the most popular dishes in Puerto Rico. Almost every creole restaurant on the island features some kind of mashed plantains or “mofongo” stuffed with different sorts of meat and seasonings. However, in order to make this traditional dish, you need a pilon that is used to smash the fried unripe green plantains. Pilon is a Puerto Rican wooden mortar and pestle which can also be used to crush spices. At one time, it was even used to grind coffee. Some pilones are made from the wood of Guayacan trees and can be decorative as much as useful. It is said that the Taino Indians used large hollowed out tree trunks to make their waist high pilones. Today, you can find pilones of different sizes, small - to grind up spices, as well as bigger ones. You will see pilones sold at a number of shops in San Juan, but some of the most interesting ones can be found at San Juan’s highly popular shopping mall, Plaza Las Americas. On the 3rd floor of the mall, there is a special gallery that features crafts of the local artisans seeking to sell their work to a wider clientele. There, you will find many of the local crafts, as well as some of the most beautiful wooden pilones.
Price: $25-$300
Where to find it:
Plaza Las Americas
3rd floor Paseo Cultural Ricaldo Alegria (near JC Penney)
San Juan, PR
Daily 9am-9pm
Sunday 11am-7pm

7. Bags

Bags
Climbing up and down some of the hills of Old San Juan can really tire you out, especially if you’re carrying a heavy bag or backpack. A local bag designer has made a splash with her lightweight and fashionable cotton bags that can be worn cross body, over the shoulder or even around your waste, but have room for all of the essentials. These bags are also convenient if you’re riding a bike, because of their lightness. The store’s owner and designer sacrifices nothing in style while insisting upon the bags practicality. The exterior is made out of cotton, but lined with nylon. The different fabrics all come from Puerto Rican suppliers and there are always 15 different designs in the store on any given day. You can choose from totes, clutches or messenger style bags, all in a variety of color combinations. The bags are utilitarian, yet trendy, and are all manufactured in a co-op in Puerto Rico’s beautiful mountain town of Utuado; they are only sold in San Juan.
Price: $40-$75
Where to find it:
Concalma
www.concalmalinea.com
Calle San Francisco 207
Old San Juan, PR
787 729-0800
Monday-Saturday 10am-6pm
Sunday 10am-4pm

8. Vejigantes

Vejigantes
These colorful decorative masks represent 11th century Spanish Moors and are often seen during Carnival or the St. James Festival in Puerto Rico, which takes place in July. These brilliant clown-like masks have protruding horns, oversize lips, noses and eyes, and are often worn with equally colorful costumes. The masks date back to the 1700s' Spanish traditions and represent a spiritual battle between Apostle James and Spanish Muslims. The masks can be quite scary. They represent “evil” in the fight between good and evil that often is the theme at carnivals around the world. The Vejigante masks of Puerto Rico come from two towns of historic importance. Loiza is a small town whose population was once made up of freed or escaped African slaves. The masks in Loiza are made from coconut shells and have a strong African influence in their tradition and design. In Ponce, Puerto Rico’s second largest city, the masks are made of paper-mache. The art of mask-making comes from both Spanish and African culture and has been passed down from generation to generation. These decorative masks can be found in different colors and sizes and hang nicely on a wall.
Price: $18-$150
Where to find it:
El Galpon
154 Calle del Cristo, San Juan, PR 00901, United States
+1 787-725-3945

9. Wood Carvings of Saints

Wood Carvings of Saints
The festival of the Three Kings is probably more celebrated in Puerto Rico than even Christmas. In almost every crafts store in San Juan you will find shelves of wood-carved saints or “santos” in all sizes and styles, most often representative of the Three Kings. Historically, these wood images of saints were used as objects for prayer. Today, the saints represent an important part of Puerto Rican culture. When the Spanish arrived on the island in the late 1400s, these representations of saints were used to help in efforts to convert to Catholicism the indigenous people of the island – first, the Taino Indians and, later, slaves from Western Africa. Saint carvings eventually evolved to become more a part of the art culture leaving behind much of the religious attachments. These statuettes can be simple or ornately painted and can be hung on the wall or stand on their own. You will find these wood carvings of saints at many shops throughout San Juan, but El Galpon, located in a little alley right off one of the main shopping streets, has a special collection displayed along the wall, and the shop’s owner will tell you about the history of the saints and their origins.
Price: $45-$1,000.00
Where to find it:
El Galpon
www.elgalpon.net
154 Calle Cristo
Old San Juan, PR
787 725-3945
Daily 10am-6pm

10. Spices

Spices
Puerto Rican cooking often involves cilantro, a lime sort of flavor that can be found in a lot of different Latin American cooking practices. But even more popular than cilantro in Puerto Rico, is recao, a more aromatic, jagged edged long leaf kind of cilantro. Some of the other favorite flavors on the island include orange, lime, mango and a variety of peppers, depending on what’s in season. If you want to taste some of the different seasonings of Puerto Rican cooking, stop by Spicy Caribbee, a quaint little shop, located in one of Old San Juan’s precious alleyways, which offers tastings of their spices, jams and sauces. All the seasonings here have been inspired by the owner’s travels throughout the Caribbean and her wish to create Puerto Rico’s best herb combinations. The spices come in attractive gift-size jars and bottles that are easily packed. The owner of the shop, Nereida Williams, created the spice recipes herself and they are almost all made with local ingredients. Some of the biggest sellers are the “Herbed Sea Salt,” an all-around seasoning that is great with pork, chicken or fish, the “Steak Seasoning” made with the local recao leaf, and the “Lime, Orange, Pepper” which is salt-free. So, if you want to bring home a little taste of Puerto Rico, you can pick up a jar or two and savor the flavors of the island long after your trip.
Price: $5-$10 per jar
Where to find it:
Spicy Caribbee
www.spicycaribbee.com
154 Calle Cristo
Old San Juan, PR
888 725-7259
Monday – Saturday 10am-6pm
Sunday 11am-5pm

11. Rums

Rums
Though other Caribbean islands produce a variety of rums of their own, over 70% of rum sales in the United States come from Puerto Rico. One of Puerto Rican leading rum labels is Don Q, produced by a family distillery that has been around for 145 years. Don Q is renowned for its clean finish and comes in light, dark or naturally flavored varieties with coconut, lime or passion fruit flavors. The process of rum making begins with crushing sugar cane; eventually, the produced spirit is aged in oak barrels and then blended to get just the right taste for each variety. In Old San Juan, just across from Pier One on the waterfront, is Casa Don Q, a small museum dedicated to the history of rum making in Puerto Rico. The museum has a staffed bar offering free samples and you can even order their specialty drink, called a Dulcinea, made of orange, pineapple, coconut cream, grenadine syrup and Don Q Cristal rum. At Casa Don Q, you can pick up a variety of bottles to take home, including Don Q Cristal, Gold, Citrus Lime, Passion, Coconut or Mojito. There is also Don Q Anejo and, for a splurge, Don Q Gran Anejo which is aged between 3 and 12 years and is top of the line. Don Q Gran Anejo was given a five-star diamond award by the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences, making it the first rum ever to receive such a rating.
Price: $15-$55
Where to find it:
Casa Don Q
www.donq.com
Paseo Gilberto Concepcion de Gracia
500 Bldg. Edificio Ochoa
Old San Juan, PR
787 977-1720
Tuesday – Saturday 9am-6pm
Closed Sundays and Mondays

12. Guiro

Guiro
Music is definitely a key part of Puerto Rican culture and the island is known for several musical instruments and their unique sounds. Today, Puerto Rico is often associated with its popular reggaeton, as well as salsa. But the island’s more traditional music includes Bomba, Plena and Danza, all very distinct musical styles that have evolved to some degree, but have long histories. Bomba and Plena come from West African musical traditions, and often tell a certain story through words and music. One of the instruments you will most likely find accompanying Bomba or a Plena, or any other Puerto Rican folk music for that matter, is Guiro. A Guiro is believed to have originated with the indigenous Taino Indians. This percussion instrument is made from a hollowed-out gourd with parallel grooves carved into its surface and it makes a rasping sound when stroked up and down with a scraper. The straighter and more consistent are the grooves of the Guiro, the better is the quality of the instrument. The Guiro is often played by a singer and comes in a variety of sizes.
Price: $8-$16
Where to find it:
Mi Pequeno San Juan
www.mipequenosanjuan.com
152 Fortaleza Street
Old San Juan, PR
787 977-1636
Daily 10am-6pm

13. Candies

Candies
Traditional Puerto Rican candies or “dulces”, as they call them on the island, really make use of the wonderful local tropical fruits and seeds. You can taste candies made from coconut, sweet potato, orange, pineapple, sesame and guava paste, as well as a variety of combinations. Kids especially love the pilones, which are Puerto Rican lollipops that come in cherry, lime, orange, coconut and sesame flavors or you can have sesame with coconut on top. Some other favorites include: the coconut amelcochao, which has an especially soft texture and is made of grated chunks of coconut; the mampostia made of grated coconut and sesame seeds, and; the batata, which is made from grated sweet potato. Another dulce which the locals seem to like is the cremita de coco which is a coconut treat that will melt in your mouth. Many of these sweets can be found at supermarkets, but to sample a real variety of flavors, buy them at one of the candy or gift shops featuring only locally-made products.
Price: .45-$3.00 plus tax
Where to find it:
Delicias Rikenas (will gift box any of your selections)
Plaza Las Americas - 1st floor kiosk near information desk
San Juan, PR
787 763-2920
Monday – Saturday 9am-9pm
Sunday 11am-7pm

14. Hammocks

Hammocks
Hammock weaving has long been a specialty in the Puerto Rican town of San Sebastian, located in the northwest corner of the island. The town even hosts a hammock festival in July. Legend has it that hammock weaving, just like so many other crafts in Puerto Rico, has been handed down from the Taino Indians. Even the word “hammock” has most likely derived from the Taino word “hamaca” meaning a comfortable lounging chair. While most hammocks are designed and made in small towns across the island by individual craftspeople, you can find these authentic and durable hammocks being sold in a handful of places in the city of San Juan. The hammocks are made from cotton and cord and are sometimes dyed in bright colors. They come in a variety of sizes, like a chair for one person, or a double chair for two. Some hammocks can even hold up to 450 pounds.
Price: $50-$200
Where to find it:
La Calle Shopping Mall
105 Fortaleza Street
Old San Juan, PR
787 725-1306
Daily 10am-6:30pm

15. Coffee

Coffee
In San Juan, ordering a cup of coffee or a “cafecito” is a part of just about everyone’s daily life. People gather at almost any hour at one of the old city’s outdoor plazas to sip some coffee and engage in lively conversations with friends. Coffee was once one of Puerto Rico’s top exports until a decline in production forced most of the smaller coffee plantations to close. Recently, there has been a resurgence of small family farms coffee production and a handful of micro-roasteries and coffeehouses have opened, serving single-origin coffee grown in the island’s interior mountains. One of the newest to open in San Juan’s historic old city is Cuatro Sombras – which means Four Shades (or shadows) and refers to the four different trees that provide shade to their coffee beans while they grow. The Santa Clara coffee farm had its doors closed, just like many others in Puerto Rico, back in the mid 1950s. Fortunately, these days, the descendants of the original family decided to dedicate themselves to reviving the farm. As a result, Cuatro Sombras, certified for making specialty coffee, now offers their crisp, clean tasting coffee to local coffee lovers and visitors alike. An 8-ounce latte costs $2.09.
Price: 8 oz. bag of coffee beans is $11.77, including tax.
Where to find it:
Cuatro Sombras
www.cuatrosombras.com
Calle Recinto Sur #259
Old San Juan, PR
787 724-9955
Monday – Friday 7:30am-6pm
Saturday/Sunday 10:30am-6pm
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San Juan Historic Buildings Self-Guided Tour

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Travel Distance: 2.5 km
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Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
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