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What Makes Puerto Rico a Mindful Getaway for Food and Nature Lovers

According to local top chef, Juan José Cuevas, this Caribbean Island is booming with agritourism opportunities—with plenty of good eating included.

What Makes Puerto Rico a Mindful Getaway for Food and Nature Lovers

Hacienda Muñoz

Peter Greenberg Productions

Agritourism may not be your first thought when planning a trip to Puerto Rico. But it’s an incredible way to experience it. The Island’s tropical climate, rich biodiversity, and diverse landscape make it a natural agricultural hub that dates back centuries to yuca, sugarcane, and coffee plantations. Today, a new generation of sustainability-minded farmers are diversifying their crops, supplying Puerto Rico’s best chefs with delicious, fresh ingredients, and fueling the farm-to-table movement.

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Juan José Cuevas of 1919 Restaurant

Courtesy of 1919 Restaurant

One chef who helped spearhead the rise of farm-to-table dining is Juan José Cuevas, the Michelin-rated executive chef behind Condado Vanderbilt Hotel’s acclaimed 1919 Restaurant. Originally from Puerto Rico, he left in the 1990s to train at world-renowned restaurants such as Akelarre in San Sebastian, El Raco in Barcelona, Noma in Denmark, and Blue Hill Restaurant in New York City. “While working at these restaurants, I learned about organic farming, sustainability, and seasonal cooking and became deeply passionate about bringing these practices that were common in the continental U.S. and Europe to Puerto Rico,” says Cuevas.

At 1919 Restaurant, he hand-selects regional, artisanal products such as chayote (squash), goat cheese, heirloom carrots, eggplant, cochinillo (suckling pig), dorado (mahi-mahi), cartucho (snapper), and tuna, using them to create sophisticated dishes that speak to Puerto Rico’s culture. “I am most proud of the vegetable stew, which is 100 percent vegetarian with all locally sourced ingredients.”

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1919 Restaurant

DIEGO SANTANA LOPEZ

But to truly understand Puerto Rico’s agricultural bounty and immerse yourself in the destination, it’s crucial to also go behind the scenes and discover the origins of the food on your plate. From visits to coffee haciendas and educational farm stays to cheese-making classes and chocolate tastings at local cacao farms, the Island is full of low-footprint activities designed to help travelers learn more about the Island’s culinary culture and connect with nature on a relaxing and rewarding adventure. Here are some of Cuevas’s top agritourism recommendations.

Dine at farm-to-table restaurants

Prepare to eat well–and fresh. Puerto Rico has fully embraced a local approach to dining. “Many more chefs are buying local ingredients, and there is now much more diversity in the types of produce grown on our Island and knowledge about the local produce than ever before,” says Cuevas. When it comes to picking a spot, he tends to rotate between a few favorites on his nights off.

“I enjoy dining at Marmalade [helmed by Executive Chef Peter Schintler] as they have a clean organic and vegan approach to cooking. I usually order Moroccan-style ahi tuna tartar. Natalia Vallejo’s Cocina Al Fondo is in its pre-opening phase. They have a ‘grandmother’ style of cooking with a modern twist. I like the aji dulce en tempura—a type of aromatic chili without the heat—and the buñuelos de pana, a puffy breadfruit fritter. At Vianda, I appreciate that Francis Guzman uses local ingredients, and I enjoy the flavors of Puerto Rico cuisine mixed with an international flair. I order the almojábanas—a rice flour croquette—and cabeza de cerdo, a head cheese.”

Be a farmer for a day

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A farmer cutting squash.

Nina

Discover the farm-to-table movement firsthand at the sustainable properties that supply restaurants with their fresh produce. A family business and short drive from San Juan, Frutos del Guacabo has become a favorite among the Island’s culinary masters. “Travelers can venture to Frutos del Guacabo, located in Manatí, where the owners provide tours and often welcome guest chefs to cook over open flames,” says Cuevas.

There you can eat off the land, feed the goats, and learn about the production and development of crops like edible flowers, micro-sprouts, and more. Further afield in San Lorenzo, Hacienda Agroecológica Recaos Ortíz offers another unique opportunity to connect with Puerto Rico’s farmers as you check out medicinal plants, seasonal crops, and dig into the farm’s ever-popular cilantro dip.

Savor a local treat

Looking for something a bit more indulgent than fruits and vegetables? Head to Vaca Negra, an artisanal aged-cheese producer started by Wanda Otero, a microbiologist who was determined to offer Puerto Ricans an alternative to expensive imported cheeses. Found on the menus of the Island’s finest restaurants, travelers can visit the Vaca Negra facility in the town of Hatillo, known for having more cows than people.

“It is a great tour during which they explain the process of cheese-making followed by a tasting paired with wine,” says Cuevas. “You can even make your own cheese.” For dessert, consider stopping by Hacienda Jeanmarie Chocolat in Aguada, Puerto Rico’s first registered cacao hacienda. There you can book a grafting workshop, enjoy a scenic walk through the farm, and of course, snack on organic chocolate bars.

Check into Puerto Rico’s first culinary farm lodge

A celebration of the Island’s agriculture and natural beauty, El Pretexto in Cayey is a one-of-a-kind bed and breakfast that hosts pop-up dinners with some of the area’s best chefs, including Natalia Vallejo, Francis Guzmán, and Martin Louzao.

“The location of El Pretexto is ideal,” says Cuevas. “It’s home to a wooden farmhouse on top of a mountain and an atmosphere that transports me back to my childhood. The owner, Crystal Díaz, is also the co-owner of Produce, an app in Puerto Rico that connects food producers directly with consumers, helping to create sustainable food systems. They have great relationships with their clients and the resources to promote a wonderful experience.”

Visit a working coffee hacienda

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Hacienda Café Lareño

During the 1800s, coffee became one of Puerto Rico’s most important agricultural products. Today, in the Island’s lush mountainous region, you can still get a detailed lesson on coffee production and history, and enjoy a cup of joe straight from the source at plantations such as Hacienda Muñoz in San Lorenzo and Hacienda Lealtad in Lares. “I exclusively use local coffee grown by small families,” says Cuevas.

“For travelers, I would recommend Hacienda San Pedro located in Jayuya. Not only can you see the plantation, but you can also buy coffee and have lunch in a beautiful house overlooking the center region of the Island.” Be sure to bring home a bag of freshly roasted whole or ground beans as a souvenir.

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