An elaborate carnival costume with a horned mask and wide ruffled collar in reds and golds.

Puerto Ricans love a good festival. These elaborate carnival costumes are a sight to behold.
Photo © Luis Fernandez.

San Juan loves a festival. It seems as though there’s one going on every weekend. Some have traditional origins, and others are products of the local tourism department, but they all promise insight into the island’s culture and are loads of fun.

Noches de Galerias (787/723-7080) is held the first Tuesday of the month February–May and September–December. Roughly 20 museums and galleries throughout Old San Juan open 6–9 p.m. for this festive gallery crawl. Though its intentions may be high-minded, as the night progresses the event becomes more of a raucous pub crawl as young adults and teenagers fill the streets in revelry. Arts and crafts booths also line Plaza de San José.

Held in June, Noche de San Juan Bautista is the celebration of the island’s patron saint. Festivities last several days and include religious processions, concerts, and dance performances. But the highlight of the event is on June 24, when celebrants from all over the island flock to the beach for the day for picnics and recreation. Then at midnight, everyone walks backward into the ocean three times to ward off evil spirits.

Street festivals don’t get any more lively than Festival de la Calle de San Sebastían (787/724-0910), held in January on Calle San Sebastían in Old San Juan. For three days the street is filled with parades, folkloric dances, music, food, and crafts.

Founded in honor of the renowned cellist and composer Pablo Casals, the Festival Casals (787/725-7334) is held in June and July and features a slate of classical music concerts at the Fine Arts Center (Ave. de Diego at Ave. Ponce de León). Concerts are also held in Ponce and Mayagüez.

A new addition to the festival slate is Santurce es Ley, an annual independent artists street festival held in mid-September. More than a dozen galleries and design studios throughout Santurce stay open until midnight, hosting art exhibitions and musical performances featuring the work of more than 100 emerging local artist. Visit the website for a map of participating galleries and studios, as well as the musical lineup.

Each spring the Heineken Jazz Festival (Anfiteatro Tito Puente in Hato Rey, 866/994-0001) selects a single jazz master to celebrate with three nights of concerts, 8 p.m.–midnight.

The Puerto Rico Tourism Company presents an annual three-day arts festival in early June called Feria de Artesanías (787/723-0692). More than 200 artisans fill the walkways along Paseo La Princesa and Plaza de la Dársena, and the days are filled with music and dance performances as well as a folk-singer competition.

Less an actual festival and more a cultural series, La Casita Festival takes place every Saturday 5:30–7:30 p.m. year-round in Plaza de la Dársena by Pier 1 in Old San Juan. Musicians and dance groups perform, and artisans sell their wares.

Similarly, LeLoLai Festival (787/723-3135, 787/791-1014, or 800/223-6530) presents traditional concerts and dance performances year-round at various sites throughout the island, including InterContinental Hotel San Juan in Isla Verde and Castillo de San Cristóbal in Old San Juan.

Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Puerto Rico.