Every Puerto Rican town celebrates its saint’s day, often with a mixture of pagan and Catholic iconography and Indian, African and Spanish traditions. There are solemn religious aspects and plenty of feasting, music, dancing and colourful costumed processions. One of the best is the Fiesta de San Juan Bautista (Festival of St John the Baptist) in San Juan in late June, which wonderfully fuses the religious and the secular. The highlight of the parade is a communal luck-enhancing midnight walk backwards into the sea.
Worth a detour are Mayaguez’s twinkling La Virgen de la Candelaria in early February and Loíza’s jubilant Fiesta de Santiago Apostal, which takes place late July and celebrates the town’s African heritage with parades, drum ensembles and lots of music and dancing. Old San Juan takes to the streets during the Festival San Sebastian in the third week in January. Ponce, where revellers dress up in horned masks for dancing and parades, is the best place to celebrate Carnival in February. San Juan’s Casals Festival honours Pablo Casals, the famous cellist who came to call Puerto Rico home. It attracts classical musicians of international repute and is one of the Caribbean’s major cultural events.
Puerto Ricans get baseball fever when the season starts in November, reaching its climax in February. Las Navidades between 15 December and 6 January is the peak period of socialising and religious observation, though many of the celebrations take place at family homes. Not so the riotous Hatillo Masks Festival in Hatillo on 28 December, when masked and costumed participants chase kids through the streets in memory of Herod’s bid to wipe out baby Jesus. Look out for parrandas, wandering bands of minstrels and revellers, around Christmas time.