04/25/2014 04:31 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2014

Fill Your Plate With Puerto Rico

If you missed the 7th Annual Saborea Culinary Extravaganza in Puerto Rico, make plans to attend next year's event. Called the most important culinary festival in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, world-famous Escambron Beach takes center stage in a weekend that is packed with tastings from the island's finest restaurants, plus rums, wine, beer, distilled spirits and international and local culinary personalities.

Guests at this year's extravaganza enjoyed samples from some of Puerto Rico's best restaurants. Daily demos provided visitors with the opportunity to learn the techniques and ingredients used by professional foodies from across the region with ample opportunity to "taste test" a wide range of rums, wines, beer and a few other spirited creations.

The wide variety of culinary delights is more than enough reason to visit Puerto Rico, but don't just go to Saborea and leave. Stay a little longer and get to know this tropical jewel. Take a walking tour of Old San Juan to view the walls and fortifications left by the Spaniards. Today cobblestone streets, hanging balconies, plazas and chapels make this historic city a charming and picturesque place. Be sure to visit the national historic site of Castillo San Felipe del Morro, where history comes to life. Stop by the Museo de Las Américas to learn more about the history and culture of Puerto Rico and the Americas.

Enjoy a lunch at El Convento Hotel, where old world charm and elegance meets contemporary comfort, then head on over to Casa Lila Artisanal Cheese. Learn about the art of cheese making, indulge in cheese tasting, or even participate in a workshop with Rosa (aka Lila). Wrap up your day with dinner at Eighty20 Bistro at the Verdanza Hotel in Isla Verde. This South Beach-inspired bistro features modern interpretations of classics from Yellow Fin Tuna garnished with Piquillo Pepper Cream to Veal Rack Saltimbocca.

No trip to Puerto Rico is complete without touring the Bacardí Distillery. Visitors to Bacardi's Puerto Rican home can enjoy an interactive tour through history, observe the production process, and experience the party spirit of the Bacardi brand. Pair your tour with a tasty lunch at La Casita Blanca or a fabulous dinner at Santaella Restaurant in Santurce. Santaella celebrates the roots of the island's comida criolla, and incorporates techniques, flavors and fusions from around the world.

For an unbelievable dining experience, indulge your senses at Casa Cortes Choco Bar. Enjoy a sumptuous meal while watching movies about the chocolate-making process, or feast your eyes on their beautiful art collection. You might not want to leave, but pull yourself away for a trip to the Guavate Lechoneras where you will learn about the real culture and gastronomy of Puerto Rico. Known as "pig highway," Puerto Ricans and tourists visit Guavate to enjoy traditional dishes like roast pork, BBQ ribs, rice and beans, pavochón (pork and turkey), and Puerto Rican sweets.

Another great dining option is O:live Restaurant at the O:live Boutique Hotel. Inspired by the Mediterranean diet of bread, wine and olive oil, O:live's executive chef creates a menu that unites flavors, recipes and experiences from towns in Spain, France, Italy and Morocco. An "out of this world experience" can also be found at Budatai, where Chef Roberto Treviño successfully merges oriental inspired delicacies with traditional elements of Puerto Rican cookery.

Don't leave Puerto Rico without an excursion to El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest system. After refreshing your soul, fill your stomach at Pasión por El Fogón in Fajardo, where Chef Myrta prepares high-quality Puerto Rican cuisine at reasonable prices.

There is so much to see and do in Puerto Rico that you may need to add a few days just to relax on the beach. Start making plans for your next trip to Puerto Rico - go for Saborea but plan on staying for all the fun.

NOTE: In the spirit of full disclosure, I have no connection to any of the brands mentioned in this article nor was I paid to write it.

Photo Credit: Joshua Estrin

Fill Your Plate With Puerto Rico