Loíza is Puerto Rico’s center for African-inspired traditions and it retains one of the largest Black populations on the island; more than 60 percent of its 30,000 residents identify as Black.
This town is very dynamic in its expressions of its Black roots.
Located just a few minutes outside the capital city of San Juan and past the touristy area known as Isla Verde, Loíza is home to the largest Black population in Puerto Rico.
Known as the “Capital of Traditions,” Loíza is the birthplace of Black Puerto Rican music and is where the dance Plena was born. Bomba music and other African-Taino infused food and traditions are commonplace here. Loíza artisans produce the colorful coconut masks displayed at festivals and make the unique Bomba drums. It’s a way for the people of Loíza to honor their African ancestors. It was many enslaved people’s only form of self-expression.
Today, bomba continues to serve as a form of protest and preservation. Although many hangout spots throughout the Island have become hubs to practice the dance recreationally, it’s resurged to assert Black pride within a culture that operates under a subtle yet pervasive vial of racism.
The Town of Loíza was settled in the 16th century by members of the Yoruba tribe who were brought to the island as slaves from West Africa. Today, the art, music, dance, cuisine and traditions are representative of the customs brought to the island from West Africa.
Loíza is distinctly Afro-Puerto Rican, and that’s what sets the town, located at the northeast corner of the island, apart from other areas in Puerto Rico.
Food in Loíza, Puerto Rico
Many popular Puerto Rican dishes date back to African influences, including the well-known mofongo – made of deep-fried green plantains; bacalaitos – deep-fried codfish fritters; and pasteles – a traditional Puerto Rican dish made of masa (or dough), stuffed with meat and wrapped up in a banana leaf, yum! Looking to try one of these savory dishes? El Burén de Lula, recognized by James Beard, is a small and immensely popular eatery for traditional Puerto Rican cuisine with an African twist. Another popular spot in Loíza is El Parrilla, a 60-year-old restaurant that serves creole flavored seafood and Puerto Rican mud crabs.
What are some things to do that Black travelers will enjoy.
- NEGRO/A/X Art Exhibit: An art exhibition via Casa Afro (Piñones) that highlights 20 afro-Puerto Rican artists. This exhibition is an example of the aesthetic and cultural roots of African decedents on the Island, unapologetically centering Afro Boricua experience within local and global imperative, to value the spectrum of cultural values that define Puerto Rican reality. A 3D tour is offered online.
- Taller N’Zambi: Before there were styles like salsa and reggaetón, there was bomba. The name does not only refer to the ancient music genre, but it is also the name of the instruments and the dance that accompanies the music. Taller N’Zambi teaches Bomba classes and various workshops which gives travelers the opportunity to get in tune with the beats, music, and rhythm of the Afro-Caribbean culture.
- James Carnival: Every July the city of Loíza celebrates this colorful carnival-like celebration which features costumes, masks, parades, and bomba dancers, along kiosks selling crafts and traditional food. The event reflects the African and Spanish heritage and traditions.
- Parque Histórico Cueva María de la Cruz: Currently, the area serves as a historic park for the municipality of Loíza. After paying a small entrance fee, you’ll be able to tour the cave as well as participate in the three different workshops: bomba dance class, beekeeping, and turban-making demonstration.
- Taller de Artesanías Castor Ayala: A small artisan shop in Loíza dedicated to highlighting the folklore and African heritage of the community of Loíza. The shop specializes in traditional “vejigante” masks as well as other unique finds.
- Paseo Tablado de Piñones (Boardwalk): This seven-mile boardwalk is one of the most scenic and rural routes out there, winding through shady forests and over sandy beaches. You will find many vendors with food and drinks as you’re walking, and the area is a very popular place with locals which is a great way to experience the culture.
- Corredor Afro: Looking for a voluntourism experience? This organization focuses on a variety of expressions centered around the AFRO experience, both local and regional, from a critical view within the Afro-Antillean/Afro-Caribbean context.
- El Burén de Lula: Located in Loíza, El Burén de Lula is a small restaurant owned by Maria Dolores “Lula” de Jesus that specializes in a lot of cuisine with Taino and African influence with ingredients such as yucca, coconut, corn, plantain and cassava. Many people from the island of Puerto Rico and abroad come to try the savor the rich handmade dishes that are one of a kind.
- El Parrilla: Located in Loíza, this 60-year-old restaurant serves creole flavored cuisine seafood with an African influence, including the famous Puerto Rican mud crabs.
- El Sazon de Sylvia: Located in Loíza, this restaurant serves creole flavored fried foods along with Caribbean, African, and Spanish cuisine.
- Playa Vacía Talega: Playa Vacía Talega is a crescent-shaped beach in Piñones (Loíza) where the water is calm and the sunsets are spectacular. This beach is very popular among locals, so it tends to be crowded during the weekend or on holidays.
- Playa la Posita: Is a nice family-friendly beach with calming waters the whole family can enjoy.
- Playa Aviones: Is named after the airplanes that are often seen and heard flying overhead. This beautiful stretch of beach livens up once the surfers and waves start coming out.