VIVA Viajes: P.R.’s Ruta de Salsa tours explore the music’s roots

Come for the natural beauty, stay for the music history.

A new “route” in Puerto Rico lets visitors explore the roots of salsa on the island where many of the music’s greats were born and the sound blossomed and developed.

Known as La Ruta de la Salsa — the Salsa Route — the tourist attraction was launched this past summer by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company and designed by local tour guide and music historian Clemente de Freitas.

Ruta has since become a must-do activity for tourists — as well as locals — as it takes salsa aficionados to a vast selection of historic sites that played major roles in the development of one of the world’s most popular and influential music genres for more than 50 years.


The cemetary in Old San Juan, next to the seaside fortress of El Morro, is where many of Puerto Rico’s greatest musicians and composers are buried.


Puerto Rico, which has been actively promoting itself as a year-round tourist destination, created Ruta de Salsa as a way to please music fans “looking for information about the roots, history and trajectory of the proponents of this genre” that has “given so much glory to the island,” said Ingrid Rivera Rocafort, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company’s executive director.

The tour actually brings visitors along two routes: one in the quaint Old San Juan section of the island’s capitol, the other in Santurce, the San Juan district to the east known for its bustling art, music and culinary hotspots.

Led by as much as 16 guides, both routes delve into the music’s rich past through visits to more than a dozen locations each that include the birthplaces — and final resting places — of many of its main artists, along with stops at monuments, statues, art displays, record stores and even restaurants and bars where many of salsa’s biggest singers, composers and musicians congregated.

Salsa group El Gran Combo, with  leader Rafael Ithier in the middle.

Salsa group El Gran Combo, with leader Rafael Ithier in the middle.


The Old San Juan tour, titled “Calle Luna, Calle Sol” (from the Hector Lavoe/Willie Colon song of the ’70s) brings visitors to such sites as the Plaza Ismael Rivera, an outdoor pavilion featuring murals dedicated to the singer; the original home of percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo; the home of Manuel Gregorio Tavarez, the 19th century composer known as the father of Puerto Rican danza; a statue of prolific composer Tite Curet; the “Aqui se Puede” Bar, the famed musicians’ hangout named after the Curet song; Museo de las Americas, which showcases the African influence on salsa music.

There’s also a stop at Cementerio Maria Magdalena de Pazzis, the burial ground in the shadow of El Morro fort where many of Puerto Rico’s musical stars are interred, including Curet, composer Rafael Hernandez, Mirta Silva, and original El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico member Eddie (La Bala) Perez.

The tour in Santurce, called “De Barrio Obrero a la Quince,” features many similar sites and destinations — including nightspots frequented by artists and Cementerio San Jose, where important music figures are buried — plus the original home of bandleader Tito Rodriguez; a walk of fame whose honorees include salseros Gilberto Santa Rosa, Cheo Feliciano and El Gran Combo; and optional visits to the Museo de la Salsa and major venues that held classic salsa concerts, such as the Roberto Clemente Coliseum.

Salseros Ismael Miranda (l.) and Cheo Feliciano, whose vast contributions to salsa are honored in the Ruta de la Salsa tour.

Salseros Ismael Miranda (l.) and Cheo Feliciano, whose vast contributions to salsa are honored in the Ruta de la Salsa tour.

Visitors to Puerto Rico, especially those in the San Juan area, are encouraged to frequent the dozens of bars, clubs, hotels and restaurants where live salsa music and dancing — plus dancing lessons — are a major lure.

For more information on La Ruta de la Salsa, visit Facebook/


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